For three years in a row, 2020, 2021 and 2022, all the solo shows I created happened to take place outside and in public. It also so happened that I didn't talk in any of them. Except for a couple of moments in An Encounter, when I would scream to an audience member from the opposite side of the street. Or, often, when I was packing up Ministry of Loneliness, people came up to chat. Also Irina learns guitar and songwriting was hardly silent but the after-show part I'm talking about here was.
I wrote a lot during these shows. Partially, because so much was happening for me, it was a way to digest it. For An Encounter I posted almost every day after the show on Instagram. For Irina learns guitar and songwriting I wrote in a diary. For Ministry of Loneliness I wrote during the actual show, as part of the show.
I kept most of the original writings intact for this piece. Including abrupt ends in Ministry of Loneliness due to people sitting down to file a claim while I was in the middle of a sentence.
Below are descriptions of the shows followed by excerpts from all three diaries, intuitively chosen and arranged by the current me.
An Encounter (2020)
This was a 30-min walk with Death for one audience member at a time along Broad Street, the main street in Philly. The walk began with the audience member recognizing Death across the street, and writing down a question to them on a piece of paper to hold onto until the end. Death and the audience member would walk together but on opposite sides of the street. Things would happen along the way.
I was Death.
Irina learns guitar and songwriting (2021)
The show, which happened in the backyard of a dance studio, was laced with a personal crisis. After the run had ended, I took its one memorable character to the streets of NYC and Philly. I wasn't doing much. Just walking really, sitting on a bench, riding the subway...
This character didn't have a name but some people called them alien, bossy alien, or silver suit.
Ministry of Loneliness (2022)
The office of the Ministry of Loneliness appeared at random times and places in Philly, NYC, and Trenton. Passers-by were free to step up and file a loneliness claim about anything. Very late at night, the Minister of Loneliness would lovingly chalk bits from people's claims, and sometimes a little non-religious prayer, on the cities' pavements.
I was the Minister of Loneliness.
September 15, 2020
Again I was thinking how much more comfortable I am running down a city street than walking slowly with a hand on my heart, both of which I do in this show. And how in general, the agreed upon norm is to walk with direction, focus, decent speed, and not looking around much. Anything else turns heads.
An older black man walked up to me and said he saw me stomping on the metal plates the other day and that he felt the same.
I accidentally frightened another man while dancing through a gas station. I apologized and kept moving. What is my body adding to the space? I went back and forth between "he is not gonna remember you in five minutes, you didn't do any harm, it was fun, you are really not that significant" and "you have just added more stress into his already stressful day, triggered him, and the gas station will lose his business too." All are probably true, false, exaggeration, caring, self-centered, showing concern, and overthinking.
It felt different from unintentionally scaring a bunch of small kids the other day (or them scaring themselves?) by simply walking slowly down an empty street and looking in their direction. They kept running in and out of a store staring and screaming. It was so genuinely funny.
September 16, 2020
It's been a week. I can feel the space heating up. The space between me and the space is heating up. Like in the beginning of a relationship, when people see each other again and again and talk and talk and are so damn interested in every stupid little detail about each other’s lives.
I think paying attention to something or somebody activates them. And wraps them in a blanket that says proudly "somebody decided I was worth paying attention to today, yeah." We are all so dependent on each other for that, it makes me want to hide, jump, sing and scream at the same time.
I guess it includes paying attention to oneself. I am going down some rabbit hole here.
A group of teenagers eyed me suspiciously as I walked by.
A woman said I seemed very hyper today. I stumbled and fell with my legs literally up in the air immediately after.
I think it could be wildly romantic to engage with each other standing on opposite sides of a street. A bus stops between us at a traffic light and I wait patiently (or not) for it to move to reveal my person again.
October 9, 2021
I keep thinking about all those meditative practices I engaged in right before the show last year. They took about an hour. The last two of them I did walking down to the meeting point. The first one was feeling into the Death medicine to live the day as if it were my last (while doing this show). I would also imagine my neighborhood, the actual neighborhood I did the show in, to be my village and myself to be the village idiot. It would take the edge off for me right away. The fear of being embarrassed is subdued immediately. There is no dignity to lose, I am already a fool. I am free. I want to be laughed at.
This year, I intentionally quit all the practices. I don't have any capacity. My mantra, as I stated in this year's show, is “minimize, be kind, find something that's exciting to you.” Even if just a little.
September 17, 2020
Got stood up (by an audience member) on a warm Thursday night.
As I was waiting, a woman came up to me to say I looked pretty.
As I was about to leave at 7:20 pm, a teen-aged boy biked over to ask if I was waiting for a date. I said yes and that it looked like they weren't coming. He asked what I was going to do. I said go home and eat some ice cream.
September 27, 2022
So I'm sitting by Sprouts. It's pretty crazy. My heart is pounding, I think. I'm waiting for my
So it wasn't that painful at all. It was amazing, actually. I am a sucker for
Someone sat down and wrote that they hate their wife. Then they ran off. They just needed to write that, I guess. They were laughing uncomfortably moving away, and shouted from a distance: “I am a little crazy. And I think you are too!” That was awesome.
He was worried that everyone passing by would think he was lonely and judge him. Because I have this big sign that says “Ministry of Loneliness.” I wrote that they might think he was brave. A woman walked by and he yelled to her, emphatically: “I am not lonely.” Without skipping a beat, she turned around and said: “Yeah, me neither.”
I think because here at the Ministry we don't talk but only write to each other, people can “say” much more than when talking. I think that part is really great. Does quiet also create a sort of ritualistic space, a bubble from the outside talking world, a feeling of “something special is happening”?
October 12, 2021
Went for a walk to Prospect Park in my silver costume and a gas mask. First time out and about like that. Was kinda scared so asked two friends to be in my vicinity. We came back home two hours later.
I did a good poker face inside but it turned out the mask is suffocating for long stretches. Isn't it ironic considering it's designed to save lives? Secretly, I ran behind trees multiple times to lift it up to breathe.
It's also so exciting at the same time. Actually, the only thing that's exciting to me, currently. My whole body comes alive being so visible and connected to everyone and everything. Effortlessly, I don't check out for one second. I feel every moment, like it's my last day, or like mid-jump from a very high cliff into nothing. Oh, it's like sex. How original.
A man with a big, big smile ran out to me to say: “I love your costume! My friend thinks this is the future. Could I take a picture?”
Later, a woman proclaimed: “This is taking it too far.”
September 19, 2020
At 5:30 pm my guest canceled. At 6 pm I had a new guest by texting people who had wished to come. At 6:20 pm I had no one again. I walked anyway.
I felt (privately) like a hero or something.
As I was getting to the meeting place (meeting with whom again), I passed a middle-aged man who said: "Ah, it's you. I see you here every day in the same dress and with different flowers." He described my dress in detail while looking up at the sky. My heterosexual side fully came out: "No way, men don't ever remember so many details!" As we walked, he told me about his daughter, whom he raised by himself. When she was little, she said that when she was old enough she wanted to have a cigar and a whiskey with him. His hand went to his heart as he was speaking. He said: "Kids say the darndest things sometimes." Her birthday is in February and they are going to a cigar shop. For now, he just went down into the subway.
I wonder how important it is to mention that I walk through a predominantly black neighborhood.
Not having an intentional witness changes things. It doesn't devalue them and it changes things. When I want a witness, could I ask a tree to be one? In our private lives, do close friends and romantic partners play that role?
On the way back, I tried being a fox (have read about it somewhere) by looking at everything through the eyes of a fox, untainted by memories and the past. Lots of assumptions about foxes here, of course. Cried a little. Do foxes cry?
A man asked me if it was Saturday.
October 27, 2021
Rode the subway in Philadelphia. Invited a couple friends to be nearby again, for courage.
I just “throw a ball” into space by entering it, disturbing it. Nothing else. I stand there holding the rails, like everyone else. Then people “throw the ball back” to me by way of their reactions, which can, actually, be quite revealing. I love the simplicity of it.
Someone said today, looking me up and down: “You've got the right idea.”
September 28, 2022
As I was wheeling the dolly with all the props to Sprouts, I met my roommate. My legs were shaking. I didn't want to share it but I really wanted some company. So I nonchalantly asked her to walk with me for a bit. I mean it was pretty obvious anyway, I'm never that social. It helped a lot!
A girl came out of Target, when we were near, took one look at the sign on my dolly, and asked if she could file a loneliness claim. How does this happen? How do some people know immediately “this crazy thing is for me”?
Many guests today. I think I am doing quite well. As the process starts going, I feel much more in my place. Oh, I want to make more eye contact!
A homeless man I know came over. Then another one. The first one was heckling a little. The second one stayed a while and read poetry, while a woman, filing a claim, and me were listening. Then he cried. I stood up to hug him. I was holding him and holding him for what seemed like a very long time.
The woman was totally flowing with it, without rushing him or me, or making faces. Later, she wrote how amazing it is when we just let people talk, without interrupting. Yes, I would have behaved totally differently if it wasn't a silent show.
My body feels totally electric most of the time as I am sitting here. And scared out of my mind when I am walking over.
Oh, I am being kicked out of Sprouts plaza. That's okay.
September 20, 2020
Is belief in humans a religion? It's a dying one, I know. Needs some major resurrection, second coming, rebirth, faith, upgrade.
A young man asked me if I was waiting for a date. I said yes but I wasn't sure if they were coming. He suddenly turned very serious and said with certainty: "They know the time, they know the place, they are coming." I said: "Okay." And they came.
September 29, 2022
Today is just nuts in the best way!
The guy who hates his wife came back. He said he had been thinking about this since he first saw the sign two days ago. He said he calls me “this crazy lady with a mustache.” He kept asking me to talk instead of writing. I didn't break. He left again, partially frustrated that I wouldn't talk, but mostly it's just restlessness. He said he has a $1000 Rolex on his wrist but he is so depressed and lonely. I am so glad I didn't take his lead to do therapy. This is performance medicine, not therapy medicine. My heart was breaking though. But it does so all day every day. Maybe it's its job.
Then there was this woman on her way back from a protest about Iran. Her family is in Iran, and she was worried about them. I wrote that I have family in Ukraine. She asked me if she could give me a hug.
Then my friend came in! It was so lovely. I was a little worried that I was stiff and didn't flow fully with the moment. But I choose not to follow this thought. Oh, and I forgot to give him a fun pen to write with! Alas.
When I was sitting with my friend, and we were looking at each other in silence, two workers from Target—I am by Target now, by the way— came out. I thought maybe to kick me out. But I decided to just keep looking at my friend, to focus on it even more, in fact. They came real close, shuffled back and forth, back and forth, and... left. That was amazing.
There was also this woman who walked up when I started to pack. She was so supportive and curious. She shared how she painted murals on an ugly wall she got sick of looking at out of her window. Without permission or anything. Just went out and created four murals!
It feels like I opened some portal. And stepped into it with other people. Everything we usually hide is open and available there. Really, people don't need to make any effort, they just sit down and write, it just comes out.
It doesn't feel like I am doing anything, things are just happening through me.
September 21, 2020
A day of feeling utterly inadequate and blown open at the same time.
A man kept joining me for parts of the walk on my side of the street. Which probably looked like intentional choreography to the audience member on the other side. When I was bending and hugging my tummy for one block, he asked if I was a bit depressed too. I said no, I was just feeling my feelings. He asked with interest, how does one feel one's feelings? I said cool things... then agonized for the rest of the night over how I could have said them better.
With some fear of making him a token, I will add that he is a black man whose mother died from covid.
Next morning, I thought about the limits of this platform (Instagram) and my own to adequately and respectfully convey certain experiences.
I dropped into a fantasy of commonplace, weekly gatherings where people could come to feel how they are glad, sad, mad and afraid. In addition to the challenges of 2020, Fall is also a transitional season, and feeling unexpressed grief naturally wants to happen in this part of the cycle, lectured my fantasy self.
October 1, 2022
It's Saturday. And I am sitting by Target again. My sign fell, as I was setting up, and almost broke. But it didn't! It didn't break. I'm gonna ask a friend to fix it later!
I wanted to try Saturday to see what the vibe is like on the weekend. It's cold. There are no people on the streets.
The wind broke my Ministry of Loneliness sign. The glass shattered, some wooden part too. I am crouching down now to pick them all up bit by bit. A couple of Target workers are outside on a break. Wow, this is like the next level of letting go and being a village idiot. Will I feel more free now?
September 22, 2020
A woman yelled after me with great joy from her car as it stopped at a traffic light: "I see you, you sexy beast! I see you walking slowly like lady Gaga. I see what you're doing!"
October 7, 2022
Back today to Rittenhouse Square. As my friend was driving me there, I felt so scared. Pooped like three times back home. Well, wanted to poop three times but only did two. When we were looking for a spot, I didn't feel like coming out of the car. I finally landed on a spot by the middle entrance. It's cozy but there is still foot traffic. I can hear families walking out of the park, young people laughing, people uttering ahhh when they see my sign.
I am just a village idiot.
I am just a village idiot.
I am just a fool, and my job is to do foolish things, embarrassing things people wouldn't normally do. I am a little worried I won't have any clients today. But this is not what it's all about. The image of the Minister of Loneliness sitting by himself in front of an empty chair is the main performance. The idea that started it all. I am checking out, I am checking
I just had my first client! And it was so good! A very young woman. She is queer and all of her friends are straight. She wrote about that. As her friends were chatting nearby. We hugged at the end.
The weather is so nice today. I am sitting here in the shadow of a tree, in the evening light. This is the perfect spot, just the perfect spot.
Hahaha it's funny how my mood changes as soon as somebody sits down and is being generous and kind. I am sliding into worrying a bit again, but no, I am gonna choose to stop. I am feeling the space all around me. It's such a nice, expansive feeling. I am so grateful for it. This is so lovely. I remember that I am a fool, I am just a village idiot. What could happen to me? I am already on the bottom. Oh my, it's so fun to be on the bottom.
It's so interesting to be here and see from the corner of my eye people reading the sign. Some have a laugh! So fun to add laughter to someone's day. A woman came up to thank me for being here.
I am going to practice spacing out. To stop imagining what people are thinking. I am just sitting here and writing.
At the end of my life, when I am dying, I'll look back at this and be so excited that I did it! That I went despite being scared. That I sat here and enjoyed the breeze and the shadows from the trees. It's so nice to just be quiet with people. To just look at them. I want to do it all the time.
I just had another wonderful encounter. With a sweet young man. This is really a place for young people. I think it's 8 pm. I'm working overtime now. I will sit here and enjoy the breeze. I feel like more people are coming. Life can be so good sometimes.
A very cute young man sat down. Who just broke up with his girlfriend. This warm weather really is in juxtaposition to people's tender inner lives.
As he and I were sitting there looking at each other at the end, a man walking by noticed the sign and said: “This is kind of weird.” Without taking our eyes off each other, we just laughed out loud. It was so much fun. I love how moods shift if you just hold space and give attention.
September 23, 2020
something is coming to an end
a place of nothing to say
also a full place
is it a failure because it ends?
we say that about relationships
Found a quote I like:
"In fact the best things we have come from madness" - Socrates (via Plato).
Took it out of context from the internet and half-waiting to learn it's misworded, misinterpreted, or whatever else. But all is good for now.
November 1, 2021
Went to Times Square during the day. With a friend walking at a distance.
As I was passing some Broadway theater, a couple of burly men were loading in set pieces. I think seeing me took them by surprise. They stopped and started laughing like children. It made me feel so warm inside.
Then I was walking down to Penn Station and a man said: “You need more body for that suit.”
On my last breath, (there were no trees to go behind to get air) I was nearing a Penn Station bathroom, and a woman ran up to me to ask where I got my outfit. She was very persistent and sweet so I took her phone and typed “Soviet gas mask.”
October 10, 2022
I am back to Rittenhouse Square but in a different spot. I'm focusing on space. There is a lot of space all around me. I'm focusing on space and relaxing. That's all I'm doing. Relaxing and focusing on space. It's not a big deal. I love how the right people always find me. It's a Monday night. It's just a quiet Monday evening. I'm sitting here doing my work. I'm sitting here in the open air and doing my work. Oh my goodness, I'm about to dissolve into the unknown. It's such a pleasant feeling. Just sitting here doing my work and
A lovely young woman sat down. She was very open about being new to the city and her lover being far away. She was smoking, which was nice and relaxing.
A friend of mine came, who went to my other shows before I was
Almost right away a fellow artist came, who I think I met before.
And then a young man, who was waiting for a bit, sat down. He also wrote about being new to the city. I don't know how I feel about people waiting. Real bureaucracy, I guess.
Two more friends came together. One of them smoked the cigarette I have in my ashtray on the table! Yes! He offered it to me too, and we were passing it back and forth. The friend, who came with them, was so tender and feather-like.
People keep staying and chatting nearby. It's different.
I noticed an impulse today to try and help people. To solve something instead of just being there and listening. Thank goodness I noticed it quite early and nipped it in the bud, I think.
September 24, 2020
Last day and an extra day to accommodate a dear friend who couldn't come on her original date.
Before each show I set up intentions. One of them is to come with good for the space, the people in it, the audience member, and myself. It feels silly to write about it. Because on the one hand, "dah, of course." On the other, "oh, you're really trying so hard to seem like a good person." On the third hand, intentions have become somewhat overused in talking about and underused in actually practicing. At least for myself. I'm not going to assume my intention trumps everything, including myriads of other forces and people also at play at any given moment. Nope. But it adds to something. It feeds something. And yeah, what "good" means is a question to stay in conversation with for a lifetime...
I feel good tired.
I feel like going to a house in the woods. I wish I had one.
I feel hugged.
I want to keep saying thank you. And to stay messy and open to seeing possible incongruences in my work.
Thank you for perusing these musings and reflections. And as many people wrote to Death after the walk: "Till next time..."