Monday, September 17, 2012

The most atheist post on this blog

At my day job at the aquarium I rotate through several different stations:
"Come right in, I'll take you to the next exhibit..."
"Welcome to the ray pool, you can touch the animals here..."
"That's a sevengill shark, the largest type of shark in the Bay..."
"We can't ask the sharks to eat different foods but you can make choices about your food so we all have enough to eat..." 
and so on. But standing beside an 8-foot-tall model of a Megalodon jaw, with a smaller shark jaw in my hand, gazing down the sidewalk at the endless march of international tourists, it hit me.

Developed countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases already released. This makes developing countries cry foul at every attempt to set international standards for reductions.

But those developed countries are run by white people. These countries got rich during colonialism by bleeding regions that now encompass developing, poor, and conflict-torn nations. Many of these regions are, furthermore, being hit harder and faster by climate change: wetter rainy seasons destroy harvests and natural habitat, extreme weather patterns disrupt subsistence fisheries and planting and harvesting dates. In turn these impacts can touch off and worsen civil conflict (see link above).

What does that mean for our responsibility as living citizens of former colonial nations? The Brits walk softly but they don't want to talk about it. With Portugal, Spain, and Holland (Dutch East India Company), they outright refused to apologize and lobbied others to stand fast. White America is rightly mired in slavery's messy aftermath and Australia also issued an apology for aborigines child abductions, but they are far from alone in stacking up atrocities on people of color. Note also that the apologies were for wrongs against resident populations.

Speaking of residency, the OECD's citizenry is increasingly comprised of immigrants of color. On top of navigating discriminatory systems and culture rifts that threaten familial and social networks, bridging the disparity between developed and set-back nations becomes our responsibility.

One of my favorite stations is by K dock, the local crash pad for wild sea lions. Gazing over the concrete breakwater, I spotted a handsome, tall Brown Pelican.

Pelicans lay three eggs, each one day apart. In an average year, both parents find food only enough for one chick to survive. As hunger sets in, the two eldest chicks beat the youngest with their beaks, heavily hooked from hatching, until it falls out of the nest. The parents ignore it and it dies of exposure or predation. As hunger continues, the eldest turns on the middle chick with a similar result.

Nature is amoral: the benefit of having an extra chick or two on an exceptionally bountiful year outweighs the cost of producing those eggs all the average years, so three are laid and chicks are clubbed to death by their siblings.

Evidence lies infinite around us; another piece might be Nature is amoral: asteroids meaninglessly wiped out most of the life on the planet. Today I'm interested in underlining the immortal peace in this much larger reality. We could continue this mass extinction and climate change trend until the planet becomes uninhabitable by life as we know it. Humans could ourselves become extinct, brief spark in the history of life that we are.

Or we could suck it up and take responsibility in our own lives now, whoever we are, whatever crappy background and ancestry we have to account for. What one change will you make this week to exercise our unique quality of ethics and morality?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

From Philadelphia

This weekend I relaxed in Philadelphia for Gender Reel, staying at my old house. I shared the opening act with the bold genderqueer Ignacio Rivera. That event was free and packed, but the rest of the festival, including screenings were oddly sparsely attended.

Since I had shingles, I ruled out full contact for my own comfort. Instead, I shared my story about reading The Economist's special report on the Arctic while I flew across the continent, then invited everyone to create movement, sound, and visual art while I played fully dressed. It would be a collective exploration of slowing down. 

There was a breath or two as I started playing violin spectrally into a corner, exploring a door on the back wall.

Then, more bodies than I could count were on the floor, mostly drawing, some dancing. I approached one making a rubbing of an odd vent on the stage. That person proceeded to tear up the marked page and tape strips on me and hang pieces on my violin.

I went to my full-contact violin headspace, barely aware of what took place in the performance space. During the feedback phase someone showed me a glittery page reading "Traveling ART SHOW" which they'd prepared to crumple up and throw around the room. I didn't react at the time, still emerging from my performative, meditative focus.

From the panel and screenings I took home some big concepts. I noticed, in the lives of many POC, how quickly more urgent issues of solidarity, prosperity, and sustainability left trans* in their wake. The lives of trans* POC aren't troubled solely by this minor difference. While some immigrant families don't accept trans* relatives, it's in a context of broad cultural rejection and communications impasse.

Am I, the performer, necessary in this work? Can't I mark an analog clockface at ten minutes from the start and leave? Would it it enough to set them up with my story and energy and leave them to the creation? Is that less performance than workshop, and isn't an effective workshop one in which the participants are brought to do the extraordinary? What I love about TO, as demonstrated in the modified violin piece, is participants leave feeling more able to use the activity as a tool on their own.

What if, then, we raise the standard of proficiency in our non-performers? This would produce a more powerful citizenry, one better prepared to make urgently needed changes in our lives and world.