publications

howls from the concrete jungle / human zoo

“The city is not a concrete jungle, it’s a human zoo.”
Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo.

Soaking up the sunshine this weekend, I perched with a friend on the steps of Union Square. Nearby, a group of attractive young white kids with brightly colored hair spun poi and hula-hooped in fashionable earthy garb, crafting a performative stage at the foot of the steps where dozens of people sat. I watched and wondered, as I always do, at the seemingly innate enjoyment of judging gazes, small envies, unsubtle desires, attentive eyes consuming their brightly colored shimmying hips and tanned, fluid limbs. I’m at a loss for how to go about reclaiming a lifestyle co-opted by childish style tribes, recuperated and sold back in the tone of the “underground.” But as Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes…

A man holding a sign ranted loudly about the perils of nanotechnology, drawing a small cluster of avid listeners. My friend attended to her Seed Magazine, which highlighted the contemporary debate on the issue. She commented on the young man giving out free hugs while simultaneously strutting about in a shirt emblazoned with the words “made of poison.”

I casually struck up a conversation with the man chillin’ to my left, complimenting the intricate detail of the colorful psychedelic prints splayed out around him. Averting his eyes, he described his process as one of “adding to” pre-existing images – at this, I raised an eyebrow and smirked at the psychedelic elephant in my hands. Smoothly, he then pulled out a translucent pair of prints and moved them slowly across one another, blurring and goo-ifying a gigantic block print of the year 2012. Wince.

Gradually, we inserted ourselves into another nearby spectacle that had drawn a dense crowd- two lithe black men dressed in bright, skin-tight animal print bodysuits engaged in a wildly contortionist dance, bizarre twistings of bodily form. For their grand finale, one leapt effortlessly over the heads of half a dozen “volunteers.” Throughout, they called for the audience to give money for their endeavors, and at the end passed three large buckets around. Embarrassed, I avoided the buckets, reaching a hand into my pocket to ensure my four dollar bills were still milling about.

The area where I run at the Chelsea Piers has finally finished construction (or at least a substantial portion of it), and is now allowing people to meander along the shiny new walkways accented by bright green grass and surrounded by trees and water. It is beautiful!

Tonight, I rambled to the corner market for a beer. It was around midnight, and I found myself gazing in at the bars closing down. Bartenders, cooks and barbacks gathered in small pockets just beyond accessibility, cocooned in the inner glow of afterhours. There was a sense of belonging in these fractured glances, and in the smooth strides of a man who zipped down 19th street on rollerblades while chatting with his bluetooth’d self Each of these sightings registered a pang of longing that sung through my heart.

(I recalled, as I often do, a memory of a rainstorm at dawn several years ago, my green bedroom syrupy and sunlit and full of friends sprawled out on mattresses and in chairs, long bouts of listening interspersed with sleepy jokes and lazy laughter. Joe had set up a feedback contraption that captured the sounds of the falling rain and catapulted them back into the room. Drenched in sound and in the love of adopted family close at hand, I remember falling asleep with the acute sense that I had come full circle back to my childhood, to the warmth of s’more-infused campfires and sunday night baths with my siblings.)

Then I remembered that sunlit day, which proceeded into an evening of laughter, ranting, and friendly camaraderie with a friend I’d never gotten to know well one-on-one. There was a point where I found myself persuading her to look at San Diego, to come and make a community of smart, down-to-earth compadres. It occurred to me just how necessary such dreams had become, lost in the sea of anomie that is new york city.

This was all only ever temporary, a sacrifice for love. Never inclined toward urban environments, I resolved not to become too attached to this city – just as I’d resolved, 5 years ago, not to fall in love during the year I was abroad in Denmark.

That pact failed back then – of course during the last two months of my stay, with nothing to stand in the way of letting go – I fell in love with a Danish boy destined for the Danish military life, just as I was destined for the American collegiate life. I’ve no regrets. How could I?

And so I’ve no regrets for my renewed mission: to love this porous city for all its flaws and elegant superstructure, to capture this life so rich with culture and madness, and finally to know what it means to escape the zoo of my own accord.

ramble scramble: on narcissism and dialogue

Narcissus captivated by his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus captivated by his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus, a Greek god, spurned the advances of the goddess Echo (or so one version of the story goes). As she faded away in a lonely spot, her final whispery prayers for vengeance were overheard by the goddess Nemesis. As punishment, Narcissus was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection. Pining for his own image in a pool of water, he died and changed into the flower that would come to be called narcissus.

I recently realized that I have all but completely shifted my writing online, into the public domain. Why bother to hold onto those random musings and discoveries when you can tweet them, and not care who’s listening?

I feel something like a civic responsibility. Or perhaps it could be captioned: “Subversivity and Adversity: Fuck!Shit! Oh Woe Is Me.” It is conversation that is key, dialogues that enable challenges to the American ideology of individualism that has long blinded us to the power of empathy, listening, and cultural sensitivity:

Raul Castro, the President of Cuba, recently met with US lawmakers and called for direct negotiations. The meeting revealed to the Americans an earnest desire for dialogue:

”There is no need to emphasize what Cuba has always said: We do not fear dialogue with the United States,” he wrote. ”Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some foolish people think. We exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialogue with the adversary.”

Also this past week, a San Francisco Bay Area event for Burners dubbed “Go Native!” was canceled in the face of virulent furor by Native Americans across the country. The East Bay Express reports:

The strange saga all began in early February when Visionary Village — a loose group of artists and other young people who enjoy the annual Burning Man arts festival in Nevada — began routine publicity for a Burning Man-style “private event” at the Bordello on E. 12 Street in Oakland. The online flyer circulated on Tribe.net read: “GO NATIVE” in an Old West font set against a desert sun, and the dance party was advertised as a “fundraiser for the Native American Church.” Native-rights activists got wind of it and publicized additional text from the VisionaryVillage.org web site indicating four “elemental rooms” would be themed: “Water: Island Natives (Maori); Air: Cliff Natives (Anasazi); Earth: Jungle Natives (Shipibo); Fire: Desert Natives (Pueblo).” Ravers were offered a discount off the $20 door fee “if you show up in Native costume,” and the money would fund “neurofeedback research demonstrating causality between medicinal use [of peyote], improved brainwave patterns, and heightened mirror neuron activity in users.” The 140-year-old Bordello property abuts Interstate 880 and an ancient Ohlone Indian site dated to the 12th century B.C., which was also promoted.

The Visionary Village leaders quickly complied with the Native Americans’ demand for cancellation and request for dialogue. It was to be a lesson in effective conflict resolution, though certainly tensions remain: On the night of the event, a handful of Burners were lectured to for four hours on the importance of cultural sensitivity, appropriation, and outright theft. The Burners were apologetic and conciliatory and willing to bridge the rifts between their cultures.

But, still – robbed of one’s culture twice over. Blindly reproducing the hierarchies we’d once imposed in another iteration- one more ignorant, autosexual, narcissistic-

“Power is not caring who’s listening,” a quote from Bernie Hogan that found its way to my Twitter feed (and certainly applies to Twitter)- but it is also caring who’s listening! Not necessarily in the paranoid, conspiratorial sense (though sometimes they really are out to get you), but rather in the empathetic sense. The knife is a technology that can be used to cut food, or used to cut people. Beware of spending too much time in front of the mirror: In search of strokes we become addicts blindly drawn to the glow. There are so many DIFFERENT kinds of people, paradigms, possibilities just beyond the realm of comfort and habit, yet we continue to be drawn to that which confirms and reaffirms what we already know.

The medium is the message: a television show may compress time and space in such a way as to provide a limited, inauthentic experience; conversely, it could play with time and space in a wiggly manner. Perhaps this explains my wholesale absorption by television involving time travel (Heroes and Lost, specifically), or shows that sweep me into laughter to such a hilarious extent that i forget to fret on what’s been done or what’s to come ahead.

To escape the self is at once ecstatic and terrifying. Victor Turner suggests that “liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon” (1986: 95). Drawn in to the present reality, which always exists between fixed points, we are freed from these imagined divisions between nature and culture, self and other, past and future.

It is in providing outward display for things and pathways as they exist within the horizons of landscape that places enable memories to become inwardly inscribed and possessed: made one with the memorial self. The visibility without becomes part of the invisibility within.
-Edward Casey, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study, 1987

The medium is the message: erasure of the glow, as all journeys exist in the mind alone. There are so many stories to be told, connections to be made, and so many possible paths for the telling, paths as yet unexplored.

Better to be a pansexual than an autosexual, to be weaving whimsical loops within the whole.