To Return: a difficult transcendence

jeanine durning on a bed

Everyday Practice/s –  

Do one, or more, if you can. Notice when two, or more, necessarily overlap:

+ Write: doesn’t matter what or when or how, but use language that is commensurate to the questions and the Body you are living through. Don’t search for answers.
+ Move: doesn’t matter if you’re dancing, but you can call anything that you’re doing dancing, if that helps, or not, if it doesn’t.
+ Notice: take some moments to notice where you are, what you are in relation to, how you feel.  
+ Wander: preferably in the woods but could be in and around your home. Listen to your surroundings and to yourself. Record your thoughts. Listen to your voice while you speak. You can edit later if that helps.
+ Reflect: you can centralize yourself, but don’t stay there. This can be in the form of walking, or dancing, sitting, or writing.
+ Locate: the Poet at the center of yourself — but don’t search for poetics.
+ Read: something that is not the news.
+ Meditate: this can be in the form of walking, or dancing, or reflecting, or jumping on the bed, as well as sitting.
+ Accept: practice will, by necessity, look and feel different than it did before.

INSIDE

day /

i wander from room to room. this wandering doesn’t feel aimless although there is no discernible aim. there is no where, or there, to get to. sometimes i don’t realize i’ve been wandering until some minutes later. it feels like dust after speeding down an empty dirt road. things get revealed as the particles settle.  

i walk in the woods. there are trails, so there is some direction. i usually notice when it is up or when it is down and less when it is meandering. i stare at trees. i notice the bend of plants toward or away from the crack of sun. i notice Nature and the nature of my thoughts. i try to recognize my body there, in the formation of a leaf, in roots or rocks. what kind of light or darkness have i leaned into, to become the form i am?

day //

my body feels different. maybe my parasympathetic nervous system is finally doing its thing. i’ve been in a fugue state for years now, running from place to place, from here to there, never staying more than a month or two, if even that. that’s what we are told, what we learn to be true: a “successful” “working artist” is always moving, always touring, always transporting and transitioning. the necessity to work becomes the nature of the work, mobilizing.

nonstopping. that became the name for my practice. maybe i’ve gotten that all wrong. maybe when the nervous system is in balance, the truer nature of the imagination has room to move, with more agility and ease. i think in many ways pushing myself into constant “doing,” constant fight or flight, has been an artistic survival strategy. (although i read recently that prosody, the act of speaking rhythmically and melodically, helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system, almost like self-soothing. this sounds a lot like my solo inging.

home, food, sleep, the truth of my dog, my body that is healthy but hurts, the smell of cut grass, the bloom of peonies, the feel of dirt. more and more, words become fragments, used like sounds, like soft shields. fluency is a mirage. philosophy is suspect if it doesn’t include the Body. poetry usually helps, but the books on the shelf are not speaking in the ways they used to. whitman and dickinson have expired, products of their time, the quaker companionable on the one side, the calvinist recluse on the other. two parts of me, too, more or less, that i can’t seem to reconcile. are you talking to me? i don’t see anyone else here.

day ///

i’ve been thinking a lot about that image of a heart supported by a tree with deep roots. it strikes me as a clue into my own heart-feeling, so unmoored and unrooted these past couple of years. today, i took a long walk with mrs. roosevelt in the woods and spent a good amount of time looking at the trees again. i found myself gravitating toward the broken ones, some torn in half, probably met by storms. but because the roots are so strong and deep, only the highest part of the tree collapsed; the bottom half remains firmly connected to the earth, still living. and i thought: where the break is, is where the heart is. i think i’ve heard that somewhere.

day ////

while i’m just waking, the birds are particularly active — equal parts disney and hitchcock style chirping. i’ve read that because of the widespread lockdowns and cleaner air, migrations are different now. i have images of their lives, flying around, collecting things — nests, the sky, birdhouse or branch — but mainly i’m consumed by their sounds, moving from a collective body to individual calls and melodies. at times it’s raucous and dense, as if they will take over the world again. and then the creaking open and tinny slam of the neighbors’ back door and then the bellows-like menacing bark of their 1-year-old unneutered male mastiff. the birds go silent.

i don’t know how to talk about bodies anymore, especially my own. even the language that’s held me together is falling away.

day ////

it’s so long since i’ve felt that sense of impeccable timing in my body. is it sunday or monday? i don’t know. it is morning and then it is night. i decipher Time by the way the light moves in through the blinds. on gray days, it’s harder to tell. mrs. roosevelt tells me.

maybe i used to experience Time like this when i was a kid. slipping by and glacial, together. the difference now is that i am hyper aware of how precious Time is.

the news cuts into the luxury of reverie.

dense grief and intense gratitude. everything feels urgent. hard to focus on any one thing for any length of time. so much hope, so much terror for what more could happen — the things unseen. my own not-seeing. these things i’ve practiced for so long — not-knowing and precarity — are not so theoretical now. maybe this is what i’ve been practicing for all along, the ability to hold this paradox in my body. time to use this training and put practice toward purpose.

a living room

day //// /

learning to surrender to circumstance only comes when that surrender is matched by a certain guarantee of givens — money, health, food, home, Love?

how easy it was for me to surrender, giving up a daily artistic practice as i had understood it. it’s important to question the relevance of your voice and mourn without pity.

what emerges in isolation, what grounds in the midst of radical uncertainty?

the luxury of even contemplating that question.

day //// //

every once in a while i get a glimpse that i’m supposed to be exactly where i am. and of course, i “know” this, but sometimes i actually KNOW it in my bones, in my gut body. sometimes i don’t know what i want, but my body does. i need to listen more closely.

listen there
where the ocean meets the body’s edge.
it’s handing you what you’ve been looking for:
Time
and the disappearance of a shape you’ve known before.

day //// ///

i notice embedded cadences and rhythms. usually in language but also in my walk or what information i choose to listen to.
the bird is inside you still
the animal is alive

dresser in a room

day //// ////

i dug a hole in the backyard today. it was time to bury the acorn that d and i found the day we decided we would get married, at that park in brooklyn. i was going to bury the rings too but couldn’t find them. they’re here somewhere. maybe i intentionally lost them. i bought a lilac bush at the nursery to remind myself that the future can smell sweet. i’ve recently read that it can take up to six years for a lilac bush to flower. i guess Time takes Time. i’ve always loved lilacs.

to dig a ditch
and watch things grow
to worry if the lilac you planted
will bloom in that perhaps-too-shady spot
next to the peony by the garage
and the italian vine on the chain-link fence
rage is just another form of grief
everybody knows that.
so maybe this hole i’ve dug is endless,
echoing back to me my own terror, my own truth.
don’t be afraid of death or even the life you’ve been given.
the bird is inside you still.
the animal is alive.

day //// ////

i gave myself a black eye from rubbing it so hard.
boo-hoo.

day //// //// /

Body.Place.Mind.Time manage to align. i find myself standing in the middle of the kitchen, somewhere between intention and the not quite opposite of intention, the body still in motion to find its purpose. my body is still now, having realized i have spent some many seconds or maybe minutes pacing from room to room with a generalized attention that something needs to be done. what that something is, i don’t know. this is thematic these days. standing next to the stove, body still, my mind paces, speeding through the many things undone, not done, or waiting to be done. destroyed, incomplete, imminent.

day //// //// //

imperatives? what are those? what is Touch to you anymore? you’re impervious. transparent, untranslatable, unnameable, invisible. the touch of sound, the touch of light, the sound of sound, the sound of light. you don’t remember the touch of skin or the skin of skin or the sound of breath. experience yourself as just a little beside the point. steer yourself, otherly. everything will be fine, she says, distancing herself from herself, not daring to use: I. there is a voice inside the Heart that can hold itself, again. lay yourself down, facing the sky. there’s memory up there, floating northerly. dig it up. find the bones you’ve buried. the ground of you is opening up and you are falling in. stay there. you don’t have to move. it is moving you. pull it out. hold it in your hands. this little Body you’ve become out of the centuries. the Earth is red and with your tears you make mud. you mold it into a home and you rest there. spread the rest over your eye. you spin inside. the spinning is so quick, it feels like stillness.

   

day //// //// //// //

john scott in dublin invited me to make a performance for his micro festival, dancer from the dance. i’ve said no to almost everything. i said yes to this because i love john and because i’ve been thinking about my irish roots and because he said it could be anything not lasting more than seven minutes. i started by choosing where in my house i would do it. where am i? where am i not? location seems important now. i decided on my bedroom because of the bed and the wolf on the wall. i decided that i would accumulate materials based on the imagery and the physical limitations of the room, as well as real, imagined, and remembered associations to that space. i started by jumping on my bed. this is the text that came up from that daily practice over seven days. i called the dance: MADE FOR THIS.

made for this
this phantom kiss
the missy miss
the this can’t last
like this, like that
the hugs, the sweat
the limbic mix
missing you missing me missing you
the loops like that
made for this
the beast inside
the dog by your side
the ruff ruff ruff
this loneliness
this kiss kiss kiss
you miss miss miss
the myth you hold
that its life was there for you you you
to have have have
to hold hold hold
to take take take
to break break break
to white white white
to kill kill kill
to ta ta ta
to ba ba ba
to ha ha ha
blue-eyed terrified
epigenetically repetitized
jane eyred
dog eared
prided and prejudiced
like this, like this
manifestly destin`ed
supremely fiction`ed
made for this
made for this
you made this
you made this
you made this

   

OUTSIDE

day 0

storm king state park

micro intensities
shafts of light
the sounds of birds
the heaviness of my boots
you’d like to condense Time
and miraculously know the names of trees
it’s possible for a worm to live
even if you cut it in half
you learned that as a child
the sound of wind before you feel it on your skin
the pace of your steps interrupted by a rock
you romanticize your aloneness, here in the woods
and then you come across an enormous pile of animal shit
the sound of a train in the distance
reminding of the so many places you used to go
i’m getting closer now to traveling to my own skin

day 00

storm king state park

the decaying of a tree is more visible in the sun’s shadow
green is greener when the sky is gray
the narrowness of a path depends on your balance
is that the sound of moss and lichen
or is that just my mind crackling
dates are clues
but they don’t tell you that much
neither the names of days nor of the weeks going by
the names of landmarks like street corners or schools
the name of my knee or the tip of my nose
the name of this island inside me that i’m currently living on

   

i’m there now, feeling that
sometimes my bones will crack
if i take the wrong step

   

day 0000

mountain road

sometimes mrs. roosevelt and i see a lot of deer on our walks
sometimes i see them before she does
sometimes she sees them first
i wish she wouldn’t bark
but of course she’s just living out her destiny
watching the creature dart away at her command
we both heard the mad rush of movement
i think mrs. roosevelt heard it first
it seemed to not come from any particular direction
which can be dangerous in the woods
then we saw it, running
the fawn dashing through the brush
as if for its Life
it probably felt the Truth of danger
with all these humans around
on a covid wednesday afternoon
i’d never seen a fawn up that close
in all its fragility, in all its power
it seems there’s more roadkill now that people are relaxing their lockdowns
sometimes i see dead deer on the side of the road
i imagine some pickup truck rammed into it
and just left it there, like that, to die
or maybe it was that mini cooper
with the trump2020 sticker on its bumper
the one you keep passing on your way to the trail
it’s best not to discriminate over which car can kill a deer
every time i pass that car,
parked in front of its colonial house with the white picket fence
i want to get out and drive my key across the blue paint on driver’s side
like i did that day to the SUV on the UWS
the day we went to war in IRAQ
but then i remind myself, i’m driving too

   

day 0000


storm king state park

i think about how singular mrs. roosevelt’s focus is
her whole Being is about attention minus intention
and maybe that’s the clue
to remove the intention
because oftentimes we intend to do the right thing
but how we intend toward the attention fucks things up
attention + intention = mindful action
that’s what i learned in catholic school
and in dance school
i’m struggling with the structure of my intention
or at least how i’ve known structure
i’ve lived as a runaway, or maybe a runatoward
and when that came to a stunning halt
with no one or no thing in particular to attend to other than myself
i realized i didn’t really know what was grounding me
what was holding me
sleep, food, the needs of my dog

day 0000 0000

reservoir road

i want to talk about the condensed energy of
rocks, boulders, glaciers, stone walls, stonehenge,
earth in its vibrational shifts
the unforgiving labor of man, the mythology of the gods
but i don’t know how
instead my attention goes to fallen trees,
to the slits in their trunks that look like vaginas,
home to some small animal

   

day 0000 0000 0

kowawese unique area

direct your listening toward the Nothing you were meant to hear all along. bring the distance closer to you — the melody of birds, the movement of the water, the panting of mrs. roosevelt, the chipmunk in the brush, the woodpecker in the distance, the wind through the trees, the sound of your mind. this seeming Nothing was in you all along, in the movement of your body and the choices you’ve made. listen closely to the things you were told not to hear. listen to the name given to the path you trample on, underneath you the bones of bald eagle, black bear, bobcat, and mink. kowawese means small pine. and way before cole or church or durand manifestly destinyed their way to the hudson river school with their soft watercolors and violently vibrant oils, way before hendrick hudson was paid his dutch guilders to try to find entry to china, this river was named mahicannituck — the river that flows two ways — by the Muh-He-Con-Ne-Ok, or the mohicans, as the english called them — the people of the waters that are never still. the river is to the right of you, or to the left, depending on which direction you’re going. (41° 27′ 30.9348” N/74° 0′ 59.13” W) sometimes it feels as if you too are flowing in two directions, inside yourself. my father used to jump off the cliffs in highland falls, which used to be called buttermilk falls, or so i was told. he and his brothers would race one another to see who was the strongest swimmer. you’d have to be really strong or really stupid to swim the hudson. all the kayakers know that. they know to stay close to the edge of the shore because the current can draw you down if you go out too far. on summer days, families go down to kowawese (also called plum point) and spend the day fishing or swimming in the river, even though it’s recommended not to because of the high levels of contaminants dumped by GE in the ’60s and ’70s. hardly anyone is wearing a mask down there now, anyway, so …  it’s hard to imagine that, at one point, the river was teeming with herring and trout instead of the poisonous crab you see washed up on the beach now. mrs. roosevelt always sniffs them but knows enough not to eat them. walking along this path that leads to the river, i sometimes come across deer, peacefully eating the berries that are just ripening. there is a mini standoff as they become aware of mrs. roosevelt and my presence there, and then they run off into the bush. lately i’ve been wondering how long these berry bushes have been here. how many centuries? were they planted or just there all along? how many hands have picked from them, how many animals have eaten from them? i remember rushing into a field of nettles one afternoon after school trying to get to a raspberry bush, or maybe it was blackberries. within minutes, i was covered with welts and rashes, burning and itching, in and around my catholic school uniform. the green and gray plaid polyester jumper skirt was no protection at all. at least i was wearing knee highs.

day 0000 0000 00

kowawese unique area

a creature needs to move through its environment in order to perceive it, in order to survive it. if it stays still for too long, it risks becoming prey to predator.

day 0000 0000 000

kowawese unique area

i went bunny rabbit hunting with mrs. roosevelt today. whenever i say the word bunnies, she goes wild. bunnies can be any small, low-to-the-ground creature like a chipmunk or a squirrel. somehow she knows the flight of a bird is not a bunny. she never bothers with them. but yesterday, i found her scavenging in the backyard around the deadheaded peony bush underneath the dollar store bird feeder i bought a few weeks ago and hung from the garage. i called to her and she sneakily came, ears back but tail high. i went over there thinking she was scrounging some of the fallen seed, but it was a dead bird. it had been there for a couple of days, i think. its body was flat and its eyes were glazed blue white. i prayed for it and thanked it for coming to my bird feeder. i carefully picked it up with mrs. roosevelt’s pooper scooper and put it in a bag and then put it in the garbage bin, not before thinking about the sanitation worker who will throw that bag into the back of the truck on trash day, wondering if it will stink too much. i asked mrs. roosevelt if she found the bird like that or if she killed it. she listened to me but wouldn’t answer.

   

Jeanine Durning is an Alpert Award-winning choreographer and performer, from New York, whose work has been described by The New Yorker as having both “the potential for philosophical revelation and theatrical disaster.” Her research concerns the interrogation of the body as a mobilizing force for change, and choreography as a mode of thought which has the potential to shift perception of self, other, and the spaces we (collectively) inhabit. Her signature solo inging has been invited across the U.S., Europe, and in Canada. In support of her new project Dark Matter, Durning has received residencies at Seoul Dance Center, the Rauschenberg Foundation, MANCC, and at DNK in Sofia, Bulgaria. Jeanine has had the privilege of collaborating with many choreographers over her many years of performing including with Deborah Hay since 2005. Jeanine has taught and shared some accumulated practices all over the world through many different institutions for contemporary dance and performance, and is often invited to act as “outside eye” to many choreographers’ processes. She has created original works commissioned by independent performers and companies, including an upcoming commission for Candoco Dance in London. Jeanine has recently been invited to join Cullberg in Stockholm for the coming year as a new rehearsal director. www.jeaninedurning.com