Sunday, February 21, 2010

'Where do dreamers rest, on beds of clouds or are they merely guests?'

"Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly."

Langston Hughes

When we were children, our imagination enabled us to dream without consequence. We were able to play with the full force of enthusiasm, fueled by this imagination we had discovered. Remember? Many of us didn't even want to come in at night, because our 'dreaming' had taken us to a land that seemingly had no limitations.

"When I was eleven years old, I could be anything I wanted to be, and anyone I dared to be."

If we were given the freedom to be outside, we invented games that went on for days, and covered miles, until we had exhausted every possibility, every derivative, every detail of one simple idea. If we were lucky, there were adults who encouraged this kind of wild imaginative play, and this was the magic that became 'a childhood'. Of course, there were always the circumstances that drew us home to the reality we found ourselves in, the world of adults who had long since left childhood and were dealing with the big things that adults have to deal with. If our circumstances were dire or unpleasant, there was even a greater cause to look to our imagination, which could fuel our need to escape and dream of a better place. Whatever the reason, even for children with unpleasant circumstances, the imagination allowed us respite from our lives and circumstance in a world managed by adults.

As we grew older, we are met with some harsh realities. In our teens, we are encouraged to 'get a job', so that we can learn responsibilities, and of course, learn what we must do to survive. As it says in Corinthians, "When I was a child, I thought as I child, I spoke as a child, when I became a man, I put away childish things." I distinctly remember this passage on a poster in my cousin's bedroom, it was in reference to the war in Viet Nam, and the directive was clear, when you grow up, you can do things like go to war. I remember staring at this poster often, trying to figure out what it meant. Its clear now, grow up and be somebody, leave the imagination in childhood.

When I taught high school, I was very lucky to teach in an arts high school, where imagination was still encouraged. I always noticed the difference between the students who had left the world of the imagination, and the students who still had some freedom to dream and play, an art school the perfect place. For the ones who could be present in this latter state of mind, an arts school offered them a last vestibule of dreaming, a last safe place they could be until they ventured off into the world. If they had really good parenting, they could sustain a little longer to the more rigorous structure of college, still advancing their idealism, forming their opinions, and having softer places to land while still employing their imaginations. For so many, however, the dreaming ended and the road of the imagination did not rise to meet them. For so many, survival had already begun to jade them. Art was not a practical or real way to survive, and so many had no choice but to turn away from the creative process. Early pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, crime, etc. became symptoms of an inability to cope with the tougher realities of living. Although there were always exceptions to these rules, (I'm not trying to generalize) this was my experience, this is what I learned as I observed.

"A dream deferred makes the heart sick." Proverbs.

Of course, in an art school, or school in general for that matter, there were students whose parents had wealth to sustain them while they were learning these survival mechanisms. If they were really lucky, they were allowed to continue dreaming as big as they wanted. If they were even luckier still, a talent was discovered early, that was nurtured, praised, and encouraged. (I'm not suggesting that this talent is relegated to the art world only, I'm only suggesting that this nurturing is not available to all children or teenagers.)

As a teacher, I believed in nurturing the imagination rather than killing it to serve survival, and I suppose, one has to be taught to find some balance in this scale, still, it is astounding to assess how many dreams are brought down under the oppressive nature of life's rules. What happens to us? Remember the love generation? The generation who believed that together we could change the world? What happened to that generation that sought to re-write the book of rules? Oh, life happened. Jobs happened. Insurance happened. Security happened. All of it to sustain something we perceived as a happy life. Then why is there so much unhappiness? Why and when did we stop dreaming and sharing in a collective vision? When did the individual's desire supersede the collective thinking and dreaming of a group of people?

Rather than all preaching and no practice, I left my teaching career, and made a decision to put into action what I was teaching. What is the reality? It is hard. However, it is also liberating. Like most dreams, the intersection between survival and the imagination is a tricky one. We have terms like, 'delusions of grandeur' that cause us to doubt. We have all the trappings of capitalism, which tell us whether we are successful, or not. We live in a society where the self-esteem is systematically destroyed. We live in a society that seeks to diminish the motivation of our hunger. There are a million distractions that cause us to lose our way. For a short period of time, usually in our late teens or early twenties, we can be swayed by the ideas that history taught us and a notion of thinking globally, but this quickly gives way to what a capitalistic society teaches us, that we are assessed by our material wealth. Our outward seal classifies us.

Do I really believe all of this? I only believe it as far as my thoughts will take me. Apparently, this is where my experience and thoughts are leading me. I must have some belief in it to write about it, and frankly, it sometimes scares me to think this way, to let come out my ideas and thoughts. I think it scares most of us, to really think and say what is bubbling inside of us. Why? Because I am taught that I must suppress my ideals, especially as I grow older. I need to stop all this nonsense and come back to the thinking of the pack. Dreaming is for the young people, and they will do it for a time and then 'get real'. I am taught that I must work to secure my place in the world, so that on my headstone I will find the word, integrity. I am flesh and blood, however, I will bleed out one day. I will cease to exist. This is the great lie we feed ourselves, that we will go on living as we are forever, and so we must secure it, or secure it for our children so that they will be happy. Yet, do not our children grow up and do the same thing? Is this the law of order? Is this the mandate of mankind, to be doomed to a mundane repetition?

The truth is that I too have fallen through the cracks. I have fallen for failing to create a material success. I can be a critical success, but it is only a capitalistic one that can sustain me in this society. When I am winning on that front, many people will come forward to help, for I have met the capital ideal. So, my only recourse is that I to must pursue the notion of capitalism again, which frankly, I find utterly a waste of time. I have no family wealth or perpetual financial support. I cannot lie around thinking and writing, I must join the rest, and take my turn again on the giant levy which attempts to push the boulder up the hill. How long, Oh, lord? How long can I sustain this weary life? Don't worry, this is not a plea for my demise, I'm only quoting David in the psalms.

To the students I taught to dream. I quote Hubert Selby, the writer. "Art does not just cost you something, it costs you everything…" Is this a radical quote? You bet it is. Can you eat this quote? No, but you sure can digest it. Being an artist is radical, but so is being a human being, third rock from the sun, on a course that is governed by time, flesh, blood and bone. Can you pursue your dreams? I don't know. Can you employ your imagination as you once did as a child? I don't know. Seize the day and find out.

My intent is not to be critical of you or your ideas on the nature of the life you are leading, my intent is to make you think. Remember, revolution is defined initially as an overthrow of a regime or a government, but if you apply it to yourself, you can have a perpetual revolution within, and in this revolution you can find vibrancy as you re-invent yourself, and you do not have to be young to do it. Happy Sunday! I feel so much better when I find the radical inside of me!


Gerry said...

I just got through reading most of the articles in the Sunday New Times which I have not bought for a long time because it costs $6. What you are saying here is somehow in the same vein as what I am reading in the New York Times. In fact, I am very glad to read this blog entry because this paper gave me another kind of reality fix about the recession and long term joblessness looking like a possibility for many (ughhh). We must have people thinking and saying things like you are writing in order to cope with the world we find ourselves in today. Especially we need younger people continually coming up with what will provide hope and interest in the very worst of times, without funds, homeless yet, and then what? You are continually grappling with all these problems when you like many others do not have financial security. The NY Times says that financial security has disappeared for many in this deep recession who have never experienced it before, yet how can we help everyone to recover from their fears and find the help they need to survive. We can cut our expectations back to just meeting our basic needs. But at the same time we must keep progressing with the attempt to fulfill dreams and develop talents rather than just exist. What a challenge. But we can find ways to join hands across the whole country just as though a financial earthquake had hit the economy and we have to rebuild out of the ruins each in our own set of circumstances working to help ourselves, our town, our country and the world to get back on its feet but in a better way that makes more sense and has depth that sustains the soul as well as the body. said...

I wonder if a magazine would publish an article like this? You have worked within the school system trying to free student's imagination to reach beyond those walls enough that you know how difficult it can be. Yet it's the very thing that moves them and keeps creativity alive. It's the spirit that moves beyond.
I have been reading about Tippi
Hendron and her husband collecting 50 lions for a documentary, raising them, tending them, trying to get them to live with one another. (The movie Exorist paid for them.) What an undertaking!!
In these very rough times, It's hard to figure how an artist can eat. said...

They had 135 lions when they started the film. They all had terrible injuries. They spent the million and half they were given and needed seems bad times plagues the world! I haven't even found out if they got the film made.

DB said...

Raymond. One of the advantages of childhood imagination, as I recall, was the ability to simply ignore things that didn't fit. If we were playing "Lost in the Jungle" the cars that went by were simply ignored.

Financial problems are a given for an artist, most artists, it's true. I never got any encouragment from home or school. My hopes and talents were ridiculed by my teachers. In fact I was discouraged even by people who had no interest in my success or failure. One member of my family told me I would never make a living as an actor even after 20 years of doing it. They're out to get you.

I know an actor who's a millionaire, inherited. He works when he feels like it. He's not a bad actor but there's no fire inside him because he's not hungry.

Capitulate into the capitalist world if you want to, but you can't stop being an artist. Nature won't let you.


Chuckh said...

The drive to create riles up inside some folks and they have to express it. An artist has that, but he keeps going to the point where that little bit of spark, that touch of natural talent is worked upon and indulged and grown into a knowledgeable talent. At least that's the plan. Those who slip and slide back have not given their all to the process. Hard work is what really makes a great anything. One of the greatest fine artists living in America today is a product of a wealthy family. Money does not kill natural drive. If you want to achieve something, I don't believe money will hinder that. It actually has helped people who need the time to learn and grow without having to scrape together a living. Some of the greatest artists in history have been subsidized by royalty. But then some of them were poor and worked their asses off to acheive. I think it is all up to the individual.

Anonymous said...

This is really incredible..a piece of writing which I'm sure comes straight out of the soul with no interruption of thought. I can tell. Thank you for sharing this. -Beck