Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Number Thirty-Two

Occasionally someone asks me, "What's your favorite number?"

You know, like we are supposed to be partial to an amount.  I favor a quantity.  I heart a point in an order.  I have an intense connection with an integer. 

But it is not so hard a question for me to answer.  My number is 32.  I've known it is "my" number since about the age of 13 when, at a summer camp for boys, it kept appearing to me.  Or rather, I was attuned to it.  Whatever.  I just kept seeing it everywhere.  After a while, my cabin-mates would tease me about it.  They kept seeing me see it.  On lists, on packaging, in prices, on road signs, in books, in winning scores, etc.  Maybe a few of those manifestations were camp pranks on their part, but not all of them. 

And then the big summer finale: the last night of camp was a "banquet."  Not exactly formal (boys' summer camp, remember?), but still a little more pomp for the circumstance.  And on the table-setting placard, there it was: The camp was celebrating its 32nd summer of operation.  Creepy, eh?

Okay, maybe not.  There are such things as coincidence and serendipity.  The occurances of 32 faded after that summer, but I knew from then on that I had an association with a number.  It became my go-to answer for "what's your favorite number?" or "pick a number?" And, as it turns out, it is a powerful number to have associations with.

First, some math:  32 is 2 to the power of 5.  It is both twice a square (16) and half a square (64).  It is half a square (again, 8 to the power of 2) and half a cube (4 to the power of 3).  It is the sum of the first three positive integers raised to the power of themselves.  It is also a Leyland number, since it is a possible answer to the equation x to the power of y plus y to the power of x.  And finally, it is a happy number, which is a bit more difficult to explain but, you know, I'm happy it's happy.

Then there are the mystical associations with the number 32.  In some traditions, 32 C.E. is considered the year Christ was crucified.  In the Kabbalah, God is said to have made the world in 32 phases.  Hence, in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, there are 10 emanations (Sephiroth) and 22 paths between them resulting in the number 32 -- the paths are usually numbered starting at 11, so the last path ("Tau") is the 32nd path.  In several psychic practices, the 32nd Path is considered a link between the physical and astral plane and is the route shamen and psychics take to practice extra sensory perception. 32 is also considered the occult opposite of 23, another powerful number about which whole books and films (bad ones...with Jim Carey!) have been made. 

32 is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit that water freezes at sea level.  It is half of a chess/checker board, representing your home territory.  It is the number of completed and numbered piano sonatas by Ludwig von Beethoven.  It is the size of a databus it bits (i.e. 32-bit), and so carries some significance for computer graphics and programmers.  It is the number of teeth in an adult human, including "wisdom" teeth.  It is the number of pages in the average comic book (not including the cover). 

Yeah, yeah.  It's a number.  And numbers line up with things in the universe.  And this one lined up with me when I was 13.  So maybe that is, well, "lucky."  Maybe that is a reason to favor it.

After that summer, I didn't really think much of it until I approached the age of 32.  I worried that I had been given some sort of cryptic premonition.  Was I gonna die?  Make my fortune?  Change the world?  Only, my 32nd year came and went and nothing really momentous happened.  Soon, I put it out of my mind again.

And then, well, lately I've been seeing 32s again.  Noting them.  They catch my eye.  And mostly I wonder, what's that about?  Visiting UNT in Denton, TX this last week, a fellow artist/scholar suggested a comic book I should read: "Promethea" by Alan Moore.  This was just a friendly suggestion for a good comic; we hadn't been discussing my number mysticism.  There are purposely 32 issues of this comic.  And it discusses various occult traditions, including the 32nd Path.  And when I read this gorgeous and smart comic, I thought, "Oh wow, here it is again."  Only this time the numerical manifestation was a little more charged; this time it came with some meaning attached.  Not exactly answers, really, but a little more confirmation of the number's relevance in mysticism and art.

Maybe it is odd for a 45 year-old man to have a favorite number.  Maybe it is odder still to see cryptic messages from the universe in a comic book.  But then I realized: It's been 32 years since that summer when the number 32 came to me.  So, me?  I'm listening!  And I am looking for the path.  Outside tonight, the temperature is falling to the freezing point and the first winter precipitation is sticking to the trees.  And I feel a little bit like half a square and half a cube.  And God help me, this number does make me happy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

San Francisco Bound

Well, children, it's happened again.  November rolls around and it is time to head off to the National Communication Association annual conference.  This year, it's in San Francisco, the city by the bay.  And I am so looking forward to visiting the town and seeing old friends in my profession.

Here's what I will be up to:
  • Presenting a paper on doing environmentally-themed solo performance.
  • Presenting the Christine Oravec Research Awards in Environmental Communication.
  • Participating in a four-year-out planning roundtable discussion for Performance Studies
  • Contributing to a panel on thinking beyond the digital frame, co-sponsored by the Performance Studies Division and the Visual Communication Division.
More on that last one.  Several of my friends and colleagues at different universities got this crazy idea to see what you could do with a digital picture frame.  Thinking outside the box, so to speak, of what these increasingly ubiquitous image tools might allow.  In my case, I have worked with two and the random slide show function to create an ever changing poem (there are 170 possible combinations of images and words -- below and above are three possibilities.)

In and around the presentations will be the usual school recruitment parties (the recession hit ours pretty hard this year), meals with old friends and colleagues, and the occasional opportunity to go see the city.

Since the conference butts up against our Thanksgiving Break, I will be sticking around for a few extra days.  But this Pomo Homo Nature Nut isn't planning on spending the extra time (sans partner) in the Castro.  Instead, I am heading down to Big Sur for a little backpacking and Kerouac. 

All of which is simply to say that I will likely not be posting to the blog next week, but I will follow the week after with a full report of my adventures -- intellectual and wild and all the wonderful possibilities of combining those two.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We've Been Down This Road Before...

...but maybe the familiarity offers more dread than consolation.  Will we ever get off this cycle?  Off the pendulum swing between the Parties?  Out of the continual blame game and the reaction formations that follow?  I take no comfort from stolid reminders that this is what happens in midterm elections.  I try to remember that it could have been worse.  I take some small  solace from the realization that more Blue Dog Democrats lost their seats in this election than the truly Progressive ones did, although in the grand scheme of things that means that both parties have moved more toward their poles.  I don't expect anything but partisans slinging threats like stones for the next two years. 

The thing is, I thought we were actually getting somewhere.  It's frustrating that the accomplishments of the last two years get so little play in the media and hold so little traction with the voters.  Yeah, maybe jobs needed more attention than health care.  Yeah, maybe excessive eagerness for bipartisanship in the face of an obdurately obstructionist opposition led to health care reform that was a flawed sausage of a bill.  Sure, there were plenty of missteps and errors along the way.  But there were also tax cuts.  There was also some credit reform.  The most offensive bailouts came under the guy in charge before, and much of the rest of the other government rescues have (a) been paid back and/or (b) clearly prevented this recession from being worse than it could have been.  While unemployment is bad, the rate of employment and recovery has clearly turned around since the new guy took over. 

Was Tuesday night really just about taking it out on the janitor because he didn't clean up the trash from the last eight year's frat party fast enough?  The beer kegs and swimming pool made of jello shots weren't government overreach, but the request for more cleaning supplies and a couple of dumpsters somehow is?  But hey, hangovers and the regrets that come with them cause the most anger, right?  It's easier to scream at the guys making that racket picking up the bottles and cans than it is to get mad at the now long gone host of the bacchanal.

Forgive me if I am under the impression that the folks who were throwing down at that party and the folks complaining so loudly now are, in large part, the same people.  Not all of the ones making the most noise (in either instance) are the ones in control of the party or the response.  But they sure do wave a great misspelled sign, don't they?  And if they cross a line into racism or head-stomping violence, you can always blame it on passion that exceeds their educational opportunities.  Critique Note the latter and you announce yourself an elitist.  Elitists are always such party-poopers.  We hate them, right? 

But see, I have a feeling that the Republicans and their new-found populist energy in the Tea Party are headed for their own difficult tensions (finally!).  There's a storm brewing in the Old Boy's Club.  The rabble are not likely to behave, and the establishment has rules of conduct it insists upon.  When no one was in power, everyone could wave signs and offer promises of support.  But now that there is actual power on the table, now that they run the House, they can no longer just sit back and say no.  They can claim an adamant posture of defiance, but now it has to come with policy they actually put forward.  And while they could agree on hating anything the black guy and the white woman came up with, they will find it a little more tempestuous coming to agreement about what they want to put forward. 

And all of that would be just so amusing to watch if there weren't consequences, if there weren't lives on the line and bodies in the road.  They say their primary goal is to make sure the black guy won't get elected in 2012.  They promise to repeal that monster of a bill on health care. The say they will stymie any and all climate bills -- either because global warming is a hoax or because now is not the time to act given the economy and all.  They say they will cut the budget, and yet we've yet to hear (ever!) exactly how.  It will be harder to put words to action when they will be responsible for the blood that flows -- either because they are holding the scalpel or withholding the sutures.  And while the dead don't vote, their surviving relatives do.  This is a lesson they have had to learn before.  This is a road they have taken us all down before.  Why do they never learn from their past?  Why do they keep taking us on the same dead end detours?

We've been through storms and blood before.  It is part of our national heritage that we have survived these times, even when the debates turned violent.  But at least, in those times, there was debate.  There was a sense that we could make arguments and assess them on their merits.  We could put them one against the other and let the best answer emerge in between.  What happens when we replace those reasoned and structured arguments with meme manipulation and (poorly spelled) sign waving.  What has become of a country where politics is played like sports, the loudest side winning in the pep rally?  Point out not just a flaw in an argument but a demonstrably false claim of fact, and they say, "so what?"  Too many times I've read that the Tea Party specifically and the bulk of voters generally don't care about facts.  I am asked to accept this observation as fact, and the evidence is overwhelming that it is accurate.  But shouldn't that as much as anything else scare the living shit out of us?  I hear claims in these days after the midterm elections that "America has spoken" and that the Republicans have their second chance if not a mandate.  But when I listen to what America has said, I find the arguments incoherent. These are the boozed and bamboozled crying out for an aspirin and for mommy to make the pain go away.  They want their country "back" but not forward -- except that they have a very skewed sense of what back would mean.

The ultimate problem as I see it (and it crosses demographic and ideological divides) is that everyone wants the quick fix.  No one wants to deal with consequences beyond blaming them on someone else.  No one is willing to do the work or make the sacrifice to solve the problems.  Instead, we'd rather cast Others as the monster and then find the magical solution that will vanquish them forever.  We cannot see that we are all, all of us, vampires looking vainly in the mirror for a monster and unable to see our own reflection.  To speak this truth is to join the "blame America first" crowd.  It is to deny our Manifest Destiny of exceptionalism, our supernatural state as Super Power.  We are all too happy to be the villagers with pitchforks and torches -- we embrace that mob mentality as the essence of democracy.  And we scream all the louder when confronted with the sad fact that there are no external monsters and there is no magical antidote.  We scream in part in frustration.  We scream mostly because we know the screaming will create the monster (or summon someone who will).  And once the monster is confirmed, the magic bullet has to be out there too -- if we only scream loud enough and long enough to find it. 

We've been down this road before.  Maybe we will change course, but probably only to go down it again.  As we are learning all too well lately, the infrastructure of our roads (and our collective souls) suffers from this abuse.  We cannot stay on this cycling route forever.  We are driving our once mighty empire into its final days, not like heroes riding off into the sunset, but like frightened children facing the dark.  We scream and poke at each other.  We rant and stomp our feet, sometimes on one another.  When we should huddle together and support each other, too many of us claim the primacy of individual freedom and head off to get lost in the dark alone.  It's okay.  They know if the made-up monsters don't get them, the group will take them back.  And if they do somehow make it through the night, it will be that conveniently invisible hand coupled with their own self-evident self-worth that is responsible for their success.  Day or nght, we are filled with delusions.  Sadly, it is those delusions that fuel this car, regardless of who is driving and who is in the back. 

And no one, apparently, has a good road map or knows how to read the signs.

(Note:  These are all unmodified pictures of road signs near where I live.  One of them is the road I live on.  
Care to guess which one?  I am betting it's probably not your first guess.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Greetings, friends.  'Tis the season of the ghoulish and macabre.  Which is to say, for most of us, our favorite holiday.  The veil between worlds is at its thinnest in the time of Samhain.  Restless spirits wander the world, ready to make mischief and play tricks.  And ain't that a treat?

I've always enjoyed the transgressive holidays, which mostly means Carnival and Halloween -- those times of the year roughly coinciding with the equinox when we celebrate excess and our darker drives.  The globe shifts on its axis and it seems like we are willing to contemplate less ordered, less constrained ways of being.  Ignore these seasons at your peril.  At the very least, we all need an opportunity to blow off a little dark steam. 

In Carbondale, the university used to shut down the dorms and send the students home for Halloween.  We have a bit of a reputation for riots.  That's going a bit far, to be sure, but there is always something in the air.  Maybe when you put on a mask you feel like you can get away with anything.  Maybe we all crave a little chaos.  Anarchy rules, with most of us preferring Aleister Crowley's abbreviated version of the Witch's Rede:  "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."  The full Wiccan Rede comes with a bit of a caveat:  "These Eight words the Rede fulfill: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will."  Something worth remembering when the spirits of the night encourage you to throw a brick through a storefront window.  Or worse.

I prefer to let the call to transgress manifest in art.  Costume parties are a fun opportunity to build a concept onto my body.  Cards and posters are a fun opportunity to play comic arts.  We used to decorate our house, but have let the workload eclipse this opportunity for seasonal play.  Still, every now and again, I hang a Blair Witch cluster of sticks and bones in a tree around town -- the simplest decorations often being the creepiest.

It's a beautiful fall weekend, folks.  Don't let this day and night pass you by.  Carve a pumpkin.  Celebrate the harvest.  Light a bonfire (but be sure to tend it).  Play dress up.  Play a gentle prank.  Dance skyclad in the moonlight.  And when the devout hypocrites accuse you of inviting Satan into your heart, remind them that most of these rituals are about tricking him into passing you by.  He prefers the shriveled hearts of those who forgot the divine charge to "judge not lest ye be judged."    

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Cartoons and an Origin Story

The unfortunate combination of obligation and procrastination is impacting my ability to keep up with the blogging, so it looks like another week of delving into the sketchbook for comic art.  Meh.  That's not cheating, right?  That's just its own form of sharing.

And in the spirit of sharing, I thought I would respond publicly to a private question from a friend who follows my blog.  "Why Bungy Notes?" she asked me.  No big mystery, there.  "Bungy" (with or without accompanying digits) has been my profile name of choice on the internet for almost two decades now.  Way back in 1992, when most interactions were text based and we used to meet strangers in "tallkers" and "bbs," I chose Bungy as my moniker.  Up until sometime in 2000, it was my secret identity.  When I was doing stuff on line and didn't want my name attached to those activities, I was "Bungy."

But why Bungy?  Back in those early days of the net, before pic and video sharing were so easy, there were plenty of us inspired by the writings of William Gibson and other cyber-punk authors to imagine the Internet as a virtual site where you could reinvent yourself.  Moreover, that reinvention need not be tied to reality; the only limits were those of bandwidth and imagination.  I used to go to a purely text-based gay talker and engage in cyber-sex with strangers who may or may not have been men on the other end of the line.  At that time, there was a pretty even split between those men who wanted to hook up IRL and those who just wanted to play on-line.  There was a middle crowd eager to move to phone chats, but I pretty much fell into the latter group.

There were other differences as well.  One of them involved those who were tied to reality and those of us who were not.  Again, I fit into the latter group.  Long before Second Life came on the scene, there were plenty of us involved in collaborative fantasies typed out in textual format.  And some of us, recognizing that this was fantasy, chose a more dream-like and surreal approach to our fantasies.  "Bungy" was a misspelling of "bungee" and references both my desire for extreme experiences (like the extreme sport of bungee jumping) and my desire for flexibility in an on-line identity.  Even at that time, most gay men greeted each other in the fantasy world of on-line encounters with a request for "stats."  I often gave impossible stats for my height, weight, and genitalia proportions.  I could bend in impossible ways.  I was stretchy, expandable, and quite very odd.  And therein arose my subtitle: "Be flexible.  Be strange."

If video killed the radio star, I think pics and vids killed the surreal on-line chatrooms.  Oh sure, there's the visual buffet of Second Life.  I tried that for a while.  But I found the menu options somewhat limiting -- I had to choose my strangeness out of a box.  I either had to know how to code it myself or work from a bricolage of someone else's fantasy materials.  And I was kind of offended by how the whole Second Life experience was invested (literally) in creating a real economy with Linden Dollars.  Plus, all those graphics tended to jam people's systems.  It was too odd (and not in the good way) to see so many prepackaged avatars standing in a crowd and still using the old talker/chat-room conventions to spin out fantasies.

Anyway, "Bungy" remains an on-line name for me.  It is who I am on-line and who I have been for coming on two decades.  I still haven't actually bungee jumped, but that is something that remains on my bucket list.  One day.  And for the record, in my head I hear the "g" as soft.  I am aware that it can be pronounced with a hard "g" and be an adjective for something that smells bad.  That amuses me, since so far smell is one sense we haven't added to the virtual experience.  I also recently learned that "bungy" is a derogatory term for a man from Bangladesh.  Who knew? 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some Cartoons

In digging around for a blog topic this week, I thought it might be fun to share some cartooning from my sketchbooks.  These are scans without any real digital clean-up.  If they seem small on this page, click on the image for a larger view.

First, let me be perfectly clear: I am not a professional visual artist or cartoonist.  My professional training is in communication.  And while I have some undergraduate design courses under my belt and a long standing hobby of drawing and painting, this is not where I earn a living.  I starting teaching courses in Visual Rhetoric several years ago, and a favorite unit in that class is on cartoons (particularly political cartoons).  Part of my training is also in Performance Studies, which suggests that doing is one of the best ways of learning.  So, I took a hand at making cartoons.  They may look simple, but they are harder than they appear.  Kind of like haiku, that way. 

I also share a certain amount of frustration with the scholarly literature of visual rhetoric.  Many of these folks do not produce visual messages (of cartoons or other varieties).  Not that critics have to be practitioners, but I think there is a great value from actually doing work in the phenomenon you choose to theorize/criticize.  My admiration for editorial cartoonists went up exponentially when I tried to make a political cartoon.  In addition to the craft of line-art, there is an economy of expression in the one-liner.  It ain't easy, and I appreciate these artists' craft because, in part, they have to make it look easy.  In my own teaching and scholarship (as well as my performance work), I learn so much from the doing, and I have learned so much from doing cartoons.

So I admit, with some pride in the fact, that I am an amateur.  French cultural theorist Roland Barthes similarly claimed the status of amateur and defined it thus:  "The Amateur engages in painting, music, sport, science, without the spirit of mastery or competition[...] he establishes himself graciously (for nothing) in the signifier: in the immediately definitive substance of music, of painting[...] he is – he will be perhaps – the counter-bourgeois artist" [Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 2].  My interest in comics and cartoons is, as the root of "amateur" suggests, in my love for them.  I am happy to make them as an act of exploration and appreciation.  I am happy to share them in a non-competitive, non-commercial spirit. 

The images on this page are from my sketchbooks.  Most are from the last two years.  They are some of the better pages where I think I hit on a message and an image with the cartoonist's economy of expression.  Believe me, they are surrounded by pages and pages of less successful attempts.

I am currently cartooning for the collaborative blog, Black Magpie Theory; you can find some of my attempts at political caricature and commentary over there.  And of course, I also create original art comics for this blog, experimental comics, poemicstrip, and occasionally Abstract Comics.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Famous Album Covers

"These initiation rites have been monetized.  My social network ate your Web 2.0.  Hang pierced from a tree and call it a film festival.  Cunning like a conservative news network.  Your dreams are in violation of international copyright laws.  You will be persecuted.  Upgrade now or perish.  I used to read books; now I read faces.  I have an ambient awareness of birdsong.  He painfully pricked his skin with pixels.  Practice safe file transfer protocol.  Silence equals relief."

In the course of sharing digital artwork here and at other blogs, I caught the attention of and was invited to contribute to the blog, "Famous Album Covers."  I love the concept of this site: album covers of fictional bands.  That is, using the format of album (now CD) covers as an inspiration for producing art. 

The blog includes the following opening description of its purpose:
Perhaps the greatest art movement in America is the series of album covers generated from the 1960s forward. Perhaps it isn't. Here it is though. Some of the most famous album covers you have never seen.

For the art historians out there, yes, Pop Art has British beginnings. And no, I'm not going to look beyond the technology of the phonograph to discover that the Mesopotamians had the first album cover. Sorry.

Can't a guy get a word in edgewise? 
Lately, when I post to the blog, I like to include a playlist with the album, the list of song titles and running times offering its own kind of poetry and an interesting interaction of words with image.  For example:

01 Goony (3:15)
02 Alpha OMG (2:17)
03 Nixon's Confession (18:30)
04 Pay to Pray (4:22)
05 My Tarnished Agony (2:37)
06 Error Message 401 (3:20)
07 Why Were We Thinking? (2:54)
08 Partial Funding (1:10)
09 You Gum My Spirit (5:02)
10 Mother Whore (2:06)
11 My Own Private Taliban (3:32)

01 Sine Qua Non (3:17)
02 Labial Fold  (4:13)
03 STFU (2:37)
04 My Own Private Eye To Hoe (3:32)
05 Ball Sweat and Pantyhose (3:23)
06 Send In The Clowns (4:13)
07 Dead And Buried (3:23)
08 Outrageous Fortune (5:06)
09 Sylvan (3:12)
10 For Ani (5:12)
11 Clown Shoes (2:24)
12 Vibrate (3:47)
13 Brick By Brick (4:13)
14 Title Wave (2:17)

01 My Mom Just Wants Her Bomb Back (3:17)
02 Daughton Park (2:20)
03 Claws In Them Paws (3:15)
04 Shit Eating Grin (1:35)
05 No Mushrooms (6:23)
06 There But For The Grace of God (5:10)
07 The Secret Garden (3:13)
08 Ruthie's Request (1:54)
09 Tan Your Hide (4:20)
10 Crisis Hotline (7:33)
11 Walk With Me (3:15)
12 Call Your Father (2:27)
13 Labor Is For Life (6:11)
14 Daughton Park (acoustic) (2:25)

And then sometimes, I provide no playlist:

My partner makes music on his computer.  In the last several years, I have followed my visual sensibilities in the tools and networking possibilities offered by this increasingly digitized world.  He has pursued his considerable sound sensibilities.  In all of this, we share an interest in intermedia and the DIY ethic -- the potential of new media to open up creative possibilities and cultural production.  We can get a bit utopian in all that, if we are not careful:  Viva la remix society.  Take back the systems of production.  Free the imagination from the prepackaged and prefigured.  Explore together the unknown territories of truly free expression. 

Maybe "Famous Album Covers" contributes to that dream.  Maybe it just shows how we are all tied to the forms we grew up with.  It's a complicated world.  But the important thing is that we are all producing and letting our creative sensibilities flourish. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"It Bleeds, It Won't Be Contained"

So, I spent my Saturday making a comic as part of the "24 Pages in 24 Hours" create a comic project.  It might have been an indulgent use of a Saturday, but I had fun doing it.  Well, mostly.  About halfway through the afternoon, I really wanted to quit.  Even this morning, my shoulders are tense and my back is sore.  But then, that could be more a result of struggling to upload the work to Scribd this morning.  Grrr.  Stupid, dumb internet connection!

As the note at the end of the comic states, I made this comic in a 24 hour period from 8am Sat (10/2/2010) to 8 am this morning.  I did use, in the composition, some scans from my sketchbook and some clips I've digitally created before, but the concept and the composition (as well as the digital clean-up) happened all yesterday.  I also did a fair amount of fresh drawing yesterday (hands very sore!).  The comic is a (possibly problematic) mix of poemics, cartooning, and some abstract comics.  Mostly, though, I just tried to stay in motion and produce the work in the time allotted. 


It Bleeds, It Won't Be Contained                                                                   

Here is a link to the comic in case the embed breaks (as they tend to do!). 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More on Cross/Walking

I'm still working on the best way to share video documentation of my recent performance, Cross/Walking.  But until then, here are a few stills from the recent production. I begin the performance with a brief introduction of themes about place and space and the practice of place-making while "rappelling" along the stage edge.  This piece is titled "Enter/Cross/Exit," and ends with me off stage and a vibrating rope stretched across the liminal space between audience and stage -- "a trace of a crossing from entrance to exit."

The logic of the show as titled suggested taking on Christian faith and what it might say about environmental advocacy.  I walk a fine line in honoring Christian faith without proselytizing.  My point is that the cross, as symbol, is something we all share -- believers and non-believers alike.  The idea of carrying it, literally or symbolically, as a pilgrimage of sorts resonates as a way of, well, "walking one's talk."  I use this particular meditation to explore ideas often expressed as "Creation Care," a deliberate attempt to challenge belief among some evangelicals that to be Christian is to be anti-environmentalist or that environmentalists are only pagan, nature-worshipers.  As I've posted elsewhere on this blog, my own faith skews more toward agnostic or interfaith than Christian (I was raised Unitarian).  So my goal in this section of the performance is to try to speak to Christians within a discourse they value about the lessons in their faith tradition to be good stewards of the earth.

That said, I am also aware that a lot of bad things have been done in Christ's name, and that the symbol of the cross has too often been used as a weapon more than a symbol of love.  I don't shy away from that fact in this monologue.  How could I?  But since the show is about process-oriented rather than object/product-oriented thnking, I am more interested in what people do with their faith and symbols.  This leads me to do some things with the symbol that create some, well, challenging images.  But lest we think this is only a provocative image, my partner informed me about a practice by a military contractor to inscribe the cross in gun sights, including codes referencing Biblical verses. 

Following this section of the performance, I transform the cross into an easel and do a section titled "Trip/Tychs."  There is an embedded pun on "trip" in this section as I travel between images, telling and sometimes improvising prose-poem stories that connect the images.  I also link to the idea of the triptych as an altar piece.  The power of three images together is their interrelationship.  So, I use the triptych to explore connection, as well as to interact with the audience. 

I follow this piece with a mock lecture by a character named Dr. Nathan Jogary.  He describes an expedition to an "impossible mountain," using and referencing slides that have nothing to do with what he is talking about.  Or, well, in a kind of chance aesthetic, the relationship between what he says and what he shows is abstract enough to allow audiences the productive, imaginative space to make their own connections.  The images in this faux-lecture are digital artworks I have made for abstract comics and asemic writing.

Finally, I end with a meditation with the audience about connection while passing out a rope that slithers through them, hand to hand, like a snake in the grass, like a winding path.  I use the same rope that I used in the opening monologue not only to neatly tie up the performance, but also to untie the performance and rupture the exit.  The last moment of the performance involves me exiting through the theatre entrance, dragging the rope with me, creating a kind of path to the outside world.  The last line (which trails away as I walk away): "It exits and becomes an entrance which becomes an exit which becomes an entrance which becomes an exit which becomes..."

[As I noted before, I designed this show to be portable.  If you are reading this and would like to bring this show or my earlier piece, "Trail Mix," to your community, contact me at jmgray32(at)gmail(dot)com.  I am deeply committed to using performance to spark dialogue about environmental issues.  I can couple this performance with a lecture or series of workshops on performance and environmental advocacy.]

Note: Special thanks to Christi Saindon for the photo-documentation of this performance.