A Ring of Co-Existence

:: it’s been a long time! ::

fitting, somehow, that my last blog post was a repost. i remember actually writing one sometime after and we shall see if i can ever time travel back and squeeze it in.

but maybe it’s happily lost and i don’t need to…

needs. i have been thinking about needs a lot over the past year or so. what do i actually need in any given moment? how does that change in the next one? and how is what i need different from what i want?

one of my very first theater collaborators, Davi Cohen, introduced me to this way of approaching my life and artmaking process. Davi and i became collaborators with a desire to make work together, so we started training in the shared language of Suzuki and Viewpoints. as we evolved, we danced together, made work in unconventional ways, traveled across the country, presented in our home city, went on residency, made movies, ate food together, shared our personal triumphs and challenges, and broached the question:

 what is co-existence?

Davi took off to Scotland in 2009 to study with dancer/choreographer Deborah Hay. this was right before we created our piece, RING, for the FuryFactory Festival in San Francisco. RING was an absurdist dance theater exploration of the ties that bind us—using Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the Youtube phenomenon of recreating Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance, and the many free associations that emerged from these two works. it was also for this performance that our characters Darth and Lobster emerged. as we continued to collaborate so did their relationship, and the forms through which they communicated. Darth and Lobster made Name This Film, Darth performed a burlesque at tinyDANGEROUSfun where she birthed a live lobster onstage, while remotely, Lobster traveled to Singapore to make a continuation of his journey after he leaves Darth at the end of the film. Darth and Lobster launched on a dance contest campaign on the internet and in public squares in NYC to win a trip to Singapore. this brought them to interact with the public in new and unexpected ways, teaching the Great Singapore Workout to anyone who noticed. people started to respond, and Darth&Lobster became a duo.

a major part of the process with Davi was this question of co-existence. we were naturally very good at sharing responsibilities, running with each other’s ideas, and remaining open to each other’s knowledge and trainings. so when Davi brought her experience working with Deborah Hay into the mix, she introduced me to the question:

“what if the question ‘what if where i am is what i need?’ is not about what i need but an opportunity to remember the question ‘what if where i am is what i need?’”

i wondered for a long time about the second part of this question, the first seeming simple to embrace. in a way, it’s easier not to question what i truly need because then i don’t have any responsibility to try and get it.

but i never thought that was the point. in fact, i now believe that is the opposite of it.

we all have needs. there are basic ones like food, water, and shelter. (how we each relate to these needs is an interesting inquiry of my practice these days.) but there are also other needs, such as love, physical contact, and spiritual fulfillment. one could argue that we won’t die without these things. i would suggest that we would—only it would be a slower, more painful, traumatizing death.

take, for example, the psychology experiment with the baby rhesus monkeys by Harry Harlow in the 1950’s. baby monkeys, when given the choice between a surrogate cloth monkey mother with no food and a surrogate wire monkey mother with food, would choose the cloth version without food. the comfort contact triumphed over the basic need of hunger. when they were not given a choice, the wire-reared monkeys were more fearful and more aggressive. monkeys in total isolation for more than 90 days were never able to be re-socialized again—the emotional damage was too severe. these experiments stress the importance of needs that may not be considered critical on a daily basis but, to my mind, are as equally important as eating a hamburger or living in a house.

and so my current thought on part two of Deborah Hay’s question is:

can i identify what i truly need and look at exactly where i am? and if i see that i have exactly what i need (or else i likely wouldn’t be here), then in the next moment, i have the opportunity to ask the question all over again. and if i keep saying “yes, exactly where i am is exactly what i need,” then i get to continue in a perpetual cycle of asking the question and answering, asking and answering, asking…

so i have been applying a reinterpreted version of this idea to the way i make life choices as well. i make a concerted effort to ask my self what i truly need to be doing in any given moment. do i really need to be complaining right now? maybe. does the person i am complaining to need to hear it? no. okay, then i’ll stop complaining. this frees up time to figure out what i really need to be doing. it allows me to ask the question all over again.

and if i continue to refine that which i need to be doing by asking these questions, the more often i arrive at the point where both where i am and what i am doing are part of the “positive opportunity to ask the question cycle.”

so in the process of asking this question today, i came to an interesting conclusion. i have been immersed in the world of Salvador Dalí. i am creating a massive collaboratively-devised puppet play about his life and art. Dalí had a strong personality. and my co-creator Serra Hirsch and i are touring the piece for the first time since its inception. we will be presenting it at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as developing it further and adapting it for this particular venue. it is a huge undertaking, as all-consuming as Dalí’s personality was (and clearly, still is.)

Serra and i have been working around the clock, moving back and forth between logistics and creative work. there is so much to do. and so this morning (in the midst of a meltdown about it) i asked my self, what do i need to do? and the answer was to share some of my process with you.

and so even though i am experiencing moments of sheer terror, thinking that i need to be taking care of 8 million other things for Dalí, i feel better doing this. in this moment, where i am is exactly what i need. and now, i have the opportunity to ask the question all over again… 

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Written by lobsterbird