Teaming with Hate
That film clip sticks in my head. It’s from the 1970s – seems they did an awful lot of odd experiments on kids then – and it involved puppets. The kids would giggle and enjoy watching one of two puppets get their heads bashed over and over. They would have empathy for the other puppet. It depended on whether the puppets liked the same kind of food as the they did.
I think we get better at justifying this to ourselves, but I think the basic impulse doesn’t change over time. Disagreement over what is good and bad on any scale feels like an attack. Probably because it sometimes results in an attack.
I was – and am – sad that our national curriculum took out the phrase about tolerance for other people’s values and replaced it with the ability to see what we have in common.
Maybe the weirdest response when someone says they didn’t like something is, “Can you do better?” And among the erudite, defense of an opinion often involves pulling in the opinions of long-dead people to be on your side.
A random phrase in agreement will garner a slew of flattery.
In the best of settings, a kind of dolphin training. Ignore what’s undesired, reward what you want more of.
I just learned that “teaming” is a jargon verb now. I think it is hilarious since the word teaming still conjures a school of fish in my mind’s eye.
This is related to what I am working on, by the way. The timer hasn’t gone off yet, but I am ready to get back to the writing. That’s a good sign. And if you agree, I am going to take that at face value, not look for ironic insults, and offer you a cookie.
The kind I like.
Call and Response
I am reading a short story collection put out by the Bell Press. It is a collection of stories, and a companion response story. It is a familiar concept, but I guess I think of it in terms of a workshop exercise. That’s bizarre, considering my belief about what writing really is – communicating with the dead and the anticipated, as much as our peers. Readers, children, teachers. I figure it is all call and response – no matter how unconsciously we do it.
The Norwegian “taus kunnskap” doesn’t sound nearly as pretentious as “silent knowledge”. But there it is. The cultural history that you don’t know you know, that you carry with you as sure as the mitochondria in your cells. Like a fungus that began taking hold at your birth. We keep rediscovering our metaphors and our stories.
Nothing new here, really, though we crave it and celebrate the impostors. Maybe there is something here to think about: accepting the fact that we are nothing but sputtering mutations.
There are species that are linked physically to their progeny. An umbilical cord that remains through an overlapping of maturity. I guess we have culture for that. A weird evolutionary mechanism that lets us throw tantrums, leave the room, relish an illusion of independence.
So this little project now – a conscious response. An all-in, is-not-cheating or borrowing or posturing, participation in the bigger story.
Not Adding Fodder
I am still brainstorming a project that may or may not pan out. There’s a concern though regarding the commissioned work: that the adaptation will inadvertently put a group of people already too often villainised in a bad light. And last night before falling asleep, I was having a difficult time conceiving of a way to avoid it.
I do worry about these things. Not because I am worried about being politically correct, or “woke”, but because I care. There are some fears so close to my heart they can stop me in my tracks. The thing is to stop just for a moment, and then find a “good” way forward. Good by my own standards.
I finished the Bryson book last night. His friend got lost in the woods and they each spent a night alone. The next day they called quits for that particular stretch of wilderness. Calling it quits is always a possible valid choice, too.
It is odd to read this light book so long after it was written. The climate concerns of 1998 seem quaint. But don’t misunderstand me, maybe the fact that they seem quaint is a major contributing factor to the problems we have now taking it all in: the dead seriousness of it all.
And the complexity of it. I am subscribed to a podcast that focuses on positive news regarding climate change. The hosts talk about the ambivalence people have discussing the gains for fear of complacency or even denial. On the other hand, silence is lying by omission and might feed into a kind of collected learned helplessness. We hold our breath and wait for the worse because a drop in the bucket is a drop that doesn’t seem particularly useful.
Bryson talks about the damage acid rain had done to the woods in the 90s. But there have been significant decreases in acid rain since his book was published.
“Doug Burns, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Troy, New York, who directs the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, says the rain falling in the Northeast today is about half as acidic as it was in the early 1980s. Consequently, surface waters have become less acidic and fragile ecosystems are beginning to recover.” – Smithsonian Magazine.
I remember the thick smears of yellow guts over the windshield driving from L.A. to Vegas. We’d always stop in Barstow and someone would squeegee it off the glass. I can still hear the sharp, rising pitch. A prolonged squeak. I can still feel the faint disgust.
But last time I made that trip was different. Far less disgusting. A lot less life.
This little thing about the world has changed. People have called it an insect apocalypse. As though that their world is not our own.
Diversity is something we need. Honesty. Respect. And fearlessness. Life can be some ugly shit. And the climate intolerable.
There went the timer.
A Closet Play
I have been listening to radio theater the past few days. It’s a medium that I haven’t much experience with. I wrote a short radio play in verse years ago about a women and her father who had Alzheimer’s. Waltzing in Present Tense. It won a competition as was supposed to be produced as a CD (that is how long ago!), but nothing ever came of it. In that sense, the play never existed. This weird little closet play that is rather like a desk-drawer novel.
In my mind, the difference between theater and literature is the collaborative aspect of the former. Of course, literature needs to be read. But that is a private matter. Even if you discuss it afterward, the experience is a private matter between the writer and the reader. But the impetus of theater is the attempt at a communal experience in real time. The in-the-moment aspect long preceded the fragmented virtual reality we have now. For me, it really is connected to the breath. Even reading aloud in my bed at night won’t open my, challenge my to accept other perspectives in the present tense.
The more intimate the physical relationship between actor and audience member, among the audience members, the more powerful the transformative effect.
Remember when transformative was a buzzword?
Theater, in the moment, is a kind of aspirational universe. Even when it explores our darker sides. It is a lie to say that we don’t desire to indulge our less-than-best selves. Catharsis is a kind of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution. It creates an inclusive community – even when the larger community does not. It forces a strange fellowship.
Like football games and parades, other forms of theater, it threatens one’s autonomy with the mob mentality. And giving into it (this safe space) can be an exercise in real joy.
When I teach (Western) theater history, I teach the perspective that the Dionysian festival was a brilliant effort to control the passions of the masses by letting them have their cake, and eat it to. A “time-out”. Like Vegas. Very like Vegas, maybe.
But radio theater? I am thinking about this. About this in-between medium of the private imagination and the shared imagination.
Still thinking about this…
There went the timer.
A Sacred Trust?
I am casually continuing to read Arne Naess and still sorting through what he really means, and what I really believe.
“Ecosophies are not platforms for a political movement or policies, but are personal philosophies of life in a worldview.”
He goes on to say that this international movement of deep ecology does not constitute a religion. But I am (mis)understanding his belief system as something aligned with religions – the kind that do create a hierarchy with humans at the top of what has be created:
“The protection of the Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.”
Back to Bryson, with his layman understanding of geophysics, whose depictions of the earth point to a kind of vitality that is beyond our comprehension, and certainly beyond our protection. The continents will “drift” long after we are gone. Vital and diverse.
I am not at all implying a disregard for climate concerns, for the human-driven tumble toward the end of the world as we know. I am just wondering how honest we are when we talk about the deep ecology perspective on the extinction of certain insects and birds and, well, all of it. Is it honestly out of a belief that we are no more significant than the lady bug, or is it that we want to tip-toe around all of it as though it were an expensive present that we are obligated to respect and attend to.
And… what does beauty have to do with it? Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. It is an active way of viewing the world and dividing it into a hierarchy.
I would love reading suggestions regarding the exploration of ugliness. A kind of objective poetics, perhaps. If art is for art’s sake is it truly not in service to our pleasure?
There went the timer.