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July 2023: don't call it practice
(or, "i had no model")
Water-logged, I haul myself back here once again. Living and making have sent me into my depths, and surfacing to routine is slow going. The act of return, wonderfully, feels more assured than it ever has. I’m learning to be at home in myself, my work, my world, in ways that feel new. So, as I pass from the current of one project into another (the wasp project, which you can learn more about below), I come bearing treasure—two well-loved poems that guide my ascent.
The first, Lucille Clifton's “won’t you celebrate with me,” is so obviously a poem about craft that I didn’t even notice (until thinking back on Kiyan Williams' 2022 installation Between Starshine and Clay). What Clifton’s narrator has “shaped into / a kind of life” monumentalizes an erotic force—a capacity only glimpsed by the thing called social sculpture. The speaker’s freehanding (“i had no model”) is neither heroic nor mournful, neither defiant nor mired in lack. Nor is it a practice of sculpting from life. Instead, her work—“my one hand holding tight / my other hand”—touches and turns the surface of (her) livingness itself.
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Mary Oliver, too, ponders the crafting of experience. “Whoever you are,” the speaker of “Wild Geese” exhorts near poem’s end, “no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination.” A panoramic nature scene slices through the center of the poem: “meanwhile,” the speaker notes, geese return home, sun and rain drift, “the world goes on.” Like the migration of wildlife and weather fronts, this encounter (for Oliver) suggests a conditional inevitability—a force that can be felt, should one choose the circumstances. The poem’s heart is a space for practicing “let[ting] the soft animal of [my] body / love what it loves.” Further still, it may even be refuge from practice, from the pursuit of accomplishment or mastery.
Through cracks in the cement of the social, flowers spring. These poems grasp for clay and sky and starshine, arriving at embodiments beyond oppression. I grasp, too; the wasp project is a study in seeking (and, ideally, finding) room enough. This has been tough for a practice which—as a living thing—has resisted turning outward. (Perfect cause for feeling one has nothing to say!) As my work reaches out into the world, its roots plunge ever deeper into what is most sure. It sounds certain, but doesn’t feel it; titles, standards, and ideals all but evaporate, leaving nothing but myself. It’s a self that’s rarely felt ready to withstand the world. But what grows before its time?
There is nurture in depth. So, too, in pressing out, pressing into the surround. In this moment I find strength enough to unfurl toward sun, “announcing [my] place / in the family of things” (in Oliver's words). The depths will always be there! For now, stretching my limbs, I want to live on the shoreline, venturing into the trees, fishing in the shallows, calling up the neighbors—and at the end of all this, returning home. The place where I am free to produce nothing, to practice nothing, but instead, to just be, and yet believe. Learning this, I can encounter you. I can hear, really hear, Clifton’s words, a primer for creation, the mundane miracle.
the wasp project is part of ODC’s State of Play Festival. True to these reflections, the performance is both a continuation and a composting of a piece I shared through Los Angeles Performance Practice last September. Bay Area performance fans/friends, I’d love to see you there! You can catch the wasp project on Friday, August 4th at 6pm; and Sunday, August 6th at 4pm. I’m also leading a workshop about story-ing on Monday, August 7th from 2 to 4pm. All events will take place on ODC’s campus in San Francisco.
Until next time, be well.
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