Black Feels in the Hour of Chaos: An Art Organizer’s Pandemic Reflection

During the post-poetry hangout portion of the Writers’ Block open mic last night, the subject of an old event I helped create, Sheddin’, came up. That recollection led to a tip of the hat to another original event, The Ohio MeatGrinder Poetry Slam, which then brought to the table the Columbus Poet Picture Days of yore. Some or all of this was a surprise to several people present. They had never heard of these events, or only some of them.

Afterwards, alone in the lab, I pondered the timeline of my professional art life; how I’ve done so many things that I can’t keep them in mind. Things that had me pouring concrete in backyards and building juke joints out of thin air and booking venues all over the city. I considered how even a fraction of those events would be lifetime enough for most curators. The math of it made me proud, but also a little sad. When it comes to art, I am a Great White Shark: always moving and eating at once, consuming it whole. I want it all to happen, and believe that if it can all happen at once, one could claim to have changed their corner of the world culturally. And not in that throwaway commercial sense where you have to sell the idea that you have committed change. It is change that speaks for itself, and when people are experiencing it, you all know what’s up because y’all’s reality is shifting in real time.

I have been in a – let’s call it a “space” – this past year and a half. Not being able to do those kind of things has been many things: a struggle, a respite, a revelation, a crushing. For once, I have the resources but not the means, as it were. Which is funny, because so much of the world around me seems content to act like we’re not in a pandemic and if bad things come from trying to experience art, then ah, well. I acknowledge that I’m not wired that way, and that such wiring comes with costs.

But I like those old events and expressions. Those were amazing experiences. They deserve to be capitalized on, to be fed, to be more than memories and object lessons. I don’t mind telling you that I’m really good at the vision thing. I always have an idea or an angle…like, always. Four years ago (June 18, 2017) I made this Facebook post online:

“Apparently, at my lowest sick point, when all of my brain’s defenses and pretenses have been stripped away in a fugue state of sleep deprivation, and I am paralyzed by exhaustion but barred from actual slumber, I plan things. Shows, projects, art installations, essays, shows on top of shows…every five minutes a new idea, fifty ideas by my count, a relentless battery of creativity I didn’t have the strength to lift a finger to do anything about.

It was like my body was like, ‘Uh oh, this motherfucker ’bout to die. We gotta’ get out of here and find a new host.’”

So none of this is a game to me. It is not something I do, but something I am. To not do it is to watch a shark drown.

I started this as a reflection, but it turned into something else. Something a little darker, a little more pessimistic, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Nothing is forever. I live my life in seasons, like a fashion line or a tree, and recognize that all of this is but another ring in the trunk. I guess this is still a reflection. Is this therapy. (Question mark denied because, rhetorical.)

(Somehow related: the thing about Narcissus that no one ever mentions is that the pool of water he used to gaze upon himself still had deer piss in it, so always be aware of your context.)

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