Quote of the day: CRITTER CARDIOLOGY

February 20, 2020

CRITTER CARDIOLOGY

Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmet-crests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day, and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest animal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

–Brian Doyle, “Joyas Voladoras”

Note: poet and novelist Brian Doyle died of a brain tumor in 2017 at the age of 60. This is one of his most beloved essays, widely circulated and republished in the recent collection of his work, One Long River of Song.

 


Quote of the day: NON-BINARY

February 5, 2020

NON-BINARY

I tweeted the #IAmNonbinary hashtag in support of Nonbinary Day and to bring more awareness to the community. I retweeted the Steven Universe meme “Are you a boy or a girl? I’m an experience” because it resonated with me, especially as someone who has pushed boundaries of gender since the beginning of my career. I feel my feminine energy, my masculine energy, and energy I can’t even explain.

–Janelle Monáe (photographed by Elisaveta Porodina for New York )


zines: EKPYROSIS (2019)

January 21, 2020

I have a long-standing tradition of creating an end-of-year compilation of quotes, poems, cartoons, and images (many of them XXX-rated) as a gift to friends.

In recent years, I’ve been a little lax about posting them online, but I spent some time the other day making the last five years’ worth available.

Feel free to go here and click around for your literary and visual entertainment.

Be forewarned: these books contain X-rated images. By clicking on any of these titles, you certify that you are over 18 and have learned to dress yourself.

The most recent is titled EKPYROSIS. The title is a word I only learned from Mabou Mines’ annual Christmastime fundraising letter. It’s a Greek word the Stoics used to refer to the periodic destruction of the cosmos by a mass conflagration.


Culture Vulture: Under the Radar Festival and Duane Michals at the Morgan Library

January 20, 2020

Under the Radar, the annual festival of cutting-edge international work centered at the Public Theater, always opens the year with a bang. I feasted on three events in one day.

Aleshea Harris, one of the cadre of fierce amazingly original playwrights of color who’ve emerged in the last few years, created WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN , which presents itself very specifically as a ritual first and foremost for black people to heal/address the situation of violence against black people in this country. “Please note that it is not often that Black people have a safe, public space for expressing their unfiltered feelings about anti-Blackness. We are taking that space today.” The playwright and the company she works with (Movement Theater Company) incorporate many elements of pagan ritual, African village ceremony, trauma therapy, and spiritual workshops to make every moment of the experience participatory, not sit-back-and-watch theater. Whitney White directed the uniformly strong performers: Alana Raquel Bowers, Rachel Christopher, Nemuna Ceesay, Ugo Chukwu, Kambi Gathesha, Denise Manning, Javon Q. Minter, and Beau Thom (above, photo by Ahron R. Foster).

I read the text when it was published in American Theatre last year, which blew me away, and the experience itself is super-powerful, from gathering in the lobby surrounded by photographs of black people killed by police to the very end of the show, which looks different for black and non-black audience members. I took very much to heart the statement Harris has an actor read at the end of the show to the non-black audience: “A good friend once told me that we each have a different job where challenging racism is concerned. She spoke to the ways she could use her privilege as a white woman to dismantle the white supremacist ideology that contributes to the deaths of so many people. As a Black woman and writer, I am uniquely positioned to create a piece of theatre focused on making space for Black people. This is one way I can contribute. This is my offering. I’d like to end this ritual by challenging you to consider what you are uniquely positioned to offer. As a non-Black person, what is a tangible way you can disrupt the idea responsible for all these lives needlessly taken? My hope is that you will consider this deeply. My further hope is that your consideration will turn to action.” I have some ideas. I want to percolate more. WHAT WE SEND UP had a short run Off-Broadway last year and will have another short run at Playwrights Horizons this summer.

I went from that intense reality directly to the moon – via TO THE MOON, a 15-minute virtual reality piece co-created by Hsin-Chien Huang and Laurie Anderson. Five people at a time sit on stools wearing a headset and holding joysticks for a trip through space. There were some beautiful images and speeches familiar from Anderson’s recent work, but the piece as a whole was so SCARY! I’m not a gamer and I’m amazingly prone to vertigo, so I stayed pretty low to the ground. When the video provided the opportunity to fly through space or climb a high steep mountain, I had to shut my eyes. It was so crazy: I knew I was sitting on a stool with a headset on and my feet on the floor but my palms were sweating and I was making involuntary fear sounds.

Then I got to see MUKHAGNI, created and performed by a young-ish gay male couple, one of them Bengali-American (Shayok Misha Chowdury), the other biracial/African-American (Kameron Neal). They do the entire 90-minute performance totally naked: cook food, stand with video projected onto their naked bodies, lie on the (stage-soil-covered) floor speaking into microphones dangling inches above their faces, talk about death and death rituals in various cultures and cremation and their respective families. (The title means “mouth fire,” which is how cremations along the Ganges begin.) They take a pile of birch trunks and build a kind of square seating area, then they rearrange the tree trunks into a kind of bonfire structure. Then the lights come up and they sit in folding chairs and talk to the audience about their relationship in a funny structure (“on our 15th date we did this…on our 312th date we did that…on our 186th date we decided to make this piece,” etc.) — a regular activity on “dates” was to visit cemeteries — then there’s a mourning ritual where Chowdury creates a garland of fresh flower blossoms while Neal shaves his head with a clipper. So amazing and sweet and strong and not exactly like anything I’ve seen before. But it’s the sort of thing I’ve watched my friend Keith Hennessy create over the years, elements of spiritual ceremony combined with pop-culture savvy non-linear performance art. I wish this show would have a longer run somewhere. You can see more pictures on their website: http://www.shayokmishachowdhury.com/mukhagni

A few days later I met my friend Liam Cunningham at the Morgan Library to walk through the beautiful exhibition “Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan.” I’ve long admired Michals’s work, distinctive for the interplay of image and language, poems and sentences and stories handwritten in the margins around his usually black-and-white, often enigmatic photographs.

The show is partly a retrospective but also an “artist’s choice” event, meaning that Michals got to root around in the Morgan’s archives to pull out art works that struck his fancy or that resonate with his own work.

Liam (who is a legendary photographer in his own right) took this beautiful picture of me in front of Sol LeWitt’s giant Wall Drawing 552D.

 


Quote of the day: HUG

January 16, 2020

HUG

The older I get, the more I like hugging. When I was little, the people hugging me were much larger. In their grasp I was a rag doll. In adolescence, my body was too tense to relax for a hug. Later, after the loss of virginity—which was anything but a loss—the extreme proximity of the other person, the smell of hair, the warmth of the skin, the sound of breathing in the dark—these were mysterious and delectable. This hug had two primary components: the anticipation of sex and the pleasure of intimacy, which itself is a combination of trust and affection. It was this latter combination that came to characterize the hugging I have experienced only in recent years, a hugging that knows no distinctions of gender or age. When this kind of hug is mutual, for a moment the world is perfect the way it is, and the tears we shed for it are perfect too. I guess it is an embrace.

–Ron Padgett (per The Writer’s Almanac)


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