Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shit Gets Real

First of all, Ma-Yi Theater Company's workshop of I__NY was awesome.  Everyone involved was a total pro, and there was some serious food for thought afterward.  They took you high and then they took you low and set some serious things before you for further personal processing.  In the theater, if you're not talking about it when you leave, then I think the show was a misfire.  That doesn't mean you have to go home and write a dissertation for a production to have any worth, I just think you can continue to learn and grow as a person even though you're sitting in the dark watching something.  So: kudos to Ma-Yi.  They did a great job.

Second of all, my horrible spending habits have come home to roost.  According to some recent calculations it will take me fifty (!!!) years to pay off my credit card.  I shit you not.  2058.  

And so the mandate for "Change" has reached Pennsylvania Avenue and Lorimer Street.  

I am taking a page out of the Obama playbook and will be revamping an old, crusty system.  I am stepping up my efforts to budget, working longer hours, drinking as much free corporate coffee as I can stand (Pumpkin Spice!  Dark Magic!  Breakfast Blend! Levicorpus!), and trying radical new fiscal strategies that will hopefully keep me off of a WPA workgang on the West Side Highway. . . I just have to seriously tap into my love of filing paperwork and everything will work out in the end.  Right?

Third, I was recently in a reading of The Physicists by Freidrich Durenmatt at EST.  Now this piece took a lot of time to grow on me, but it really began to grow on me.  At heart, despite all the absurdity, it's basically a reiteration of the famous axiom, "With great power comes great responsibility."  I don't think that's just from Spider-Man, I think the Greeks said it first or something, but it's a play that begs us all to look at What We Are Doing and ask ourselves why we do it.  The meat of the play is the role of scientists in the practical application of their discoveries vis-a-vis atomic energy, but it's more universal than that.  Why do we do what we do?  Because we're good at it?  Because the work is its own reward?  Are we doing it because we're trying to accomplish something?  Are we innocent of the impact of our actions if we did not intend or forsee that impact?  Check out this quote:

Mobius:  There are certain risks that one may not take: the destruction of humanity is one.  We know what the world has done with the weapons it already possesses; we can imagine what it would do with those that my researches make possible, and it is these considerations that have governed my conduct.  I was poor.  I had a wife and three children.  Fame beckoned from the university; industry tempted me with money.  Both courses were too dangerous.  I should have had to publish the result of my researches, and the consequences would have been the overthrow of all scientific knowledge and the breakdown of the economic structure of our society.  A sense of responsibility compelled me to choose another course.  I threw up my academic career, said no to industry, and abandoned my family to its fate.  I took on the fool's cap and bells.  I let it be known that King Solomon kept appearing to me, and before long, I was clapped into a madhouse . . . Reason demanded the taking of this step.  In the realm of knowledge we have reached the farthest frontiers of perception.  We know a few precisely calculable laws, a few basic connections between incomprehensible phenomena and that is all . . . We have reached the end of our journey.  But humanity has not yet got as far as that.  We have battled onwards, but no one is following in our footsteps; we have encountered a void.  Our knowledge has become a frightening burden.  Our researches are perilous, our discoveries are lethal . . . 

The character of Mobius had himself committed to an asylum so his ideas could never be released unto a world that would use his ideas for evil.  That is pretty bold.  How many of us would have the courage of our convictions to do something like that?  

I mean, we have lawyers drafting memos that justify torture.  Why?  Because they're good at writing memos?  Because they were just doing their jobs?  We have businessmen who cheat their own employees and screw their customers.  Why?  Because they know about tax shelters and loopholes?  We as a people are witnessing all of our systems breaking down because the people with the knowledge have been using that knowledge for evil.  Either because they didn't know what would happen or because they didn't care.  When we as a people and as individuals know for ourselves what we want, what we want to change, and what we believe in, then we can start practically applying our knowledge for good.  

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Argument

"My Dear, Hamlet is not a guy like you."

I have fought with myself for a long time about the logistics of doing Shakespeare.  For a long time I thought that as long as you could decipher olde english you'd know what you were really saying, and thus be able to just speak with clarity and intention.  It took me a long time to come to appreciate that the classical language is not simply olde english but poetry; poetry that requires much more than simply knowing what you're saying.  The language is heightened and the actor must honor that, but how?  I've seen actors on both ends of the style spectrum fail to move audiences because of the disconnect that Peter Brook describes in the quote below.  People either A.) try play their characters as if they were not in a classical play but a naturalistic film scene or B.) send it up in epic, bombastic and mannered "style."  Check out his thoughts.

From The Empty Space:  

Imperial gestures and royal values are fast disappearing from everyday life, so each new generation finds the grand manner more and more hollow, more and more meaningless.  This leads the young actor to an angry and impatient search for what he calls truth.  He wants to play his verse more realistically, to get it to sound like honest-to-God real speech, but he finds that the formality of the writing is so rigid that it resists this treatment.  He is forced to an uneasy compromise that is neither refreshing, like ordinary talk, nor defiantly histrionic, like what we call ham. . . If you ask an actor to play in a "romantic style" he will valiantly have a go, thinking he knows what you mean.  What actually can he draw on?  Hunch, imagination and a scrapbook of theatrical memories, all of which will give him a vague "romanticness" that he will mix up with a disguised imitation of whatever older actor he happens to admire.  If he digs into his own experiences the result may not marry with the text; if he just plays what he thinks is the text, it will be imitative and conventional.  Either way the result is a compromise: at most times unconvincing.

So this is the dilemma and I don't know what the answer is.  

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the Eve of the Election, a Prayer

Election Benediction
(a non-secular election prayer)

I admit, I don't pray very often.
I prayed when my children were born
that they be healthy and whole.
I prayed when my daughter got sick,
when all of the doctors and all of the treatments
couldn't make her better.
And I prayed when, finally, she was well again
in profound thanksgiving.

When my son sang his heart out in his first high school play
I prayed to be deserving of the joy that filled my heart,
hearing his confident voice, watching his agile body.
I prayed when he went off to college
and I prayed on September 11th
when he called from his New York apartment.
And when his father and sister went to New Orleans to help, I prayed then, too.

I've prayed when I've been most afraid,
bone tired or thoroughly spent.
I know you're supposed to pray more than that-
more frequently, more selflessly.
I acknowledge my negligence in the realm of spiritual correctness.
And I'm sure there are others like me
who mostly look to God when out of luck or out of time.
(I bet God understands that about people.)

These days I have a new prayer practice
One born of hope, not fear.
These days I pray for America
and I pray for Barack Obama.
I pray for his wife who sustains him,
for his children and all of our children,
who compel him to reach for the heights he is seeking.
I pray for him to win the election
because even though my religious adherence has been minimal
I know a miracle when I see one.
The man is not the miracle.
Through the confluence of hope and history,
the miracle is the capacity he creates to inspire so many millions of us
to engage again, or for the first time,
in our nation's political process - 
to work together for peace, for prosperity, and for the planet.

I never sang, "God Bless America" unless I had to in school.
It seemed arrogant to me, like asking for divine special treatment.
Bless America instead of India?  Not Peru or Mozambique?
"This Land is Your Land," was my patriotic favorite.
I'm older now.  The bifocals I wear make it easier to see shades of gray
and stand, like everyone else, with my hand on my heart
when the band plays loud martial songs.

My prayer is nonsectarian.
"Baruch atah adonai," it begins, because that's how I first learned to pray.
And then, tentatively, I say it,
"Please God, bless America.
Help people get to the polls.
Help others to count the votes fairly.
No fraud this time, or intimidation
no Florida hanging chads.
Help us move closer to the dream, closer to the promise of our creed."

I teach in a wonderful public school with kids of all colors and faiths.
I borrow their words when I need them,
in Arabic, Creole, Chinese.
"Tal ouy ban sac, Barack Obama," I say in Khmer to end my prayer.
"Vaya con Dios," the same thought but in Spanish.
God be with you, Barack Obama.
I'm hoping to cover all bases.
Whether the way is a cross or a crescent,
Whether Allah, Loving Kindness, or Christ
Bless audacity.
Bless hope.

Written by Susan Markman, Pelham, MA 2008