Relinquish the Day: A Memory

My stepfather, James Kestell, passed away yesterday morning. He died with his son, nephew, and my two brothers as witnesses. Thinking about his passage onwards, my mind can’t help but recall some of the landscapes I wandered through last winter–in Iceland outside Reykjavik and along the mouth of the Snaefell peninsula, and in the arctic mountain plains outside of Tromso, Norway.

The intense saturation of blue at the cusp of the long nightfall holds the sky with a heavy physicality. The horizon disappears, and distances recede into you with profound intimacy. These landscapes helped me emit an immense grief. The endless wind that poured over the Atlantic and rolled across these icy plains simply pulled grief out of me, letting it roll with pale tendrils across white and blue reaches into un-nameability. Into far span, into farewell and soft light. I was called back into my humanity by my encounter with these severe landscapes. Maybe you will be, too.

Mountain plain in the west fjords of Iceland

Flateyri, West Fjords of Iceland

Flateyri, West Fjords Iceland Flateyri, West fjords of Iceland Southern Iceland

 

 

Into Night

I just bought plane tickets into the arctic circle. I’ll be in Norway the last half of January, and in the far northern city of Tromsø the last weekend of the month, before flying out to Iceland for February.

And what do I expect to encounter in that darkness?

I have no idea. I am simply obeying this call which tells me to pursue the subtle light. I think I’ll probably have more intensive experiences of artificial light than anything else, frankly, but I do suspect I’ll find what I could not have imagined to discover. And that excites me intensely.

Light is a language. I want to open myself to it. To speak the far distant ray… its orphaned, jettisoned calling.

I think it will perhaps open what has been long orphaned in me.

Can lost light be a home?

Can the broken, displaced, and evacuated body become fertile ground in the dark subtle night?

I pray to be dreamless and afloat among stars. To have the deep blue sky infiltrate me and erase what was false inside. The sky is deepest blue in subtle light, not black. I want to steep myself in that immense hue. May there be no requirement.

I discovered immeasurable peace in the infinite day of the Norwegian summer solstice. I’m curious if I will accomplish a dark peace in its long night.

Speak with Day

This is a bit belated, but I wrote a short statement about my time in Norway for the residency, Kunstnarhuset Messen. You can check it out here.

Also, I’ll be returning there next January to experience starlight and darkness. I’ll be collecting footage for the next installment of my videopoem project, and have already been drafting out shots I’d like to take. I can’t believe this is all really happening! I’ll be spending 6 weeks in the subarctic–2 in Norway, and then the month of February in Iceland. I’m hoping one of my friends and collaborators, Michele Kishita, will make it out to Iceland for some of that time with me. We’ve been engaged in a long discussion about light and water.

Wide permanent changing day

I’ve been spending the last month at an arts residency at Kunstnarhuset Messen, located in the village of Ålvik, Norway. I knew that I wanted to let the long daylight infiltrate my body, but I wasn’t sure what it would burn free in me. In the weeks leading up to my departure from Philadelphia, I was filled with a strong premonition that I would not return from this trip. I felt a strong urge to write a will, to put my affairs in order. I sat with these feelings for a time and decided that they were not in fact some glimpse of my actual death, but a sense that I was going to be radically changed while here. And I understand that now to in fact be the case.

When I arrived, I had hoped to understand distance, displacement, and transformation better by moving along the mouth of the fjord, speaking with the residents, and observing how climate change was affecting this nordic village.

Instead, I found a deep rooted sense of peace within my spirit. It took a few weeks for it to fully accomplish itself within me. It fell into me slowly, gradually. Simply. Just like the long summer daylight.

I hiked for hours at a time, experiencing intense solitude and marveling at how such long days could create such a sense of subtlety in me. I found myself radically sensitized to the minor changes in the way aspen leaves caught the wind or how clouds crawled across the sky.

I found myself thinking a lot about my dear deceased friend. She’s been gone for nearly a year now, and I can’t express how radically my entire psychology was changed by her death. We had known each other since we were fourteen years old. She walked with me through some of the hardest times in my life. She was, quite simply and without exaggeration, the most kind and good person I knew. Death glosses many things, but it doesn’t gloss this beautiful truth. She was simply good.

For a long time after she died, I struggled with the sense that I was in the wrong universe. I understand that this was a grief response–that it was easier for my mind to believe that I had slipped into an alternate reality rather than accept the sad fact of her death. There are many aspects about my life the last year that seemed to confirm this to me–that I was askew. I kept trying to make this askewness home. It wasn’t right.

Now, though, while living in this far northern village, surrounded by kind strangers but ultimately alone, I felt the truth of her death slip into me. She is gone. I think I finally cried the last salty tears in my body over this fact. And they evaporated into the sky. Like clouds.

While I’ve been here, I’ve been doing some movement–a form of a salp’uri. It’s an ancient dance form, which I used to insist on calling a dance of healing. It is more commonly understood as an exorcism dance. I now think it’s both.

The sad truth is that I have been exorcising my friend’s death from me–by bringing it into the coal of my body, by bringing down the sun. This stark, neutral, lasting light has burned away so many things. And it has revealed a basic truth. That light radically continues. As must we.

I find myself filled by equanimity. I have discovered a sense of balance by standing on milky glacial waves, falling into aspen green shine, and having the blank sun burn my eyelids into an intense blue swarm. I saw electricity in the waves and felt my body turn to air. I’ve left behind no shadow, and what I used to be doesn’t care.

An excerpt from what I’ve been developing in response to all these things.

 

Let the Fire Burn

My dear friend Jack took me to go see the documentary film by Jason Osder, Let the Fire Burn, which examines the way the Philadelphia police department bombed the MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia back in 1985. The resultant fire destroyed about 60 homes and killed many MOVE members, several of whom were children.

MOVE was a radical black collective that also functioned like a religion. Watching many of the members speak about their beliefs in the video footage was heart rending — I could so thoroughly appreciate their standpoint in the social order and how they were radicalized. I found myself agreeing with them when they spoke about how “the system” and “the man” were organized in such a way that the MOVE community could only be perceived as an alien, irrational threat. I also saw how their radical politics skirted on more dangerous philosophies — the way they were feeding their children, the way they were willing to provoke and alienate their neighbors.

The film did an excellent job of examining the complexities in community relations around this event. Set in a predominantly black neighborhood, MOVE antagonized many of their black neighbors, courted white radical allies, and was a lodestone for the police department’s interest — despite MOVE’s initially non-violent activities.

I saw much in MOVE that reminded me of North Korea. They were simultaneously clear sighted and mad. It was the clear vision and madness one clings to when the world refuses to acknowledge your basic humanity or right to self-determination — and sadly, madness distracts from any recognition of clearness. They reached out and imagined a new mode of being, setting out to recompose themselves as best they could.

Listening to the commission questioning a few MOVE members, police officers, and public officials also illustrated to me how these two imaginations for social order — MOVE’s and the City’s — were one hundred percent incompatible with each other. Several of the police officers involved clearly had no ability to see MOVE members as human beings with rights, thoughts, and feelings. There were two different sorts of human beings occupying a shared space together, and though they both seemed to speak the same language, the words they spoke fell on ears that could not hear them.

What I witnessed in this documentary film was a fundamental failure in the human imagination.

A failure to imagine each other otherwise.

A failure to imagine the world otherwise.

As much as I applaud MOVE’s desires to liberate themselves, I also saw how so much of this imagination was founded on completely broken structures of being. How can we create a break in the social order — with history — when we ourselves have been so broken?

This is a question I spin back to incessantly.

How to renew my imagination.

How to imagine the world otherwise.

How to be otherwise.

I do not believe any imagination can be renewed or produce fruit without love. A generosity in attention.

How can we start to see that to be human is to be more than our bodies and minds. That we are our histories and our environments. That there are collectives and trajectories that compose us all the time, which we participate in all the time.

I am describing the way we are starlight and earth, how there are spirits that fill us and they continue to have names. Fire consumes as it burns, but even it leaves a residue.

Philadelphia is a haunted city, but it is haunted in the way that so many of us are. Just under the skin. If you pay attention, it speaks to you. It writes ciphers in the sky. Listening to these sounds and signs can lead you into a transformative encounter of this space.

I wish more people could see this documentary. I wish its black char could rise into the sky and be free.

I wonder — what messages were sent skyward on the tongues of those flames.

 

 

 

Light is a container full of noise

I was looking at this picture of the Cygnus cluster earlier this week. Nasa Spitzer Space Telescope image of Cygnus Whenever I look at satellite images of deep space that have been re-rendered to highlight their anatomy, I’m struck by how much data is carried in light. This image has been processed in order to make infrared information visible to us. From light, we can determine the composition of these celestial bodies, their rotation and movement, their age…we can even predict their futures.

When I think of radiation as light, when I think of heat as light, when I think of vibration as light, I am moved by the notion that all things in the universe transmit. Communicate. Cast informational streams from themselves. What does the heat generated from my body say? What am I broadcasting at every quivering instant?

And the light that reaches me and interacts with my body, my perceptions, my ideas… what information is being so blindly delivered into me?

Our bodies require light.

I seek the opening of an understanding.

What is being said and said again with me. What am I now saying, too. If my skin were composed of eyes, what would it see. If my body were a gigantic listening drum, what would I perceive.

A still from Hardcash production's documentary, "Children of the Secret State."
A still from Hardcash production’s documentary, “Children of the Secret State.”

When I was working on what later turned into my second book, Underground National, I was watching several documentaries about North Korea. I watched these documentaries with a grain of salt, of course, but the images were arresting. I was particularly moved by the plight of orphaned children in North Korea, many of whom are starving and live by begging or picking out scraps. There was one orphan, a boy, who was in clear distress. His face was contorted with pain. No one stopped to even look at him. He walked about, holding his clasped hands up to his chest. I am not sure how old he was. Perhaps 8 or 9. He was very small. The documentary was made over ten years ago. My spirit tells me this young boy did not survive. And when I think of this, I realize that the only documents that attest to his life could very well be the footage that was used in the film. And I was observing the recreated light patterns of what had once echoed off his body and into the camera’s lens, captured.

Light moves and fills me. It is not quite life, but it echoes and drums and resounds and speaks it.