Sunday, 11 July 2010

stirring backwards

I’ve been thinking a lot about ritual. 

Do I have enough of it.  Do I have the right kind.  Are the rituals I do have still resonant with me.

When I recently sliced my finger open, I couldn’t use my hand very well for a few weeks.  Writing with a pen or pencil was almost impossible and typing was pretty difficult.  I’ve been writing morning pages every day for about 12 years, no maybe 13 now, and this was my first serious break in it ever.  The only time I usually miss writing them is when I’m in the middle of production and the call times are very early.   Even then, I usually make them up at some point in the day.

I asked myself was it time to leave this ritual behind?  Was it still serving me?  Was this imposed break actually a message?

When I was able to write again, I began morning pages.  Within a week, I felt that I knew the answer was in continuation.  If anything, slicing open my finger made me more avid in morning pages and other writing rituals I might have neglected (like blogging).

Ritual is not habit.  The morning pages might have become habit for me, and I needed to redirect them to ritual.  However, they were still potent.  I decided to put other daily rituals in place and to look for other small ceremonies that might have meaning.

Artists do not often appear to subscribe to ritual.  We can seem disorderly to outside minds.  Societal rituals, from regular communal worship to Little League often escape us, yet we create and preserve our rituals nonetheless.  Ceremonial rites stoke creative engines --  the cost of not tending the fires is great, and most productive artists I know embrace chaos only in careful doses.

The new moon solar eclipse today seems to be centered in releasing the old and embracing the new.  At least, according to what I've read about it.  My sense, though, is that some things from the past are popping up in new and unexpected ways.

Yesterday, my friend P. David posted something on a documentary we programmed in the 2001 Silverlake Film Festival, Modern Tribalism.  I loved this documentary and we built a big event around it – though getting a permit for firedancers proved tricky.  The film explores rituals that were burgeoning at the time from tattooing to Burning Man.
Tribalism has come to mean very different things in the past decade.  The tribalism of the film is a return to ritual and ceremony and a bonding together of people who actively choose certain rights of passage.  In a post 9/11 world, tribalism has come to signify the bond associated with shared DNA, religion, place of origin.  Our search for diversity has landed us in a pot that is rigourously trying to unmelt – something impossible under the laws of physics.  Just ask young Thomasina, the main character of Tom Stoppard’s superlative play Arcadia, who discovers the law of entropy all on her own to the amazement of her tutor, Septimus:
"When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?"
- Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
This week I was faced with sending out an old project that I had never felt fully done.  I insisted that the ending be edited - literally just chopped off - before the last (horrible) scene.  I'd never liked the way it had ended; with the constraints at the time, we were not allowed to re-cut.  Now, years later, I was not letting it out into the world that way twice.

Checking the video, I noticed the soundtrack seemed dated.  The friend who made the edit said, "Well, I can change that for you."  My gut instinct was no.  Certainly it's possible, but it was cut to those tracks, too, and it would be a lot of work for possibly little improvement.  Yes, there is music that didn't even exist then that might be great.  However, if the soundtrack is dated, might the shots be dated, too?  How much change is good and how much renovation is necessary?  Maybe its context is what gives it relevance and removing that removes deteriorates meaning.

I decided not to become the George Lucas of short filmmaking, and leave it alone.

Last week, the venue for our new night burned down.  It was a moment when we had to ask if the Universe was saying back off, or try harder.  I sent a message to all the invitees explaining that we weren't sure what was going to happen to the event.  Someone I never met responded that fire is purifying and that we should see what rises up after it.  That was a good reminder;  we got a new venue, and Starburst Jams is happening on Tuesday.

Some things cannot be unstirred, but perhaps some things can.  I suppose our trick is in knowing what to reclaim, remix, and remaster and what to let go.

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