Saturday, June 16, 2007

Zoukfest, Day 06

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life?"

Aftermath Day, Saturday of Zoukfest, and Bloomsday.

The (remembered) events of Dublin in June 16 1904, seen through the eyes of alter-ego Stephen Dedalus, and co-narrator Leopold Bloom, form the backbone for the swirl of associations, perspectives, digressions, allusions, and verbal/textual games that comprise James Joyce's world-changing novel Ulysses. A kind of trope upon Homer's epic of the hero's departure and return (which was troped again in the Coen Brothers' masterful O Brother Where Art Thou?--a particularly apposite trope given the ZF community's love for that hillbilly masterpiece) Bloomsday is celebrated annually around the world (but especially in Dublin) by those lives, readerly and otherwise, were changed by encountering the book. Participants walk, ride trams, and read aloud their way through the events of that mythical June 16, and there are spectators, but eventually all are swept into participation. We cannot be present for Bloomsday without becoming part of Bloomsday.

Joyce's great genius was to recognize that the act of writing fiction was both a way of getting at deeper truths and of inventing a world; of telling the story not as it was handed to us--not as participants or passive consumers, but as active co-creators in the narrative drama of our own lives. Part of the attraction of Bloomsday, and of the novel itself, is the way both permit every reader or participant to become part of the story.

Zoukfest is like that too. You can come as a participant (audience member in the evening concerts, gawker at the Saturday instrumentarium going on at this very moment, casual passers-by who gets swept up into the carnival) but you'll stay as a participant. You can't read Ulysses (or at least get all the way through it) without surrendering to the possibilities and letting go of your own limitations. Ulysses demands surrender--and so does Zoukfest.

Such surrender yields generosity, openness (and the occasional meltdown), and a great sense of shared adventure. We arrive on the Sunday before (see previous posts) not knowing how it will all shake out, but we hope--and trust--that we will go someplace worthwhile, and together. And we go many, many places--but we hope it will be accomplished together. In order for that to happen, we have to say "Yes": to new experience, altered expectations, challenging emotional states, and so on and on.

The surrender of expectations that enables that holy "yes" is throughout the music, the personalities, and the community of ZF.

To speak personally for just a moment: I was a fucked-up mess in 1998 when invited to the first Zoukfest in Weston MO, Roger's then home town. After more than a decade of emotional abuse and administrative road-blocking from a university notorious for its psychopathy, I had finally completed and passed the last of my doctoral exams. And then I got in a car with a back-deck full of instruments and drove west, across Indiana and Illinois and Missouri, to the banks of the Missouri river and the pretty little river town that was the first ZF home. I sat in classes and the psycho-emotional competitive jungle in my own head made it almost impossible for me to even hear the brilliance and beauty of what was being conveyed, in words and music, by that first core community of teachers and guests. In that same week I met Chipper Thompson, Mason Brown, Steven Owsley Smith, Connie Dover, Gerald Trimble, Paddy League, Jean Denney, Chris Grotewohl, and an extended cast of some of the most amazing and incredible musicians--and people--I had ever met. I was blessed beyond measure that I shut up just enough to hold in the sociopathy beaten into me over the previous decade, long enough to be able to experience the generosity and openness of that incredible cast of characters, and to be reminded of a way to experience community.

They were so kind, so talented, so open, so generous. It reminded me of a way of being a musician, an artist, and a member of an artistic community that I had almost forgotten. I was so overwhelmed by the depth, kindness, and inspiration of the experience that I had to leave after the closing night concert--I had to get back on the night-time roads by myself, just so I could begin to process the intensity and inspiration. I called Dharmonia at 4am from a truckstop outside Canton, raving to her about these people I had just met and the depth to which they had reminded me of why I had first wanted to be a musician--because I wanted to be part of that kind of community.

9 years later, at the annual iteration of ZF and on the closing day, I am aware of how far ZF has come, and (personally) how far I/we have come, together, through the medium of this artistic community. Some are away, some have Gone, some return. Things begin, flower, and end. Life departs.

But the reality of the experience, if we surrender and open to it, never fades. Some threads continue; some are raveled; some are sundered. If we are wise, and generous, and brave, and kind, and if we travel in a fellowship of friends, then we pick up some thread, repair others, spin new ones, accept (and mourn) those that are lost, and recognize that we are all part of a much, much bigger weave.

Ulysses ends with such a holy "Yes". At the time of its serialization and publication, the book was castigated and indicted for obscenity, because Joyce had the "temerity" (really, the artistic courage and conviction), to imagine himself in the most sympathetic and compassionate way possible, into the mind of his female protagonist at the moment that she says "yes": to an orgasm, to a sexual encounter, but also to an emotional commitment, to a human connection, to a release of control, to the real risk and incalculable possibilities that flawed, messy, smelly, joyous, transcendent human life make possible. Because it is made up of people, with all such flaws, ZF is all those things, too.

Surrender is what makes new possibilities real. The ZF community, those who have come to love one another through the medium of loving new and old musics, have realized that--have brought it into being--through this shared experience.

And so, on this the last day, this Bloomsday, as some Remain, some Depart, and the threads of the life that was ZF are rewoven into a new pattern, forever changed by the warp and woof that have gone before, our hearts are indeed "going like mad," and we can say, with Molly Bloom in the novel's closing lines (which mirror, like the world-snake biting its own tale or the ancient Irish poetic tradition in which last words reverse first words) in reverse order the opening words--"My End is My Beginning"--

"...and yes I said yes I will Yes.'"

Goodbye. God bless. Safe home. I love you.

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