Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Performance Artist's Private Beach


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Desiree Burch.

I am sitting in bed in my underwear, on wrinkle-sheet island surrounded by dirty clothes. It's Tuesday morning and my whole life seems like a hangover today. Though yesterday's festivities consisted of rehearsals for The Soup Show rather than booze and bartop dancing, one typically leads to the other. I am a performance artist. Please, someone Google what that means and tell me. I am not sure. It's been a somewhat miscellany category that has defined what I do for the past decade. It's the private beach none of us performers knows we are on until we find ourselves there: alone, exhilarated overwhelmed and thankful.

There are too many days that I wake up and think that I should have gotten it more together. I graduated from Yale. Surely I could have sucked it up and gone to work for a marketing firm right now. I'd have a regular schedule and direct deposit and a gym membership and a regular appointment to get my various labia waxed and I would be happy. Or my parents and creditors would be happy, and I would be... secure. I might even be in one of those one-bedroom co-dependencies some of my friends call relationships. The ones they invite me over to for dinner, and look at me with big wet eyes, asking about my exciting life performing in bar basements in Europe or taking off my clothes for reviewers and liberal theatergoers. They tell me how excited they are that I am still following my dream (which indicates they believe my goals have more to do with fame than process, but most of us in this country are subject to the 'Carrot on the Stick' model--including me at times--so it's forgivable). and how much they envy me. I smile in ascension and enjoy their free food and wine, exploiting a socially symbiotic relationship that makes us each feel better about ourselves.

Part of the reason I do what I do is because these people suck. Not all of them, of course. Some are truly our friends and family. Others give us money. We love these people. Sometimes. But mostly, it's fundamentally hard--at least for me--to respect someone who has compromised their dream. It means they've abandoned hope for themselves, which in turn leads them to abandon hope in humanity, and they are helping to turn this world into the hell it presents itself as on a periodic basis. Sure, people grow up, dreams and goals change. But when you just decide to turn yourself off, you're that dead bulb on a string of Christmas lights that ruins the whole damned thing. If you let yourself get trapped in this state, you might as well get a job manufacturing cancer.

Happiness is a risk--or as our country calls it, a pursuit. Most of that time is spent chasing after something. For me, it's what's going to eventually get me out of this bed. Similarly, the things that bring a deep sense of happiness seem to come from Sisyphean efforts--art, love, teaching, social work, cleaning--things that fill us with passion for great change while silently affirming that nothing really ever changes, because life is the great Sisyphean effort that ends in the same dirt nap. That fight builds passion, and makes us who we are. So it's not that we're so brave or crazy as artists, but that we are living out the integrity of our lives. I am alive when I perform. And all the other moments that I can truly call alive are all want to be performed/shared/explored creatively. The words in my mouth are as tangible to me as my right arm, and I want to shake hands with as many people as I can in this world, and tell them what I see. Whether that is for my sake or theirs is unimportant.


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