training for an imperfect mind

I sat with my extended family around a campfire at my grandparents’ cabin on a summer afternoon. Cousins roasted marshmallows on long wire sticks. Aunts bantered. Uncles made fart noises and laughed. I remember sensing in the mosquito-laden air a palpable sense of cultural normalcy that I couldn’t quite bear. Out of nowhere, or rather- out of this perceived “tight space,” as Danielle Goldman puts it, I bolted. I ran down the long driveway to the dirt road, past cornfields and clusters of trees until I felt far enough away. I stayed there unsure what to do with myself, a subtle edge of shame permeating the humid air around my teenage body, situated now in other space, related distally to the group I left, and as newborn object to the edge of the road, shifting clouds, and minuscule bugs crawling on stalks of corn. In the embodied echo of my choice, I felt mind-blind: I had not yet found resonance with the language of my deviant solitude. Further, I wasn’t prepared to meet the edge of another flame: an unseen web of forces tempting to break the ground of meaning.

Deviance opens communication with new possibilities. Whether defying police brutality by going limp or resisting the flow of a contact duet (even though Goldman describes how different the contexts are, I still shudder at comparing systemic survival with experimentation), the choice to physically detour opens psychological and sensorial interaction that both expands and destabilizes the arena of signification. Jonathan Burroughs adores scores that allow such perceptual shifts. These scores thrust the performer into a space of becoming where deviance is the garden, not the act. The type of created context he describes removes the blindfold of solitary experience by exalting disorientation in the magnetism of a witnessed space. Such is the glory of Magnesium (1972), of Bill T. Jones’ exquisite moments, and of Nancy Stark Smith’s falling body and flying braid. Burroughs seems to be more interested in psychological and performative shifts than spatial survival tactics, and the deviant audacity that coursed through Jones’ quiver and voice differs from the consensual readiness of contact improvisation. That said, at a contact jam a few years ago, Steve Paxton applauded an absurdly theatrical, eccentric duet between two participants, hailing it as an authentic development of the form. Who watches, hails, and scores the unfolding developments of bodies in time?

The mind falls like a broken egg into the frying pan of intensities. Legs propel the pelvis sideways to avoid the edge of knee. Ribs circle slowly in response to a partner’s wail. Jaw opens and eyes reveal betrayal as the meaning disappears. After the shooter enters the club, hide yourself under a pile of dead bodies in the bathroom.

What sort of practice cultivates a readiness in the small dance of the heart to respond to an onslaught of troubles? Without the right deviant garden to resonate with the exile of a lonely mind, does distorted poetry threaten the flesh of society? The brink of meaning crystallizes palpably through trauma. In the scar tissue of a thousand violations, she traces the discourse of her body through the fascia of awareness, wanting all of a sudden to honor the internal immanence of limit. If freedom comes with constraint, a regard for the sheath of meaning provides a new realm of potential: one that eases in rather than shattering out.

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