witnessing performance, audiobooks, texting, & zooooom
|Benedict Nguyen||Apr 30|| 2|
If you’ve ever been a performance date/pal with me, you might remember that I usually like to sit in the back, as a default. This isn’t true all the time. sometimes I like to be right in the middle of it all, with the most logical choice there to just follow my senses—whatever’s moving right in front of me, whatever gape in the ceiling to tune out. One idea of experiencing something live is that one gets to choose—where to look, listen, smell. No adventure chosen is the same or wrong. If I miss something, I’ll have to ask someone else about it later and let time keep passing. But to watch something from the front row is a performance too, especially in a field where I can no longer claim anonymity as easily as I could’ve a few years ago. This essay is not about the challenges of fame, I promise ;)
In the back of the ‘theater’ (or wherever), I get the wideshot. This view complies with the logic that this distanced total vantage point is more worthwhile than the close-up, that from far back and up, one can see the larger effects of composition, use of space, depth. Brilliant pal Anh Vo has written about this inherently flawed inclination. The way I watch from the back is not subject to judgement because the only person whose view I obstruct is the team running the light board and they’re too distracted to notice my eyes picking one performer, one part of the set, one clump of people that may not be the ‘main action’ intended for my focus. In the back, I like to think I can drift away unnoticed.
The idea of a critic or an expert in the field more broadly is that their perspective is more intelligent, more attentive, more knowledgable than an average person’s. Beyond the bullish tendency to write down what one’s attention finds interesting (ofc i’m looping back to this slushee), the normie version of a critic is meant to filter out the inevitable mind wanderings and lift the 500 essential words that cuts relentlessly between the wide view and a select few close ups. Or else, the normie critic’s recounting of a random anecdote conjured by a random moment in performance is rendered vital, rigorous, and provocative, even if it’s unrelated to the performance lol ;)
Me, knowing I’m not saying something ~original~ : all our meanderings are vital!
Thank goodness for paragraph breaks and long takes and open tabs I once wanted to read or finish but if I’m being real, may never return to.
I’ve been on this big audiobook kick for the past year. With longer books, I’ve even taken to listening on my commute (something typically reserved for good tunes only!) so I can finish a text, front to back, before the deDRM snatches it back. In the middle of a denser non-fiction book, I took to rewinding 15-seconds every few minutes and became self-critical about the time-wasted re-listening to something I hadn’t understood (text is dense!) or wasn’t paying enough attention to the first time around. Then I realized that I need to do this all the time when I’m reading a book. My active consciousness can only take so much in at a time (to be a younger millennial worker with all the interfaces!) and I sometimes notice that I let my mind wander of need to take in a sentence a few times to let its meaning or significance float up. this cliché has new applications now!
The ~re-calibration~ that happens all the time is one of the tertiary joys of reading. I’m not calibrating towards some ideal of disciplined focus or rate of pages read per minute but re-orienting towards where my brain is at, where my attention has been fractured, and how to bring it back to the conversation between my imagination and someone else’s ideas. When adding another layer of sensation, listening, and mediated through a sound recording, the joy becomes friction and I wonder about content overload and what if I just didn’t read or listen to something for the five minute walk between X and Y but if I don’t optimize my time and learn all the things, I’ll fail at late capitalism, ugh.
I’m generally someone that hates to be texting about anything but logistics. Sure, I’ll check in to see how you’re doing but it’s just biding the time til I can hang out with you. Now that that eventual time seems impossibly far away, uncertain to ever arrive, I’ve come to love texting. And it’s so nice to get a text back, to know someone’s spending a few seconds acknowledging me, and then to move back to my present moment. It feels like an easier engagement of my frenetic attention span than most other things. This somewhat less recent technology now comes with an odd nostalgic affection (omg human interaction! but not demanding?! I love) while the ~latest mechanism~ is the new target of my frustration and derision.
In zoom, work has required me to scan the gallery view of faces staring blankly at their webcams since 2017. #zoomseniority ew lol. When facilitating a discussion or workshop, gallery is obvioulsy preferable to speaker view, which lets one think that the person making noise is the most important thing to notice. When I was leading a few 2-hour, 8-person zoom workshops each week, I became attuned to the ways people’s eyes darted across the screen, their act of browsing during work time reflecting back from the lens of their eyes to the lens of their screen to the pixels of mine. Without having the wide shot of everyone and their energy in a room, I could only adjust my sensors to the small rectangle each participant occupied in my plane of view. I’ll leave the workplace surveillance commentary to this piece.
When someone’s wi-fi connection to the meeting room is weak, the corner of their rectangle blips yellow or more concerningly, red. Your internet is unstable. Wait, sorry, could you repeat that? Sorry, you cut out for second. If I’m trying to hide my own inattention for a zoom mtg I don’t care about, I’ll massage my legs out of view of the camera, or find some small gesture or behavior to reclaim that’s mine. I make this kind of friction is made invisible. When people’s sense of connection to each other is weak ~IRL~, I can leave if I don’t care but more likely, I’ll stay and try to gloss over my own discomfort. I’ll shift my attention away and let the moment pass or find someone else to talk to. But in the contrivance of a Zoom Meeting, I can’t just flee. We’re meant to speak to each other. Cue bio break, self-mute, camera off. There’s the text-only side chat and there’s pointedly looking outside the frame altogether.
The flirtatious back and forth of daring your lover to hang up on the phone is a cute cliché. When we wanna hang up on zoom, I feel like we need to say bye three extra times before wiping our images from reality. It doesn’t feel dramatic to say this quick erasure feels more violent than the gentle walking away. The niceties that end a pandemic-era zoom call are awkward and I need to have more zoom mtgs with Aries ppl. Since I wrote the beginning of this graf, different people in a few zoom chats have championed the utter grace of an abrupt zoomexit. By now, it feels like not getting a quick text back is less often read as a personal slight. People give their attention when they can. Unless this is a work situation with insufficient boundaries lol
Post-show chats were/are(?!) a vital part of the performance viewing. With the dissolution of my anonymity (last comment about my ~fame~ I promise) has come the running into pals I hadn’t seen in awhile at a show. (post-)performances as community spaces as social interaction, etc. When over it (the day, the wk, the show), I would make the quick exit and text pals and performers my love instead of hugging them in person. I can maybe feel regret for convo’s I didn’t have ~before this all began~ but on those nights, especially in the worst of fall 2019/winter 2020 burnout (it must end, i’m sure!), honoring my desire to have my attention fold inward felt more important.
(this won’t embed cute but): https://www.tiktok.com/@koolkidkenzieee/video/6813749229094309125
by the next first quarter moon, this slushee will have transformed into a TikTok! what if i’m not joking lol