Listening: John Snijders, Morton Feldman's Triadic Memories
Reading: Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Yesterday was full of doubt and distance. This week, I'm circling back to a few challenging situations that I thought I'd moved on from: starting a rehearsal cycle back at the school that pushed me so hard to change during my masters degree, intensifying a writing schedule to intentionally relive and describe some of the most troubling moments in my life, and meeting with a performer that reached out to me about some hurtful things I said in one of my personal pieces. I'm meeting with this person tomorrow, and I'm terribly nervous. The piece I wrote was an outlet for my own feelings, never meant to be read by as many people as it was. I thought I'd reach a dozen people, and instead have found thousands. My feelings on the piece -- and for the experience of being read by four thousand people around the world -- vacillate between deep regret that I'd ever written it and honest gratitude for the opportunities to reflect and grow that it has given me. The sort of openness that I sought through that piece of writing is powerful: powerful to hurt and powerful to relate. Seeing that power and seeing the way people sought it out from me made me pull back strongly, but also made me recognize that I could integrate that powerful openness into myself, fold it in as a part of my life. It's both why I've become intent on being a better writer and why I haven't written that way publicly again.
A few blatantly misused words I've noticed lately: "performative" and "curated". In most contexts I've seen, they're utterly non-functional adjectives from a semantic and descriptive perspective. Last night, I went to a show that was described as a "curated event". This is an act of useless linguistic inflation, a rarefying description of a very typical programmed performance. What concert isn't an event? What concert isn't "curated", or as the music industry typically says, programmed? The first few dozen times I encountered this popular misuse, I was irritated. I saw it as a simple misuse of language, a way to pad program notes, to inflate descriptions of one's own work in a late-stage attempt to improve its reception. But lately, I've realized the critical importance of musicians and artists using words like these in contexts that tend to establish authority and expertise. While there may be only a few people in any given audience who know what these words actually mean, and perhaps I am the only thin-skinned curmudgeon bothered by musicians' linguistic clumsiness, these words allow musicians to themselves frame their own work in artistic and academic traditions. There's a power in that, too, to use a lexicon that frames the music-performance activity as both contra the musical tradition from which the performer hopes to distance themselves and aligned with art activity ("curated") and academic or intellectual activity ("performative"). It's stating what is normally tacit, transforming the expected into a unique perk. It's just good salesmanship, if and when it works. The overwhelming tendency in these contexts, though, is that either the language is poorly used and undercuts its own intentions to add credibility, or the performance is so weak, unconsidered, or underprepared that pretentious descriptive language only draws more attention to the wide gap between artistic claims and performed reality.
I'm increasingly convinced of the power of strong, accurate description. I like reading and rereading it from writers I trust, I like coming across it unexpectedly in a note or an article, and I love the feeling when I stumble my way into writing it. For years now, I've kept books that I fill with language I love. When I find a passage that sparkles up at me, that lights a small fire in my mind, that heats up my heart and stokes my attention, I read it over and over, then copy it into my book, taking time as I retrace each word in my own writing. These books are part of the walls that line the room where I work. As I go further into the challenges of looking back, the words I have collected surround me and give me strength.