I am a practitioner of the can-I-have-its, a collector of things. I am the sort who walks through antique shops touching everything, wondering what place these objects could hold in my life. I flip through the ikea catalog and salivate, just a little. I am, indeed, firmly ensconced in the material culture. As a result, I have a lot of stuff, a LOT of stuff. And as an artist, it's worse, because there is always some potential use somewhere down the road for that quirky rusty, something-or-other. In the last months I have been exploring the place of the gift in our culture, and the relationship between faith and fear and abundance and scarcity. I believe that the structure of artificial scarcity is not only self-perpetuating, but in fact, self-catalyzing. What happens when we believe that there is enough? What happens when we act on that belief? So in the spirit of the gift, I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need. It is a practice of faith, and an act of rebellion against dominant capitalist culture. Is it a little crazy? Probably. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely. But here I go.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Concert Seats, Collective Capital, and Sharing

The other night we gave away our seats at a show, a free show, mind you, but the auditorium was packed. Rows of standing folks behind us, and a line snaked all the way out the door and across the green. We were tired and had waited in line through most of our limited endurance. You know those nights when you really don't want to go out, but you convince yourself that if you get yourself out the door you will enjoy the amazing thing that you have set before yourself? Well, it was one of those. When we decided to bail, Justin (my boyfriend and fellow show attendee) suggested we find a nice pair to gift our seats to. So we did. A nice simple human exchange. But it felt good. A different kind of gift and nothing glorified about it, but something feels right about purposeful giving. He said later that he was thinking of "how good it felt to give those seats to those two people, and how it sort of convinced [him] emotionally of [my] project's value. About a way of being, a kind of energy."

It's made me think a lot about the spirit of this project, about what it means to give something away, on a variety of levels. Personal, political, social, energetic. There is the actual act of giving--the kindness of it, the desire to give something, make the world better for someone else, but there is also the implied ownership of it--that this thing, this object, this feeling, this moment, this whatever... is mine to give. There is a lot of power inherent in that, a lot of privilege. I've been thinking too, about how capital in this culture is individual, collective capital is hard, even, to conceptualize. We don't know how to value what's collectively ours. We are in a system of perpetual increase in the desire for personal gain, at what seems to me to be the expense of common good.

The other day I almost got assaulted by a motorist, a motorist in (sorry to make the story cliche, but the facts are the facts) an SUV. The 'almost' is questionable. I was walking to work, and a woman pulled in front of me just as I was crossing the street. I had to stop short and then walk around behind her. Not a big deal, but I was running late and pre-coffee, so I was a little grumbly about it. I bumped into the spare tire on the back of her vehicle. It wasn't on purpose, but I can't say I tried to avoid it, either. It was a poor choice. I let my irritation about my 'right of way' get the best of me. So when she rolled down her window and yelled 'Did you just f***ing hit my car?' I was taken aback, but not shocked. What came next though, totally caught me off guard. She careened around the corner, parked her car, and ran at me. I kept walking hoping that futile hope maybe if I ignore it, it will just go away. She was a lot bigger than me, and was spitting mad. She was screaming strings of expletives that I won't repeat here, the basic gist of which were the repetition of the previous question and that I had NO RIGHT!! (What is it with right? What is our tenuous and tenacious relationship with entitlement?) I couldn't think straight. My heart was pounding; I held my hands up in the air, and kept trying to just walk around her. She wouldn't let me pass, and kept pushing closer and closer. She was only a couple of inches taller than me, but had easily 60 pounds on me. Her face was inches from mine, her eyes were dark with fury, and she started doing that puffed up chest thing that I've seen secondhand, but never experienced. She was dancing from foot to foot and started shoving herself aggressively at me, shoulder and chest. I stepped back, and she came right with me. All I could muster was to raise my voice and tell her to back off, tell her not to touch me. She started shoving with her hands, and hard, and that's when I realized she intended to fight me--that she not only wanted to (which was glaringly obvious), but would actually carry out doing me physical harm. I glanced behind me and saw a man watching us tentatively, clearly unsure of whether or not to intervene. I called out for his help, and he walked quickly in our direction. He asked what was happening while she continued to scream. Then he asked if he needed to call the police to settle it. Somehow in my panic, making it to work on time mixed with the desire to flee and took urgent and immediate precedence. I took his entrance as a chance to get away, and walked quickly up the street, calling back to thank him for his help. I only made it a block or so before I started shaking like a leaf and burst into tears.

I thought that I could put it out of my head pretty easily. I was fine, no harm done. All day though, the experience played and replayed in my head. I kept thinking about the selflessness of the man's gift of his attention, his rescue. He saw someone in need and reacted. He saw something that needed doing and he did it. No premeditation, no lofty theory, just one human to another. My gratitude is immense. Who knows what might have happened had he not been there?

The other thing I kept thinking about (and here's where it ties back in to what I was talking about earlier) is how she clearly felt so deeply wronged. Sure maybe she was having a terrible day, sure she may have been already about to blow, sure there must have been other factors at play, but still... she felt wronged. Me touching her car made her feel somehow violated; something that was hers had been threatened. I started thinking about collective capital and individual capital, that pervasive idea of ownership, of right. I was a pedestrian, and I was in the crosswalk, that gave me the 'right-of-way' it also gave me very little personal space to claim. The space of my own body. Period. She was in an SUV, a giant hunk of metal. Her body was surrounded by something like 100 cubic feet of space that she could lay claim to. We were on a public street, something we all own, all share, a space we have (if begrudgingly at times) collectively agreed to maintain, share, co-own. She had her 100 cubic feet of car, and I had my, roughly 2 (thank you, google) cubic feet of self. Driving a car offers that, does it not, as opposed to, say, riding a bike, or a bus, or traveling on one's own two feet? Isn't that one of the luxuries of a car--the imposition of one's own personal space into the public sphere? Isn't that part of why we keep commuting to work singly in our cars when we know what it's costing us? We have this bubble of personal space amidst a sea of other anonymous people, and we have seemingly complete control over that 100 cubic feet of personal space. We can make it sound how we'd like it to, smell how we'd like it to, look how we'd like it to. No-one's elbow is digging into our backs as we stand amongst a sea of sweaty people swaying in the bus, no-one else's cellphone conversation interrupts our thoughts. The ultimate in control, yes? But in service of what? To what end?


  1. Yikes! I'm glad you got out of that okay!

    I find the car versus person space/control issue really interesting, and I think we humans do it a lot too--the claiming of space/control, the building ourselves up into something bigger than we are.

    I seem to run into it a lot in terms of people working for institutions and the institutions making those people feel bigger than me even though we're both really just inhabiting our own 2 cubic feet and our humanity...

  2. Thanks, Gwenn.

    I like that: 'just inhabiting our own 2 cubic feet and our humanity.'

    I've been thinking a lot about the space we take up in the world and the devices we use to manipulate that space, or the shape and weight of the space... the why of it is particularly of interest to me right now.

  3. Wow, what a deal. I just hate things like that. What's wrong with people? I thinking kicking her door has she stopped in the crosswalk would have got her going. No, that's not the answer and I know it. Sometimes when that happens I just give them the 'stare. They don't really get it. It's so odd as I driver I find pedestrian to be like cows. Paying no attention to drivers or cars. Walking against the lights, not looking were they're going. But as a pedestrian I find drivers uncaring, arrogant, and basically not paying any attention to people on foot. It's so odd.