Time to Begin Again. Thoughts from NYC.

Long time, no see.

Emotionally, ambitiously, psychologically, I’m in a weird place right now. I don’t feel hopeless, though I look at the world I live in and I wonder what to do next that feels satisfying and is worth doing. And at this point I haven’t the foggiest idea what I mean by either of those terms. I’m not sure I’m entirely where Joshua Ellis currently is, but I’ve felt a lot of what he is describing in the linked post.

I just spent the last week+ in NYC on a well-planned whim, a vacation destination selected after I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere near Seattle during Capitol Hill Block Party or SeaFair. I had never been here before but am glad I finally made the trek and spent some serious time here. I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in forever, got to see some of NYC’s vaunted sketch and improv, and got to try some of its wealth of street and restaurant food (oh, and Seattle, do what you have to do to get 100 Halal carts on the streets of Seattle, because that shit will sell like whoa in LQA and Capitol Hill).

 

But most of all, thanks to staying in people’s homes instead of overpaying for a hotel, I got a bird’s eye view of day to day life in the five boroughs. It is rough, frenetic, unfiltered, economically and culturally polarized, at times brazenly prejudiced, unforgiving, surprisingly forgiving, and all sorts of things at each moment that you could never imagine seeing in such volume just about anywhere else, not even an ambitious urban metropolis like Seattle. Some parts are rougher or shinier than others. The Bronx and Harlem are very black and, sadly, also very poor and surly. Brooklyn, less so. Queens is a lot like pre-Amazon SLU. Staten Island is like the love child of Bainbridge and Mercer Island, except with minorities. Manhattan is dirty, very rich and, as you’d expect, the most white of the boroughs. The MTA subway has its hiccups and confusing issues (plus the actual terminals are disgusting) but it’s consistent, reliable and often packed. And Seattle could never build anything like it in our lifetimes if they had all the money in the world.

I love visiting this place, but I’m not too sure I’d enjoy living here. Even on vacation with no plans, this place has spent a week kicking my ass. Getting around takes a lot of hustle, and with the sun out the conditions here have been hot and humid (and it’s actually not as hot and humid as it usually is). Imagine that lifestyle with a 40 hour workweek and any artistic commitments, plus the high cost of living. I’m not so sure it would work except with some exceptionally fortuitous circumstances. Everyone I know here that I’ve talked with has mentioned it wearing on them over time.

I’ve lived in Seattle ten years and, truth be told, for all that time I’ve loved this place and never really wanted to live anywhere else. But, after ten years, Seattle’s getting on my nerves in a contrasting way to how NYC gets on a lot of locals’ nerves.

NYC gets on locals’ nerves because it’s relentlessly full volume and hyper-competitive and expensive, where it seems you’ve got to endlessly hustle to stay afloat and relevant, or at the least not get taken advantage of and left for dead.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s got its hyper PC cultural mentalities, social deep freeze even among friends and colleagues thanks to its paradoxically social introversion, overtly cliquish hiveminds shutting doors instead of opening them, and the costume-like culture to veil one’s prejudices and give it a vehicle. Add in the rise of tech interests like Amazon in central Seattle driving up housing costs and flushing much of Seattle’s culture for a newer, douchier, San Franciscier and better funded one… and suddenly much of what keeps a lot of people in Seattle is starting to disappear, whether it’s being priced out or compelled out by the sea change.

Yes, despite the city getting on their nerves NYCers mostly wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Conversely, Seattlites stick with their city despite the trouble (which also includes shitty traffic, a lacking transit system, an already high cost of living and… of course… the seemingly endless rain and cloudy weather). Seattle’s a beautiful, culturally active place and a liberally political oasis in a sea of not quite liberal mainstream American culture… people of course have relationships they don’t want to leave behind… plus cloudy weather aside the weather and temperatures are pleasantly mild. I’m a 2-3 hour flight from my family in Vegas (I drove to visit them last holiday season and got there in 2 days), plus not terribly far from places I really enjoy like Vancouver BC… compared to a cross country flight away.

——

But there comes a breaking point for many, a combination of getting fed up and finding opportunity somewhere else, where they consider making, may even finally make, the move out of town. For me there wasn’t any such point… until probably a few months ago. I’m not sure there was a clear breaking point, but a series of compiling situations, circumstances and incidents accumulated over time. And the reality around me’s become far more irritating than it used to be (and this is Seattle! This should be one of the easiest going and least annoying places there is).

After an exhausting series of shows early this year, I made a point to take a break from artistic anything that continues to this day. I stopped writing about my art here, or caring about art much at all, for that matter. I even pretty much stopped going to shows, with only a small handful of exceptions. Hell, I’ve probably seen more shows this week in NYC than I’ve seen in the last three months in Seattle.

I’ve stuck to my day job, done part time side work for extra cash, but for the most part have enjoyed having that reality foreign to many artists known as “free time”. I’ve taken vacations to Vancouver, here in NYC, and have one more in Portland coming next weekend. But Seattle itself is beautiful and I’ve found myself some nights shoving off to the beach or the mountains. I’ve enjoyed coming home and having nothing to worry about… aside of course the hassles of my day job and making sure my bills get paid.

At the same time, the question of what to do next artistically, personally, et ceterally with my life rears its head from time to time, because I’m human and it’s a very real unreconciled issue in my life, one that in large part led me to walk off for a while from performing.

When we got on the subject of my performance art and my first NYC host suggested he could get me a slot on a weekly showcase, I practically recoiled. Not because I have any sort of stage fright, obviously not. And not having much of anything sharply prepared was not of much concern, because since when has that stopped me. But this year’s series of events left me questioning why I do this and, as hideous as it is to say, I’ve been left flat out not wanting to get on stage at all… just seeing it as a self indulgent waste of time that benefits no one. It’s a notion that from the upper deck of my conscience has reared its head time and again before and during this time off.

When I did Drawn Dead at Seattle Fringe 2013 in front of a near empty crowd, I couldn’t resist asking how much of that was just a community showing its cliquish disinterest, and how much of that was a legit lack of talent, charisma, drawing power and most of all a need for my performance on my part. I’ve spent the time before, during, after and since frankly asking myself if there’s any point to me making performance art anymore. So what if I do? Who honestly cares? Hell, my friends and colleagues don’t seem to care enough most of the time to go out of their way to support what I do. This never minds enemies and detractors of mine in the various scenes who make their rudimentary efforts to stonewall and censor my work through exclusion and ignorance. On a whole, especially as Seattle sees a sea change, I’m led to wonder if anyone across the board has a need for it.

I’m not one of those artists who has a driving, dare I say self-absorbed, need to perform, to express, be on stage, to make an audience watch me and what I’m doing… for its own sake. That sort of self serving mindset frankly gets on my fucking nerves and I have to imagine most audiences feel the same way. To me, art is a relationship between performer and audience, and is only worth doing if the audience gains something of takeaway value from the performance… not so much life lessons but a lasting memory, hopefully inspiration, to do things and be someone a bit better than they were when they walked in. In large part I’m tired of the Seattle scene because it strikes me as far too much of the former, often posing as the latter but often unapologetically being the former.

——

John Leith told me in no uncertain terms that Drawn Dead’s fall performance can’t be the end of it all. There is too much to be said, to be shared, from my perspective to just close the book and let the steamroller of the status quo’s comfort zones continue running theatre, dance and all else over in the name of innovation but in reality pursuing the addition of asses to seats and the chance to pat one’s self on the back for yet another repackaged posing as original rendition of the same old crap.

If I got anything from a week in NYC, of seeing somewhat more inspired shows, of meeting old friends grinding out a reality in the performing arts despite their own disillusions… the overwhelming sense I get is I can’t let it end this way, with a thinly attended festival show and two hard fought but relished supporting roles in other shows before walking away all over again, this time with no personal promise (as I made in 2000) that I’d eventually be back.

Drawn Dead’s still got a lot of potential, and the promising but slapdash version Leith and I fought our asses off to make was hasty, rushed and incomplete due to various constraints. It can be refined into a clearer and better version of itself.

I’ve got one other firmly defined solo show, and when I sat down yesterday in Queens to free write a rough narrative it became clear several pages later that it can’t just be a discarded idea.

I also had a bubbling interest in getting back into improv, which I pretty much left behind once I started working with the dance community. I’ve got some old improv friends I haven’t really spoken with, let alone worked with, since my diversion, and I’d like to spend time and work with them again. Being out of practice for a little while, I’ll probably need to take a class or two to get back into practice (though my dance experiences have done a lot to keep many of those instincts sharp).

I don’t expect to save the world this way, get famous or anything. But I feel like I can do a lot more for this world those this kind of work than the alternatives. And along with everything else, I’ve gotten from this trip to NYC a sense that it’s time to begin again.

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