NOVEMBER 16 • 6pm Studio Opens • Lecture begins at 7 sharp

Can the Aurora Borealis Cure Heartbreak?

Is heartbreak ever curable? Would anyone want to cure it? If life and being alive mean something because death brings their oblivion, is it possible that love needs the pain of a broken heart to mean something? What can love mean, what can it be, if it does not have heartbreak looming? Like the massive star, pulsing out its heat and then contracting in cold, doesn’t love wish to end in a bang instead of a whimper? If love could choose its conditions, wouldn’t the first demand be immediate heartbreak? Don’t I go beneath the sky looking for something that cannot be photographed or videotaped so I can remind myself that I search equally fruitlessly for love, that magical bind that only works when a lover is willing to let it go?

Heartbreak is the continuous act of my life, rather than just its occasional punctuation and final full stop. Don’t I long for love, still, beneath the stars? The sky in all its possibility, painted in all those forevers which stretch like meadows under sunrise, contains love, I am sure. I will go looking for it. What else could I do?


What is this event about?

Sean first went to the Arctic Circle looking for something to distract him from a broken love. We've all been there, needing something more important than ourselves to wonder about so the object of our affection stops becoming a cancer in our thoughts. In this particular case, almost a decade ago, Sean didn't want to forget his lover, since he still felt aflame for her, but was seeking some kind of natural metaphor for the process of falling into and out of intimacy. The analogy was the Sun. The bigger the star, the more quickly it comes to a fiery end. Obsessed with solar matters, he went to a space station in northern Sweden to investigate the aurora borealis as one of the many impacts of the Sun on our planet, but found heavy cloud cover blocking his view. A trip to Iceland's very northernmost regions brought him beneath the aurora's glow, and he's been back another 11 times since then. This lecture at the CDIA on November 16th is an effort to collapse the parallels between desire and warmth, the memory of love and the rays of the Sun. Except he chooses to use the Moon -- and its reflected Sunlight -- and the wisps of the aurora to connect to the memory of his lover's impulses and skin. The lecture/performance is told in photographs, as a movie, in music and of course in his beguiling poetry and speech and this is his first attempt to present something cohesive publicly.

The CDIA is in Georgetown, at 1055 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW, between 30th and 31st streets on the canal just south of M Street.


It does not matter, Catherine, whether she loved me or not,” I say, “Because I keep thinking about what I would say in those twenty minutes, and of what I would feel to talk to her this way, to be a fantasy I imagine she would want to nurture and protect. What would any of us give to keep a fantasy alive? She would give me money, we know, but who cares? What I want is intimacy. Not to cuddle up to her bosom, but to know the color and weight of her dreams. I want to see the scars of the risks she’s taken.

The lecture is at the CDIA in Georgetown.

1055 Thomas Jefferson Street, which is the old Foundry Cinema Building, between 30th and 31st, just south of M Street. The event is free, but you must bring your imagination to get in. 

I am suspended on ice. My fingers cannot find purchase on the smooth surface. My right foot is solidly on rock, while my left searches for another hold. It is beginning to snow, and the sun is gone; purple midnight is falling at five p.m. The worst is I am panicking. If I slip, I might not die, but my bones will break, and I am at the end of civilization, five hours away from a hospital. I do not look down at the hotel below the frozen waterfall I have climbed; I do not think of the hot cocoa waiting for me there.

But I cannot stop a small thought entering my head about my last trip here one year ago, up on the glacier, when I was filming a kite-skier, one of Iceland’s best, until a gust threw him into volcanic rock, and I thought “Cool video” until I got close to him and saw his face, ghastly white, choked for breath, because his liver was split in half and he would spit out this message for me as he bounced four hours back to Reykjavik: “Don’t put me on the funniest home videos on TV."

I am among Vikings, who take calculated risks as part of the national heritage, and I have gambled on the weather, and am losing. I have had this happen to me before, and have come out scraped and bleeding, but happy. Churchill said it’s a gas to be shot at and missed, and I agree. But Icelanders don’t quote Churchill, since their homilies are more blunt: “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes for it to change.”

Relax, relax. Panic is error’s instrument, and I am usually vindicated in my explorations, cheerfully. To keep my head out of the drop beneath my feet I look at the sky: Mars and the seven sisters are already twinkling, and only half the sky has any clouds. It is clear, with promise for an inky black night.

This is what I came for: A cold dark, absorbent velvety black night, so the jewels from the Sun can shine with turquoise brilliance. I am chasing the Aurora Borealis. And the Aurora is right here. Or it will be when I get off the frozen waterfall.

But maybe I will write about her. Maybe I will answer the question I won’t ask her myself, by describing her on the edge of a moral play, where her natural instinct to decline is shredded by her sudden willingness to break a rule. When was that, I wonder? She’s smiling now, reading this, interpreting. But I’ll make the story myself and get it all wrong so I can make her into a superhero who leaves me wounded but in poetics, salved by rhyme and soothed by memory. How cool or how warm was her skin, Sean? How deep or lethal her eye? I remember biting my tongue. I remember holding my breath. I can say these things in relation to her skin, but also to her words, because I am whetting a reply when her emails sail in and I see her name, and I forget to breathe as I drink her first sentence as it twists politely into her intent, to show and give but not quite to be had, except in exchange for treasure, for words slicing her skin, diamonds of dialogue, where her thoughts can still be shaped into jewels by a moment of inspiration.

NOVEMBER 16 • 6pm Studio Opens • Lecture begins at 7 sharp

Want to go to the Arctic Circle and see the Borealis? Say Hi to Sean at the lecture, and he'll provoke wanderlust, instantly. More importantly, he'll get you to spill your wonderlust, a much hotter fever than any desire to go to a place.