This post is Emily’s response to A K Mimi Allin’s project hunger. Learn more about hunger here:
I am late for my meeting with Mimi Allin at Café Fiori in Ballard. I arrived at the café early as I want to read and have a snack and some coffee. I don’t want to eat in front of Mimi. I want to respect her process and not tempt her by eating in front of her. She is, after all, fasting.
Mimi is in the fifth day of her month-long work, The Hunger of the Artist. She hopes to find clarity of mind, discover the next steps in her artist life and experience receiving, all in the frame of durational fasting.
It’s a half hour past our appointed time. I’ve devoured my yam sandwich, a chocolate almond biscotti and two cups of coffee. I phone her. I am at the wrong Café Fiori. Damn it! Embarrassed, I speed over to the other location to meet up. Mimi greets me with a warm hug and broad smile. She looks good. Bright eyed. Not drawn or pale. We decide to sit outside the café in Adirondack chairs and strategically place our chairs directly in the sun. She is wearing a white cotton sweater, t-shirt, dark blue cords, and wool socks. She says she is a bit chilled and wants to warm up. It is 85 degrees. By contrast, I am wearing my favorite black shorts and black tee shirt. I wish I had brought sun screen. I wish I hadn’t worn black. I begin to sweat. I ask Mimi how she is feeling after almost a week of not eating. She replies that she is doing well. She isn’t as hungry as she anticipated. However, she feels a bit low-energy and takes naps when she can. She’s rehearsing for Gender Tender’s show at the Fringe Festival and working a physical job restoring a historic home with six other artists. Mimi reflects that since she’s not been eating she notices how much time she has on her hands, how much time in the day is spent thinking about and preparing food. I never thought about this before, but she’s right. I plan my day around when, where and what I will eat, and how I will prepare my meal.
Mimi has been researching the concept of hunger for more than two years. I’m both relieved and rather surprised to know how long she’s been considering this piece: how much research she’s conducted on the health benefits and pitfalls of fasting, the many religions that engage in fasting and how to break a fast. Mimi tells me about the varied reactions to her project from friends, family and acquaintances. Some are very supportive. Her brother is fasting along with her for periods of time. Other loved ones are concerned for her safety.
Why the varied responses? Perhaps it is the fear of dying, the idea of prolonged suffering, the very real potential of causing damage to one’s body. For some reason, the idea of Mimi’s fast doesn’t disturb me as much as it makes me curious. She enthusiastically speaks of enjoying the aroma of food, how she’s not suffering hunger pangs, that she’s not dreaming about food—at least not yet. As Mimi speaks, I occasionally glance at the couples to either side of us who are sipping coffee and eating fresh baked croissants and scones.
I’ll be honest: the concept of fasting, even for 24 hours, does not appeal to me. I like food. Mimi likes food. I like eating. Mimi likes eating. I enjoy sharing a meal with friends. So does Mimi. I actually have learned to enjoy cooking. No, I think to myself, I don’t want to fast.
One of the most provocative moments in our three-hour long conversation is when we touch upon the topic of food as experienced in our daily lives and in the dying process. I speak of death quite a bit these days. My mother passed a few months ago. I recount to Mimi how I experienced the process of preparing food and lovingly feeding my mother in hospice as an act of love. I honored my mother’s wishes when she did not or could not eat any longer. In the same moment, I flash upon the memory of when I learned how my mother’s best friend attempted several times to force feed her while she was in hospice without her consent. While I realize this person’s actions came out of her own need for control, her own fear of death and loss, I am deeply angered. As I speak, I feel the skin on my arms burn. I am still sweating. Mimi and I stop talking to move into the shade.
As we settle in to our new spot, Mimi shows me the blood pressure, weight, and heart rate readings she takes at Fred Meyer. She would these readings from time to time, even before she began this project. I ask to see the readings. Pretty stable, except I notice she’s lost five pounds in one week. Mimi notices it too and then asks me, “What do you hunger for, Emily?” Provocative moment number two. I sip my coconut water. I wipe the sweat from my forehead. I wish she hadn’t asked me that question. I take a breath and respond: “Personally or artistically?” Mimi shrugs as if to say “Either or both. Does it matter?” I tell Mimi that I no longer have deep desire for a long-term relationship as I did in my twenties and thirties. Or at least that’s what I am telling myself. I ramble on about the reasons why: Too much loss, therapy, personal growth. I am making excuses again. Artistically, I’m re-emerging from a sixteen years hiatus. I prattle on about how my process has changed, is changing, I’ve changed. The reasons for creating are different, as are my expectations and intentions. A woman’s small black and white fox terrier named Ruby approaches us, sniffing enthusiastically and crawling beneath our feet. Ruby’s leash becomes tangled as her Mom tries to open the café door. The woman asks me to hold Ruby’s leash while she goes inside for a coffee. I gladly oblige. Ruby distracts me from having to talk about what I hunger for. Mimi and I coo over Ruby as she drinks the water out of the dog bowl next to us.
Our conversation shifts to concept of receiving. Mimi and I discuss the feeling of vulnerability that can come with simply being open to receiving. I ask “What might receiving look like?” Mimi responds that she is open to many types of receiving: self-knowledge, support from friends and loved ones, love, acts of kindness. Ruby’s Mom returns. Mimi and I say goodbye to Ruby. Yes, it’s time to go. I’m sunburned. Mimi’s tired. We both need a nap.
A week later I read Mimi’s blog. Since our conversation Mimi’s question “What do I hunger for?” gnaws at me. (No pun intended.) Mimi’s got me thinking —and feeling. I write down a few of my cravings in my notebook:
- Strong coffee with half and half
- Energy and time to create
- Ability to predict the future
- Dark chocolate
- To find an artistic practice that works for me
- Freshly baked peach pie
- A community of loving friends
- To leave by my artistic practice, some small “sediment upon the psyche” (-Garcia Gomez Pena).
- A loving kind relationship with my older brother
- To create a performance peace about death/love/mother/dying/transformation/sister/family and the guts to actually do it.
Two weeks later, a co-worker is complaining about having to fast for Yom Kippur. This conversation sparks a recollection of the Shabbat dinners I shared with my housemates when I lived in a communal home a few years prior. One of my housemates was Jewish. We’d celebrate Shabbat dinner together as a collective whenever possible. During dinner the following questions were offered for reflection and conversation: “What kept you going this week? What fed you? What nourished you?” Re-framing the questions from “what do I hunger for” to “what feeds me” allows my mind to relax. I breathe a bit easier. I open my notebook and begin writing:
- Art and artistic process
- Coffee with half and half
- Meaningful conversations about life, love, joy, sorrow, and anything in-between with good friend(s)
- Time near water
- Dancing (club, disco, improvisation)
- Witnessing performances that move me emotionally and/or make me think
- Time with the people I love
- Cat naps with Jack the Cat
- Belly laughs
Perhaps I’ve hit upon Mimi’s idea of receiving? We just came to it from different perspectives. Thinking about what feeds me fulfills me.
I check in with Mimi’s progress by reading her blog. I’m not able to see Mimi’s performance at NEPO, as I am performing at NEPO too. I read her entries about breaking her fast at NEPO and the final days. By her writing and photographs Mimi appears happy, open, receptive, grateful and peaceful. I’m glad.
Mimi and I aren’t able to reconnect for a follow up conversation after her fast ends. I still think about our conversation and the questions weeks later. “What do I hunger for?“ “What feeds me as an artist?“ Hang on. I’m about to open my notebook again.
Emily Batlan is delighted to be back in the community as a performing artist and “noodler.” She resides in Seattle.
Featured Image courtesy of http://thehungeroftheartist.blogspot.com/