All the Hours in the Day – Mike Daisey

September 20, 2011

This is not what I had expected. Not what I had f-ing expected at all.

For the last day I have been awash in memories and inner commentaries, haunted by spotlit visions and fading echoes, the mental detritus of 14 hours spent paying rapt attention to the sights and sounds of Mike Daisey. I have been processing. What happened? What did he say? What did he mean? I have been composing. How can I tell you what happened? What was it like? All this, and then, to my surprise, I realized “it” had happened again …

The members of my immediate family tend to be far more surprised, yet far less embarrassed, than I am by this curious quirk of mine. This is natural. They usually hear it long before I do. On the other hand, once it’s been pointed out to me, I’m the one that cringes. Did I do it again? No, not again? Please.

It seems that I am a Lyre bird taken human form. My talents are far more limited to be sure. I can’t imitate car alarms or cell phone ring tones. I can’t really mimic anything properly. But there’s something about certain kinds of human speech that stimulates a part of my brain in an unhealthy and totally uncontrollable fashion that demands an attempt at imitation. I unconsciously latch on to the sound or voice tone of another person, to their word choices and pacing, and even to their phrases and sentence structures. I latch on. And then I give voice to a version of it that is all my own. I don’t really sound like my ‘victim,’ but I don’t sound like me either. Rather, I sound like a comedy club wash-out trying to buy 10 seconds more from the audience with one last imitation. In other words, you can tell who I am trying to imitate even though the imitation is not very good.

It’s not very good and it’s not under my control. For a while I don’t even know that I’m doing it. (No, I am NOT mocking you!) Yet, out it comes. I respond in Oklahoma twangs to the nurses standing around my mother’s hospital bed in Oklahoma. In the few moments it takes for me to say into a telephone, “Yossi? I’m fine. How are you?” I have switched from standard Californian to a nasal Israeli-inflected voice that I haven’t heard or used in years.

So it shouldn’t be a complete surprise, I guess, that I have been channeling Mike Daisey all day. For all I know, it started yesterday or the day before. The way his tone rises and falls, the way he accelerates through a sentence and then, steps, on, the, brake… or the f-word, f-word, f-word, which can assemble itself into uncountable combinations with the other words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Mike Daisey has infected me. I have been channeling his speech into my own all through the workday. I continued right through dinner and the washing up. I don’t know when it will stop.

But, I can tell you what got it started. Mike Daisey delivered a 24-hour monologue at TBA 2011 this past weekend and We Were There. My wife and I. Our rocking chair cushions from the attic. In my backpack: extra shirts, coats, assorted pills (ibuprofen and rolaids were the best), drinks, and an umbrella. We were sitting tall in our wooden seats, ears up, brains set like laser-triggered alarms, waiting for that first moment at 6 PM, waiting for Mike to lean into the microphone and talk. He said, “There isn’t enough time to tell you everything you need to know.” Or was it “need to hear?” I’m not sure, but I know that we were still there at 6 PM the next day when he said it again and the auditorium erupted into a standing ovation.

So what happened in between? I can’t tell you exactly. We left at 11 PM to catch some shut-eye, and when we returned at 9 AM, we could see that most of our comrades had vanished as well. Like us, they left, but they didn’t wash the stamp off their hands, and they eventually returned as the day wore on. The bravest never left. They were in sleeping bags, or propped against pillows, when we sat down Sunday morning. Mike’s loyal companions. They were the audience in the wee dark hours that the rest of us could only wannabe.

But whether you stayed, or left and returned, the challenge was the same: to hold on to the threads of a multifaceted narrative. This was not the Mike Daisey Monologue as Journalism of past shows, but something new: Mike Daisey Monologue as Marathon Storytelling and the story ranged far and wide. Jean Michelle, Michael Gibbs, Philip K. Dick, David Bowie, Warren Zevon, Jonathan Ames, and Walt Disney. Chernobyl, the Trinity Test Site, Ireland, Tajikistan, Los Angeles, Silverlake, Las Vegas, Barcelona, New Orleans, Epcot Center, Seattle, and Portland (again and again, Portland). Dream voices, audio casette tapes, Tesla coils, fire alarms, and Trinitite. The Wikipedia entry on Philip K. Dick quotes him as saying, “I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards.” That was the story Mike Daisey told and that was the story I heard.

Mike Daisey spoke for 24 hours. Compellingly. Philosophically. Metaphorically. He spun out imaginary worlds moving in time and space. He provided lacerating commentary on the theater, middle age, ethics, and the limits, perceived and real, of human imagination (his heartfelt advice for those who are short on imagination: “just stay up”). He revealed his personal demons. Once or twice, he lost it. And somehow, even though it wasn’t really necessary, it was all hanging together. As the minutes clicked by on the red digital clock hanging from the balcony, as the minutes rounded the 30’s and headed into the 40’s, Mike Daisey would tilt back the arc of his story (in the same way Michael Jordan might start an imaginary basketball rolling around and around the rim late in the fourth quarter of a tied-up championship game), he would lift the arc just this high, and then he would turn over his page of notes and leave the stage. Daring you to leave. Betting you’re gonna stay. Asking, hey, performance requires you and me, are you with me?

Near the beginning, in the first hour, he invoked Scheherazade. I wish he had come back to her. I’d like to know what he thought about a culture that is so crazed for novelty it would rather surf a hundred web pages in an hour than sit still for a symphony, rather shop at every store in the mall than sit and listen to a 24 hour story. There isn’t enough time…

Oh, by the way, that umbrella I brought? I got to hold it over Mike’s head when it started to rain.

Portland Mercury coverageWillamette Week coverageInterview w Mike Daisey (PICA Resource Room)


One Response to “All the Hours in the Day – Mike Daisey”

  1. […] emerged the next day babbling as if they’d been touched by a prophet. For example: “For the last day I have been […]

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