Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adventures in Hedonism - New York City

I’m in New York for a week. An odd impromptu adventure triggered by a desire to see Lucent Dossier perform at the Liberty Theater, an old vaudeville theater right in the heart of Broadway. But like many plans, even the spur of the moment ones, they don’t always turn out as expected - and often that’s okay.

Unfortunately, it turns out Lucent isn’t playing while we are here. Still, we're in NYC for the week, and as a hedonist (or any other things you might identify with), you couldn’t really go wrong finding something you might fancy in New York. We have a flat in Chelsea and haven’t bothered at all thinking about jet lag, what with everything open 24/7 one hardly has to adjust their schedule and can continue living in their preferred time zone. We seem to be most active between 10PM and 4AM. For example our “day trip” to the see the High Line, started with watching the sunset and ended when the park police escorted us off somewhere around 23rd Street.

Walking the High Line

Last night we took in Fuerza Bruta - A dance/performance art piece that I first heard about on NPR some 5 years ago. It was one of those things that made me contemplate a New York trip at the time before realizing the foolish (if not romantic) notion was untenable. I wrote it off right away as one of those moments in time I’d just accept that I would not be there to experience it. It was by accident really that a friend's comment to one of his friend’s posts caught my eye with mention of having just seen this show. And so a desire written off 5 years ago finally got fulfilled.

Fuerza Bruta
Looking at the Audience - Photo by Roger Fojas
The best part of it was that, while I listened again to the archived NPR piece, revisited the Fuerza Bruta website, and read other accounts of the show, it still surprised and delighted me. The show itself engages you physically as well as emotionally as you come into contact with both set and performers and must also keep moving to see it and participate with it. The show adds another dimension as you watch performers dive into a clear bottom suspended inched above your face. This is 21st century Busby Berkeley - post Punk - post Rave - is  high energy and yet flirtatious and intimate. I’m so glad this hedonist wish was finally granted.

Fuerza Bruta
The Pool Descends - Photo by Roger Fojas
Otherwise I seem to be indulging my desires for 24 hour dinner fare - A burger topped with corned beef hash on rye, pulled pork and a side of mac & cheese, fried chicken & waffles, and a slice of coconut custard pie.None of this would make in on anyone’s approved diet but I’m having fun sampling the late night foods of the city as well as a nostalgic nosh here and there. I couldn't resist a sweet elderly women hawking pretzels in the market - a taste of childhood trips with my mother to the German Bakery. I will not go hungry here, but I may have to make a few more appointments at the gym when I get back home.

I’ve scarcely been here 24 hours, and there is some much more to do, to see, to taste - a true hedonist adventure, and it continues on.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Playing the Fool

Giddy the Fool - My ScavenJester self

Lately, I’ve been playing the fool.  No, for real.  Quite literally, I’ve been playing the fool.  My friend Roger Fojas has introduced me to the art of clowning and has invited me to participate in his ongoing series of “ScavenJester” videos. Through these videos he has an aesthetic vision of unlocking one’s inner child. Indeed, the playful mischief involved in making these films is contagious. But I also find another resonance, one that appeals to me as a hedonist.

So what really is a fool, or, what kind of fool am I? You can see the fool as a jester, someone telling jokes – but also one who has mastered hiding truths in jokes. In medieval tradition it was often the fool who provided the most honest counsel to the king, for he alone could criticize the king through jest. 

The Fool in the Tarot deck is one who is laughed at and ridiculed, often for failing to see the consequences of his actions. He is often depicted as obliviously stepping off of a cliff. But in the Tarot, this step also represents a leap of faith. This gives the card a subtext of spiritual enlightenment, breaking with conventional wisdom to again reveal deeper truths. In other traditions the fool is related to Loki, the Norse God of mischief and chaos - and I confess I like this one as an upsetter of the status quo.

The Fool from the Rider-Waite Deck

So this weekend, dressed as a fool, I had fun making another ScavenJester video. Honestly though I probably had even more fun interacting with the people who came across us. The experience was quite liberating.  As we got dressed on a trail, we amused and delighted a number of fellow hikers, some stopped to take their pictures with us, others stopped and then backtracked waiting for friends or family to catch up so as to not encounter us alone. But hikers have code of exchanging friendly hellos to those they meet on the trails.

Back in town walking into the market, a man at the counter exclaimed, “I want to go to the party you guys are going to.” Meanwhile the clerk took a long look at us and asked, “What are you guys up to?” an awkward moment of silence followed until I spread out my arms displaying my full costume and announced matter-of-factly, “hiking.”  Laughter turned to smiles and we were soon on our way, stopping traffic and attracting waves.

It’s probably no coincidence that in this last week, some of my college photos once again emerged and started making the rounds as a motivational meme. I joke that this is my legacy, but in reality it may well be. I shall be remembered forever as the fool in gold pants.  A friend asked me if I was bothered by the comments, since plenty of them are full of mean spiritedness or cruelty, and honestly, it does not. They really don’t know me, and I’m challenging their norms.

My Legacy & Meme - My Foolish Destiny

Here is a major dilemma for a hedonist, especially when one’s desires run contrary to the norms of the community. In this situation the hedonist risks playing the fool and becoming a target of ridicule (or worse). It may well be that one chooses to keep quiet, keeping one's desires secret, or disclosed only to a small very select community of like-minded crypto hedonists. While I was fine wandering the streets and trails of artsy Idyllwilde, I chose to stay out of the Roadhouse in Hemet.

Perhaps that was a mistake. In order for our communities to evolve from ones based on survival, to those enabling enlightenment, one must be willing to play the fool and challenge those norms. But one takes a risk in doing so, particularly those who go first. Some people have much invested in maintaining those norms. Furthermore, there can be great resentment for the hedonist who openly takes their pleasures, particularly when the community at large has denied themselves those same desired pleasures for so long.

As a ScavenJester I play a fool, but perhaps I enjoy it as much as I do because it’s also a metaphor for my hedonism - tossing bits of chaos and subverting expectations with a laugh, with a smile, concealing bitter truths and maybe, just maybe bringing change and acceptance of the unique desires we all wish fulfilled.

Roadside Assistance 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Just Say Yes

I’ve discovered a new “magic word.” We all know the traditional “please” from our childhood and perhaps its corollary of polite behavior, “thank you,” but I’ve discovered something far more powerful. The word is “yes.” Just saying it opens a world of possibilities, creates good feelings, builds alliances, and strengthens relationships. It is the essence of affirmation. It expands who you are and connects you with others. Say yes, and the universe can be yours.

We are used to setting boundaries, building the walls to keep the unpleasant out, or lines we will never cross. No has its purpose. It protects us and sets limits, keeps us safe in its negating arms. But it is also best friends with fear. The comforting walls it builds can sometimes turn to prisons, confining instead of protecting. It is easy to say no and be safe. Yes takes a risk.

Yes is fearless, and perhaps at times foolhardy, but it is just the word I need as a hedonist, to discover not only the world, but things about myself. When I say yes, I try something new. I might not like it much, in which case in the future I can use a more enlighten no and instead of a safe no said out of fear. But I might also discover a new favorite, a new pleasure, or desire.

Yes satisfies my curiosity while broadening my appetite. Yes breeds abundance, creates more resources to tap, and variety to choose from. Yes is the connective tissue between the people we know. By saying yes to each other we can fulfill each other’s dreams. We can create possibilities and circumstances we could never undertake on our own. Yes is my locomotive, my compass, my muse.

Yes has become my mantra. So come, sit under the banyan tree and say yes with me. Let’s see what worlds we discover.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Adventures in Hedonism - Clowning Around in the Desert

Venus sets above the Studio

As a self-described hedonist, it’s important for me to continue to explore, challenge, and discover the things that bring me pleasure in life. It seems lately the desert has been calling. It’s odd to think back on my childhood memories of tortured boredom when my parents would take long drives to Palm Springs, the Boulder Canyon, and the Salton Sea - but something changed. Maybe it was Coachella, or taking the Palm Springs tram up San Jacinto, but the mid-century modern poolside cocktail aesthetic fed well into my particular hedonistic inclinations.

Recently though, I’ve been enjoying a different desert scene – one rising above the Coachella Valley and into the Little San Bernardino’s to Joshua Tree and Pioneer Town. Here the aesthetic includes outside artists playing with found objects, living off-grid, and the flora and fauna of the National Park. I once regarded this place as desolation and couldn’t imagine that anyone would actually choose to live here. That has changed as well.

The Wildflowers are in bloom
We’ve been to Joshua Tree three times already this year, a getaway, a wild flower tour, and this last one – a creative adventure. We returned the place we stayed in January that was once owned by artist FrancetteMace, this time choosing to stay in her studio which so captivated me on ourfirst trip.

World Famous...
The weekend was a delight, and included spontaneous trips to visit the Art Queen Gallery (including the World Famous Crochet Museum) and Randy Polumbo’s other property which he built out of found and repurposed materials. We ourselves we’re visited by a variety of desert wild life including quail, bobcats, and bats. However, the highlight of this weekend for me was a clowning workshop that my wife Lisa arranged with Roger Fojas, AKA Ringmaster Roger of Lucent Dossier.

I always said Lucent Dossier is the circus I want to run away and join – who knew I could have part of the circus come join me for a weekend? We had met Roger before at another Lucent workshop and have been longtime fans. We were lucky that Roger was available, luckier still that we coaxed him up to joining us in Joshua Tree.

We heard that Francette would hand
feed the bobcats hot dogs
We had a great time, got our clown names (you can call me Giddy), told stories, expressed emotions, and learned a little bit more about ourselves and each other. For me, as a generally quiet and reserved man, it was an opportunity to express myself physically and spontaneously without the usual internal censor. I’m an over-thinker – which means as a rational hedonist, I sometimes spend too much time being rational and forgetting about indulging my hedonism. Thankfully Roger's exercises in clowning left little room for self-doubt or second guesses.

Bar stools around a desert tableaux
Better still was the retention of these lessons the next day. As our 11:00 AM checkout time loomed ahead, Roger asked us to join him in creating a ScavenJester video. There was a tense silence as my rational brain  tried to reason an excuse that we didn't have time. Meanwhile, my hedonist brain knew I’d forever regret giving up this opportunity and ultimately stepped in and said, “yes - of course.” Within moments, I pulled the one thing we had packed out of the car – a container full of props and costumes – and let Roger, Poe Jester, work his magic.

I’m sure we were a site – trying on costumes while simultaneously packing and loading the car. The cleaning crew arrived before we even finished the first scene, but let us continue to play and take advantage of the property’s Martian landscape. Thus Lisa and I became ScavenJesters, and I couldn’t be more proud (or Giddy).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I stayed at your house this weekend, the one in Joshua Tree.  I was there with my friends to celebrate my birthday. It was perfect, the shifting colors of the sunrise on the rocks, the crisp winter chill, and that comforting enveloping calm and silence - I'm sure that's what drew you here in the first place. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my last day till I really spent time in your studio, and started to get to know you.

I was sorry to intrude, and worse yet speculate about you in your absence. I would have much rather had you invite me in , serve up a cup of  tea, and show me your latest project. I'm sure you would have let slip some of the inconsequential details that would allow me a more intimate view into who you are.

Instead, I walked in on the morning silence, a cup of coffee in hand to take in your studio. I was not really expecting you there, I knew you had long ago left for France. Yet, slowly as I indulged my curiosity you started to reveal yourself to me.

I was impressed at first glance seeing all your materials left in their shelves. I thought perhaps the new owners left them for authenticity sake – a true artist studio – or perhaps to be an enticement to play and be creative. But I came to see they were more than authentic, they were there awaiting your return.

I started with you bookshelves, volumes of French texts, Carl Jung, Islamic poetry - books acquired over your lifetime, that you shipped to have them here in your studio. An old copy of America Hurrah - are those your letters in the Jean-Claude van Itallie archive? Did you see him perform at Highways when you lived in Santa Monica? Perhaps we once stood next to each other at a performance or a gallery show?

I pulled a volume of Rilke poems, thinking I'd read a bit while everyone else slept in, but they failed to captivate me. Instead I was compelled to explore your studio space, and maybe see it through your eyes. I could imagine you taking you morning coffee just like me, maybe starting a fire in the small wood burning stove to stave off the winter chill, and sitting down at your table to start in on your work. I started with a small sketchbook left on the opposite shelf stacked with papers, paintings, portfolios, and notebooks.

Dated “November ’98,” I saw your charcoal drawings, beginning with images of the bouldered landscape of Joshua Tree that now had become familiar to me. I saw how you transformed the shapes of the boulders into fascinating abstracts. 

I moved on to a volume of water colors with splashes of color traced in a private calligraphy. Soon, I had your sketchpad open on the large center table, where it must have sat as you worked through your deconstructions, and sketched out your cosmology and spiritual color legend. They reminded me of the sketches my dad once drew as he tried to convey the meaning of life in a way transcending words.

One panel mapped your ideas to the body. The word “cancer” circled with an arrow pointing to the form. I knew that’s what eventually took you and seeing this, I know it wasn’t a surprise to you though it may have been for those around you. I’m sure you left on your last journey expecting to return exercising this sympathetic magic while exploring your own mortality in the infinity of the universe. Breath.

The more you revealed the more I began to wonder. A few Polaroids remain as well as a childhood photo. You’re alone in them, and I wonder if that is why you settled in such a place, at the end of a dirt road, in the middle of a desert protected in your own canyon of stone and silence. I know this place inspired you, and you were comfortable here on your own, but I wonder about your loneliness. No friend or family member came back to pack up your things, or take away the art works to serve as your memory.

Yet, waking your property,there is a guest house and large outdoor kitchen, surely you entertained here? Invited your friends stay awhile and take in the rosy creep of sunrise. Perhaps you also celebrated some birthdays here/ Who were your guests? Friends back in France? Who took those Polaroids?

You seem too young to no longer be with us, then again, I’ve already outlived a few of my contemporaries. I find myself wishing you were here to guide me on this tour, and maybe you were through your works and artifacts. I know all the ceramics, the tile work throughout  the property are yours, and these sketchpads and notebooks reveal even more.

I had to leave before I started pulling down the zippered portfolios, or examining the artworks wrapped for shipping.  I was tempted to steal a piece for myself but couldn’t bring myself to separate anything from this space, this collection of you. Rather, I hope someone else might stay here, meet you, and get to know you in your space. I only hope they also resist the temptation to take a piece of you for themselves so I can come back and visit you again and have more of your mysteries revealed.

I thank you for your hospitality, the things you did while you were still alive, and the things you left for me to discover.

Godspeed Francette