Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another Explanation for My Kids

Several years ago I wrote this letter to my daughters. I know they haven't read it.

Like many people in our culture (including myself) they don't often have the patience to listen to an explanation or even ask for one.

And, of course, I do understand that an old, chunky mother is embarrassing enough, even without parading her weirdness and nakedities around town and social media! They're also irritated, no doubt, by the thought that I might have a good reason.

Recent #uglydancing. My upcoming Victoria Fringe show is entitled Naked Ugly Dancing.

Now they are 10 and 15 and, even though I think it's still a pretty good letter, I'm going to attempt to add to the explanation.

I got Stage 4 cancer almost 2 years ago. I was really overwhelmed by a lot of things but especially working as a university instructor. I think that made me get really sick. For me, as a teacher, it was important to share certain understandings about how humans need to think differently. But I made people afraid. No one was interested in supporting me or willing to believe I had good reasons. (Does that sound a little familiar? Haha!)

An example of a difficult thing to learn that you might recognize is how in your schools you have learned about residential schools and how our Canadian government and churches hurt First Nations children very badly and caused harms to First Nations people that continue. For instance, many of those children who grew up abused have turned to addiction and abuse themselves; and, because the children were forced to speak English or French, many First Nations languages have been lost.

This is very difficult for us to understand. Because we want to trust our government and our country. We want to believe that everyone gets the chances we get.

The problems in our world are caused, in many ways, by what people believe. So when we believe we have a trustworthy country, for example, we might not look to see things that happen that are actually very harmful.

Or we might blame another group for those harms.

Unfortunately, the way we live and believe in richer countries like Canada is the cause of most of the difficulties on earth... like global climate change, poverty, weapons, war, etc. 

One example is shopping and poverty. We get many things like clothes and toys and food and things for our house. Almost everything we buy involves people in poorer places being paid very little to make it or grow it or dig up the materials for us. 

This example is very tough to swallow. Because we need some of that stuff and because our society expects us to look or live a certain way. We are pretty stuck. And there are many more examples that show how we are stuck. Another is how we need to drive but we don't want oil (which needs to be sent all over the world so people can put gas in their cars and heat their homes) to pollute our oceans and land.

I think that's why people want to believe we are nice and don't want to look at how not nice we are. Because in a way, we are not being un-nice on purpose. We are in a culture and a system that surrounds us and no one can just step out of it.

So, one of the reasons I do what I do, is to make people think about what "is normal."

I have started to do ugly dancing in the street and for my upcoming fringe show because I think of it as a kind of action to create healing. I'm dancing out some of the ugliness. For the health of our culture and my body.

I also think of it as a cultural antidote. An antidote is something that removes poison. So if there is some not nice stuff going on but people aren't seeing it, maybe doing something the opposite of normal can help remove some poisons. 

One thing about our culture that is interesting is that when women aren't young anymore, they are considered ugly. But I'm not poisonous. I'm a caring, loving person. I'm a wise person. I'm a person who shouldn't be ignored.

So if I show up as an "ugly" dancer on the street, I am doing something very non-harmful and expressive. Why should that be a problem?

A lot of my performance art is about giving people the opportunity to question their beliefs.

It's embarrassing for me too. You have no idea. But, as I've tried to tell you guys, some things are more important than embarrassment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

A friend asked me if I believed in the current structures and, if not (I don't), what would I replace them with?

Another friend asked me why we didn't hand out flyers at our Boxing Day AnthropoScene or ask people, "What are you doing to create the extinction crisis we face?"

I got really irritated with both of them and I'm still irritated.

Regarding handing out flyers and asking people point blank... seriously? Ya, the reason I have diligently used my naked, VULNERABLE self/body as an expressive/artistic/political statement for  MORE THAN 10 YEARS of HEAVY LIFTING is because I haven't thought about flyers or asking people pointed questions. 

The decision to intervene, to trouble, to create—dare I say it?!—discomfort is purposeful.

Portrait of me by Elemental.
In my portrait here, by Elemental, she used an interview she conducted while sketching me to pull my quote. I say: "This is a culture of avoiding pain at all costs." 

But it's worse than that! We're a culture of avoiding discomfort at all costs. 

And, hypocrite that I am—because who cannot be a hypocrite in this culture?—like pretty much all of my cultural criticism, I am also criticizing and implicating myself. I have said many times and I'll say it again: I'm teaching what I need to learn.

I know that the work I've done in the Human Body Project and the new AnthropoScene Collective isn't easy to parse. 

It's more like a poke in the psyche for the people who come upon it. Yes, it creates discomfort. I dunno, is discomfort worse than facing mass extinction? A fate that is decidedly closer with President-of-the-Petrostate Trump's inauguration. 

Just because our society's emotional/neurological systems haven't evolved to FEEL the PAIN and seriousness of the ongoing situation so that in most cases NO AMOUNT of logic will penetrate... I'M supposed to figure out a surefire way of reaching people?!

And I'M supposed to know the best system to replace it with?!

This is what I know and have been expressing in my personal/political art practice for more than 10 years: we don't understand or deal with VULNERABILITY. 

Because in this ego-based culture, in this culture built on millennia of domination and violence, our understanding of vulnerability is suppressed pre-verbally. 

(From my personal perspective of doing DECADES of self-study and therapies to heal, I have come to understand my own PTSD-like nervous system symptoms as something that happened at birth. Simply put, my extremely sensitive baby being couldn't believe I had landed in such a cruel, unloving, DISCONNECTED place and my extremely sensitive 55-year-old being still can't. Ya, ya, people are basically kind but are emotionally damaged, etc. I'm on board with that. That's the whole point.)

We are all walking around in various states of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). To cope, we learn to suppress our vulnerability. This suppression of vulnerability is especially socialized and internalized by masculine beings.

So conversations about climate change, mass extinction and the end of capitalism as an idea that functions for the good of most people—incredibly challenging conversations—are impossible to have when one-upmanship is the norm. 

And impossible to have when one-upmanship (a nicer word for domination and violence) created the situation in the first place. Hence thinkers such as Audre Lorde: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

The choices the American people had for electing a leader were mistress-of-realpolitik Hillary Clinton (status quo, or, arguably, worse) and an INSANE PERSON addicted to one-upmanship. The system—and many people—allowed the insane person to win. 

The current structures of English and most dominant languages, as well as dominant institutional structures for governance, "trade," education, etc. do not allow for us to have the kind of conversations we need to have AND have created the situation we are in.

As I explained to the friend who asked me what structures I would replace the current house of cards with, that's not my job! I'm the thin edge of the wedge already!

Do the visuals help? The thin edge of the wedge people are taxed in a way that most people couldn't possibly comprehend. We're up front chip-chip-chipping away, creating the space for movement and change.

Like the tip of any wooden doorstop, we are beaten and battered but, at least in my case, still in service.

Not only that, "be the change" has been my purpose from the beginning. To own and hold vulnerability, to share vulnerability, I do work that is exactly the opposite of comfortable. 

And, not only that!! To offer a space to be vulnerable and show up vulnerably is exactly what we need to have honest and NECESSARY conversations.

As I explained to both of my friends, after doing this for more than 10 years, my work is about due diligence. I show up and do the work. I don't get money. I don't get jobs. I am not generally befriended or welcomed by art or theatre people. Academics don't get it. I am CONSTANTLY coming up against criticism and judgment, my own and others; or worse, indifference. There are moments of fun when I'm actually out there but far more moments of difficulty (MENTAL ILLNESS/processing shit-type stuff) behind the scenes. I got Stage 4 cancer for fuck's sake.

DUE FUCKING DILIGENCE. I hereby honour myself.

As my friend suggested I ask: what are you doing to prevent the mass extinction crisis in which we find ourselves?

I try not to rant but so be it.

The next AnthropoScene will take place in solidarity with the Million Women's March on January 21, 1pm, in Centennial Square, Victoria, BC.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Blog Post Reading #4 + AnthropoScenes

Here I am reading another blog post. This post was written on March 26, 2006, the day after I did my first Human Body Project performance. It's entitled "Post-nakedness (1): support and embracing awkwardness"

Also, here are some videos from the AnthropoScene Collective's first two AnthropoScenes!