A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

January 31, 2023

To not start from a theme but from an activity...


To not start from a theme but from an activity. A theme can lead anywhere. An activity can also lead anywhere but not quite in the same way. How open is a theme? How open an activity? Can it all be thought of as some kind of music? The question of how to start and the question of where you’re going seem to be the same question. Where to start? Where are we going? Most people aren’t dancing but there is one person in the audience who is absolutely dancing their face off. Is that person a stand in for the thing we’re searching for? Never a good idea to use anyone as a stand in for something else. The very best thing about that dancing person is they are not doing it for anyone but themselves. To start not from a theme but an activity. I know what I’m addicted to but what is it exactly I’m addicted to? What is the exact thing, the exact moment.


January 21, 2023

A photo of three of my books


“On a social level, people have to look after each other, but on an ethical level, each of us has to look after ourselves. If you are a billionaire it is because you have done evil in the world. You have exploited and caused untold misery. You have bent laws and governments to your will. I don’t want to shoot him. I want to strangle him with piano wire. I don’t want to escape. I want to be caught and explain my idea to the world. I want to be executed. I now have nothing to lose. We will all be forgotten. But if ten of us manage to kill billionaires those ten will be remembered forever. Our poverty will become history. Wealth is impersonal but we will make it personal again.”
― Jacob Wren, Rich and Poor


“If I’m the enemy then really let me have it. If moral outrage about the state of the world is consuming your life, paralyzing you, taking over your world, then set fire to the reader in an act of revenge. Instead you leave the reader, or this reader at least, indifferent, watching your ineffective life unravel ineffectually. If our wealth is criminal then let’s live with the criminal joy of pirates or fight to the death to bring a sliver more of justice into being. Not the passive slither forward you are attempting to pass off as literature.”
― Jacob Wren, If our wealth is criminal then let’s live with the criminal joy of pirates


“The most effective lie is always the closest to the truth. The closer the better. A dream is not true but is never a lie. There are various approaches for understanding dreams: as evidence of some deeper psychological truth, as alternate realities, as subtle yet surreal mental reprocessings of our daily lives, as experiences equally valid to those had while awake. Due to the acuity of their strangeness, dreams practically call out for interpretation. However, since we don’t accurately know what consciousness is, since we don’t know precisely what or how we experience being awake, why would we be able to know what happens when we dream? There are also various approaches one might use for understanding a lie. But one aspect generally agreed upon is that to tell the complete truth, and only the complete truth, at all times, is a disaster. There are different ways of being honest.”
― Jacob Wren, Polyamorous Love Song


Photo by Khashayar Mohammadi


Gundega Laiviņa Quote


Actually, I am for going. Yet I have to question again and again – who goes, how and why. I am for a different kind of going than the conventional touring routine: taxi, plane, hotel, venue, hotel, plane, taxi… I am for going slowly, going with care, going to stay, explore, connect, going to create conditions for the artwork to live longer, not going, going with dignity, letting someone else go. What are alternatives to travel fatigue – a condition discussed frequently within the “bubble” of Western theatre makers? To stop and find well-articulated reasons for not travelling anymore as we are privileged to do so? But we could as well give chance to new approaches to emerge, we could keep exploring and connecting things, places, people and ideas without necessarily going or – if going – then differently.

- Gundega Laiviņa, as cited in Showing Without Going: Interview with Ant Hampton


January 19, 2023

Samson Young's Goodreads Review of Authenticity is a Feeling

It somehow caught me at exactly the right moment to read Samson Young's Goodreads Review of Authenticity is a Feeling:


This is a beautiful and thoughtful book about being fully yourself in collaborative work. This is not a guide book, nor does it have very many nice to say about collaboration, actually; rather, it shows just how truly scary, complicated, difficult and humiliating a true collaboration could be.

It is also a book about generosity, persistence and courage. Wren and his collaborators are rough with each other on stage. Yet Wren's retelling of these moments of public-private confrontation are so gentle, observant, poetic, and full of love. So many moments in the book made me feel so uncomfortable. And I wondered: isn't Wren just romanticizing his own very specific, and very public brand of hedgehog personality complex? Is authentic theatre and authentic life for him some sort of torture chamber, where all involved are so relentlessly committed to calling each other's BSs that nobody is ever going to be real enough? (He asked this question himself at one point in the book).

The big take away for me though is that being authentic and truly collaborative expands the dynamic platte of life and of art by many, many fold. Insofar as a fuller range of dynamics is always a positive value in art, then one would be tempted to argue that collaboration makes for better art. For Wren and his collaborators, this is also a better way to live. People of a weaker constitution however might prefer to keep the world at arms-length.

Wren is a highly gifted and extremely generous storyteller. Highly recommended.


You can find the review here. And of course you can find Authenticity is a Feeling here.


January 18, 2023

Some passages from What Love Looks Like

Some passages from What Love Looks Like: A Conversation with Tim DeChristopher by Terry Tempest Williams:


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: A while back I was reading Albert Schweitzer’s book on historical Jesus. Do you see Jesus as a historical figure in terms of leadership?

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: Yeah, I do view him as an example of a revolutionary leader.


TIM: Well, he was saying very challenging things both to the people who were following him and to the dominant culture at the time. And it led to some radical changes in the way people were living and the way people were structuring society.

TERRY: What would you view as the most radical of his teachings?

TIM: Turning the other cheek, I think, is one extremely radical thing. That, I think, is his powerful message about civil disobedience. And the other, which might be even more radical, is letting go of material wealth. That’s so radical that Christians today still can’t talk about it. I mean, he said it’s easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven. And he told his followers to drop what they had, to let go of their jobs, to let go of their material possessions. Even let go of their families. If they wanted to follow him, they had to let go of everything they were holding onto, all the things that brought them security in life. They had to be insecure. That’s pretty radical.


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: In personal terms, your life has been in limbo for the last two years. And that’s my word, not yours. But is it fair to say you haven’t known what your future is going to be? Because you didn’t know when you were going to go to trial, or whether you’d be convicted. How has that felt?

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: I think part of what empowered me to take that leap and have that insecurity was that I already felt that insecurity. I didn’t know what my future was going to be. My future was already lost.

TERRY: Coming out of college?

TIM: No. Realizing how fucked we are in our future.

TERRY: In terms of climate change.

TIM: Yeah. I met Terry Root, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report, at the Stegner Symposium at the University of Utah. She presented all the IPCC data, and I went up to her afterwards and said, “That graph that you showed, with the possible emission scenarios in the twenty-first century? It looked like the best case was that carbon peaked around 2030 and started coming back down.” She said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said, “But didn’t the report that you guys just put out say that if we didn’t peak by 2015 and then start coming back down that we were pretty much all screwed, and we wouldn’t even recognize the planet?” And she said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said: “So, what am I missing? It seems like you guys are saying there’s no way we can make it.” And she said, “You’re not missing anything. There are things we could have done in the ’80s, there are some things we could have done in the ’90s — but it’s probably too late to avoid any of the worst-case scenarios that we’re talking about.” And she literally put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry my generation failed yours.” That was shattering to me.

TERRY: When was this?

TIM: This was in March of 2008. And I said, “You just gave a speech to four hundred people and you didn’t say anything like that. Why aren’t you telling people this?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t want to scare people into paralysis. I feel like if I told people the truth, people would just give up.” And I talked to her a couple years later, and she’s still not telling people the truth. But with me, it did the exact opposite. Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future, there’s no hope for me to have anything my parents or grandparents would have considered a normal future — of a career and a retirement and all that stuff — I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back. Because it was all going to be lost anyway.


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Here’s an idea that I want to know what you think of: Laurance Rockefeller, as you know, came from a family of great privilege, and he was a conservationist. And in his nineties, he informed his family that the JY Ranch — the piece of land in Grand Teton National Park that his father, John D. Rockefeller, set aside for his family — would be returned to the American people. This was a vow he had made to his father. And he was going to “rewild it” — remove the dozens of cabins from the land and place them elsewhere. Well, you can imagine the response from his family. Shocked. Heartsick. Not pleased. But he did it anyway, and he did it with great spiritual resolve and intention. He died shortly after. I was asked to write about this story, so I wanted to visit his office to see what he looked out at when he was working in New York. Everything had been cleared out, except for scales and Buddhas. That was all that was in there. I was so struck by that. And his secretary said, “I think you would be interested in this piece of writing.” And she disappeared and she came back, and this is what she handed me: [Reading] “I love the concept of unity and diversity. Most decisions are based on a tiny difference. People say, ‘This was right, that was wrong’; the difference was a feather. I keep scales wherever I am to remind me of that. They’re a symbol of my awareness. Of the distortion most people have of what is better and what is not.” How would you respond to that? The key sentence, I think, is, “The difference was a feather.”

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: Yeah, the difference is a feather. I guess that’s why I believe that we can be powerful as individuals. Why we actually can make a difference. The status quo is this balance that we have right now. And if we shift ourselves, we shift that scale. I remember one of the big things that pushed me over the edge before the auction was Naomi Klein’s speech that she gave at Bioneers in November of 2008. She was talking about Obama, and talking about where he was at with climate change, and the things he was throwing out there as campaign promises, you know, the best things he was offering. And she was talking about how that’s nowhere near enough. That even his pie-in-the-sky campaign promises were not enough. And she talked about how, ultimately, Obama was a centrist. That he found the center and he went there. And that that’s where his power came from. She said, “And that’s not gonna change.” And so if the center is not good enough for our survival, and if Obama is a centrist, and will always be a centrist, then our job is to move the center. And that’s what she ended the speech with: “Our job is to move the center.” And it was so powerful that we actually got the video as soon as we could and replayed it at the Unitarian church in Salt Lake, and had this event one evening where we played that speech and then broke up into groups and talked about what it meant to move the center. And what I came away from that with was the realization that you can’t move the center from the center. That if you want to shift the balance — if you want to tilt that scale — you have to go to the edge and push. You have to go beyond what people consider to be reasonable, and push.


Read the entire interview here: https://orionmagazine.org/article/what-love-looks-like


January 3, 2023

I Love Dick meets All That Jazz


For the author's questionnaire they always ask the question: describe your book as ___________ meets ___________.

And for my last book I think I came up with one that was pretty good: I Love Dick meets All That Jazz.

This is the book: http://bookthug.ca/shop/books/authenticy-is-a-feeling-my-life-in-pme-art-by-jacob-wren/

Also available in French (translated by Daniel Canty): https://www.leslibraires.ca/livres/un-sentiment-d-authenticite-ma-vie-jacob-wren-9782898011160.html


January 2, 2023

I was at a dinner party a few years ago...


I was at a dinner party a few years ago. Everyone there is an artist of some sort. And all the conversations are about TV series. And every time a new series is mentioned someone asks me if I’ve seen it and I say I haven’t. And, at some point, someone asks me: if I don’t watch any television than what do I do? And I say that I mostly read. And they then go around the table and everyone says that they can’t remember the last time they read a book. And I say: that’s what every writer loves to hear and everyone laughs.


December 27, 2022

Bela Shayevich writing about Camp Migizi


Indigenous groups leading the movement against Line 3 include the Giniw Collective, founded by Tara Houska; Winona LaDuke’s Honor the Earth; the Rise Coalition and environmental organization MN350, both founded by Nancy Beaulieu; and Camp Migizi. To “deal with” the protesters, Enbridge opened an escrow account to reimburse Minnesota state and local agencies for the cost of policing their private interests. After Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, which issued the permits for Line 3, law enforcement agencies received the largest payout from the escrow fund. Conflicts between protesters and the specially formed Northern Lights Task Force escalated to the police using LRADs (long range acoustic devices, also known as sound cannons), helicopters, rubber bullets, tear gas, and techniques they referred to as “pain compliance.” All this was paid for by Enbridge, and planned for in collaboration with Minnesota law enforcement based on case studies from Standing Rock.

Out of approximately nine hundred Line 3–related arrests since 2020, at least ninety-one protesters were charged with felonies. As of March 2022, sixty-six felony charges remained open. These numbers do not include the charges against Indigenous activists transferred to tribal courts. Felony charges, which vary from state to state but typically apply to violent crime and carry heavy penalties, are largely unprecedented for ecological protest. Direct actions along Line 3 were uniformly passive, involving no violence or property damage. Under most circumstances, such actions would result in the relatively minor misdemeanor charge of trespassing. But prosecutors wanted to create deterrents, and found creative ways to charge protesters with more serious crimes. Water protectors were charged with “assisted suicide” for climbing into and occupying sections of unused pipe, and “felony theft” for costing Enbridge money in the form of work stoppages by locking themselves to equipment or fences. Both carry penalties of up to ten years in prison. Meanwhile, a number of Line 3 activists subjected to “pain compliance” have sustained permanent facial paralysis in the form of Bell’s palsy.

As of January 2022, Enbridge had paid out $4.8 million to fund anti-protest policing.

Imagine if all these resources — the state’s, the corporation’s, law enforcement’s, the lawyers’ — went toward averting the mass extinction coming for us all, instead.

- from Bela Shayevich's article Migizi Will Fly


December 22, 2022

PME-ART in 2022


The only basis for truth is self-contradiction. The universe contradicts itself, for it passes on. Life contradicts itself, for it dies. Paradox is nature’s norm. That’s why all truth has a paradoxical form.
- Fernando Pessoa, The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa

Inspiration presents itself to me in the form of anxiety.
- Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963

When I was 27, the concept of the washed up older guy seemed very entertaining. Now I’m starting to think that old age could be a lot more fun. Because really what have we got to lose?
- Lloyd Cole

To state the obvious, this is such a strange time to be making live performance. I think I've performed in front of a live audience maybe four or five times in the last three years. In general, I don't perform as much as I used to, but this is of course considerably less than any time I can remember in my life. As well, I haven't left Montreal since February 2020. The last line of my bio used to be: "He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art." Currently, neither of those things are particularly true. (The current last line in my bio: "His internet presence is often defined by a fondness for quotations." This is of course very true.) I'm sure I'll tour again in the future but lately I've really been asking myself to what degree I'm going to return to it. The environmental impact of taking so many airplanes weights heavily on my ongoing questions about how to proceed. I still think I believe in live performance but what is the right model to make it happen? And are there new models that perhaps haven't yet occurred to me?

This past year PME-ART did perform our project Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la répétition at FTA. This was a new version of our 2014 project Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie. The first time we rewrote Fernando Pessoa. This time we rewrote Susan Sontag. (With eight years between the two versions.) I have some vague plan to write more about these experiences in the near future. Let's see if that happens. In many ways I think I'm still prcoessing it all.

But what I have been thinking about the most as the year draws to a close is that, finally, after many years of working to make it happen (it took so much longer then I ever thought it would), we finally got a new PME-ART website online:


It used to be that, when people asked me what PME-ART was, I was never completely sure how best to  explain it. (The short explanation I often gave: PME-ART is about being yourself in a performance situation - about the awkwardness and paradox of attempting to do so - and about working collaboratively on a specific theme for a rather long time. For example: we worked almost ten years on the theme of "hospitality.") And yet now there is a website and a book that might (or might not) help people understand what it's all about. (The book has also been translated into French by Daniel Canty.) I look at the website and ask myself: what is it all about? This thing that I've spent so much of my life doing. This thing that has taken up so much of my time for the past twenty-five years.

As I wrote earlier in the year: "Looking over all the projects we've done since 1998 gives me such a strange feeling. What exactly do all these projects have in common? Would it be better if they had more in common with each other? Or less? [...] So many decisions about what to make that were made in the heat of the moment. Or for reasons that then changed before the thing was made, or that changed as we were making it, as they should. A twisting path. An emotional rollercoaster. A story that now seems to have been told mostly in retrospect." Writing the book and doing the website definitely gave me more clarity and insight. But such clarities and insights only raise more and more difficult questions. What I've been wondering so much about lately is: how to be an artist for a really long time? Certainly no one gave me any advice about how to do so when I was starting out. And I wonder what advice I might give to others now that I've been writing books and making performances for thirty-five years.

I feel there is a kind of irony in my life in that I spend most of my time doing PME-ART, and yet what I'm mostly known for are my novels. (Also, I have two more novels that are finished but not yet out, the first of which is forthcoming in Autumn 2024, but that's another story.) The novels reach so many more people then the performances. The performances are so ephemeral. Sometimes I find myself wondering if any of it actually happened. But then I realize that it did.

PME-ART: a mix of non-dance, non-theatre and non-performance.


December 8, 2022

Five Tumblr posts that have gone viral.


I think so far - more or less - I've had five Tumblr posts that have gone viral:

The classic cartoon Can I have a grant to finish my art?

This Paul Williams quote about being very careful about what you label a failure in your life.

This Mikkel Krause Frantzen quote that begins "Capitalism, in other words, inflicts a double injury on depressed people."

This Alfie Kohn quote that begins "When we set children against one another in contests - from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honour rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read - we teach them to confuse excellence with winning..."

And a Steven Cottingham artwork entitled Can You Come Over, Can I See You Tonight.

(I joined Tumblr in 2012 and since then have posted 11,114 times. As previously mentioned, I'm rather addicted to social media. And I often wonder what made these five posts go viral when so many of the other ones did not. Some things really connect with people in ways that, for me, often seem almost random. Something about the magic of the internet, the way things on Tumblr can snowball, more reblogs leading to more reblogs. Some aspect of the phenomena always peaks my interest. The way I can never really guess which particular post will do that particular thing. The way it always catches me by surprise.)

(Also, I can't believe I just publicly admitted I've posted on Tumblr 11,114 times. The addict has a need to confess. )