Aurora Stewart de Pena on PIG

One of our artists-in-residence, Birdtown and Swanville’s Aurora Stewart de Pena, was in the audience for PIG on opening night and after some time, has this to say.

If I hear the word “Wellness” one more time, I’m going to get violent. A catch-all term developed by marketers, Wellness is being pushed at me by yoga studios, the organic aisles of major grocery stores, and unaccredited diet clinics. The majority of products sold at Shopper’s Drugmart might contribute to my Wellness. That includes Dior lipstick (mood-boosting) and cryogenic wart removal kits (foot-fixing).

I can’t trust it, though. “Wellness” is just “Happiness” with other letters. But since the consuming public knows to be wary of happiness for sale, here we are pursuing fucking “wellness” with our debit cards. A stable emotional, physical and mental baseline toward which we all strive.

I’ve struggled with the Wellness baseline all my life. I’ve never been able to imagine myself striding confidently through the rain, lavender yoga pants tight on my butt, seeing the sunshine through the clouds. I’ll never be a Lululemon ambassador. Then again, I’ll bet they have their ups and downs, too.

Frequently, when waiting for the subway, I think “What if I just threw myself in front of this thing? What if I just rushed the train as it was pulling into the station and made a mess on the window?”

Oh, I would never do it.

Mom, if you’re reading this: I WOULD NEVER DO IT. But I think about it. Every single time. It’s part of why I ride a bike. That, and the fitness.

I don’t even want to die. I actually really want to live. I’m just dark, man. I’ve stopped trying to stop it. Whenever I see a dog in a movie from the 80s, I think “that dog’s been dead for a long time.” Sorry, Benji, but you’ve been dead for a long time. I trot around in cemeteries admiring the weather beaten stones, I watch the UFC.

A while ago, during a particularly filthy bout of depression, I was lying in bed watching a 16 hour documentary on the city of New York, thinking about the futility of life, wondering how anybody anywhere had the ability to get up and go to work and care about being there.

Walt Whitman is a very important part of New York, and there was a segment about his life and work. During a montage of black and white photos of His Gentle Beardedness interspersed with black and white photos of dirty sidewalks, a voice read this:

“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean
But I shall be good health to you nonetheless
And filter and fibre your blood.”

A poem by Walt Whitman, presumably dealing with the same feelings I was. I realized then that I was just a pile of future dirt waiting to self-actualize, and I was comforted. I’ll be around in a thousand years, you’ll be able to grow things from me. Useful things; food to feed babies.

Darkness is comforting. It’s comforting to embrace it because it’s in all of us. It’s not Wellness, but Wellness isn’t the baseline. That’s why it’s such an amazing marketing concept. Nobody will ever obtain Wellness. Not even if they buy every single Playtex Pearl Sport Tampon at Shoppers.

Darkness, death, violence, they keep bubbling up. I bring up the UFC again. I’ve read a lot of critiques, saying it encourages violence. I think it harnesses it.

Some people are violent. It’s not a symptom of something that’s wrong with society, it’s just in society because it’s in humanity.

Violence, darkness, and the pain that accompanies both, we’ll never be rid of them. It’s one of those in-born things, complicated and gradiated. Some people are violent, some people are sad, some people are sad and violent. Some people are morbid and violent, some people can’t watch the UFC, some people can’t watch Benji. It’s complicated. I’m sure we’d shake it off, if we could. It’d be a lot easier that way.

Tim Luscombe’s PIG, such a deep dive into the dark pool, felt cathartic to me. A lot of us have these urges, to hurt, to be hurt, to dwell on death and disease, and to do it while we love. To do it as part of a life that might be filled with other good things. Luscombe’s characters are writers, they’re successful, they joke, they kiss.

To quote some guy, light can’t exist without darkness. We’ll always try to come up with reasons why we’re dark, because it’s supposed to be symptomatic of something gone wrong. Why can’t I get off this sofa? Because I’m still sad about this thing that happened three years ago. Why do I want to hit people? Because I’m still angry about the blah, blah, blah. Maybe, but maybe not.

I’m rarely encouraged to look for reasons that I’m doing well. I’ve been told by many inspirational quotes that it’s my natural state. But it isn’t. And that’s alright, I think.

To be dark and violent might not be something wrong, it might just be humanity. We might all have it in different measures the same way some of us have curly hair and some of us have less curly hair.

Darkness is messy, full of accidental and implied hurt, broken noses. We are, as a people, trying our very best to be good. To be kind, to make love and not war. That’s why we contain our violence in sanctioned and acceptable places; The UFC, or PIG, a play about the darkest possibilities of love.

In Italy a few years ago, I walked through the crypt of the Capuchin Monks.  It’s a series of six rooms containing the remains of over 3,700 friars. If you’ve never been there, it’ll take your breath away, not like a double rainbow would, but like a bunch of rooms full of de-constructed human beings from the 16th century might. Skeletons are posed like Barbie dolls, skulls are arranged in kaleidoscopic patterns, chandeliers are made of vertebrae.

Can you imagine attempting a project like that today? Don’t, It’s illegal.

It seems morbid and violent now, in this era of good mental health. But for all the inspirational quotes and re-usable water bottles, darkness is in us. It always has been, and barring extreme measures, it always will be. I don’t think we’re solving any problems by condemning it, pushing it down and trying to eradicate it. I mean, don’t go out and punch a stranger, but don’t pretend you don’t want to, if that’s your thing.

If we want to get to the heart of our darkness, we have to climb in and poke around. And if you want something a bit more self-aware than the UFC, Art is one of the ways we can do this. Tim Luscombe’s PIG is like a flashlight, illuminating darkness so we can see it, relate to it, relate to him. The greatest relief in life is to know we’re not alone in it. That’s why we decide love each other, too. It won’t erase the darkness, but it’ll give you a hand to hold while you’re walking through it.

The canary in the coal mine is still in a coal mine. Doesn’t matter if it sings.

Aurora Stewart de Pena

Aurora Stewart de Pena is in residence at Buddies as one half of Birdtown and Swanville (the other half is Nika Mistruzzi). You can follow her on twitter at @aurorahhh

Read all posts by Aurora Stewart de Pena

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