Three cookies for you this muggy February Monday.
First, one of my favorite quotes, from noted novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner (to whom I once wrote a fan letter, and he wrote back!!)…
“Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith.”
If your faith, or your art, or your politics, are intractable, are unable to be challenged, are unable to be questioned… what does that actually say about said faith, or art, or belief? It says, that on a deep level where most of us don’t like to visit, we don’t trust that the truth can hold up to scrutiny. Which begs the question… is that truth truly true?
Stagnation leads to rot. In rehearsal. In performance. In relationships. In beliefs.
DOUBT… lets in air. Allows water and sun to filter. Creates room for growth and discovery of newer/better/deeper truths. The ants in the pants metaphor is so hilariously simple and apt. Ya gotta keep moving, keep jiving, keep looking for ways to encounter each doubt, so that your belief and your art can be stronger, more supple, more earned, more vital.
My official race time was two hours… and two-tenths of one second.
Two-dang-tenths of one second.
That’s not even a STEP.
But I tell you what… it was awesome.
Other fun facts… the course was actually about two-tenths of a mile SHORT. Numerology!! Which means I actually would have come in at more like 2:01:30.
I needed to average 9:10 per mile to hit my two hour goal. The official results say I averaged 9:11 per mile. My super cool Garmin GPS watch told me my average was 9:18 per mile. Cuz of those missing two-tenths of a mile.
What’s the truth?
And since I finished the race with no injuries and with new personal bests in both time and distance, and my girlfriend finished and shared victory beers with me, and my dad finished and shared victory bacon with me, and my good buddy finished and shared victory selfies with me… does that mean that those two-tenths of a second (or that minute and a half, WHATEVER) necessarily DEFINE my race?
So. Re-define “miracle.” My dad’s in his 60s. He completed his first half-marathon last year. His second one this year. Is already signed up for his third one next year.
And you better believe I’ll come in under two hours next year. Like, there is zero doubt. Not doubting that goal? Miracle.
This week… do something you know you can’t do. Just try it. Doesn’t have to be huge to have a huge impact on you.
While you do that new thing this week, I’ll be hanging up my medal. So that it hangs two-tenths of an inch off the wall.
So I’m running my fourth half-marathon this coming Sunday. And this will be the first time that I’ll be able to actually RUN the whole thing. No walking breaks! And aiming to come in under two hours, that’s my only goal.
If you’d seen me take my first step of running training, oh, five years ago, you wouldn’t believe that two hours was anywhere near realistic.
All that being said, listen to Michael Jordan. If I had made pancakes instead of pulling on my running pants and turning on my GPS watch, that wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Failure happens. When the thing we want is BIG, when we have prioritized something that upon first glance is EPIC, we will not always be able to resist the pull of pancakes. When that happens… when your chin is sticky with syrup and you’re in your sweat pants on the couch with bad TV on… listen to Michael Jordan. And next time… do a little better.
An ancillary… One of my playwriting students today just said the most terrific thing: When you’re exhausted, consider a rest rather than giving up. It’s good for writing. It’s also good for pretty much any goal you set yourself.
What you do every day… reflects your priorities. Reflects what you actually, truly WANT.
Expertise manifests from one thing and one thing only… repetition.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter, from the audience’s point of view, how you are feeling. It matters only what you DO. And if you practice DAILY, then even on those days went you aren’t necessarily “feeling” it, you will still be able to DO it.
It’s 2019, Apprentices. Decide what you want, and then DO THE THING, daily, that will enable you to manifest that want into reality.
I recall vividly believing so deeply in Santa Claus. And the Tooth Fairy. My father got me but GOOD with a Tooth Fairy story. He presented me with a Chinese checkers set (???) after a particularly painful tooth loss. He claimed that the Tooth Fairy was behind him in the department store checkout line, and insisted he bring this board game back to me. Boy howdy did I buy it.
My father also teamed up with some extended fam one year to convince both my brother and myself that Santa had put together a sweet RC racetrack for us. I am not too proud to admit that I may have squealed. We played on that thing for YEARS, long past the time when we both knew it had been dad and Uncle Gary putting that track together in the back room.
To come around to the first attachment, by G.K. Chesterton… is Santa a fairy tale? Even deeper, could we describe any of the various religious stories and traditions surrounding these holidays “fairy tales”? And does it matter if they are? Or aren’t? Because while dragons may not be pulling Santa’s sleigh (although how cool would THAT be??), the thread that connects all of the stories and songs and traditions at this time of year—at least to my mind—seems to be kindness. Grace. Gratitude. A reminder that the feelings and needs of others are just as vital and important as yours and mine. And is this not also the core of our theatrical enterprise… to put the catharsis of the audience above our own? It’s not surprising that theatre has for millennia been intimately tied to sacred rites and religious celebration, or that so many buildings that once were churches are repurposed as theaters.
We KNOW that dragons exist. Some of you may be battling them right now, as this season and its pressures can cause anxiety and isolation just as easily as joy and community. But as artists and as those who serve an audience, we know that those dragons are beatable. Maybe not easily. Maybe not with glory. But beatable nonetheless.
And any particular individual patron can never have precisely the same experience again, even if they come back the very next night.
This is not to say that writers, or painters, or filmmakers do not also have their process, but their processes result in a tangible finished THING. Is the THING the art, or is the reader’s/viewer’s/watcher’s experience of that thing the art? That’s a fun and baffling idea to contemplate, but regardless, that THING resides in a space BETWEEN the artist and the patron. Whereas the THING that is theatre can only reside in the space SHARED by the artist and the patron.
I do not compare to say one art is better than another. I compare to remind you that being a theatre artist means you must be present and vulnerable in terrifying ways. And that particular terror can make it easy to put things off. To procrastinate. To withhold. To self-censor.
To counteract that terror, I offer you two cookies this week. First... Batman. Batman will make you brave.
Second, this awesome quote from the fabulous feminist humorist Cynthia Heimel: “There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell? Leap.”
Leap. Like Batman off a building.
She had made me a little piece of art. A craft project really, just a few inches on each side, and the picture you see here is of its front. On the back, this is what she wrote:
“This piece was made from an accident, a sad mistake. The entire pad of perfect construction paper got wet and the colors bled onto each other. After the paper had been discarded, it dried, leaving the pattern of the accidental spill in different colors on each sheet. I found it months later and thought it much improved.
I love you.
This picture of this flawed yet improved construction paper has been the background image on my phone ever since. I keep the original note and art on my corkboard at home. It is perhaps the most beautiful reminder I have ever received of a deep-seated truth of the human experience: mistakes, failure, pain… they are unavoidable, and to be cherished as the most teachable moments, as the opportunities for grace and discovery, as the tilling of our richest soil for our greatest art and insight and maturation. This does not absolve you from responsibility for your actions, not a whit, nor should you seek out growth by harming others. But when you stumble, and when the stumblings of others impact you, you will find that contrition and forgiveness--which are simply the act of letting go--will serve you far more than pride and punishment.
Have a great week. I do not wish hardship upon any of you, but knowing that it will come regardless, I wish you courage and endurance and kindness and grace. And ultimately… the discovery of healing.
Theatre pro, amateur yogi, and competent home cook.