Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ON THE ROAD with Anna Deavere Smith, MLK and Obama

(Warning: This post is as jumbled as my thoughts. It is clear why I am not a writer. But as Anna says: It is all about the struggle to articulate. That is where character lives. Therefore I struggle and struggle...)

Been getting lots of inspiration from these three exceptional human beings.

And then in speaking to a fellow artist today, a playwright, the two of us (as unexceptional yet full human beings), were debating the issue of THE STRUGGLE. In his case, is it worth it to continue rewriting and working on his play if there is no guarantee he will ever see his play produced on stage?

So the question is: Does satisfaction and reward only come through a sense of accomplishment? And if one does NOT accomplish the goal, is it worth the effort? OR as in yoga, is it not about successfully completing each and every pose, but about the practice? The struggle. Action.

So our conversation has me go back to the posting from Jan 19 (see below), MLK's speech on race relations: That the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist have one thing in common. Neither will do anything about race relations. The extememe optimist because there is nothing to do since we have come so far. And the extreme pessimist because it is futile since we have so far to go.

Do we not put any effort into this goal, or any other goal, unless we are ABSOLUTELY sure there will be a clear and positive outcome and reward?

If we only attempt to achieve what we know we can accomplish, where does greatness live? Where does creativity live? Imagination lives in the unknown, rather than what is clearly known. If we knew all, we would not need imagination.

And I realize that Obama ran for President of the United States even though there was no guarantee that it would be worth it. In fact most of us thought we would never see the day. Yet people were moved to action. Without guarantee. And that action did result in the reward. At least for this moment.

But of course as Obama said in his inaugural speech, the struggle continues. It is in each and every one of us. It takes the effort of us all, even though we do not know what the result will be. Yet we move to action. Take on the struggle

So I will try to be, as MLK asks of all of us, to be the extreme realist. To struggle for the outcome, to live in action, even though I do not know where this will all end up.

Interesting to note that my friend's play is about death. Inevitable death. Why do we continue to fight to live even though the outcome is clear: That we all someday will die.

Sorry to be so grim! I am hoping this knowledge is liberating as opposed to paralyzing.

So I say to him and to me: the day we give up the struggle... isn't that the day we truly cease to continue living?

Here's to the struggle.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King on Race Relations

Today was an emotional day for me. Working deep on FIRES in the MIRROR. When insecurity takes over, I feel overwhelmed by the emotions within this piece. The strong and sharp words. Today I took the opportunity to read the words of MLK for inspiration and guidance. And tonight in rehearsal I read this excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations

"...There are three basic attitudes that one can take toward the question of progress in the area of race relations. And the first attitude that can be taken is that of extreme optimism. Now the extreme optimist would argue that we have come a long, long way in the area of race relations. He would point proudly to the marvelous strides that have been made in the area of civil rights over the last few decades. From this he would conclude that the problem is just about solved, and that we can sit comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable.

The second attitude that one can take toward the question of progress in the area of race relations is that of extreme pessimism. The extreme pessimist would argue that we have made only minor strides in the area of race relations. He would argue that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent that we hear from the Southland today is indicative of the fact that we have created more problems than we have solved. He would say that we are retrogressing instead of progressing. He might even turn to the realms of an orthodox theology and argue that hovering over every man is the tragic taint of original sin and that at bottom human nature can not be changed. He might even turn to the realms of modern psychology and seek to show the determinative effects of habit structures and the inflexibility of certain attitudes that once become molded in one's being. (Yes) From all of this he would conclude that there can be no progress in the area of race relations. (Alright, Alright)

Now you will notice that the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist have at least one thing in common: they both agree that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race relations. (Yes) The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because integration is impossible. But there is a third position that is another attitude that can be taken, and it is what I would like to call the realistic position. The realist in the area of race relations seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites while avoiding the extremes of both. (Yeah) So the realist would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But, he would go on to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go. (Amen) [applause] And it is this basic theme that I would like to set forth this evening. We have come a long, long way (Yes) but we have a long, long way to go. (Amen) [applause]..."

So I am thinking that "long, long way to go" starts with dialogue. It starts with hearing each other. I must believe it can begin within the sacredness of a communal place, like a theater. Where we sit in the dark, side by side, in order to see it clearly.