Theological Aesthetics

Blogging

Honestly, I had good intentions of blogging more on this, my homepage, after years of blogging on Blogger. I'd divided myself up over there and thought here, I'd be more "all of me"---my artsy self, my Jesusy self, my silly self. I still have good intentions, but little follow through. So here's a random post. Enjoy. Or whatever.

Reading

Back at Christmas, I received a much appreciated book called Through the Dark Field by Susie Paulik Babka. I'm not going to lie---it was slow reading, being heavily academic. I don't read enough academic work for it to be fast reading for me. It's a particular language to which your eyes and brain have to acclimate. But I found it very worthwhile reading, as well. Babka leads us through a lot of thought and theology on suffering and how artists have expressed it---and I realize that's reducing it to a very shallow summary. She leans heavily on Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (his name keeps coming up in the best arts reading I do, so I'm going to have to eventually read some of his work), especially his work around the idea of The Other, how our best moral/ethical philosophy/theology boils down to how we treat The Other. Babka's "Aesthetics of Vulnerability" . . . well, don't ask me to encapsulate that, either. I just found so much of the book mind-buzzing (I mean that in a great way) and will likely return to it again.

I'm now reading Way to Water by L. Callid Keefe-Perry. Keefe-Perry, who runs the Theopoetics website, offers this book as a less academic endeavor while engaging academic sources. It is much faster reading than Babka, but still fairly advanced reading. What I'm learning here is that while I've been pursuing theological aesthetics, I am probably more in tune with theopoetics. I'm only about halfway through, but it's definitely giving me a lot to think about as I pursue my own work. I think it may be giving me permission to be more myself, or my more integrated self (which was why I started this website, right?) (see above). I've long thrown around the phrase "art-making as a site for theological reflection" but I think what Keefe-Perry is leading me into is to recognize my art-making as itself doing/being theology. Which I think I also knew before, but I compartmentalized. Art over here, religion over there, silliness a bit to the left of that. I don't know why, but I seem to like compartmentalizing myself, which isn't very healthy. At the same time, I've always leaned toward the interdisciplinary (one of my degrees even uses that term!) but this theological bent to my art-making---well, I guess we'll see where it goes from here.

In between these two books, I read Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot. I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend who is Native, as is Mailhot. As a matter of craft, it's a gorgeous book. The writing moves between a raw urgency and lyrical beauty. I also find it difficult reading as it's a personal story (a memoir) of a somewhat unhealthy love relationship. It's hard to watch someone continually make what appears to be poor choices. Then there's the aspect of the book that offers some insight into contemporary Native life. It's not the focus of the book, but there are times when Mailhot foregrounds her culture in ways that illuminates the effects of colonization and conquest---effects that are pretty well invisible to me as one who benefits from colonization and conquest. So I guess two out of three makes for a recommendation. I just know some people will find the relationship story to be very difficult.

Watching

I started out 2018 being a very active audience member. Then I spent a month going to The Quality of Life, the show I directed, and now I'm slowly returning to seeing other work. This active audience member thing is a cyclical thing with me.

I just cleaned out my backpack of programs and in recent weeks, I've seen Open Dance Project's Dada Gert, the Company OnStage's productions of Around the World in 80 Days (adapted by Toby Hulse) and Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton, the local Fieldwork Showcase, now called Field Day, sponsored by Core Dance and Dance Source Houston, and just tonight, the premiere of NMD2, NobleMotion Dance's new pre-professional company. All had things to recommend them, but I was particularly partial to Dada Gert. First of all, I love the early 20th Century art movements and their penchant for manifestos. The off-the-wall-ness of dada as channeled by Annie Arnoult and company had me grinning stupidly though most of the show (at least until the swastikas showed up---those always destroy the stupid grinning). The manic energy of Around the World in 80 Days was also a great treat, with three hardworking actors playing 20-something roles leaving everyone exhausted but smiling. It was an odd feeling to be in the audience of a Fieldwork showcase (rather than on the stage) but it was one of the best showcases I've seen in some time. It was a good variety, with storytelling, monologues, and dance. Between the reading I'm doing and performances I'm attending, it has me thinking about my next moves as a performer/performance-maker.

Working

But my work lately has been on my writing. I have something that either needs to be cut down into a manageable short story or expanded slightly into a comfortable novella length. I'm opting for the latter at present, and it's slow going. The day job has been draining the last month and when i get home, I'm not much good for writing and editing.

Here's a difference I find between performance/performing arts and writing: When you have rehearsals, you have to show up and you have to work. You have the temporary community that relies on everyone being present and working, no matter how tired you are, how bad your day was. The energy of a cast makes that happen. Writing is harder. You get home and no one really cares if you put in the time. No one is depending upon you to write anything, really. So it's easy to give into fatigue. Makes me wonder if I need to find a place for writers to gather and just write together, feed on the energy of other people in the room to make one be productive. Peer pressure put to the best possible use. I don't know where that would take place, but it seems like something to try. We'll see.

But, anyway, the work on this novella (we'll go with that) with a working title, Cora, is progressing at a snail's pace, but it progresses. Like most of my writing, it's another quiet piece, more character study than story, but also a meditation on the passing of a way of life. It is the day in the life of an aging farm woman, children all moved out, a widow, facing life's challenges as she always has, with pragmatism and work. She receives two phone calls during her day, which add some drama to the proceedings, but over all, it's a quiet piece. It needs a lot of work, and I'd like to get the work moving faster than a snail.

Random Memory #1

(I find myself wanting to write about things from my life. These random memories will be an outlet for them. I'm not planning them, just adding them to my random blogging.)

Sometime in the mid-1970s, one of my sisters brought me a black rabbit. I'd mentioned wanting a rabbit (i don't remember why) and whether or not she cleared it with our parents, it appeared on her next visit to the farm. I promptly named her Bunny Jane Rabbit.

After a few months, maybe a year, I decided I wanted a mate for Bunny, and a black and white buck appeared. I named him Jack Rabbit (I feel he certainly had a middle name, but I don't recall it now). Of course, he wasn't a jackrabbit, but probably at least partially a dutch breed of rabbit. He was slightly smaller than Bunny. I naively put them in a cage together, to keep each other company.

I then found out that rabbits have a gestation period of exactly one month, because one month after I got Jack, I went out to feed my pets to find Bunny had pulled out most of the hair on her belly and deposited a litter of hairless babies in the nest she made with her hair. I ran to the house screaming about Bunny having babies. Mama and Daddy came out with me and we moved Jack to another cage and set Bunny up with a box for her litter.

Then I found out that rabbits are, indeed, always fertile, because one month later, before the first litter was really old enough to be weaned, there was another litter. It seems in between the time Bunny birthed the first litter and I removed Jack from her cage, they'd gotten busy with starting another one-month gestation period. Jack kept to his own cage after that, at least until all previous litters were weaned and moved out.

Eventually, when I entered high school and joined the Future Farmers of America (because I was a rural male and that's what we did regardless of farmer potential), raising rabbits became my FFA project. But therein lies other stories, I suppose. Suffice for this entry to let this be about how I learned the accuracy of all those jokes about rabbits.