Thursday, February 2, 2012

RELEVANT


For the past week, my son has been teething and has woken to nurse every other hour throughout the night. This has afforded me an envious amount of nighttime organizational thinking. The unfortunate side effect of this is that sometimes I unearth a pressing thing, tragically misfiled in a forgotten corner of my brain, keeping me awake until the matter is resolved. The other night, as my mind wandered through so many disparate memories and should-dos, it landed on an ancient fear that unexpectedly sent a bolt of panic through my bones:

How will I stay RELEVANT as an artist?

I’ve seen this one before, thought I’d made peace with it. But it looked different this time because now it found me in my new role as a mother. It had only ever known me before as a dedicated artist. Now, it approached a woman who was questioning her degree of dedication. I imagined an extreme scenario, ten years into the future: My career has left me behind because I’d spent the last ten years solely focused on family and raising children. I’m no longer creating IMPORTANT work and whatever I’d made before has become outdated. My skills have become rusty. My colleagues have forgotten me. My industry no longer cares. I am irRELEVANT.

I searched my internal trouble-shooting guide for answers. I was pretty sure this subject was covered there, but what I found were just more disturbing questions:

If I don’t stay RELEVANT, how will I face all the people who’d been my competition all those years? If I don’t stay RELEVANT, how will I face my mentors who’d written me letters of reference for serious pursuits of theatrical academia? If I don’t stay RELEVANT, how will I justify all those hours of work and study? If I don’t stay RELEVANT, will I still be an artist?

At a moment like this, my husband is the best sounding board, but he was asleep, and while his generous soul probably wished I’d have woken him, there is no way I would have. The Interwebs became Plan C:

I started reading a post by Glennon Melton. Her blog, Momastery is my secret, dirty habit. For my money, I find her trademarked catch phrase full of spoon-fed inspiration and her writing to have such a broad relatability that I sometimes feel like I’ve just wept my eyes out over a phone company commercial when moved by her posts. Regardless, I am moved by her posts and often. However she differs from me in style, she pretty much nails in heart. She is articulate, kind, and unapologetic and for this she has my respect. What I read that night was a letter to her readers where she offers an alternative to self-destruction:

“When you start to feel . . . do. For example – when you start to feel scared because you don’t have enough money….find someone to give a little money to. When you start to feel like you don’t have enough love. . . find someone to offer love. When you feel unappreciated, unacknowledged . . . appreciate and acknowledge someone in your life in a concrete way. When you feel unlucky, order yourself to consider a blessing or two. And then find a tangible way to make today somebody else’s lucky day. This strategy helps me sidestep wallowing every day.”

Wallowing—I’d found a name for what I’d been doing that night. After reading the above, I found my ego cowering in the corner, shamed by the bigger issues that had just entered the room. I shut myself up and I went to sleep.

In the days following, I tried to write about that night and faced a lot of confusion. Truth be told, I’ve struggled since the moment I became pregnant with how to be the very best mother while still being IMPORTANT to my art. IMPORTANT means that I want to work in a way that contributes to the DNA of theatre. I know there are other ways to participate without giving so much of one’s soul, but that’s not been my calling. My son and my husband make it surprisingly effortless to see where my heart wants to be, but it doesn’t erase my charge as an artist, however much I wish it did some days. Nonetheless, I think maybe I stumbled on an answer the other night (thanks, Glennon.) Bare with me now as I try to be coherent:

If I can let go of the to-impress, to-please, to-satisfy parts of being an artist, what is left is just the GIVING part. Glennon’s post reminded me that GIVING is BEING RELEVANT.

The solution still lives in the esoteric and I don’t actually know how it all will work, but I did create the below steps as a map for myself. A three-pronged approach to staying artistically RELEVANT (working title.) I reckon it could also be useful in my role as a mother, especially given that Lennon is an expert at making his wants clear:

A: I’ll know what to GIVE by listening closely for what is needed from me.

B: The only thing that is required of me is to respond.

C: If I do so with truth, love, and energy, I will stay RELEVANT.

Then there’s this excerpt from a letter that Martha Graham wrote to Agnes DeMille:

“There is a vitality, a life-force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.”


Good night and sweet dreams.







Photo source found here.
I first read the excerpt from Martha Graham's letter here.

2 comments:

  1. Your emotionally naked story has triggered a plethora of memories of similar inner debates and reconciliations between what my life could/should be and what it was/is. I'm inspired by your and Glennon's practice of using a blog to help organize, distill and publish your life's learnings. Bravo!!! I applaud you!

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  2. Thank you, Cecile. Glad to hear those inner debates are now memories. There's hope for me yet! xox

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