03 January 2008

Improvisation of Presence

So far, in the two plus years since coming to the post-Katrina South, it's been hard to know for sure when some-thing is ending and some-thing-else is beginning. Sometimes change comes abruptly --like the morning the armed guard arrived to tell us we had one hour to gather our belongings and vacate our tent at the FEMA encampment in Algiers--and there's no mistaking it; the next chapter has definitely begun.

But most of the time it hasn't been that clear. Most attitudes or projects or relationships have felt like experiments or improvisations that, of course, don't feel like an exact fit at the beginning but "let's just see where it goes, see whether it holds..."

In Action Theater, the improv school where I received my start-up training, we partially disable the analytical mind to allow impulses to surface from...well, wherever impulses come from, and then surrender the body to "follow" the impulse, to let it bloom into movement, gestures and sounds. But the absence of analysis does not at all mean the form develops haphazardly or absent-mindedly; far from it. The player commits his/her attention diligently to the unfolding impulse.

Ruth Zaporah, my teacher, was quick to shout across the studio "What is that?!" when it was apparent any of us had shifted our attention from the impulse to an analysis of the impulse. To her, and increasingly to us under her tutelage, it was glaringly perceptible when this happened. The body lost fluidity. The work suffered. The performance failed.

Ruth talked about this method as "the improvisation of presence." Being present, right here. Fully focused and committed in body and mind to the present moment, the new one that is always improvising itself into existence. I enthusiastically bought into this method, this attitude, this approach. Not that I came anywhere near mastery of the practice but, oh, talk about resonating with a concept.... Yeah. There is a way in which I see "improvisation of presence" and "hope" as antithetical....and I'm sure this has something to do with my recently-discussed abstinence; but this is a philosophical discussion I'll leave for exploration at some other time.

For now, MS Public Broadcasting has broken my heart and soul today. I don't have television access and rely on NPR radio a lot for news and entertainment and background noise. MPB might just as well closed shop today for the shoddy job it's done in all three areas. It's been so bad I've actually shed tears about it. And wrung my hands and questioned my existence in Mississippi, in the South, in America. "What the f**k am I doing in MS?! We don't even have a decent radio station down here!"

Pulling back just a bit from that ledge of over-the-top dramatics, I'm left wondering whether it's a sign that a change is coming, needs to come... The work with the Steps Coalition has pretty much dried up--as has my confidence or enthusiasm for the Coalition....hummmm. Hard to say which happened first or whether the two phenom are related.

My passport application is complete except for photo and $97 application fee. I really want to go to Brazil but what does it mean that my income disappears just as I begin serious plans to head further South?

I jumped at the chance to become an EPSS trainer last fall, "hoping" it would turn into a means of at least partial self-support by early 2008 but that prospect is vanishing. Or is it?

It's like that down here: hard to say or see whether an experiment is succeeding or temporarily tanking or progressing slowly or definitely going down the tubes. I try to stick with pure impulse, commit my attention and energy to its bloom without fretting or analyzing...

After all, maybe Brazil can happen. Maybe EPSS will reach solvency in the next six weeks. Maybe the Coalition will become a place where I can again make a meaningful contribution. But, as ever, for the gazillionth time, money anxiety is the demon distraction.

Oh!! Wait a minute: what was that line from Shortbus? Something about embracing the demon...

Note: Shortbus trailer is embedded at the bottom of the page for a limited time only.


  1. Shortbus: Oh my, the Shortbus video is absolutely charming- I've known Shortbus as a band in the past- same group? whoever the videomakers are, what a delightful video!

  2. $ Income & Freedom: There are still many ways to opt out of the so-called system and follow our Dreams without the constraints of "fitting in" - sometimes involving formal bankruptcy, formally identified madness, barter for room & board-
    it occurs to me that we're from different cohorts, even though only 6 or 7 yrs apart- the social remove called hippie was probly pretty much over when you were old enough to synthesize the various "alternative" lifestyles that were publicly expressed during that time, as well as the ex-pat forerunners and continuing (a lot less publicly) "alternate" support systems- have you experienced many people in yr life who've given up accepted (ie acceptable to the Man, to the currently hegemonically acceptable means of support)lives?
    There still ARE many who have, some who travel the world, some who Make Art, some who've built and/or live in solidly sustained communities (The Farm,in... Colorado? Kaliflower collective in SF- not to mention inherited practices like the Travelers) If not, might be worth more exploration.

  3. IMPULSE: wow. I'm thinking about this plays out in life unfolding...I remember Zapporah's work from the SF years- never very familiar with it- but intrigued by yr experience and how it informs yr now/future planning, daily life-please advise if I'm missing the whole point!

    My reflection:
    I've been many times redirected or shaked up when follwing Impulse, following doggedly when I'm focussed on a vision, a dream of fruition of my Dream; also reference yr discussion of meeting potential relationship with fullthrottle hope of intimacy, tribe ( do I paraphrase correctly? my synthesized understanding...)
    I've often acted on strong impulse of what I experience as RIGHT or WRONG- instigating lasting effective righteous change in some few instances, initiating lasting Festival in two, mucking around with unforseen consequences in most, usually unforseen through my very powerfull lenses of desire that the dream BE, my essential knowing that it CAN, but leaving out the part about maybe it can't very well be here, like this...

    Anyway, that's my reflection- occurs to me that "original" impulse changes from moment to moment when also consciously Present, also informing, directing, action in life and moment. I'd like to hear more if yr up for it.

  4. Alex: "I try to stick with pure impulse, commit my attention and energy to its bloom without fretting or analyzing"...
    God, you & I are maybe the most analytical people I know, with QR maybe an exception.... Is it working? What just happened here? what does this or that mean? Why? Why? WHY?!?
    Occurs to me, from my analytical pov, that's one reason we're attracted so to practices of coming Awake, in-the-moment awareness that's mutually exclusive with analysis, at least in the moment.
    I think it was WW1- literate soldiers couldn't draw accurate maps; illiterates were sent out to draw new territory.... but it took literates to communicate the rest of the plans, OK? wings of ooone bird; can't fly with only one wing. Finding balance.


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