What is this all about?

Answer No. 1

Barak Obama’s outgoing call to our nation was to throw ourselves into citizenship. That is what I plan to do, and I plan to do it using my tool-kit as artist and athlete, while running and biking to 104 towns and cities along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Trail runs through 10 states of our United States of America, 8 of which were Red states this past election season. Currently our nation is fraught, with people of different political parties and affiliations unable to even speak to one another. Currently the Mississippi River region is facing environmental plight upriver and downriver, ranging from clean water to illegal levee raising to land loss and flooding. Staging my run through in this place with the opportunity to connect with people affected by these concerns will undoubtedly get people talking and me listening. And perhaps, if some of us can run or walk or bike together, for one mile, or 10 or 20, we can talk together as well.

Answer No. 2

It started out from a very personal place. Every summer growing up my family would go to the coast—the gulf coast that is, a place called Grand Isle. This coast, this island, is not like Myrtle Beach or the Jersey Shore. It’s local. It’s a bit rough around the edges. It smells of saltwater and dead fish. And yet, it was our island. Every year we would go down to this beach just south of the town where my mother grew up, just near the mouth of the Mississippi, and every year, we had to search for the beach. It always seemed to show up in a new place. One year it was behind a thick hedge of tall grasses. Another year it was hiding below concrete bricks shaped like an amphitheater. Another year, Christmas trees formed the barrier reef. 

Eventually, I learned these were efforts to fight erosion, the washing away of the beach. And perhaps it was working, because every other year or so, we found the beach with no barriers, more than enough sand on which to build sandcastles. However, what I didn’t understand was the larger problem, the problem beyond my little island. All those marshes we drove over to get there, they were suffering and withering away. All the beaches along the coast of my home state, they were receding inch by inch, every day.

And then years later, as an adult living in Chicago, there I see it on the nightly news, Deep Water Horizon explodes in the Gulf of Mexico. My island is covered with oil; the marshlands are choking. I feel helpless. I hear the calls of the left advocating the environmental cause. I hear the calls of the right advocating the industrialist cause. But most of all, I hear the calls of my cousins down home, many of whom work for both the fishing industry and the oil industry. There’s no easy answer for the people who live there, who make their homes there. No one is listening to them.

At the time of Deep Water Horizon, I was emblazoned with energy and political fury over what was happening. And yet I had no direction, no outlet, no power. Now, suddenly, I find myself perhaps not too late to address a still pressing cause with a creative capacity that I did not see applicable before. This plight of the Mississippi River Delta and Coastal Wetlands may not be the primary mission but is an unavoidable and worthy cause to consider in relation to this project. In addition to environmental disasters, the damming and rerouting of the Mississippi River that I will run alongside is a main cause of the impending disappearance of my home. Our lack of a long-view in relation to the environment is endangering not just the fisheries and wildlife of Louisiana, but also one of the major waterways for commerce in the US and the petroleum industry in our nation.

Answer No. 3

Running and dancing are the same thing, and I am a dance maker. The whole expedition is a dance and has the power of art to affect change at a foundational level, from one person to another person, accumulating and affecting systematic change over time.

Dance is for me any artistic expression in the service of setting body and mind together at work. Dancing, whether in the form of running or gesturing, is about the idea that making or doing is thinking. My body as a physical presence with the power to intervene in systems much larger than itself, brings a sense of scale to the otherwise incomprehensible paradoxes and conundrums of our times. Through the use of systems, objects, visual codes, considerations of rigor, time and repetition, I interrogate local gestures, customs, and rituals to reveal complex identities embedded in tradition and class structures.

In endurance running, I have only begun to learn the conceptual values of this art. So far, I have had to learn to accept the virtue of slowness, of not reaching my potential at any given moment. I have not only acquired a a peace or “void” while running, as Murakami describes in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, but also the void of coming to peace with discomfort that Simone Weil talks about in Gravity and Grace: “Not to exercise all the power at one’s disposal is to endure the void. This is contrary to all the laws of nature. Grace alone can do it. Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.”

The physicality of this work, of moving down the river with only the propulsion of my own body, opens me up emotionally to receive the diversity of thoughts and feelings I will encounter in each place. The physicality literally prepares my whole body to listen more fully to the landscape and the people and come away with a deeper understanding despite the brief duration of my stay.

By putting this practice into a larger framework, training rigorously over many months, inviting others to participate in the 2,500 mile run along each leg of the route, documenting not only physiological vitals and visual imagery, but also my conceptual realizations. Not only must the frame increase in size, scope and understanding over the next many months, but also my physical capacity and body awareness must grow.