Going down to the cellar alone in the dark”
— Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day
Do you remember the penguin race toy? It’s a little escalator attached to a slide that sends miniature penguins up some miniature stairs and down a slide back to the bottom of the miniature stairs, which send the penguin back up and onto the slide, etc. Though this toy is basically a little Sisyphean torture device, and though there’s no way to actually play with it, it’s a lot of fun—plus it looks like the penguins are having a good time, so whatever, don’t worry.
Using one of Bernadette Mayer’s poems about Lenox, MA and some historical accounts of Brook Farm, this is what we’ve been attempting to re-create in rehearsal all week: An endless loop of going outside, shoveling snow, admiring nature, getting bored, predicting the weather, and going back inside. It has me thinking a lot about repetition, and the power of creation and destruction inherent in repetition.
As a somewhat superstitious and sentimental person, I have often used repetition to create meaning. For example, every year on December 26th, despite snow, babies, temperatures below freezing and old age, my family has a picnic in the woods. Because we’ve been doing it for 40+ years, because if we didn’t, then it wouldn’t be Christmas…because if we didn’t then WHAT MEANS ANYTHING, YOU KNOW??? Plus, the repetition of the orbit of the earth around the sun has structured our very physiological makeup, so…it’s a thing.
Like how I’ve been locking and unlocking the same door in the exact same way for 4 years. Occasionally, I’ll stop and observe the gesture and think, “This time, this will mean something,” as though by repeating a mundane little task over and over again one could create some kind of ecstatic resonance? Like glass being shattered by a little note vibrating tenaciously in one little spot. I wonder about the repetition of hope, unfulfilled. If each time the penguin gets to the top of the stairs, its greatest hope is that it could just chill there for like a second, or better yet, fly, but no! Down the slide she goes, and then after a while the penguin associates having hope with the sensation of failing.
But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is that the penguin got on the penguin race initially because it looked like a fun thing to do, and then after a while, it was just what she did.
But that’s not the point either, because penguin races aren’t actually real, bozos!
And anyway, Brook Farm ended, and Mayer moved from Lenox, and it was really sad and it was so beautiful, and that’s more the point.
Nope, that’s not it either. I’m feeling ok about it, though.