Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rich Life

I want my achievements in this life to be about the experiences I've had, and not only about the success of my career.  I constantly read about how young people today feel a lot of pressure surrounding every choice they make in life.  From an early age they are set onto a moving sidewalk propelling them towards college and careers, and every choice matters.  They must get a head start so that once they are in school, they will get tracked into the advanced courses.  They need the right balance of academics, sports, music lessons, extra credit work, and volunteer work in order to shine extra bright when competing for college admissions.

I didn't necessarily see too much of this among my own peers, growing up.  But during grad school I had a number of conversations with other directors regarding the types of shows they "should" be sure to direct during grad school in order to have the right resume when launching their careers.  I made my own choices based on what I was curious about, or what I wanted to learn about.  I've already expounded a bit on how I tend to make too much of making a challenging choice, but I do relish the learning opportunities in each show I direct.

Sometimes, when I am working on updating my resume and CV, I feel concern about how my broad and varied experience may be perceived. Will it seem as though I've merely meandered, rather than continuing to grow and build momentum?  I spent a lot of time trying to get experience in as many aspects of the theatre as possible, and I have done a wide range of jobs.  These many experiences have kept things interesting for me, most of the time.  They feed my curiosity and give me new perspectives.  For many, I think the learning is why we like theatre anyway.

Considering whether my choices are for the purpose of forging a "career path", versus a life, I have to remember that I'm not living a career; I'm living a life.  I should try to do all the things I want to with it.  I should not concern myself with how it all appears, as none of that really matters. I must look beyond such things to the long view, the bigger picture, the richness that a life can hold, and strive for that.  As I think about the many divergent paths along which my life has taken me, I feel quite satisfied with what I have been able to experience so far.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Skinned Knees

I am re-reading an excellent parenting book called Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, by Wendy Mogel.  I'm not Jewish, and not religious at all, really.  However, I found many of the philosophies in this book to be intelligent, rational, and inspiring.  I find that the author's ideas which are drawn from her relationship with God can be analogous to my feelings about our roles as humans in the world in general.  There are many memorable lessons throughout the book, but I find myself most often reflecting on those alluded to in the book's title.  Life is messy and challenging.  Kids need to get those inevitable scrapes and bruises in order to learn how to deal with the world.  They need to see from experience that they can fall down, and then pick themselves up to continue moving forward.

I will share a selection of quotations from the book below.  I highly recommend reading the whole book.

  "The current trend is to shield children from emotional or physical discomfort." (p 25)

  "By sanctifying the most mundane aspects of the here and now, it teaches us that there is greatness not just in grand and glorious achievements but in our small, everyday efforts and deeds." (p 26)

  "The purpose of having children and raising them to be self-reliant, compassionate adults is to ensure that there will be people here to honor God after we are gone.  So the rules regarding child-rearing are not primarily about making children feel good, but about making children into good people." (p27)

  "According to Jewish thought, parents should not expect their children to be anyone other than who they are.  A Hasidic teaching says, "If your child has a talent to be a baker, don't ask him to be a doctor." (p 31)

  "A paradox of parenting is that if we love our children for their own sake rather than for their achievements, it's more likely that they will reach their true potential." (p 47)

  "The theory of cognitive behaviorism holds that feelings follow behavior.  In other words, rather than wait for your children to feel like being agreeable, you can teach them habits of politeness.  If you and they use polite phrases every day, feelings of gratitude and respect can grow out of your behavior. (p 58)

  "By giving them a chance to survive some danger and letting them make some reckless or thoughtless choices, we teach them how to withstand the bumps and knocks of life.  This is the only way children will mature into resilient, self-reliant adults." (p 71)

  "Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard." (p 74)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Middle Age Pause

Is this what it feels like to be "middle aged"?  I feel both young and old, yet a little bit neither. My heart is not quite done feeling young, still wanting to be connected to youth culture, to feel hip, stylish, relevant.  If I peek down inside, I can see the tears, the tiny ruptures, the torn, rough edges, where I've already begun to break away from all of that.   Parts of me have begun to drift in new directions.  But I feel I haven't quite arrived yet. Roads wind behind me, as before me many trail-heads beckon.  Wide oceans invite...mixed metaphors.  The thirties are such an odd, strange decade in this age, for this generation.  By now, my parents would have had a family, a home, careers well-launched, a well established place in life.  Many of my peers are where I am, perhaps having one of the a, b, or c multiple choices, but few have d, all of the above.  I am anticipating arriving, landing on a shore not far from the deck where I stand, where I will start to feel more sure of my footing, more in possession, owning, of my skills and experiences, assured that I am building upon them.  This pause I've taken, to nurture and care for a child, as opposed to nurturing my work, has given me time for stillness and reflection.  The stillness, the thinking, the reckoning can be frightening.  Looking straight into that frightful wind assures me I am not just drifting, but I am sailing, and I am living.

Research and Respect

Directing allows me to continue working on old material and new material.  There are themes that call me back, to re-examine, re-explore, and ideally, to mine deeper.  I find this rewarding, as I develop a stronger understanding of the world and my own character within it.  One of the aspects I also love about theatre work is the built-in string of opportunities to investigate new topics.  I love directing plays that delve deeply into some subject that was previously unfamiliar to me. I enjoy the research, and the journey can feel like digging up buried treasures (although I have to acknowledge to myself that this work I'm learning about is no buried loot, but the daily effort and expertise of others).  Accurately depicting someone else's profession or passion is a challenge.  In a few weeks or months I can't expect to learn an entire new field.  What I can do is respect the lives depicted, devote time to diligent research, and trust in the playwright's work as well.  Showing another's life onstage with specificity can help us understand one another better. Within the specifics, the commonalities, the universals, can help us feel connected with one another.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Americans love to root for the underdog.  Our shared narrative fictions so often celebrate the underestimated antihero, the one who comes from meager beginnings, seemingly destined for a lackluster, go-nowhere life, who, through sheer grit and an unlikely wealth of inherent talent, blows all expectations out of the water. Most often the protagonist's rise is boosted by a delicate combination of brute effort, luck, and charm.  There is little celebrating of what is more likely to help one earn success: studying and paying dues.  I get it, that doesn't make for a romantic story.  But have we internalized the more common trope too deeply?  The underdog's arrival at domination goes against the odds, and therein lies the drama that rivets us.  Ironically, this story is so common that it is now cliche.  It should no longer surprise us, as it's been told so many times, and one might think it would no longer hold dramatic value, no surprise, no twist.  Why does it still engage us?  Do we really want to have great success without true mental effort?  Initially, one might be inclined to respond, "of course, duh."  What about all that we get out of the work itself?  We keep coming back to it for a reason.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Performing Live (Recorded)

I still think a lot about permanence.  I, at times, feel I don't care whether the work I create has any permanence.  I know I prioritize the event in the room over the evidence.  But I am grateful to the artists before me whose work (still exists and so) can teach me and inspire me.  A recording of a work of art becomes a new work unto itself.  The difference is particularly significant if the art is a performance.  An artist who chooses performance as a form is likely interested in the live-ness of a body performing.  The body might be the medium that can best do what the artist wants her work to do.  Or it could be the movement.  More likely it's a person's presence that accomplishes what an inanimate objet cannot.  A recording of performance art can be useful to artists and scholars, but whether the artist intended the recording to be an element of the work, or whether it is an afterthought, is also worth considering.  (Sometimes I feel almost too lazy to record my work, but that is a whole different issue.)  I wonder if scrutinizing a record of one's own past work is as useful as simply reflecting on it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Writer's Block

There are many different places to look to for inspiration.

Look within.  Of course.  Ideas are lurking there, frequently brushed aside for consideration on some other day.  Now is a day to give them deeper reflection.  Just pick any one and make a stab at it.

Events happened today.  Who did you see?  Someone passed by might have been memorable, or sparked some odd memory, or set off a string of imagined lives.  Where did you go?  Remember what it looked like, smelled like, sounded like.  Allow a reader, or a spectator, to be there too.  Description.  Poetry.  Recorded sound.  Music.  Scents.  Create the movement.  Imitate moments, then distill, abstract, exaggerate, deconstruct.

Look out.  Someone across the world would be surprised by a letter from you.  What do you need to say?  Send a mysterious message.  Know who you are writing to, keep it a secret, but share with all.

Sooth some pain.  Make peace with that awful thing you did.  Or that virtuous fight.  See the other point of view, give it honest consideration.  Argue against yourself.  Come back around if you will.

Take a picture.  Or find some old photo.  Start from there.  What happened, or what might have been?

Go out to get some inspiration.  Watch more plays, see more bands, go to the park to watch the kids play, put on some music, read a new book, re-read an old one, read a magazine with a critical eye.

Look back at the work you've done.  What did you mean to say, but forgot, or got side tracked?  Say it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Scent of Sage

And a dun dusty trail, underneath grey clouds. 
Birds: ducks, cranes, hawks, and skimmers. 
We climb, we balance, putting one foot in front of the other
along a matted down path.  Water at low tide.
Breath in, slow, deep.  The sage, and sweet others.
Easy pacing it, strolling, peering, squinting.
Pause on vantages, higher than th' gliding rise
of crows.  New views and learning the smell of the land.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How We Do Things (Global Perspective)

I'm reading yet another book on parenting.  Perhaps I read too much, but I can't help myself.  How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, by Mei-Ling Hopgood, looks at a selection of parenting practices from various cultures around the world, offering an accessible, and very reasonable, analysis of how they compare to American conventions.

I initially picked up Hopgood's book for the chapter on how the Chinese toilet train their kids (rather young, starting anywhere from 6 months to 18 months old, and as a low-pressure process).  This particular approach contradicts most American potty training books on the market. The American books promote a child-led time frame, usually between 2 and 4 years of age, and as a pretty goal-oriented task. I can attest that the presumptions upon which these methods are based are sometimes wrong. For example, these books' authors insist that children of 2 cannot communicate the need to relieve themselves, but I have a 14 month old who is consistently using sign language to let me know when he has to go.

My point is that it's easy for new parents to take published parenting advice as absolute truth, a list of edicts to be followed, and we worry if we fail to follow some of their guidelines. Similarly, the "traditional" advice we might be offered by well-meaning family and friends can also put pressure on us to do everything in particular ways because that's supposedly "best" for our children, but this advice can also be flawed.  And, the traditions may not go back as far as we think.  It was reassuring for me to read, at least by some cultures' standards, that I'm not completely off-base in starting early with the potty training.

So many of the parenting ideas from other cultures covered in this book contradict the advice of American experts, from late bedtimes in Argentina, to non-intervention in fights between children in Japan, to parents all over the world thinking it strange to play with their children. This topic is much too big, far too reaching, to ever say all I want to say in a brief blog post.  What is important, in my opinion, is keep an open mind as we make choices for our kids.  Keep open eyes to see what ideas another parent might introduce us to.  Realize that there are many ways to approach our parenting responsibilities, and the rest of the world can't possibly all be wrong, just different.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The sounds I hear: a chorus of high pitched birds, chirp chirp chirping; steady raindrops, dripdrip-dripdrip-dripdrip-dripdrip-dripping on a metal surface; more rain, a swell in its patter against gravel; a motor, of what sounds like a large truck, the engine starting, and settling, idling, then driving away; breathing, gentle and steady, a child napping with a stuffy nose; the birds are quiet now; the afternoon settles into distant traffic and the rain.

Sounds can stimulate emotion and set a mood, or establish a setting, a situation. It's a sensory tool that takes much effort for me to utilize. Sometimes I realize it is an afterthought, my choice to use sound or music.

Music is incredibly powerful shorthand able to convey many things to an audience. It must be chosen carefully, for a familiar selection will already hold meaning, older unrelated experiences and memories wrapped up in each verse and chorus. It takes a truly powerful concoction to transfer the definition of a melody, to substitute a new meaning for the old.

Lately, when I hear swelling music under a scene, I feel manipulated, rather than moved. Or resistantly unmoved at the attempt. Cynicism? Overuse? Lazy shorthand, perhaps? There must be meaning first, depth already, and a song thoughtfully used only as support, or emphasis, or as contrast in a meaningful dialectic. That, too, can become merely a stand in for the hard work, the real work.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Have a Dollar

When a stranger on the street asks me for money, I reflexively say no.  I hate that.  My mouth says no, and I'm deflecting the presence of a stranger before my mind even has a chance to consider giving.  Nearly every time, I feel bad about it.  Even as I'm saying no, I'm thinking through how difficult it would be to move my bag off my back, open the zipper, dig through for my wallet, unfold it, and remove a dollar.  I'm thinking about how slow and inefficient this act would be.  The walk signal is about to come on and I won't make it across and I'll have to wait through another cycle of lights.  I'm thinking that I want to give this person a dollar, and if it was right in my pocket, easy and quick to grab, I would hand it over and not be troubled in the least.  It seems so silly that the extra forty-five seconds it would take to get out a buck dissuades me from an insignificant act of generosity.  I recognize, though, that there is more going on than the discomfort at the interruption of my flow down the street towards my destination.  There is the breaking into my private sphere by someone I don't know, pushing me and my shyness to deal with an unexpected confrontation with a stranger.  There is the trained-in habit of being wary of people--particularly of men--approaching me, a woman traveling through her day alone (or alone-ish, with baby).  I hate this, too.  I wonder, if I made a habit of keeping a dollar (or a handful of change even) in my pocket when I go out into the world each day, could I break the habit of deflecting strangers, and over time, change my brain's habit of feeling wary of strange men?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Body of Stories

When I see old photos of myself, I'm sometimes surprised by the ways my body has changed, and numerous times. All the bodies I've lived in. Teenage waif. Undergrad, youthful and slim. Married woman, more mature and womanly--hips, curves, stature. Then more so, a radiant grad student, solid. Post South America, ragged, brittle, near-broken, but alive. Scarred. Pregnant glowing orb, ha ha! Now a mother, some softer version of myself. And again, scarred. Who will I be next?

When I read about teenagers increasingly opting for cosmetic surgery in search of some ridiculous ideal, I think, they have no idea that their bodies will continue to change. They think what they have right now is it, done, all they'll have for good.

The stories of my life are being written and rewritten on my body, as well as in my soul.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Delightful View

I want my child to grow up with wide eyes and an open heart. Right now he takes such joys in the small details of the world: a fountain, a ball, a hat. Music sets him dancing. A stick is a toy. Every new person who passes can become a friend. Tickling and tumbling are a delight, more, more, more! Every day holds adventures. Every day brings growth. New concepts, new words, new connections are ever flowing. I hope he will always hold some of this delirious spirit in his heart. I am grateful he has shared it with me.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Little Things Change

I have been thinking about the ways in which cell phones have changed our behavior.  I mean, besides the obnoxious habit of talking on the phone while a server is trying to take your order or ring you up, and beyond the annoying tendency to interrupt an in-person conversation to answer unimportant calls or continuously check email on a smart phone. 

I'm thinking about other, small, rather unimportant changes in how we do little day-to-day activities.  I think people have become less willing to commit to specific plans in advance.  No one wants to set a time and a place and then just show up, able to count on their friend also being in there.  Lately, I see a pattern of vague plans with a loose appointment to talk about it more later.  It get slightly more specific, but there's always an obligation to "just call each" other upon arrival to figure out how to find one other.  How silly.  Easy, I guess.  No worries about trying to be prompt or knowing anything about where you're going.  But didn't we somehow make it work before?  I can't decide if our new way is better or worse than before.  Is it less stressful?  Perhaps. 

I've spoken to so many people, lately, who can't read a map.  I'm thinking about the evolution of getting around, and it must have started with just using experience to get to know a place, and then, of course, maps helped out.  Remember Thomas guides?  Buying one was the best piece of advice I got upon arriving in Los Angeles 16 years ago.  And then, we relied on MapQuest printouts, or whatever online map service you preferred.  Now, so many people have GPS through their phones, there's no need to look up directions in advance.  But I actually like reading a map.  I like to see what the terrain in the surrounding region is like, and to search for possible alternate routes.  Their appearance on a printed page can only hint at the secrets they hold, and entice me to go off course for fun.

I think we check in with our significant others far more often.  You know, that quick call to say, "I'm leaving now, I'll be home in 20 minutes," or whatever.  Most of the time, that other person already knows you'll be heading home roughly around that time, right?  Usually unnecessary.  But I suppose it can be sweet, too.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Young Freedom

I feel some dismay when I hear parents of my generation saying that their children will never do many of the things these parents did as kids. Everyone says that things are very different now than they were when I was young. Of course some things are different. Are they worse? Is this country more dangerous for my child than it was for me when I was his age? I honestly don't know. I have read articles that claim crime is actually decreasing and that it's a misperception that our world is more dangerous than before.

When I was growing up, I did a lot of exploring independent of adults. My friends and I would ride bikes or walk all over the neighborhood--to the park, to the nearby variety store for candy or ice cream, through the woods--and while away hours that way. We crossed streams by hopping rock to rock and built forts deep in the woods. I walked to the bus stop and rode the bus to school. I took public transportation downtown with friends where we might go bowling, eat lunch, and browse the shops. These were great experiences in my memory. I feel they were vital to me developing independence and self-reliance.

Where I live now, there is quite a bit more traffic than in my parents' neighborhood, so that is something to consider. But kids can learn safe habits when navigating busy streets. I know fewer neighbors than my parents did. But I could make the effort to get to know them, to build a community where right now there are strangers. I think it is going to be very important to make whatever efforts are needed to allow my child to learn from his world.

This is a small dip into an enormous dark ocean of a topic. My strategies are something I'll continue to consider as my child grows.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let's Work Together, Love

My husband and I are not competitive. Not with each other or much in general. We do like games, but even within games, we'll opt to work together towards solving the puzzles, if there is such an option. Or else we cheer one another's accomplishments. This is how I like it to be. Partners in oh so many ways, collaborators in life. We are long overdue for a true artistic collaboration.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I don't think I have ever believed. I can remember my CCD classes (what did that stand for? they never told me) and thinking that there were these ideas I was supposed to learn about, and you know how it goes, you have to go through all the motions that demonstrate you learned them, until you grow up and can drop the act. Well, I don't think I thought about it in quite those words, but that was the vague and muddy idea. It never felt real in a deep meaningful way, but only like another set of facts(?) to study up on like geometry or Greek myths. It was a compartmentalized discipline, sequestered to Sunday mornings in the Italian neighborhood but never reaching the Saturday afternoon rollerskating rink. It was not a part of daily life or family life. Never discussed. And I felt nothing lacking. I can remember the eleventh grade retreat, and old church ladies in a panic over me catching a ride there with some boys in my class - what if you're in an accident, what will people think? What should they think? I rejected confirmation, and the priest I discussed it with expressed appreciation for the fact that I was actually reflecting on my faith and not going forward unthinkingly. Later, in pursuit of a Catholic wedding I went searching again with more focus. I revisited the steps in earnest and tried to believe. I looked again to see if there was something that had been missing. What made a Catholic wedding meaningful? It was always only about the pageantry and ritual. Oh!  I see it was drama. Old theatre. Ritual and pageantry do have meaning, some universal some individual. The symbolic acts so familiar give us opportunity to pause, reflect on our guiding principles, on our needs, on our failings and successes. The pageantry helps evoke our imagination and inspiration. It need not all center on a magical myth. To have cultural meaning, I mean. But why do those who believe the strange tales think something is wrong with me? Why do they want to fix me? The illogic of many beliefs seems as clear to me as the tree outside my window. Clear. Real. Obvious to my open eyes. Yet, not uncomplicated. I do not disrespect the faiths of others, but I think they are illusions. I am still constantly moved by the art inspired by faith, and yet I l look elsewhere, to the world, for my inspiration. Who did I pray to when I was in the hospital in Colombia, I was asked. I didn't pray. I focused my determination on getting well and I worked hard towards it, actively. I take the same approach with my artistic work and my ethical living. My thanks are not offered to a god, but to the people to whom they are due.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Needless Stuff

When I was traveling in Ecuador, I spent a week in the small village of Quilotoa, high in the Andes.  It is an amazing thing to find yourself in such natural majesty as these breathtaking mountaintops.  What was troubling, though, was the trash.  Lush green slopes rise beside ravines littered with colorful wrappers and other debris.  As increasing varieties of processed and packaged consumer goods make their way into these villages, the trash piles up.  Such communities haven't yet developed a method for dealing with this trash.  It really made me think again about the waste we humans produce, and especially, we Americans.  Seeing the stark contrast between the natural beauty and the man-made junk was jarring.  I have made many small changes in my habits in an effort to reduce my own waste--cloth napkins, reusable food containers and shopping bags, fewer processed foods and trinkets, for example.  But as I sit here now in my home, I see how surrounded I am by packaging and products, rooms full of non-biodegradable things.  I feel a little sorrow in my heart, and while I enjoy my possessions, I know most of them are unnecessary.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Manic Success

Today I can do anything.  There is nothing I cannot accomplish.  Today is one of those days.  Arise early but not too early and cheer and smiles and everything is already ok, and even little one is up happy not crying.  Water soap lavender rinse, clip clean comb, come to my arms little dear.  And my dear.  No hot brewing slaving making, oh no, out and around the corner, serve me please piping hot.  Lists, errands, yellow pad and pencil, feels like places to save and people to rescue, over buildings, down alleys, aimed at the target.  Obstacles are not unheard unseen, but tripping, yelling, settling down hurdled over.  Somewhere in the middle is a peering out at all the other days on which I feel I can accomplish nothing, or won't get up off the couch, or look around in dismay at all of the work to be done and resign for that day.  But not today.  Scratch off one two three eight nine item ten.  And baby we aren't even at lunch.  Shoot straight through sweeping planting playing, no sandy troubles or worries, just fun.  Breathe.  Pause.  Sigh.  Hush.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Everyone has their own ideas of what they find brilliant.  I am always impressed when people are able to collapse layers of meaning into a dense, but seemingly simple, creative work.  Poetry is a perfect example.  A succinct phrase of few words that says many things at once while evoking an emotion and also following a predetermined rhythmic form--that's smart.  Or really good song writing in which the ideas in the lyrics are supported (or perhaps contradicted) by the melodies, then enhanced by the instrument choices for the accompaniment, and further brought to brilliance by the musical and vocal performances--it moves me. 

Silly examples I've found--and it reflects how I've been biding my time lately--are often in children's books.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar teaches a life cycle, the days of the week, counting 1-5, an array of fruits and other foods, good eating habits, and metamorphosis, all in a colorfully collaged picture book--so clever.

If these things were an object they could be one of those collapsible tin cups people used to use while camping or at war.  Folded down into silver concentric circles, it becomes a perfect compact cylinder, layered from the outside in, flat enough to tuck into your pocket, maybe a meaningful emblem engraved into the lid, and when expanded out to it's fullest, able to hold water and prove life-saving.  Hmm, a nice symbol.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Save, Publish, Log Out

I often have mixed feelings about technology.  I am tremendously appreciative of the many ways I benefit from my gadgets.  I love being able to reach people quickly, by phone, by text, by email or Facebook.  Traveling is accessible and relatively convenient.  Research takes a fraction of the time it used to require.  Creative work is savable and sharable.  It is a balm to have instant entertainment in my bag at all times.  I am amazed to see how effective online political action can be (and fast! just look at the Susan G Komen/Planned Parenthood story).  

Moderation works for me, as well.  I get fatigued seeing 8 out of 10 people around me navigating a touch screen instead of looking at their surroundings or being present where I am and they are.  I feel anxiety when I know I have a backlog of messages to sift through and address.  I enjoy long stretches of time with people I love without any electronic interruptions.

At times, multimedia theatre projects thrill me.  For the right piece--for example, a show with a theme that is supported by the addition of technology--layered use of modern media can say something complex in a way that straightforward drama cannot.  Or it can say something very specific about the time we live in right now.  I find, however, that I'm not so interested in using technology for extras that really are just extras.  I don't care to follow a character on Twitter or watch back-story videos on YouTube or read actors' blogs through the process.  I know, I know, some creative show could really integrate such material in a meaningful way, of course.  But it still feels like marketing to me.  With or without the technology, I still want the event to be about what's happening in a room with the people who are there.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Are the Arts Important?

Because I am a person who takes the arts for granted, it can be difficult to articulate why I think art is so important.  I want to venture some thoughts on the subject.  This is an incomplete list in no particular order, but putting it into words helps me understand more deeply why I continue with my work. 

Art can be a tool for examining the events in our communities or the behavior of the people in them.  It can demonstrate what we have done well, or suggest better ways we could have handled situations.  It can remind us to still think about things past.  There may be events from history we would rather forget about, out of shame or regret.  Or perhaps it even bores us, sometimes, to talk about the past, but drama (or other forms) can make it interesting and re-engage us in the subject. 

Art can help us care about other people.  Empathy is perhaps a bit undervalued, but I think caring about the well-being of others can encourage us to seek solutions to a myriad of everyday problems.  When art can show the personal details of an individual's story, and charm us with their character, and provoke angst and excitement over their challenges, then we can almost imagine being that person, or being in that person's situation.  And then if we shift our focus to see how many others could be feeling the same way, then we might care about whether things are fair and good for them. 

Art can ask questions I never thought of asking myself.  Art can inspire me to question my habits, rethink my assumptions, reconsider my options, and demand the same of those in charge.  Art can teach me about something I never thought about learning.  Art can inspire me by the amazingly creative ways other people can think.  If someone could come up with that brilliant work, then I need to challenge myself harder to try to do as well.  If I can be inspired to want to work more creatively, others can also realize that there may be new ways to approach...anything! 

Art can show me how seemingly competing forces can help or depend upon one another.  Art can show me multiple points of view all at the same time.  Art can present ideas to me in ways that are simultaneously visual, aural, kinesthetic, and visceral. 

Art can help me improve my language skills.  Art can help me develop a better eye for noticing details in the world around me.  Art can manipulate me.  Art can point out to me how music and soundscapes can shape my perception at any moment.  Art can encourage me to feel something, rather than think about it.  Art can then try to make me just think about it intellectually without getting bogged down in my feelings.  Art can amuse me, cheer me up, or distract me from my worries.  It can make me sad and allow me to have some quiet contemplative moments.  It can make me laugh and help shake off some stress.  It can make me laugh together with a roomful of other laughing people and assure me that I'm not alone.

What so much of this comes down to is that art helps us learn and helps us enjoy learning.  We can then apply that skill and attitude to any other subject that concerns us.  Learning is good for us all.

Editorial this is still a tool for myself, primarily...I would like to come back to this list and streamline it while also fleshing it out with specific examples for each idea raised.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dear Hollywood, It's 2012

I just read about how George Lucas couldn't get his film, Red Tails, supported or distributed by any major Hollywood companies because it has an all black cast and is therefore seen as both unmarketable and unprofitable. The movie, which Lucas has been trying to get made for 23 years and paid for the making of himself, is an action flick about the Tuskagee airmen who fought in WWII.  I'm more than dismayed to still see artists coming up against this type of inertia.  It's not just racism, but also an unwillingness to change how things are done.  There is this idea that a movie like this couldn't attract a mainstream (i.e. white) audience, and sadly, for the most part, they could be right.  When I read news stories that shake me up, I'm always looking for the lessons I can learn from them.  I'm reminded of how important it is to not only go to see theatre or films that immediately appeal to me, but to also look for work that isn't such an obvious choice for me.  There are tremendous things I can learn by seeing a movie made by people I've never heard of or about a subject I know nothing about.  It can be an eye opening experience to attend a play set within a culture unfamiliar to me.  Perhaps there is a show playing somewhere nearby that at first glance seems to be far outside my usual comfort zone.  How refreshing it would be to see more people making such choices.  We could show those who hold the purse strings that they underestimate their audiences.