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Mimsy and Outgrabe

a record of panic, parenting, teaching, and art making

  • Writer's pictureSarah Gutowski

On Inspiration & Momentum

On Friday, October 28, I returned to New York after being abroad for 24 days. But before that, I followed the residency in Stiwdio Maelor with a brief trip to Ireland, where first I visited Trinity College and saw two exhibits.

The first of these was for the Book of Kells, which I thought was really well done as it's an exhibit about a book that only so many people can see at a time. On my way out from the campus, I made an unplanned stop at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, and saw Arthur Jafa's Love is the Message, The Message is Death, which is a 7-min digital video in color with sound -- and it made me cry.

Maybe it was a symptom of being travel-weary, or maybe it was an indication that I'm becoming much softer in my old age (I've never been a crier, especially re: things like movies or TV), but it was extremely difficult and moving to witness (and be reminded) of those images of "historical and contemporary racial violence, including police brutality" (Douglas Hyde Gallery) juxtaposed with images of Black Culture that have been glorified and fetishized by US media/culture. The film clips were paced (using slow motion or acceleration) to keep time with Kanye West's Ultralight Beam -- and the affect was stunning, and disturbing, and beautiful.

I have no love for West as a public persona, particularly after his most recent antisemitic tirades, but that piece of music is gorgeous when paired with Jafa's work. I felt that Jafa's film was supported by the music as much as West's music and lyrics were given increased depth and scope via Jafa's chosen images.

If you search you can find the entire installation videoed by some gallery-goer and uploaded to YouTube, but I don't recommend. You need the darkened, sober concrete room and its stark isolation, coupled with the audio in surround-sound. However, here's a good preview via the Smithsonian American Art Museum:

After Trinity I headed over to the National Library of Ireland and saw the W.B. Yeats exhibit -- this was not as well done as the Book of Kells, and truthfully, disappointing. I loved finding out parts of his biography that I was unfamiliar with, and seeing the early manuscripts of poems -- when I could see them. The lights were low in the exhibit, understandably, to keep from damaging the archived photographs and papers, but entire cases hadn't been lit from the inside, so seeing the texts or artifacts was near impossible.

And the big disappointment was that I didn't have enough time in the day to see also the Seamus Heaney exhibit that used audio as well as visuals -- but (*sigh*) one can't do everything, I suppose.

A selfie of the author standing on the Cliffs of Mohr by the Atlantic Ocean.
The cliffs, the sky, my face.

(Part of the reason I couldn't see it is I took a day-long bus tour to see the Cliffs of Mohr and Galway. I am decidedly NOT a fan of bus tours, but I wasn't gonna drive myself there, and I really wanted to see them.)

I also read Lucas Hnath's Isaac's Eye on the trains and the ferry between Wales and Ireland, and it was amazing. I love this play so very much. It's fun and beautiful, alternately cheeky and somber, exploring morality, ambition, legacy, and obsession. Just so, so good.

On the plane back to the States, I began (perhaps appropriately?) the play King Charles III by Mike Bartlett. This play's premise was audacious when it was first produced, and reading it now after Queen Elizabeth's death -- well, it feels oddly prescient, from Charles's own struggle with his new role and the parameters of his power to Harry's listlessness and apathy regarding royalty and his place in life to William and Kate's rather naked ambition when it comes to the throne.

A stanza from a poem (author unknown) on the wall of Dublin Airport)
Ireland values poetry so much it's on the walls of Dublin airport, which is why we should move there (Ireland, not the airport.)

Both plays are helping me think about dialogue and image (the latter as expressed through spoken language AND through stage direction and what the actors do physically on stage).

It's so good to be reading again for me, not for students or class planning. One of the downsides to teaching is that you can neglect your own education and/or intellectual growth sometimes for the sake of the students' needs. The chance to learn something again -- of my choosing, not as dictated by the college and the administration's fixations or needs -- is almost as restorative as rest. Relaxing one part of the brain and letting a different part take over is, well, rejuvenating.

I'm taking stock now of what I've accomplished thus far and what I also need to complete in the next three months -- I've read, taken extensive notes on the reading, drafted more of the play, and written some singular, one-off (not attached to a manuscript) poems. I have a lot more to do on the play -- that will be the next 90 days' primary focus -- but I also have some reviews for the New York Journal of Books lined up, which will be good to finish before I return to teaching.

That return is looming, already, and I'm trying not to dread it. (It's difficult not to dread it, not because of the prospect of teaching in a classroom again, but at the thought of online teaching using a new platform -- D2L's Brightspace.)

For now, though, I'm trying to keep my head up and maintain the momentum I found in Wales. Onward and upward, etc.


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