“Maybe I need some healing in my performance sphere.”
I thought this sentence yesterday morning as I was leaning, naked, into the shower. The shower curtain was bunched up against my body, and my arm was stretched towards the tap, testing the temperature of the water. Something about being in this position felt significant. Maybe it was similar to poking my head out between theater curtains, peering at an audience from backstage? I can’t remember if I’ve ever actually done that. I suppose I must have, but I haven’t performed in many venues that have a proper backstage area with old fashioned theater curtains. Leaning like that, one would be halfway on the stage and halfway off: partially in the private backstage realm and partially visible to everyone (in the audience). (Which, from behind the glare of the lights, is easily imagined as being literally everyone who exists).
The second that the thought about healing and performance occurred to me, I experienced a significant shift in the feeling of my own presence. I am trying to write about this in a way that doesn’t sound too new agey or intangible. Inside of certain cliques, of which I am certainly a member, one can throw around loose terms like “energy” and “being grounded,” and not worry about making clear definitions for what exactly is being described. I want to be able to communicate with people who don’t love kombucha and hatha yoga, so I’ll try to illustrate my thoughts using the plainest possible terms, and maybe a few metaphors.
I have been working on a new performance piece, for a while now, and the feeling associated with this process has been one of seeking, of trying to invent something out of nothing. If my spirit was a person, you could picture it making a trek out into the unknown, foraging, climbing, hunting for new landscapes, staring out at expanses filled with mostly emptiness, looking for a magic element that could possibly fill up so much space. Yesterday, as I stood there straddling the edge of the tub, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t searching for anything at all. If information wanted me, it could come and find me. The objects and surfaces surrounding me appeared somewhat blurry and unimportant. The sensation of simply standing there, being a mobile lump of human flesh and synapses, was riveting enough to keep me occupied.
Last week, I had a piece of writing published in actual print for the first time, in a Seattle paper called The Stranger. It happened just in the nick of time before newspapers go completely extinct, and it was an essay called, “The Delicate Art of Not Giving a Fuck.” The essay was basically another attempt at making sense of the same hard-to-describe perceptions that I am working with here: how to be yourself while being watched, without becoming distracted by the watchers. But I think that I actually avoided giving specific instructions for how to do it. How does one manage a split focus between action and awareness, between privacy and the spotlight? The omission was no doubt intentional, if unconscious, because obviously I haven’t completely figured it out myself.
What would a healing session for my relationship to performing actually look like? I have a memory of myself back at college, at a moment when I was in a lousy relationship with a guy whose attention I found really addictive. I was sitting on the main square, and I had some kind of rope with me, maybe a jump rope from when we did a lot of double-dutch jumping. No wait, it was a piece of chalk. Sidewalk chalk was something that semi-adults in the 90’s frequently on hand. I drew a circle around myself and decided that I was going to sit inside the circle without moving. If I saw the addictive guy, I would not leave the circle and he was not allowed to come inside of it. Of course within minutes he came along and I broke all of my rules. I bet I even announced my intentions to him before betraying myself. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I made the circle out of a rope after all, because I recall breaking the shape of the circle when the boy came along. It was not just simply an abandoned sphere, but a ruined one. I could have taken out my chalk and traced its broken crime scene outline. My twenties were pretty much a decade-long seminar on how to generate enough of my own gravity not to rotate like a planet in someone else’s solar system. It was a study in how to become my own axis. I believe that I really have figured this out, in life, more or less, but in performance it’s different. I still see the audience as a kind of glowing sun god, around whom I move in gregarious attempts to please and amuse. Yesterday’s moment in the shower felt like an inversion of the physics. I became the magnetic center, and everything suddenly moved around me, and the feeling really struck me, so I suppose I there is still room for improvement in terms of being my own magnetic center. Meditating on this sensation of allowing things to move around me feels like a method of healing my relationship to performing, even though I’m doing it alone, without an audience. But there is an audience in my head. Possibly the first steps are psychic.
Thinking about the newspaper article that was published has been strange. Somewhere there is an exact number for how many copies of it were printed, and there is a specific destiny for each piece of paper that holds those words. Doubtless the majority of them weren’t read; when The Village Voice quit running the horoscopes and the sex column last month, I quit bringing it home. The sentences are out there, though, floating around in front of a potential audience that I can’t imagine and of which I have no evidence. It just occurred to me while writing this to think of the existence of the papers, and of performing in general, according to my new astronomy metaphor. I write and say whatever I like and let these things go spinning away from me to land somewhere meaningful or to just float forever like space junk. They can just be out there and I can go on doing what I do. The thing is, though, that there is a moment of communion with an audience that I have experienced in the past that hits me in a deep place and is what I’m always after, and trying to stay in tune enough to welcome this presence, while remaining self-absorbed enough not to stare at the crowd, hungry like a dog begging for dinner scraps, is where things become complicated.