“Too Many Conference Papers Make the Baby Go Blind: When is Neo-Futurism?” by Jon Foley Sherman, Lindsay Brandon Hunter, Chloe Johnston

Saturday, 29 June 2013
11:15 – 12:45 am
Building 550, Studio 1

Blog Response by Jon Foley Sherman

toomuchlight

By the end there was paper strewn all around our feet, the three of us staring silently, and thirty seconds left on the clock. We had given ourselves 60 minutes to deliver 11 conference papers slash plays on time and the Neo Futurists. These were assigned a number on a menu and on pieces of paper pinned to the wall behind us and the attendants called out the number of the paper they wanted next after the previous one had ended. And the night before our panel I decided to write a new one.

I was never a Neo Futurist, a band of writer performers whose long-running show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind features 30 plays in 60 minutes. I know a number of them and have always felt inspired by their work, no matter how uneven it inevitably was. Each time I attended a Too Much Light performance I felt “YES! THEATRE!” more than once. Their work seemed a great fit for a conference concerned with time and so I proposed a panel with a surfeit of papers and invited some former Neos and current academics to join me (we began as five but ended as three). Given their Neo experiences, Chloe Johnston of Lake Forest University and Lindsay Hunter of the University at Buffalo planned to include a play each that they would perform and discuss at some point (given that the attendants would determine the order of the papers it was possible that the reflection would precede the performance). I was just going to talk – about Neo nudity, three minutes of silence staged by the attendants at The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, volume 1: Early/Lost Plays, and the use of memory by the Neos.

And yet the day before our panel I attended a talk by Alice Rayner. Early into it she asked us all to take out a pen and paper and draw or write our responses to a series of questions, the first of which was, Draw what time looks like to you. I wound up drawing a spiral type thing, but that wasn’t the first image I had. The first image I had was the face of my son. And I couldn’t shake this idea, that he was how I told time.

It occurred to me that each week of Too Much Light, an audience member rolls a die that determines how many plays will be written and included in the following week’s performance (an equal number of plays leaves, of course). This means there’s a fair amount of scrambling. And so it seemed appropriate that I scramble and that I try to write a play in one of the staple formats of Too Much Light, the confessional monologue.

And I did. And Lindsay and Chloe said, “Sure, why not.”

The next morning, after we had introduced ourselves and the way to play Too Much Light, a number was called out above the others and the first paper was given. I don’t remember if it was Lindsay’s or Chloe’s. It wasn’t mine. I also wasn’t next. Or after that. Or after that. Or that. So this was part of the performing experience of Too Much Light – simply waiting to go, and waiting, and worrying that too many of my pieces would be stacked together. And then one of my numbers was called and I went.

After giving the first two of my papers the number of my play was called out. I read it. And I burst into tears when I got to the part about how I wasn’t going to see my son for a day longer than I had expected. That was a first for me at a conference – though god knows not the first time I’d cried in public – and it was not embarrassing but odd and I just kept going because that’s what you do when you are giving a conference paper disguised as a play, and it’s what you do when you miss your son in front of other people. I had planned to open my arms at one point but I didn’t – it felt too maudlin after I had shed tears – but I did share looks with most of the people attending the performance I mean the panel and felt how hard it was to allow myself to have an experience without either telling the attendants about it or congratulating myself for having it, without adding to time to think about what was happening during it. It was simply there, at the last minute in a room with other people, scattered sheets of paper, scattered chairs, and scattered thoughts finding their way into an expression of the implacable strangeness of thinking about time in time.

Last Minute Paper
And Alice Rayner asked us on Thursday to draw an image of time. And I knew I had an image ready (you’ve seen it/will see it) but instead I saw my son. And I realized that Lazlo, that’s my son’s name, that he is what time is for me. And he’s how I tell time, how I enunciate it: when I pick him up from preschool, when his mother drops him off with me or I drop him off with her, when he wakes up, when he goes to sleep. And he’s how I measure time: How long he watches TV while I get ready, how much time I lose with him while I’m cooking and he’s playing alone, how many nights I go without him in my home or how many he spends in it, how much time I think I have to get something done before I pick him up or after I put him down, how long he’ll snuggle me when he feels cold during breakfast and says that the best way to get warm is a snuggle. And he’s how I make time. For reading. For baking. For making. For coloring. For the pool. For the bike.
And I feel special because I’m his father and that makes me feel special. And I don’t want to make too big a deal out of that because not all of you have children and yet I think we can all imagine telling time and measuring time and making time for another person. And that could be a lover, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a high school teacher, a recalcitrant DMV employee. And even when you’re “making time for yourself,” you’re conceivably making time away from others.
And I left Alice’s talk early to Skype with Lazlo. And I did and I loved it. And I’m leaving here early, tonight, to be with him Sunday.
Except I won’t be. Because his mother gave up a day in April so I could take Lazlo to my brother’s wedding and she is making up that time tomorrow and I didn’t know that in time before making my travel plans and instead of seeing him on Sunday when I usually would on an “off” weekend, I won’t see him until Monday. And I know that will be a long time.

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