In my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the 
door of my cottage in the Western night.
-from Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

Sending energy vibrations through the walls of a madhouse, Ginsberg sings a triumphant song of rebellion to Carl Solomon, his friend and comrade in Rockland N.Y. Psychiatric Hospital.  Those were riotous times.
Together they penned letters to TS Elliot signed "Shirley Temple and Dagwood Bumpstead (who affixes his name under protest)."  Ginsberg got out; Solomon returned.   And so this third movement of Howl dedicated to Solomon echoes throughout the piece. When confronted with the reality of one’s partner slipping, losing their grip on what we affirm is reality, there’s fear and disbelief. It’s impossible not to wonder if we could have done anything to "save" them.
 Movement three of Howl speaks from a space beyond these temporal fears: Ginsberg meets his comrade where he is and joins him in a celebration of himself and his radiant and transcendent spirit which will not be bound:  "I’m with you in Rockland/ where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof." In Ginsberg’s words:  "I’d thought the poem a gesture of wild solidarity, a message into the asylum, a sort of heart’s trumpet call, but was mistaken in my diagnosis of his "case". Ginsberg states that as the poem Howl gained momentum, gathering force on an ever-widening scale, "I came to regret my na├»ve use of his name."  The invocation of Solomon’s name on so many reader’s lips summoned his friend from obscurity, and made him a Hero--a Hero who preferred to remain unsung.  In Traces, too, our main character implicates herself in her partner's dilemma and faces a disconnect:   she finds that in her partner’s recovery she is no longer needed.  She struggles to come to terms with this rift between them but it is not until she brings herself back to nature and into the woods that she glimpses a celestial space beyond her apparent grasp and surrenders to it. She looks to the great lovers Tristan and Isolde: "from Isolde’s grave a rose tree sprung, and from Tristan’s a vine entwined the rose tree."  Their love flourished in the soil, its Ph altered by their body’s decomposition.  From the soil transformed in their deaths their love took root.

As a writer and performer I remain conscious of those who have come before--the poets, artists, musicians and writers who first uttered the sound-word-images we share.  It’s humbling to think of ancestry and our place in time preceded and followed by many others with similar and different stories to tell.

In Traces our protagonist speaks words from Allen Ginsberg and e.e. cummings, invoking poets and divas—celestial, divine-shining devas--to help her trace her story.

Wandering the Chelsea galleries on a white-hot July afternoon I slipped inside the cool shade of the Matthew Marks Gallery and stood before a video projected on the far wall.  My experience produced the following journal entry:

 Descartes, by Joanne Kyger, 1968
She has set her spoken word poem to video, she has placed words and images in dynamic proximity to each other—sometimes they match, often they don’t.  But the magic comes when they veer off from one another: shifting kaleidoscope not set never exact transience is what I’m grasping at.  She lifts her arms, clad in a bell-sleeved kimono robe, up and down in an undulating wave, raising and supplicating the gods, slicing the molecules in the air, stream-currents zinging into a scratchy 16 millimeter froth.  The image blurs.  It’s the galaxies of the cosmos, superimposed.

A little research on Kyger led to an interesting connection:
Joanne Kyger traveled from Japan to India in 1962 with her husband, the poet Gary Snyder, where, together with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, they met the Dalai Lama. 

Her artist statement, from 2005 for the Foundation of Contemporary Arts in New York includes the following:

“My attention to writing is a daily practice, which then builds an accumulative narrative of chronology.  Which ends up as the story of one’s life.  An historical sense of ‘self’, breathing and experiencing what is common to every human—the local, the ordinary, the non-motivated sense of just ‘being’.  One is also aware of the accumulations of lineage of all those writing persons who have come before and to whom one owes the inheritance of this written moment.”

This image, the wheel of emotions, has been present since the beginning.  Originally I saw it as a map, a tool to guide the main character through the forest of her emotions.  Behind each emotion lies its opposite—pictured here on the wheel are grief and its opposite, ecstasy.  Ecstasy clarifies into joy and joy internalized transforms into serenity. 

The colors on the wheel are significant, too.  The shades of pink, for example, intensify and heat up as the emotion progresses from boredom to loathing.  Do we come to loathe that which bores us?

I was speaking to a friend who works in film about this wheel and he recognized it immediately, and said it is useful for lighting effects: red light/rage, of course, but terror and admiration are just slightly different shades of green…

What if the character’s internal map, inspired by the Wheel of Emotions were externalized?  Is it true that certain locations stand out in higher relief than others? 

Mappa Mundi, they’re called.  “On a mappa mundi, a place derived its cartographic status from the event that occurred there; it is an event-place.”  “Map symbols on a mappa mundi were scaled according to their cultural and historical importance.  The Tower of Babel looks enormous, and so do the cities of Jerusalem and Rome.”  Certain maps reflected personal experience and memory, marking regions significant to an individual’s experience or identity in bright colors, bolded lines and high relief, so that the space “stands out” as large and significant. [Off the Map, by Alastair Bonnett reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, July 24, 2014]  We have internal maps, which may match external landscapes.  What are the high-resolution locations for the character I’m creating? And while we’re at it, what are the still-lives she assembles, and what do these reveal about her?  How can an installation become the fabric of a stage set?
“Place is the fabric of our lives; memory and identity are stitched through it.  Without having somewhere of one’s own, a place that is home, freedom is an empty word.” –Alastair Bonnett, Off The Map.

“Place is an organized world of meaning.”
-Space and Place, The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan, Geographer

“I invoke you, poets and devas, ecstatic spirits and desolate, help me to find the memory place.  Give me the coordinates on the map.  Help me trace this story”:  At the top of the piece this girl is seeking what Yi-FU Tuan describes as place, defined in large part as “an organized world of meaning.”  Bombarded by competing memories, she seeks a structure for them, a frame.  She summons her poetic and spiritual ancestors to transform the campsite into a sacred space so that she may locate “the memory place.”  The idea of externalizing our memories, locating them someplace outside of us in the physical world may appear fanciful.  But I believe it’s safe to say images – a beautiful sunset, for example, or even a mundane object, like a coffee mug or set of curtains we shared with our ex, are physical symbols—memory objects representing and giving voice to our inner life—that we may choose to keep or dispose of.

“The built environment, like language, has the power to define and refine sensibility.  It can sharpen and enlarge consciousness.”
-Space and Place, The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan, Geographer

She builds a tent that is open to the sky.  She exposes herself to the elements, and she provides herself with a vista to gaze at above.

“In open space one can become intensely aware of place; and in the solitude of sheltered place the vastness of space beyond acquires a haunting presence.”
-Space and Place, The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan, Geographer

In the center of the vast woods she assembles camp: chair, firewood, blanket, pillows, backpack.  This serves as her “home base.”  From here she can gaze out at the space around her, allowing nature and emptiness to act upon her,  and possibly transcend her fears.

“A healthy being welcomes constraint and freedom, the bounded-ness of place and the exposure of space.”
-Space and Place, The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan, Geographer

She engages in an inner dialogue between feelings of safety and vulnerability, courage and fearfulness, seeking calm in an organized narrative yet finding agitation in conflicting memories.

“When space feels thoroughly familiar to us it has become place.”
-Space and Place, The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan, Geographer

Something shifts in her and she relaxes in her forest camp.  She makes a bed for herself and chooses to settle down to sleep, to dream her way into a new outcome to her story. 

Connecting across disciplines: The Harvard Alley Workshop's original curriculum incorporates writing, spoken word, visual art, music and movement in the creation of scripts for performance.