Friday, December 19, 2014

Process

"​'​Mental process​'​ or ​'​mental function​'​ are terms often used interchangeably for all the things that individuals can do with their minds. ... A specific instance of engaging in a cognitive process is a mental event. The event of perceiving something is, of course, different from the entire process, or capacity of perception — one's ability to perceive things. In other words, an instance of perceiving is different from the ability that makes those instances possible."​ (Wikipedia).​
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​An instance of seeing myself hearing voices is not the same as the mental journey that I have made in order to be able to do that. When I first began writing performance pieces about my auditory hallucinations, depression and mania, I was several years yet from being diagnosed, though I had known there was something 'wrong' with me since I was 3 - 1/2. I had adapted and was high functioning. What a smokescreen 'high functioning' is. Nobody believed me until I turned into a puddle of mental gelatin 6 weeks into my freshman year away at college and my parents had to come get me in the middle of the night.
" ​... I always let ​[Susan​ the voice in the back of my head]​ ​have the last word on Friday afternoon. Friday afternoon, the eighth​ ​grade at St. Anthony’s Catholic school had science. And the voice in​ ​the back of my head never talked during science class. Sister Ruthann​ ​was talking​ ​about my new favorite thing​: ​molecules.
 ​
​ Sister Ruthann: A molecule is a “stable configuration of​ ​atomic nuclei and electrons bound together by electrostatic and​ ​electromagnetic forces--the smallest particle that displays the​ ​characteristics of a compound.” Are you writing this down?
 ​
​ I was the most timid kid in Kansas. But finding out about​ ​molecules had given me actual opinions. Even though the dictionary​ ​said “stable configurati​o​n” and “bound together,” I thought those​ ​were just figures of speech or symbolic. How could anything be solid​ ​or stable if the​ ​universe is made up of particles that are​ ​inextricably connected by invisible threads--you know, the​ ​electrostatic and electromagnetic forces? I was sure form and shape​ ​are manufactured by our own imaginations; and nothing we think we see​ ​is real.

​ But it was too hard to keep explaining it to myself all the​ ​time. And besides, if I kept it inside my head, eventually the voice​ ​in the back of my head would know everything I knew. And she’d figure​ ​out how to make me feel guilty about science and molecules like she made me feel guilty about everything else.​ ...​"​ (Excerpt from my solo play, Finding the Golden Thread, 1990-1993).​
At some point the détente between me and Susan ended. I realized that I was afraid to go outside because I was no longer sure I could control my actions. I was in my early forties - the age, according to my friend who was a psychiatric social worker, that it is typical for psychotics to be diagnosed. It took me so long to get diagnosed, that by the time my high functioning smokescreen was threadbare, manic depression had turned into bipolar disorder.
It was hot. It was Friday at 5 p.m. I was at my point. Waiting for a downtown train, waiting for the train to go home to Hoboken--underground, in the cave that ought to be cool like caves are supposed to be instead of hot like subways always are. I was even standing at the end of the platform--which you’re not supposed to do because the end of the platform is where the rats and muggers hang out--but I was standing there because I was in that mood where I hate all the rest of humanity. That mood when I want to scream until my insides fall out. 
When I was 18, my best friend and I were taking a lunch break downtown after freshman English class, when all of a sudden, she started screaming. They took her away and I never saw her again. From that time on, I knew if I felt like screaming in public, I better do it inside my head. 
This particular Friday, I’d had to try really hard to control myself--which means I scarcely talked to anybody at work; and I bought my lunch at a deli where the people behind the counter growled at the customers. Maybe I chose that particular deli not so much because I didn’t want to talk to anybody; but because on that particular day, I strongly identified with people who I knew would throw my sandwich at me and call me Nigger if I said thank you.

I was so afraid I’d yell at somebody; which I almost did every time anybody asked me why I was in a bad mood. Shit! I hate that question. It wasn’t a mood; it was like holding in an explosion. But, I’d stayed in control all day long. Instead of saying “Why the fuck do you care about my mood?”--which is what I wanted to say--I said, “Oh, you know. New York gets on my nerves sometimes.” (Excerpt from my monologue, Do You Want to Buy My Brain?, 1995).
I wrote my anxiety about my illness out of my system by 2007. I felt that I had nothing more to say about it and I was glad to be done. I rarely had depression lasting longer than a few weeks any more. I had learned that my up episodes pretty much come like clockwork starting anywhere from February to May and ending about the first week of August; and flare up briefly again in October and December. I had learned to simplify and restrict my activity out in the world, depending how "up" the episode was. I really thought I had learned to live with my illness like I had learned to accept that sometimes 3 weeks of rain in San Francisco is normal.

And then in the middle of one night this past summer, I heard my homeless neighbor, George, screaming at someone named Robert to leave him alone and I was about to call the police when I realized that Robert was a Susan - an auditory hallucination. And in an instant, I understood "she," Susan, is still inside my head; and that the sound like screaming I typically hear inside my head for most of May and June (and in October and December if I get too worked up about anything, go to a lot of social events or catch the flu), the sound I habitually ignore "because it always goes away, eventually" is Susan, still there though inarticulate and of course, like my mania, more pronounced because of the season. It was like a bubble I didn't know I was trapped in burst and suddenly I was free. I finally told my husband that I hear another voice, a male radio voice that is just a voice and not at all malevolent, several times a year especially late spring and early summer. It was a relief. And I began experimenting on camera with me and my voice as characters.


Last week after experiencing creative block for 2 months - block that I'm sure is unrelated to VOICE and happened just because it was my turn to have block - I realized there is a big difference between (1) me as an artist writing about my relationship with my voice while struggling to stay on keel in my life and (2) me as an artist now showing myself dealing with living with psychosis as if it was as normal as 3 weeks of rain in San Francisco. There are three of "us," not just two.

And so, VOICE is not two characters battling for a brain. VOICE is three characters: the Self in-denial, the Voice and the observant consciousness. That, my friends, is how one survives mental illness. Trust me - I am an expert. "An instance of perceiving is different from the ability that makes those instances possible."

I will keep experimenting, but now that I have a protagonist, an antagonist and a pivotal character, I will be looking for the story of VOICE, or rather, waiting for the characters to tell me what it is.


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Voice


I have schizoaffective disorder. When I was in my twenties I had a recurring hallucination of a rat as big as a cat jumping at my throat. When it happened, everything went red, I felt like I was trapped in ooze and my body seized up and I was paralyzed. There was nothing I could to stop it. When it was over sometimes twenty minutes would pass before I could move again.
One night in Minneapolis during a particular difficult period with that hallucination, I was working on a soldier's costume for Macbeth at Theater In The Round. I knew the rat was about to come for me. For some reason I decided to fight back. I braced myself, held up my scissors, closed my eyes; and when it jumped me, I squeezed the scissors and cut off its head.
In one of Fuller Torrey's books, he says all schizophrenics have a sort of window to reality inside their heads. I don't know whether that's true. But way before I was diagnosed sometimes I would feel like there was an escape hatch at the very crown of my head. When things were really bad inside my head, I knew the escape hatch was there, but I couldn't find it. And I just had to suffer and wait til "it" was over.

VOICE is a project exploring the experience of hearing a voice inside my head since childhood. For the past six months, I have been creating the paradigms of the world of VOICE, which will help me make clearer images, themes and story. In order to show this "universe" I have to create a concrete set of references. Like in science fiction, there's rules that you apply to ensure continuity and believability, and make it easier for the audience to suspend disbelief and enter that world with you.
VOICE is not two characters battling for a brain. VOICE is three characters: the Self in-denial, the Voice and the observant consciousness. That is how one survives mental illness. 

                                   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Existential Performance Art


Exploring "being human" through improvisational acting means finding my throughline as a character forms and tells its story on camera. 

It is boggling how often that character is not who I planned for it to be before I turned on the camera. 

That speaks volumes about "what is humanness."

Noir Performance Art



Noir

(nwär)

A genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.

A film or novel in the noir genre.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Films

TYFTB (thank you from the bottom), 2013. A woman thinks the Universe is collapsing and while trying to find a black hole to escape into, winds up in a mental hospital. As she tries to convince her Psychiatrist to release her so that she can resume her search for a black hole and save herself, her imaginary friend, an alien astronomer who lives inside an old black and white TV, delivers a lecture on dark energy. Trailer.


Indigo Lady, 2012, is a fictional interview movie about a Nebraska ranching empire heiress who murders her husband, butchers him the way her father taught her to butcher a hog, and 'cures' him in the meat cellar. She tells the police her husband left her, but eventually a tenacious detective discovers her secret. Twenty years later, Indigo and the detective tell their sides of the story to the press.

Coming soon to Amazon:
Lucy, the First Human, 2014. The setting is a barren, shadowy, womb-like or cave-like environment. There is only one character in the movie. She is based on the hominid, Australopithecus afarensis. What the first human would do, think, feel, and how it would develop -  like an infant, mostly sleeping in the beginning until she gradually is drawn out of her self-absorption into the real world?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stills Album: TYFTB (thank you from the bottom)




Stills from the TYFTB (thank you from the bottom) performance art movie project, 2013. 

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My improvised monologues are my "natural resources," much like paints on a palette are. 



I.E.,  one does not use all the paint she puts on her palette, either.


During the Keskarel project, characters and the dialogue in 'Keskarel' were entirely improvised by the actors, based on a storyline written by Chris Arthur-Henly Robinson. Entirely improvised - so much so, that every other rehearsal, a character took his or her scene to a new, unanticipated plot point. In the spirit of being true to the world of the story, 75% of what we shot was thrown out as the characters lived an ever-changing story in their fictional world.  



As story develops  through the characters I create during solo improvisation rehearsals, I find that often while I am in character, the character makes changes that the director did not intend.