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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Saying Too Much, Too Little, and Just the Right Thing

A few days ago I published a very honest blog post about difficult emotions. If you didn't see it, the quick summary is that I wrote about resilience and fragility, and about disappointment over a specific performance that I perceived as going badly. I also directed readers to a Kickstarter for an upcoming project in which I'll be participating. That project,  SHE:  Voices of Women, Heard and Unheard, has since reached its funding goal. Thank you.

Whether or not talking honestly about difficult emotions was a good idea, I am not totally sure, but on the balance it seems to have made a good impression on people that count. It has also made all kinds of other impressions, so I think I should say a little more.

My experience of being in the world is pretty challenging. Some of it relates to circumstances, and some of it stems from choices I make with my eyes open. I'm not exactly comfortable with risk, but I'm explicitly uncomfortable in the shallow end of the pool. I get bored. To fit in, I try to act like I'm not bored, and then I feel fake. I like the deep end better, even with all the flailing and struggling to stay afloat, even though risk sometimes ends in failure, and even though failures often hurt. I often hurt. But it's okay. I am by no means anguished all the time, I just feel things deeply. There are plenty of high points, and sometimes I think that the very depth of the troughs makes the high of the highs even higher. And you know in the flimsy yoga class at the gym, the thing that the twenty year old teacher endlessly babbles on about but doesn't understand, about sitting with the discomfort? I'm good at that.

Other people, though, not so much, which is why I keep a lot of things to myself. I know that this has left many people at cocktail parties with the impression that I'm sort of a bland person without much to say, but I don't like to be dishonest or make smalltalk, and when I speak openly about my life, it makes people uncomfortable. Everyone wants to help; everyone wants everything to be okay. Thanks everyone. I want this too, mostly, but not enough to resign myself to the monotony at the boring shallow end of the pool. And it's not just the difficulties.  Sharing my pleasures is often similarly unrewarding. For instance, there was that day when I came bounding into work ecstatically gleeful about the flock of turkeys in the parking lot, and then for weeks no one could shut up about how I love turkeys, and, “So did you see your turkeys today? Do you miss your turkeys? Are you gonna get your work done, or are you just thinking about turkeys? I brought a turkey sandwich for lunch, are you gonna cry? Is your boyfriend jealous about how much you love those turkeys?” Good grief. Okay, I like turkeys. It was fun to see turkeys. I like creatures. Why don't you? What is wrong with you people?

I know I weird people out sometimes. Believe me, I got the message, you don't need to tell me, I'm acutely self-conscious about it. With regard to my last post, I know that, for some readers, TMI is not just a nuclear plant in Middletown. I perhaps overshared, and maybe even appeared distastefully narcissistic or exhibitionist. Some readers expressed concerns that I might be going through something heavy, and went into crisis-response mode. Even though these reactions were not entirely unexpected, I still feel embarrassed.

(Thank you, by the way, to those that checked in. I am not in any more of a crisis than the general baseline of my life, this is just what the inside of my head always looks like. Which, as previously mentioned, is okay. But I genuinely appreciate and admire your care and thoughtfulness.)

I'm also self-conscious about anyone I've disappointed. If you have been somehow influenced by my artistic output and my expression of uncertainty in some way let you down, I'm sorry. I believe strongly in the power of language to program reality; people, including one's very suggestible own self, by and large see what you tell them is there, so although I am not always successful I do my best to follow the sales formula of relentless enthusiasm. And, careerism aside, if someone says they liked your performance (or, for that matter, your haircut, your suiseki display, the molded Jello Waldorf salad you brought to the Junior League luncheon, whatever), no matter if you've somehow come to disdain the thing in question, it is just plain rude to answer a compliment with anything other than “thank you.” It's important to me that I never insult the tastes of my admirers. If someone likes something I did and they have been gracious enough to go out of their way to tell me about it, in my opinion the last thing they deserve is a reproach. They deserve a medal. Since my previous post, I've heard from a handful of people who saw the performance I wrote about and shared positive feedback. Thank you. I didn't hear from you at the time, so I really didn't know. Again, thank you.

On that note, moving on to part two: gratitude.

If you see a performance you like, TELL THE PERFORMER, or otherwise communicate your appreciation. This is my blog and I'm tacking this behest onto a personal narrative, so I can't pretend this is entirely impersonal, but I'm talking about more than me me me. Gratitude enriches both the appreciator and the appreciated. In the specific case of art, if no one says anything, an artist has little motivation to persist; but when someone hears that you like their work, they are more likely to keep at it, and then there will be more art for you to enjoy. Win-win.

In the specific case of the performing arts, audience feedback becomes still more vital. Even when a performer is adequately and appropriately financially compensated—a relatively unusual situation—the performing arts are not a consumer commodity with a cut and dry monetary value. Performance is motivated by the desire for communication and connection. The platitude encourages us to “dance like no one is watching,” but if that were really the whole point of it, all dancing would occur in secret on people's lunch breaks in the supply closet. Closet dancers (and exhibitionists) dance for themselves, but when a performing artist is dancing, she is dancing FOR YOU. She wants to give a part of herself to you, because she longs to receive a part of you in return. She wants to make this connection because she wants you both to have a deeper richer experience of being alive and being human.

If this sounds too heavy, too intimate, it doesn't have to be. It can be as simple as enjoying a happy fun night out, and pausing at the coat check to tell the dancer that you enjoyed her set. If you feel shy, you don't even have to talk—you can do a smile and wave and nodding gesture kind of thing. Piece of cake. Go forth and appreciate.

With the internet delivering a seemingly endless supply of videos, music, words, and pictures, it's easy to take art for granted. On one level, go ahead and take it for granted. Whether or not you acknowledge its creators, there will be more. Even if you spend all day trolling on YouTube, there will be more. But if you connect, if you express appreciation, it will be better. Better for you, better for everyone.

As the New York City subway endlessly intones, “if you see something, say something.” I choose to steal this motto away from fear, and to make it about love. Do you like that clerk's earrings? Don't be creepy about it, but tell her! (Ladies, I'm talking to you. Navigating the social awkwardness of woman-to-woman compliments can be tricky, but figure it out and do it.) Did your sweetie bring you coffee this morning? Say thank you! Did your kitty cuddle up with you on the sofa? Give that adorable catloaf a big kiss right on his angelpuss lips! Or, maybe that last one is not such a good idea. He's probably prefer a vole. Or maybe a palmetto bug. Maybe one of those artisanal raw elk-cricket patties from the organic pet food boutique.

Lest we stray to far from our original topic here, back to dance: you must personally acknowledge the dancers who inspire you, even if they are successful, even if they project confidence, even if they seem to have utter unshakable command of their craft. The power of the performing arts relies deeply on the connection between performer and audience. Do your part. I thank you.