I am imagining something experiential, something felt.

a rainy street out a window

It has fast become a cliché in 2020 to say that last year, last month, last week, yesterday feel already like another lifetime, another world. I suppose this is always the case, but it seems inescapable now: no avoiding how changeable, how tenuous, this and we all are.

What do I remember of who and where I was in early May, when I sent invitations out to Jeanine, Rashaun, and Simone? I was wanting something made of time and space, something embodied … perhaps this is why the first people I thought of were dance artists. There are of course variations in what I said and wrote to each of them, and also things that repeated. This sentence is one of the repetitions: I am imagining something experiential, something felt.

Each iteration of the Peak Journal takes off, in direct and oblique ways, from a conversation with Jed, the sort of meandering, excitable conversation that leads one to believe there is a definite path to follow, without having a sense of what that path might be.

When I look back at the fragmented record of our exchange that exists in my notebook, one of those pleasingly cheap school COMPOSITION books with the blue marbleized cover, I see this, scribbled in emphatic black ink:

“What is this moment? Completely cockamamie, who knows … wrestling with the unknown … which is performance, being in the studio.”

And this:

“The overall motif of the system is urgency” — the word urgency is circled twice — “if we were in some deluded moment when we thought we had all the time in the world — we now know we don’t.”

My handwriting is large and loopy, the way it gets when I am trying to keep up with an expansive speaker. I believe in both of these excerpts I am quoting (perhaps misquoting) Jed, but I can’t be entirely sure — it’s possible the words belong to Stephanie Haggerstone, who was also part of the call, or (even less likely) are something I thought in response to something one of them said.

a fruit and a flower

I remember the idea of surviving, of dailiness. I remember Jed saying we could have a publication written entirely by one person, and certainly that we should do fewer pieces and make them longer. This felt right, to give the writers time to stretch out, to get lost, turn around, start again. To end with a space big enough for a reader to do these things as well.

I remember seeing Jed and Stephanie in domestic spaces, how there is something special and intimate about seeing colleagues in their makeshift offices. It can be unpleasantly easy to forget that arts administrators are humans — maybe especially when you are one of these administrators, when you are thinking (and not thinking) of yourself. The domestic space pushes against this forgetting.

I have now had the conversation with several people, that there is something to this long time of being apart from others, some of us truly apart from all physical contact, that something is emerging internally, this sense of returning to ourselves, our younger selves, ones not so fully shaped by the gaze of others, the company of others — as if we have been inside of molds that now have cracked, and so we seep out in different, unpredictable directions. I think of how on some days, it seems impossible to be seen by others over a video call, and whether this is a product of also having to see oneself (that hateful little corner of the screen) or simply that we no longer have the endurance we did before, to be seen on a daily basis. I think of all the times someone says their connection is not good enough to allow for the video function to work, how many times this might better be understood as a metaphor for another sort of connection.

What is necessary to say now? What shouldn’t wait? Whose voices do we feel the need to hear?

Those are three questions I asked when reaching out to these contributors.

I had in my mind the memory of a late-night conversation with Rashaun, listening to him talk about survivalism. Where we do and do not expect to see Black people. Talking about what it would take to get out of Manhattan, where we were then. Understanding, as the conversation continued past the point of casual, that I was staring into a space of deep, unsettling inquiry.

I had in my mind Jeanine’s practice of ongoingness, which I understand (or perhaps misunderstand) in part as a trusting in and of uncertainty — the promises and dangers of such an ethos. Thinking of her movement quality, the way a certain type of weathervane continually, deftly, delicately reorients, never quite settling. Thinking of a sort of dance that does not require an audience.

I had in my mind something I heard Simone say (or was this written, or am I imagining it?), a very early memory she has of escaping Fascist Italy with her family, how the memory is a bodily feeling, a sense feeling, the energy and tension in the car. And then Simone in rural Vermont, in Los Angeles, in fancy museums all over the world: how I have only ever experienced her, on the page and the stage, as utterly herself. How rare that is. How exquisite.

I hope you’re doing well in this fast-moving time full of danger and promise, Simone wrote in a June email. I’ve thought of these words often since then. Of getting larger by being small. Of something experiential, something felt. The wind rushing through and past the trees.

Photo by: José Carlos Teixeira Photo by: José Carlos Teixeira

Claudia La Rocco’s work explores hybridity and improvisation, moving between poetry, prose, and performance. Her books include the selected writings The Best Most Useless Dress (Badlands Unlimited), the chapbook I am trying to do the assignment ([2nd Floor Projects]), and the novel petit cadeau (published in print, digital, and live editions by The Chocolate Factory theater). With musician/composer Phillip Greenlief she is animals & giraffes, an experiment in multidisciplinary improvisation that has released the albums July (Edgetone Records) and Landlocked Beach (with Wobbly; Creative Sources). She edited I Don’t Poem: An Anthology of Painters (Off the Park Press) and Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets, the catalog for Danspace Projectʼs PLATFORM 2015, for which she was guest artist curator. She has been a columnist for Artforum, a cultural critic for WNYC New York Public Radio, and from 2005-2015 was a critic and reporter for The New York Times; her writings have been widely anthologized, including in Imagined Theatres: Writing for a theoretical stage (Daniel Sack, ed. Routledge) and On Value (Ralph Lemon, ed. Triple Canopy). La Rocco has received grants and residencies from such organizations as the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation, and Headlands Center for the Arts. She is editorial director of Open Space, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s live and online commissioning platform, and teaches writing at the University of the Arts’ Dance MFA program. Her Quartet is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse’s 2020 Pamphlet Series, and she is at work on her second novel, The Ongoing Sea.

David DeWitt Headshot

David DeWitt (senior editor) spent almost 20 years as an editor at The New York Times, including many years working on the Arts desk handling articles in dance, theater, music, and other forms. He also wrote film, theater, and television reviews for the paper and last year taught creative nonfiction through Syracuse University. David is a member of the Screen Actors' Guild and Actors Equity.