Listening to what others hear you saying

By Damian Griffin

As the process is the focus of much of this project, I thought I would share a little of the process that I went through late yesterday afternoon.

We spent a good amount of time on and along the Bronx River yesterday,  May 12th.  It is always for me my favorite of times when I have the opportunity to share what I have learned, expose people to new experiences and have something of real value to offer a variety of people. When I consider the variety of people that we were able to share ideas and hopes within that small space, I realize just how lucky I am to have the river as a regular part of my life.  From a man and his two children from up the block  and had never been on the water and just spotted us while walking by to a couple from the Lower East Side by way of Russia and Germany  who had heard we would be there from a third party,  the conversations were vast. We described our sewer system and its effects on the river, introduced folks to great egrets and green herons, spoke of the community that opened access to the river, and even spoke of dinosaurs and Albert Einstein.  But there were two parts of the day which were more directly personal that came from the interactions as a part of Fish Trap that really stayed with me.

The first was Paloma’s focus on the project and the process that is able to guide her in directions that I had missed.  Josue, whom I have known for four years now and worked directly with for the past two to three years, was engaged by Paloma  as a holder of information beyond the scope where he and I usually interact.  I have my needs from Josue in terms of our overall program and, while I never forget he is a very complete person,  it took some conversation with Paloma and Becky to bring to light the fact that , as a community resident, his beyond-work knowledge has a possibility of moving the project forward.  Blinded by the proximity, I needed a help to see what I had available.

Now here is where the personal becomes more personal as it reaches more towards who I am and how I perceive myself and the world with which I interact.

Since meeting Paloma I have thought more about dance, movement of the body and the sensitivity that some of us feel in the realm of body movement.  To put things in context, I remember walking down the street in probably 4th grade and making the conscious decision about how to walk, choosing between two distinct styles: like Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, feet thrown widely to their respective sides in an exaggerated swagger, or as we had learned about the Native Americans, one foot in front of the other to limit the footsteps left on a path.   I chose the former as it fit more with my cut-up style.  From that point on I would choreograph my movements but never looking towards myself as the ultimate recipient( and wondering if it didn’t have a lasting effect on my less-than-fluid running).  In the discussion with Paloma I asked why in the culture I had grown up in dancing just for the joy of dancing seemed to be  the act of the very young or of older couples. She mentioned a theory of the commodification of the human body, a very big topic, but the important thing  here  is it made me feel like something had been stolen from me.

My daughter, 5 in August, loves to move and dance and I encourage her, following her rules, trying to make movements connect one to another. I should mention that I play guitar and sing ( in my fashion, survival style I call it) and so do understand rhythm, keeping a pretty good beat. But my lack of imbedded lifestyle dancing keeps that sort of movement very contrived.  The opportunity to work with Paloma and Becky on this project has many possibilities, but the idea that I could develop a better feel for my body in space is a very big  possible reward. Still,  my “Buddusky” blood,  which has always been my protector, may be a bit of a handicap. I’ll try to explain.

There is nothing that cannot be said or experienced around me that I will not turn into some form of humor, even the actions of my Alzhiemer’s laden father or my torn meniscus, and I know few limits in most surroundings.  In terms of this project,  the first time I bragged (and it was bragging)  to someone that I may be collaborating with a dancer in some fashion, I  added that part of the project would give me the opportunity to “ Wear a tutu.”  It is my way to say such things and keep some part of my  persona in the absurd.  This does not reflect whether or not I see something as serious and, in fact, I may joke more about those things that are more serious and important to me, my father’s state being no exception. I have continued in this vein even as this possible collaboration has come to be a reality.  But on Saturday I used that idea and may have had an undesired effect.

As the day came to a close and the ideas of having Josue as an integral part of the project came out, I extended my humor of possible vestments to include Josue as well. Paloma responded reassuringly to Josue that there were no tutus in this project with the exception of what I may wear but that it was entirely my choice.  It was said very politely but it made me think (later, in solitude):   Could my loose humor be an insult?  Could it have effects beyond my intention due to my lack of sensitivity to the people around me? Paloma’s  is a dancer in that same society that has commodified the human body and was I, now, unwittingly, playing into that society’s game by adding my tutu remark?  I haven’t yet spoken to Paloma to get her perspective, but it did and does make me think that it may be true and that I should be more considerate with my language.

But there may have already be an effect, beyond possibly offending somebody I respect, that I may need to combat. Josue is  a 23 year old young many who has lived his whole life in the Tremont area, an intensely urban area of the Bronx where  much of the outward  culture is defined by dress and actions on the street. He has made his own path in much of his life but, as for most of us, our environment often holds sway over some part of our psyche, no matter how far afield we feel we have gone. After having packed up the gear from our day’s work, I asked Josue if he felt that he might be able to invite a couple of people from his neighborhood to somehow participate in the project. He knows about the idea of the  walks along the sewer lines leading people down to the river, but only scant knowledge of what the present collaboration really will consist of ( not that we know!!).  However, his first response was telling: “No way, nobody from my block would even consider doing something like that.”  What is “That”?   There was not time to flesh it out but I am left to wonder if, here too, my immediate step into humor may have had an undesired effect.  Isn’t that funny.



2 thoughts on “Listening to what others hear you saying

  1. Damian, this a thoughtful reflection (and a great read). I appreciate you taking the time to consider actions and reactions. Exploring these two things is a foundational element of what I do, and that spills out beyond the time spent dancing. This project, too, is about action and reaction. It’s about the Bronx River cleanup efforts, scrapped GI plans, our meeting, the next step.

    Speaking of which, I love this description of you dancing with your daughter and still think there is some possibility in having a landmark of these walks staged at your dad’s old home. I’ll be excited to see your son’s REACTION.
    – Paloma

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