August 18, 2015

8/14/15 – Bright Side Days with Corrie Baldauf

Artist: Corrie Baldauf

Location: Cracker Barrel, I-94, Ohio


CB – Coffee (black), “The Old Timer”

SRS – Coffee (black), lemonade, “The Smokehouse”

Before anything else, it should be acknowledged that every so-called “option” on the Cracker Barrel menu is the exact same breakfast, plus or minus one of the sides. That’s fine, because what we were looking for was unironic and easily accessible road food in a quasi-Lynchian environment. And we got it.

Corrie and I were on the road together this weekend, traveling to Chicago for an art event on the street outside Cook County Jail (you can read all about that here, at Hyperallergic). As is the case when Corrie and I get an extended stretch of time to talk, we basically dismantle and analyze the entire system of the world. So in reality, this weekend was one extended BWTA, and I am still working to metabolize it all (to say nothing of the wild array of culinary delights offered by Chicago. Bang Bang! was one of the places, but doesn’t begin to describe it).

We talked a lot about systems of communication. I was interested to hear Corrie introduce her work as being “about conversations,” and that the objects she uses, such as Optimism Filters, are really mechanisms to hopefully triggers conversations. She talked about how, when she is handing someone one of her large-scale filters (which are made of tinted Plexiglass), that it is okay for their bodies to be basically pressed together, separated only by the filter–a distance that without the barrier, would be deeply uncomfortable. Corrie is a great conversationalist and dedicated member of the, “Yes, and…” school of communication (also favored by myself, and improv comedy troops).

Corrie made the statement that enthusiasm takes a lot of work. I have heard her discuss effort in relation to optimism before–it’s actually an idea that changed my whole perspective on optimism–but enthusiasm is a new dimension. For me, enthusiasm is not something I consciously cultivate, but a more organic energy. I don’t fake enthusiasm that well, but it’s possible–however, I was thinking about how I am only capable of either discipline or enthusiasm, and not both at the same time. What I mean is, I can extend energy in the direction of self-disciplining my impulses, like trying not to eat candy all the time, or governing my tendency to be judgmental about things that have nothing to do with me–but usually that leaves me in a state of great neutrality. I do not have additional emotional resources, in that case, to act as a cheerleader for things that I am underwhelmed about. On the bright side, it keeps me honest; when I’m enthusiastic about something, you can more or less believe it’s sincere. On the downside, it might be nice to exercise self-control without constantly having it suck all my energy away. As is often the case, I am comforted by the realization that I am probably not in charge of these things and don’t need to worry too much about them–but Corrie’s perspective reminds me that they are attributes I can work on, and possible affect, if I want to.

One of the first things I did once I was back in Detroit is to escape from a wide array of pressing concerns by going to see the recently-released movie, The End of the Tour, which is a fictionalized portrayal of the many-day interview conducted by David Lipsky as he profiled seminal novelist David Foster Wallace during his book tour for his master work, Infinite Jest. This seemed a fitting bookend to spending a weekend with Corrie, who has done some really amazing work regarding Infinite Jest, and continues to forge a space for an artistic voice within the academics-heavy landscape of DFW scholarship.

I’m also a dedicated reader of DFW’s writing, and a fan. In addition to being riveting, and featuring star turns from Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segal, the movie struck me as a terrific mirror to the time I just spent with Corrie. Because she’s an artist I respect and try constantly to learn from, I could relate to the Lipsky character. But because I am also a writer, and struggle with the conflict between socializing and isolation, engaging with people and using them for material, and generally writerly concerns of mental health and well-being, I related to the DFW character as well. Watching the movie was like getting to see a third-person account of the experience I had just gone through with Corrie — one that I will continue to process for a long time, much like David Lipsky.

I guess my hope is that this represents not the end of the tour, but just the beginning.

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