Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Garden Girls as Performative Text

            “So what about meaning,” I asked.  “Can words by meaningless?”
            “Well, what do you think?” Fuchsia fired back.
            I told her it was arbitrary.  “Half of what we say we don’t know
            Because most of us are figuring it out as we go along.”
            Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez writes in her book El Teatro Campesino: “The great-man/text-centered/chronological-linear approach, a construct predominantly in Eurocentric history and print culture obscures more than it reveals.”  Her own writing emerges in dialogue and each chapter reveals facets of that dialogue.  She has been guided more by a concern with the dynamics of the El Teatro Campesino’s creative process than with a gathering of discrete facts.  When she met Felipe Anu, who worked his whole life as a migrant farm worker, he talks about the significance of memory in learning stories and in no particular order.
            “Well, perhaps I would get one or two bits from a clown.  And tomorrow . . . I would get another bit . . . And I would get ideas from the street . . . and my friends would tell me a joke, I would memorize it . . . It would stay in my head . . . and this is how I developed my sense of style.”
            Broyles-Gonzalez constantly affirms this shared communal nature and the process of free and constant sharing repudiating the dominant culture’s linear approach.  She positions her work “. . . within the Mexican working class tradition, orality and oral culture.”  I position The Garden Girls Lettersand Journal in a community of women, engaged in an ongoing saga, weaving words through simultaneous conversations.

                        Clove was the one who preached against knowing where you’re going.              “That’s not art,” she said, “that’s not living the creative life.  If you want             adventure, then you’ll have to give up planning ahead.”
                        Of course I can’t do that, not right away.  I would have to plan ahead             regarding not knowing for the rest of my life.

            Can I render my personal transformation becoming an artist, a physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual process in words alone?  My life does not have a linear overview.  To present it linearly obscures its complexity.  By creating an experiential reading the body is involved in the production of meaning.  The order is not rigidly fixed but subject to change dependent on numerous factors; the reader, the environment, the reader’s response.  The reader creates her own pacing, ritual, rhythm or beat.  An active reading occurs, a performance language of reading, a visual art, a performance art, a literary art.

                        When does it happen?  When does the voice of authority arrive, the thinking and speculating end and the assertion begin?
                        “Look at your hands,” Clove said.
                        “I think you mean it,” Rose said.
                        “Of course I mean it,” Clove said.
                        “Look at your hands, Rose, it’s all in your body, in the way you walk, the             way you smile, the way you think.  Look at your hands, take a deep breath and             you’ll find the words.”

            Sue-Ellen Case did not organize her book, Feminism and Theater, along either developmental or chronological lines.  Instead she organized it like a sampler of techniques, theories, positions, issues, explorations and practices.  Each chapter is complete in itself, allowing the reader either to read it in order or to pick out single selections.  She introduces new ideas such as personal theater as a means of extending the limits by considering the experiences of women as definitive.  Like Broyles-Gonzalez she presents a connection between a social movement and performative art.
            Case reveals how “women have excelled in the personal forms of dialogue: letters, in the sphere’s of written communication, and conversation, in that of the oral.  This personal dialogue is created by partners in production rather than by an absent author.”  Personal conversation is not removed from life.  It operates by enactment, and engaged dialogue, rooted in everyday life, the dialogue of present time.

                        “Can,” Lavendar asked, “intimacy occur without sex?”
                        “Well of course,” Echincea, Nettles and Clove responded quickly, with             authority.
                        “How?” I asked.  “I know about intimacy in sex.  That place of getting             close, real close, face to face.  Where you can feel and smell the breath.  Where             you can see the tiniest hairs on the stillest arm.  Where you can climb inside             another’s rhythm.  Where you have no other thought, but the thought of that             tender moment.  Where one’s pleasure is the pleasure of another.”

            Case reminds us “performance art produces its own genre where women can perform their own unique experience.  Women choose personal sites for their performances, explore new relationships to their own bodies and to their bodies of work.”  I have begun to look at my life as perfomative, my writing as an artist’s book, my letters as collaborative performances, myself as expert. The Garden Girls Letters and Journal is performative text on the page and is meant to be experienced. What if the reader claimed her power to ascribe meaning and that meaning was valid?  What if the reader is not meant solely to understand only the author’s meaning but is encouraged to create meaning in much the same way we try to ascribe meaning to a conversation we just happened upon?  This approach invites investigation further into questions of authority, power and questioning.  Can I be inserted in the body of my work?  In the Garden Girls I use the first person as a form of liberation from the impersonal and to expose layers of personal experience.

                        “And you don’t have intimate friends?” Clove asked.  “You don’t follow             the breath of your girlfriends, never letting your thoughts wander, your eyes dart?              You don’t watch her closely when she talks, noticing the newest gray hair, the             slightest wrinkle in her cheek?  You don’t hear the tiniest creak in her voice and             cackle in her smile?”

            I intend The Garden Girls to be considered as experts, in the moment, without a history that precedes them.  When Broyles-Gonzalez interviewed longstanding members of El Teatro she discovered “they had never been viewed as legitimate interpreters or experts of their own work and life experience.”  If we don’t contextualize our work, someone else will.  In order to substantiate the necessity for contextualizing ones own work Broyles-Gonzalez asks us to consider: “In seeking to characterize El Teatro Campesino, Luis Valdes, kiddingly described it as ‘somewhere between Brecht and Cantiflas,’. . . and was promptly taken at face value by many critics . . . (who) avidly seized the European reference to Brecht . . .while discounting the Mexican reference and tradition.”
                        “Is your writing always so erotic?” Clove asked.
                        “Only when I get close to the bone,” Rose answered.  Getting close to the             bone is where passion rode.  Close to the bone in a simple conversation.

            El Teatro relied on a distinctly chincana/o aesthetic to affirm an alternative social vision.”  For the Garden Girls to affirm an alternative social vision their form is as significant as what they have to say. Broyles-Gonzalez frequently emphasizes this fact. “In reality oral culture is typically not just spoken words but words defined by their life in the world, hence inseparable from the context and from the body and voice that utters them.” 
            The Garden Girls’ personal dialogue plays out best to personal friends.  The question then becomes who is not a friend and how do I broaden my friendships to be more inclusive?   It’s the conversations and the dailiness of life that the girls are perfoming via being read individually, as letters, in no particular order, leaving open opportunity for the performative aspect by reader. Broyles-Gonzalez emphasizes, “Oral culture is by definition situational and not abstract . . . and involves not only words, but the entire body engaged in the dailiness of life.”

                        “When does talk become sex?” Clove asked.
                        “When the writing is close to the bone where the passion rides.”
                        Rose was frustrated, to say the least.  She knew by the way her words             paused, by how she was so careful what she spoke.

            Broyles-Gonzalez considers art as social action.  The art as object approach consumes, by means of various literary theories, without consideration of the social conditions of the writer or the reader.  When we look at the text linearly with an expectation of knowing what came before and significant character development, we can never truly experience the intimate connections between the texts and the actualities of human life and the activity that results in text.  Isn’t it equally valid and interesting to wonder about the suffering that went before? What is left unsaid is as interesting and vital.
            Like Leslie Labowitz’s performance art piece Sproutine where she waters her plants, nude, leads her audience to her garden, reads to them from The Secret Garden and feeds them sprouts, Broyles-Gonzalez wants to place the concept of orality at the center ot El Teatro. The Garden Girls seek to come to terms with their own self identity and place the concept of orality at the center of their letters to provide a necessary retreat, an opportunity for momentary surrender.



I Lust for Content

I told the writing group that all my writing had been created during group writing practices.  This, I said, has been going on for over ten years, now, as my lust for improvement continues.  Currently, I’m paying attention to other forms of writing.  Last night, or rather early this moring, 3:00 a.m. to be exact, I was at the computer typing as Johnny read to me from the four page paper he wrote on Brave New World.   He had waited, as always, to the last minute.  I was pleasurably surprised at what he had written.  It was a mirror, a simulucrum, the thin line between art and reality.  What we was writing about was not different that who he was.  I faced my own reality of struggle.  While I do agree with the awareness of the conditioning workers through eductation, I also am conscious of my own struggle to let go.  It’s walking both sides of the fence.  You don’t want to support your children in dropping out until you know that it is a decision they have embodied fully, not just a passing reactive stance.  To embody is difficult to identify.

I noticed a thrill in Johnny, a slight flutter, only a mother could perceive when he became aware that his paper was not only complete, he was proud.  This was a first time occurrence for him regarding writing.  When I had printed out my own essay,  The Garden Girls as Perfomative Text with an emphasis on being able to contextualize one’s work, I too was momentarily thrilled to see ideas I had embodied were so effortlessly applied to the page.

“What do you mean by context?” Larry asked me during our usual early morning breadfast conversation about life.

“Being able to talk about what you are doing in your work,” I answered.  In this competitive world, if you want people to take your work seriously, you have to be able to tell them, in a way they can understand, what your are writing about. 

“I know, I know,” I said, “many artists want their work to speak for itself.  However, it is not art unless you share it.  At the moment of sharing it is open to interpretation and, while we are always interested in varied interpretations, when the work is critiqued, meaning interpretation and analysis are written that is the meaning that will go down in history as to who you are and what you and your work is about.  You too must be  able to contextualize your work in order to maintain open dialogue.

As I lust for improvement I lust for context.  As a discipline I have given up excessive talking and superfluous activities.  I have claimed my place at the computer where ideas are placed as soon as they occur, and when my back and eyes are exhausted I move to my silk, my paint, my bookmaking.  Yesterday I continued cleaning my room and my desk.  Could I really have a desk not cluttered?  Could I really handle paper only once and pay my bills upon arrival?

In Anne Fadiman’s essay Mail, she reveals the ritual her father had with mail.  How he waited for the mail to come, peered through binoculars from his office window watching for the mailbox at the bottom of the hill to fill.  Making the ritualistic journey down, then back up the hill, arms stuffed, was his daily routine.  He piled the mail on his desk, then proceeded to go thought it systematically, answering all the letters, paying all the bills.  This was his job.  This is what he did.

If I forgo the meaningless dialogue, the rehashing of mundane, melodramatic life stories, they could be put to better use in making art and time to sit at my desk might reveal itself.  My desk would become the same as May Sarton’s desk where she not only sat and wrote, she contextualized about sitting and writing.

July 2002

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I have begun to read voraciously to know just what to say at the right time.   I wrote these words in my journal in the 90's.  What's funny is that I am still reading.  What's funny is how journals repeat themselves.  The only thing that changes are the surroundings.  Now it's a cabin in woods, or a newspaper office in Matador.  Before it was the Carnegie Center in Lexington, or a local bookstore.  

Today I'm re-reading "Small Pieces, Loosely Joined" by +David Weinberger and being reminded that the "The imperfection of the Web isn't a temporary lapse; it's a design decision."  I like that.  He says, "...the Web is unmanaged and uncontrolled so that it can grow rapidly."  That's how I feel about my art.  If I'm starting to feel controlled, anxiety sets in and I'm likely to abandon the project.  And when I make "mistakes" I respond.  I would rather have a few flaws and movement and growth, than control.
Even though this photo is dark, I love that it captures the winter blue sky just before dusk.  It gives me pause to ponder my insanity as I am still making art for the The Kentucky Craft Market this week end when I should be pricing and packaging and loading my booth.

I have begun to read voraciously to know just what to say at the right time. When I sleep at night, I think about what I read, and when I make love, I think about what I will tell her. I think about ideas. They’ll run over my lips and I’ll flick them out with my tongue. I think about stories that I’ll whisper, and when my breathing gets heavier, I’ll think about poems I’ll yell, and when he kisses me on the back, I’ll remember things I forgot, and the excitement will roll me over, and I’ll forget where I was. It never gets crowded in our bedroom. There is always room for all of us, and when things start getting confusing, I disappear for a while, float up to the ceiling, take a slow ride on the fan and re-enter when I’m fresh again, and we all think it is for the first time.
The poems that get digested get sent out in the mail, and when the rejections come, she listens, and he wipes away the tears, and I weave them into pillow cases, the kind that crinkle to the rhythm of love, and there are more poems popping from the toaster. Someone forgot to butter the bread. I can’t remember if her hair is long or short, dark or blond. Sometimes, it’s one or the other, but those aren’t the things that matter. It’s her voice that matters­­—the one I try to mimic, till I learn it by heart—the one I dream and it becomes hybrid.--The Garden Girls Letter and Memoir

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Scarves and Poetry Skirts

I just had a conversation with my friend, +Sarah Estes  about building a business.  It is a conversation I also frequently have with +Soreyda Benedit Begley  and my daughter, +Danielle Wittler
Afterwards I searched for +Gary Vaynerchuk  on FB and listened to his interview at Inc Magazine.  My brother, +Ray Zabielski gave me a much appreciated subscription to Inc. 

Gary Vaynerchuck said many important things.  What stood out the most was the importance of knowing our long term goal.  That has given me pause.  The one thing that I do know is that I want  to make art, sell my Truly Wearable Art , share Rodan & Fields  for beautiful skin and teach others to communicate creatively through stories and art.  At the Kentucky Craft Market, Mar 2-3 in Lexington, I will have a variety of scarves, art to wear and art for your wall or floor, priced from $24 to $1800.  Come early Saturday for the best selection.  Come late Sunday for the best "deal."  I intend to sell everything so that I can make more!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pretending is something I’ve gotten good at doing

 Today I iron.  Remembering  Larry's 74th birthday dinner party last night.  The champaign.  The paleo chocolate cake that Barbara brought.  Can you believe it, no gluten, no grains, no dairy?  Delicious!  Today I organize my truly wearable art according to color, remembering listening to Larry's music.  Pretending I am not anxious, when I am.  Pretending I'm not concerned about each aging year ahead of us.

Pretending is something I’ve gotten good at doing. Pretending I don’t know what’s behind her eyes, when in fact I do, and she knows I know—that’s why she keeps coming back, walking slowly in the front door, hanging around for days, then checking out the garden for leaves and flowers she forgot. The things she forgot are what I place on my altar, the candle wax that dripped down the wall and the pine cones from the gutter and the blue ribbon from the closet that makes the prettiest bow when tied to my wreath.
Her voice is clear, only I don’t ask her enough questions. I just listen occasionally when she calls. The whole reason is to stay in touch. I wrote her pages and pages and slid them under her door. She responded by return mail and asked me to be on her team, to listen to her questions, help her come up with answers.
“You are asking me? You want me to talk to you?” I stammered, and she leaned back on the couch with her arm across the top and one leg slung over and nodded yes, like it was no big deal. With candles burning and orange juice, fresh squeezed, beside me, I licked the juice from my fingers. She brought oranges with her the first time. That’s when I started looking for them. The harder I looked, the fuller I became, and the juicier they were. -- The Garden Girls Letters and Journal

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I just keep looking for the orange

I called a friend today.  I listened to her voice.  The words she spoke.  She is always so negative.  Not enough.  Too many problems.  Can't sleep.  Lonely.  It's always the same.  We are all struggling with these things I tell her.  Aging is managing pain.  "Do you use lavender on sleepless nights?" I asked her.  "Are you meditating?  Taking long walks?" I asked her.  Take one day at a time.  I just keep looking for the orange in the shibori dyed alpaca that hangs near the wood stove.  How did she become so pastel?  I evaluate my formula, my process.
She wants to come in so bad. I’ve seen her look through the dusty lace curtains. I’ve seen her float in the artemisia, but it wasn’t until the kiss that I realized how much she wanted in. I just keep looking for the orange—looking for it, rough and round, juicy and bright, pulling apart the sections, reaching for the seed, feeling the juice on my fingers, licking them, smelling orange. Maybe orange isn’t something you see, after all. Maybe it’s something you feel and smell and taste and swallow, and it fills you up with an excitement that’s impossible to push down, the way I try to ignore that I like to hear her voice on the phone, even though I tighten up and pretend I don’t.--The Garden Girls Letters and Journal

Friday, February 15, 2013

 Maybe it was the way her hair fell across her shoulders, or a look in her eye, or her voice—that voice, so soft, that sweetness, that purr, that caress with her words. Maybe it was her driven walk that pushed me forward to quickly open the door for her.--Garden Girls

While voices are often found in conversations with friends, my new stories are found in fiber.  The softness of alpaca and merino, the shimmer of silk.  Each palette a new story.  My son had a friend who was dieing.  He asked me to create something soft for her to wrap around and keep her warm.  Something earthy he said.  I never knew her.  I think of her however, every time I use these colors.  I think of him and his sensitivity.