Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interview with Jen/ed: Memory, Science, Sprituality and The Power of Art.



PS: I've been reading a lot about ancient Greek civilization for the last couple of years; fascinating. Before they settled down and started building cities and temples they were nomadic sheep herders. When they actually started settling down they kept some of there nomadic traditions and that included there attitudes about sex and what today we call sexuality. And it wasn't exactly a homosexual Disneyland but it seemed really familiar to me in the way I relate to young straight people.
Of course, today I wouldn't present myself to the parents asking to be a mentor…

JEN/ed: (Laughs) Right.

PS: But that's what they did!

JEN/ed: Really?

PS: Men whom today we'd refer to as Gay, or homosexual, Bisexual; they didn't have terms like that then. But in Athens if there was a young man and I was enamored with him for whatever reason, I would have dinner with the parents one day and I'd say, "You know I'd be willing to pay for his gear when he joins the military." Because you had to pay for all of that and I'd be willing to sponsor him and if the parents approved of me then I'd show up a week or so later. I'd show up with a puppy which was the traditional gift. Cause he'd be about 16 or 17 years old which the Greeks referred to as "The dangerous age" because they had all that testosterone going, and they would get unruly, and the Greeks thought having as many adults around was a good thing. And if he (the boy) approved, I would be, for lack of a better word, a mentor.
And sex was not a given. There may or may not have been sex. It was up to the boy. Maybe on some drunken outing there would be some messing around. I'm reading this and I'm thinking "this is my life!"
It just got me to thinking about how our attitudes about sex really aren't that sophisticated.
We have orbital satellites, interplanetary space probes and um...Oh! Those plastic sandwich bags that seal in the freshness! We have all this stuff but we're not as sophisticated as some of our ancestors were. And Native American cultures they had...

JEN/ed: Oh yes. They had the Two Spirit tradition. They were very accepted, very revered actually. You could have both genders be represented in one body. They were the healers, they were the teachers.

PS: They had a role to play. Some of them would be living libraries; others would know what all the rituals were. We don't have that today.
What do you think happened?

JEN/ed: Well... (Laughs) A very white very male mentality took over I think. This is something I'm looking at right now in my work.
Not white male mentality as in male having a penis or white having a white skin. But there is this western European mentality that has just over taken everything. This idea of colonizer weather it's within your family, within your town, within your country, or within the world. This idea of privilege and morality is dictated by a religion that's not even based on the teachings of the individual they claim it's based upon! It's just this kinda sick fantasy world that seems to be dominating our culture
right now.

PS: You don't think there's any kind of discussion going on about this morality in our culture. Do you think people are talking about it? "Is this working or not?"

JEN/ed: I see a lot of turning back. Back, back, back back. Turning back and reading books that don't apply any more.
Even in really very open philosophies. I'm a practicenor and a teacher of yoga and yogic philosophy. Particularly the Tantric which is very female based and is demonized in the Hindu culture.

PS: Really? I didn't know this.

JEN/ed: Well in western culture it translates to sex: Tantra is "sex." Somewhat like Wicca. It's very similar. They have fertility rites. They have these systems of celebrating creativity. And unfortunately that's been extracted and held up as what this system represents, instead of "No that's the pinkey finger of the whole body of this philosophy."
So I see a lot of looking back to the ancient books and texts. Even in that system, which the people writing in that time had a baseline which doesn’t exist anymore. They were self sufficient first of all. They took care of themselves, they farmed they gardened, they grew there own food.

PS: Everything they ate they either grew or
killed it themselves.

JEN/ed: Exactly. They had this relationship with the earth, this relationship with each other this relationship with there bodies and themselves. This very tangible, visceral sense of what it was to be a being; a creative and animalistic entity. And we've lost that completely. So I think that this idea of morality based on turning back always to what was written about a culture that doesn't exist anymore is really flawed.

PS: And it doesn't matter what religion it would be.

You’re right it's a different perspective. There are individuals today that believe, God bless em, that the world is flat and that the sun revolves around the Earth because the Bible infers it. And yet thousands of years ago, that's what they believed. But today when I watch a sunrise, because I live in the Twenty-First Centaury, I know that it's an optical illusion.
I'm actually on a planet which is rotating on its axis and it's circling the sun, which is actually a star really close, and all those stars I see at night are part of a galaxy which is one of billions of galaxies. So science explains what I'm watching but it doesn't get in the way of all my feelings when I watch a sunrise. I watch a sunrise and I still feel what everybody else feels when they see it. So it doesn't get in the way, it actually expands it.
And I think religion, when it works, does that; it explains the divine experience. But that doesn't seem to be the case today.



JEN/ed: Well I think we've allowed the mind to dictate what the heart used to dictate. Spirituality comes from the spirit, from the heart, from that experience that we have. And I think what "religion" does, which some people think of as spirituality, has made all that very mind oriented. The mind doesn't think like the heart thinks. The heart thinks very purely. The mind thinks, good, bad, right, wrong, should, could, would, have done X, Y, and Z and it's very confining and constricting.

PS: Well I think a disciplined mind...um... I was watching some program on PBS. They were talking about physics and this one scientist was talking about gravity. And he was saying "If I take a ball and I throw it, it tends to fall to the ground." and then he said something after that but I don't remember because all I was thinking of was
"It tends to fall to the ground. It Tends to fall to the ground." Now it's highly unlikely that it would just keep on going, but in an infinite universe with infinite time anything is possible.

JEN/ed: Right! Exactly.

PS: This scientist, for him, literally anything is possible and he had so disciplined his mind to the point that he's open to anything. This drives a lot of people nuts. "What! Aren't you sure? But you're a scientist!"
They have gotten to the point of embracing uncertainty. I'm starting to appreciate that now. It's nice to be certain, but it's an illusion.

JEN/ed: Yes. I don't know if you've read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dieing.

PS: Why yes, I have.

JEN/ed: It's a fabulous text and it address that exactly, this idea that nothing is fixed. And I love the visual explanation of the mind which in Tibetan thinking that's everything: the mind is the world, it's everything,
it's the universe.
And thoughts or experiences or things that we consider reality are the clouds in the sky and the only thing that's fixed is that blue screen, that blue sky behind it.
And that's what I was talking about when I was talking about the heart versus the mind. The only thing that's fixed is love, peace: real things that exist in the universe and can manifest in all of us and in all of our lives all of the time. And everything else, everything that we perceive, people that we perceive, everything else are those shifting clouds constantly changing, constantly morphing into different shapes, and colors, and sizes and densities. That was one of those things you read and you think, "Whoa!" (Laughs)



PS: I'm in the punk rock scene spoken word was anything from Exene Cervenka to Henry Rollins to Jim Carroll. There were all these ways of being a spoken word artist. Now when I tell people I do spoken word I say "Well it's like a stand up comedy routine only I don't care if anybody laughs." What I do is storytelling.

JEN/ed: What I do is similar I would say. What I do is story telling with a subtle rhyme. But not a specific style. If you spent a night at The New Yorican I'm kinda not really like that. (laughs)

PS: The problem with single terms is that eventually people want to define it as a single thing. That's why I have a problem with the word "Queer." Because God bless em they think that it's going to help. But really I think they do it cause there kinda sorta lazy and don't want to say Bisexual-Gay-male-Lesbian-Trans. Because there are too many syllables. People gravitate to

nice single terms. There are six billion people on the planet and there's no single term that's going to work.

JEN/ed: No. And no single term that everyone is going to feel comfortable applying to them selves. That's something I hear a lot of, especially from older L, G, B, T individuals, is a real discomfort with the word queer. And that's very understandable.

PS: Well it's understandable to you. When this issue comes up its usually leftist "queers" explaining why they use the word and I've listened in on black folks talking about "The N Word" and how younger folks are using it constantly. And when older folks are around who don't like "the N word” it’s never said. There is no discussion. And I totally understand that because there is this attitude of just being respectful of people older then you because they just are older. You just show em respect. And I think it's interesting that we (Gays) have
to have this discussion
no matter what!

JEN/ed: I think that's interesting because that points to something that is also really interesting to me that I never thought of until about two years ago when I was attending a Pride rally in New York. I can't remember the individuals name but he was involved with....a musical (Thoroughly Modern Millie.)
He was speaking and he said, if you grow up in a particular culture, you have elders that teach you about the history of that culture. And that's the one thing that we're missing in the "Queer, or LGBT" culture, is this real transference of history from the elders to the younger, intuitively you know; as grandparents would tell stories to there grandchildren. And that struck me.
It had never really acoured to me what exactly I was missing in my experience today as a lesbian, as a queer as... (Laughs) All this talk. But as a Women Loving Women, what was missing. And it is missing; It's that history, it's that true understanding, and that idea of community based on what
came before.
And so I think that's a real risk that we run, because we are constantly trying to re-identify without ever having a firm foundation from which to react, respond, and interact with.
It's just inventing the wheel over and over again without ever bothering to look under and see what your driving on. (Laughs) Four of them!
I don't know if that analogy works but you know what I mean.

PS: ....When I was in my twenties, 24/25, one goal I had was to become a role model for Gay youth. I'm now 46 years old and I'm a role model for heterosexual Skinheads and Punks. and...

(Laughing) But you Are a Gay role model!

PS: Yea, you're right, I am a Gay role model.
But what fascinates me is that I couldn't find a venue or a place to be a Gay role model for Gay youth, where as in the punk rock scene it was very easy.
I remember one day I was at some Bar-B-Q at a friends place and I was with this other Skinhead around my age. We were sitting on the stoop telling stories. And suddenly there were these young skinheads sitting cross legged looking up at us, listening.
And I just had this feeling of "This is as ancient as it can get. This is the way it's been for thousands of years." and then this other Skinhead walks by and he says, 'What's going on? You listening to the elders speak?" And I thought "That's it exactly!".....
And I'm wondering how many Gay men have that experience? How many Lesbians have that experience? of just talking and having the kids come there.
And it happened so often that I had to just say "Yea, elder! it works." You get the lesson presented to you over and over again and I’m finally "This is what's going on." That's what's needed. And I wonder do Gay kids have access to that?

JEN/ed: (Sighs) I think it's hard for gay kids to have access to that and I feel that we're raising a generation now: both the individuals who are young adults at this stage, and kids that are coming up, you know teenagers, don't have access even to there own familial elders. You know Grand

Ma and Grand Pa so often are inaccessible or in a nursing home or living far away. I've been in two situations where I can kind of relate to this. One is I teaching queer youth yoga at the L,G,B,T, Center in New York, which is great, but again it's not exactly that elder relationship I mean yes, I'm 32; I'm older but I'm not an elder. I'm possibly an example, but not necessarily of that rich history. But another thing that I have encountered was while teaching dance and choreography at a community collage out here in New Jersey. And getting into a conversation about culture and how it effects art and all of this stuff and it was last fall when the election was going on and I had a student stand up and raise her hand and say "I'm staunchly republican because I don't believe in abortion." And of course it sparked this big debate. It was mostly women in the class.
And it turns out that these girls had no idea that women ever died from back ally abortions.
These girls never knew a world without that kind of access and what happened in the past.
And even from that perspective, you know, where ever you sit on abortion that's kind of immaterial, it's a fact that it's a crucial piece of information to have when you're making decisions and moving toward the future.
And in thinking about things like Gay marriage: Weather you agree with the system or not, it's a huge step forward to just have equal rights. And I think that a lot of people that are saying "Well I don't believe in marriage, why do we want that anyway? Who cares?" aren't really looking way back to Gay and Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people being put in institutions, and given lobotomies, because of a lifestyle that they were leading and how important it is to take that step. And that's the vital element in history.

PS: It kind of brings up the issue of memory.
I'm 46 years of age, so I have 46 years of memory. But with history books, from talking to people that are older then me, and through science it could be said I have a memory; a cultural memory, an historical memory, going back centuries, or even billions of years going back to the creation of the universe. That's the kind of memory that we have now. What you're describing is a community, an oppressed community, whose memory is either being erased or is just limited to begin with.

JEN/ed: Yes. Limited in so many ways. I mean, going back to the idea of art and why it is I'm sitting here talking to you today, is the censorship of artists and the lack of our reach into the greater community to bring any message other then what's being channeled through every other media outlet.
The oral tradition of story telling and telling of history through art, whatever your medium, is how culture upon culture have learned about there history. And so to limit that is really as you've pointed out, either limiting or, if you want to go there, which I would say, erasing history, memory, and the ability to think and reason. Because that's how we can make good choices, is to know what came before us.

PS: There are some things you really don't have much control over. The monopolization of the media by corporations: I'm kind of limited in that area. I identify as an artist. And I feel that the left or the Queer left doesn't really appreciate art the same way that Evangelical Christians do because I know that they hate it. They want to put stickers on it, they want to ban it. They hate it because they know how powerful it is. Whereas on the left artists are in my opinion basically fundraising tools. They really don't appreciate it.
OK, here's a true story.
A couple of years ago some friends of mine The Bouncing Souls, and two other bands The Dropkick Murphy’s, and The Dwarves they were going on tour. It started in Canada. The show starts and the kids are dancing around. And the bouncers, described as "football player jock types," ware literally slamming kids on the ground because they didn't like the way they were dancing. So the kids revolted and literally jumped on top of these guys. The bouncers got disgusted and left. The owner of the venue cut the power and called the cops. So the cops come and the kids are sitting on the floor chanting "Sham 69, Sham 69, Sham 69..." For folks that don't know Sham 69 is a punk rock band going way back who wrote a song titled "If the Kids are United They Will Never Be Divided." But that's to long to chant so they did "Sham 69, Sham 69 Sham 69..." And the cops arrive and one takes a bull horn and shouts "BE QUIET!"

Then "BE QUIET, BE QUIET, BE QUIET..." Those kids started chanting be quiet. Those kids were united by a song. And someone from the Dropkicks said "If you just let us play things would be fine." And the cop said that if they performed they would be arrested for inciting a riot. If they sing a song, they’re inciting a riot.
The singer for the Dropkick Murphy’s went on stage and told the kids that they were going outside and that they would perform an acoustic set in the parking lot. And that's what they did. They went outside, they performed in the drizzle, the kids danced and sang along, and even the cops had a good time.
But those kids knew they had the power and they had a choice as to who they would give there power to. That's what music does and I don't think the "Queer Left" has stories like that.

JEN/ed: No it’s really sad. Queer left or just left. I also do speaking engagements where I talk about what I do and why I do it. And I was asked to speak at a collage in upper Manhattan and the topic was "Why Is Art Important in Activism?" And they almost had to be convinced. There was a group of students who had asked for this topic be addressed. And none of there superiors understood why this this was a meaningful discussion to have. And it blew me away!
Especially because these were women who were 40 and 50 years old, who should know why art goes hand in hand with activism. Who should, you would think, have grown up with art as activism. And I feel like there is this potential idea that it's almost passé' at this point; "Well that's been done. Let's do something else now." But it works. You can see it. The example you gave is perfect. And I've seen it over and over again.
It happened again this past weekend on Long Island at a Lesbian bar. People are talking playing pool kind of hanging out for all the bands that played before which drives me nuts by the way. It drives me nut! Because I perform with a lot of singer songwriters. And I'll get up and because I'm talking and because people will "shush" there neighbor because someone is just talking people will be quite. But then the next guitar player gets up whose singing just as powerful stuff if not more and everyone’s talking again. It drives me nuts.
But anyway, everyone’s talking through the bands; talking, talking, talking. And I get up to talk and in this case it was the bands before me except for one weren't necessarily political or feminist.
So I got up and started talking and there was this pull. I started telling these stories. And people were "That's me." I started telling this story about my mother and I compare the time she was living with breast cancer to the time were living in now. She died during the Regan administration and here we are in the second coming of Bush and it's so similar. We are just turning the clock back. We are in worse shape then we were at that point. And I'm talking and people stopped there pool games and they stop talking and just listened.
It's so powerful.
Not just what I have to say but what all of us have to say is so powerful.

And it needs to be heard.
And I think your right. The Right is terrified because they know that if people start tuning in, if people start listening, if people start understanding that we all share similar stories, we all share similar history, regardless of gender, regardless of sexuality, regardless of religion, regardless of race, that we do have some fundamental similarities it's going
to destroy everything.


PS: Which is not a bad thing: Destroying
everything isn't necessarily a bad thing.

JEN/ed: Which is a wonderful thing!
But if you're trying to control a population, and control the thought process of a population you can't start having them to identify with one another. If you want all Middle Eastern men to be evil you can't have those lines being fuzzy and crossed.

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