by Amy Gottlieb, guest contributor
Every day is the anniversary of something. The date on the calendar ripples with other dates, other stories.
It’s now a month since the tenth anniversary of 9/11, when, two days earlier, a dozen of us marched into Manhattan’s Bryant Park wearing somber black vintage clothing, clutching manual typewriter boxes in our hands. Our up-dos and pearls lent us an air of Old New York secretarial efficiency. We were not to appear casual or chatty; we would not be using our cell phones.
When we first took our seats on the plaza, tourists snapped photos as if we were museum specimens. Gradually the first hesitant talkers sat down across from us, then a few more, until the hours passed quickly in an exchange of words and a clattering of keys.
The model for Sheryl Oring’s Collective Memory project was simple: a row of typists, dressed in early 60’s vintage, on the plaza of Bryant Park would take dictation from anyone who wanted to respond to the prompt, “What would you like the world to remember about 9/11?” The responses would be collated and become part of a traveling exhibit. I volunteered to help Sheryl because I am a writer and always dreamed of being a village scribe. Set me up with a carton for a desk and a duffel for a stool; sit across from me and tell me your story so I can write it down for you, clean up your grammar, make sure your words meet their intended destination. This scribal role is not so different from the best moments of writing fiction or poetry; the surprise of inspiration and the work of crafting precise transmission are here, albeit in a diluted form. But what I did not expect was how privileged I felt being the recipient of a stranger’s words. Sit down and open your heart because I am here. My ancient and efficient Underwood will write it all down for you. The illusion of the past will carry your words into the future. What were you doing that day?
We were to receive every narrative with interest; we would be occasionally moved and often not. Some told stories of where they were when the planes hit. Many narrated pithy sentences, as if there was a moral to be found:
Live in the moment.
Do not hate.
Care for one another.
One woman said, “I am a New Yorker and we did not intend for this to cause a war, we did not want a war.” A young woman blatantly told me how the event seemed unreal to her all these years, like a movie, and, now that she is older, she is beginning to consider the import of what really happened. One woman narrated her words for the typewritten record and then told me the real story of how volunteering at Nino’s Restaurant down at Ground Zero in the weeks and months after 9/11 changed the course of her life. Another spoke of how the falling grey ash that day made all the survivors appear the same; all differences were blotted out. Some responses were defiant and political. Many speakers paused between sentences, considering the flow of their words.
Most willingly gave their names, first and last. There was a quiet satisfaction in being heard, in one’s words being recorded on these ancient keyboards.
Thank you for doing this.
Thank you for stopping by.
The act of inviting the telling was beautiful to me, and as fitting a memorial as anything could be.
After two hours I returned to the Bryant Park offices, combed out my up-do and exchanged my somber black dress for jeans. My co-typist slipped on a motorcycle helmet. We found our cell phones, checked email, rode the elevator down to the street, and descended further down into subways.
Sitting on the 1 train, I was once again an ordinary passenger, but what I most wanted to do was turn to the person next to me and ask her to tell me what she was thinking. Not because it was the anniversary of 9/11 but because the words of a stranger speaking through the cracks of her heart felt necessary, and remains necessary every day. I have a typewriter. Tell me a story:
Where were you when something big happened and what are you thinking about now?
Amy Gottlieb is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in the Forward, Lilith, Puerto del Sol, Zeek, and other publications and anthologies. She is the 2010-2011 Poetry Fellow and Resident at the Bronx Council on the Arts and is finishing a novel.
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Lead photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.
by Judith Leipzig, guest contributor
Photo by John Starnes/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
On my first day as a chaplain at Calvary Hospital, a palliative care facility in the Bronx — a place where every patient was near death — I was overwhelmed. In the other hospitals I had worked in, I had sat by the bedsides of patients who were frightened, lost, conflicted, and alone — whose lives were rife with hardship, and who often had few resources to help them make their way. But there had been — almost always — a future to reference: the possibility that addictions could be overcome, that illness might recede or be cured, that physical pain might be relieved, and certainly that a time would come — in a few days or weeks — when the patient would go home and resume his life. Almost always, hope was an assumption for me and for the patient. No matter how much suffering, hope was implicit in the fact of being alive.
by Susan Leem, associate producer
The Chelsea’s famous signage. (photo: Mr. Littlehand/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
"The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive."
~Patti Smith, from Just Kids
The musician and poet lived in the hotel during the 1970s with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and called the place her "university." The Chelsea opened in 1884 as one of New York City’s earliest cooperative apartment houses, and, two decades later, it was turned into a hotel. Other cultural icons like Sid Vicious, Dylan Thomas, O. Henry, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, and Bob Dylan (who, in the lyrics of "Sara" wrote, ”Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel, writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you”), also called this historic New York landmark home.
Hotel guests were asked to leave on August 1st, and no new reservations will be accepted as ownership changes hands and their doors close on an era of art, poetry, and music. The future of current residents is uncertain.Comments
by Kate Moos, executive producer
This year, Lincoln Center announced that its fall festival for the first time would be produced around a unifying concept: that of “spiritual expression and the illumination of our large, interior universes,” according to Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Programming. The series, dubbed the White Light Festival, began October 28th and includes an array of musical experiences and tastes, ranging from Brahms’ requiem to Meredith Monk, to the Tallis Scholars, and from Antony and the Johnsons to the Latvian National Choir.
Last spring, as these ideas were taking shape, Jane Moss asked Krista for her thoughts on the idea and shared a bit of its inception, including her own experience as a creative professional seeking spaciousness. She agreed to answer a few questions via email for the Being Blog.
It seems that your own interest in finding a way to manage life in an increasingly noisy and busy world was part of what prompted you to explore the idea of White Light. How did that happen, and what has changed for you? As is always the case with our programming, the idea for the festival grew out of a confluence of factors. First, I have been very struck over the past five years or so by a dramatic increase in what I would categorize as addictively outer-directed lives — facilitated by technology — and a dramatic decrease in the capacity to fully inhabit the moment. There seemed to be a growing unease with simply being, and being receptive and absorbing all that is around us. These developments were also leading to what I would characterize as an inner restlessness and an increasing unease with stillness.
I feel quite strongly that a full engagement with a work of art is essentially a contemplative act that demands moving inside ourselves and then allowing art to inhabit us and vice versa. So, many of these developments were working against the very engagement that lies at the core of our mission at Lincoln Center.
It also seemed that everyone I knew felt that they were increasingly out of control of their own time. Paralleling the ease of the technology was a sense of having no time for oneself — much less time for a personal, non-cyber connection with a friend. And of course there was/is the problem of everything operating at a profoundly distracting high level of speed.
And yet I was quite convinced that people were actually seeking more internally nourishing and deeper connections and content in their lives. I also knew that music and arts presentations could offer them that, but we needed to be bold in articulating a context in which that message was clear. Simply stating that a work of music or presentation was, from an aesthetic point of view, “the best” was not enough — a larger statement about the meaning and moments of transcendence that music can offer was what we articulated in the White Light Festival. And strongly presenting that larger context for music has had such resonance for our audiences.
We think of religious or spiritual virtues in terms like humility, compassion, and hospitality. Were there particular spiritual or religious values that helped shape the program itself? Specific themes you were drawn to? The fundamental truth or belief or faith for me personally is that there are vast swathes of consciousness or being or interior life that lie inside ourselves but outside the narrowly defined linguistic confines of our ego. When I use the word transcendence what I mean are our experiences of ourselves that lie outside our ego. And I think it is through those experiences (achieved by a wide variety of means: spiritual practices such as meditation, or religious convictions, falling in love, experiences of nature, or mind-body practices such as yoga, or artistic experiences and creativity in diverse pursuits) of transcending the ego and thereby having access to the far larger universe inside oneself that one discovers compassion and humility and profound connection to others. For many, a central feature of discovering that larger universe is the belief one is connected to a far larger or infinite field of being or consciousness.
Is it likely this idea will live in future programming? What might that look like at Lincoln Center? So the White Light Festival, which will be an ongoing, annual festival, is really focused on transcendence as defined above in its many manifestations. In the first year, we chose overtly spiritual music as our first exploration, but that will not always be the case.
The series reflects an eclectic array of voices and material. As you developed the program, were there any surprises for you in what emerged? Transcendence almost by definition is eclectic because it is available and sought by virtually everyone on the planet regardless of nationality or cultural background. And perhaps the most frequently encountered avenue out of the ego is artistic expression, which is itself remarkably diverse. Great artistic experiences are both deeply personal — somehow you feel less alone — and universal — you feel connected to others who love what you love yet differently. The most surprising discovery for me in our creation of the White Light Festival was the response of the artistic community, who love having their work perceived in a “White Light” context.
And that context is perfectly defined by the composer Arvo Pärt:
"I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener."
That is how the White Light Festival got its name.