By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
— “Imagine,” John Lennon
I’m always prone to some tear-shedding when witnessing great art — film, play, dance, music — but I find I’m doing more of it lately. The news I deal with daily as a political analyst is so horrendous, coming from such a dark place in humanity’s shadow world, that anything that gives off light, evidences a transcendent spark, moves me beyond words.
That’s why treating the arts as a “fringe” activity in education, the first item cut by money-strapped school boards — while full funding goes toward “teaching to the tests” under No Child Left Behind — makes my heart ache. What we should be financing is No Child’s Soul Left Behind.
Art is soul work. Does anyone doubt this? Just watch “at-risk” kids rise beyond their troubles by painting or making music or dancing or acting in a play. Observe the joyful concentration, the passion invested, the creativity unleashed — as a teacher, I find nothing more satisfying. For the time they are engaged in artistic activity, their real-world problems do not exist, or, put another way, their problems are worked out (mostly subconsciously) in harmonious and creative ways, through their art.
DOING ART VS. DOING WAR
I can’t tell you how often I sit in an audience and observe the glorious art that’s come through an artist’s troubled life bursting into positive exploration, and, as the tears roll down my cheeks, I think: “Nobody is being hurt or killed by this energy. This is positive melding of artist and audience. Beauty is the opposite of war. Art equals hope.”
I’ve experienced these feelings intensely the past few days. One was while viewing the feature film “Once,” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0907657 ) a lively, touching story of a young Irish busker and a young Czech woman he meets as they make beautiful music together, in a variety of ways.
The other was listening yet again to my son Mark’s first CD album, “Yung Mars,” ( http://www.yungmars.com ) dynamic, enchanting melodies, rhymes and rhythms created from difficult experiences in his young life — loss of a love, political struggles, creative blockages, etc. — as well as songs based on exceptional joys he’s experienced.
IMMERSION INSIDE THE ART
Some musicial compositions will move me to tears (Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” for example, or one note toward the end of Mendolsoh’s Violin Concerto) or some lyrics (when the Weavers, for example, sing in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” the line “Why can’t there be Christmas the whole year around?”), or watching Torvill & Dean dance Ravel’s “Bolero” on ice, or Barishnikov levitate for what seems like long seconds in a ballet. These, to me, are perfection in art, and they aesthetically and emotionally blow me away.
Those who have worked as artists, either solo or with a group of like-minded colleagues, know the transporting power of artistic endeavor, the fun of exploration, feeling enraptured in the moment of creation, the joy when others (especially when those others are not friends or family!) are majorly affected by your work.
When I’m working on a new play, or poem, or now in photography, I simply turn myself over to the artistic muses and let the flow take me to places that often are surprising; almost always, I come away enriched and deeply satisfied. Even when those explorations take me to dead-end streets, I don’t regret the journey. It’s the adventure of finding that is uplifting, invigorating, transformative. The find will flow out of the finding.
Art operates on the assumption that there are nuggets to be mined everywhere, even in locations that seem to be dead-ends. Just open your eyes, open your heart, open your soul, and you’ll find them — and, even more exciting, you’ll find connections there to so many other levels and aspects of life. In short, you’ll find yourself caught up in the infinite warp and woof of Being. Very Zen.
Making art is hard, slogging work sometimes, but, as we all know, it doesn’t seem like “work” when one is totally wrapped up in it in a positive way. The process of creation (as any woman in labor can verify) is difficult but it’s ineffably transformative, utterly fulfilling; you feel as if you’re properly aligned, centered, doing what you’re supposed to be doing, connected to the divine realm, whatever words you use to describe that glorious, often numinous experience.
THE HOLY GLUE OF COMMUNICATION
The busker in the movie “Once” has trouble expressing feelings through talk, but he is able to reveal what’s in his heart through the songs he writes and sings. Art as universal language.
True communication, the kind that takes place on the deepest levels, is rare. We humans are easily-hurt creatures and we protect ourselves from pain, rejections, insult, attack. We don’t let very many people inside our carefully constructed emotional forts. But when we do take the risk and it works, when the soul-connection is there, the communication that flows back and forth is the strongest bond in the world, emotional and spiritual superglue, a conduit for love and caring. Deep friendship, sexual oneness, marriage, shared experiences in the maw of death, whatever the way that communion might happen, it is a miracle of true communication. Each time it happens in my life, I feel ineffably blessed, lucky, grateful.
Occasionally, a politician will come along who seems to possess that kind of deep connection, whose heart is open, whose soul is profoundly rich. In my life, there were very few that affected me that deep way. When I was growing up in Florida in the 1950s, Governor LeRoy Collins affected me along those lines; with great courage in the segregationist South, he spoke about his Christian teachings that led him to oppose Jim Crow laws and to the need to tear down racial barriers to equality of opportunity. His political career ended at that point, but he stood tall in my teenage eyes as someone I’d follow anywhere.
Any others? The non-violent gurus, of course: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day. They lived their beliefs, and in so doing took millions of us to a higher level of soulwork. I also was much impressed by Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. McCarthy, who I was lucky enough to spend time with, was really a relucant politician/warrior, being much more comfortable as a poet; Bobby Kennedy in the last year of his life did a major transformation of character right before our eyes, growing from a small, ambitious pol into a big person of great moral suasion and charismatic power.
Three of those political leaders, one must remember, were assassinated. Those who bring rare light to the world are always in danger of being snuffed out by those more comfortable in, or who benefit from, the predominant darkness.
WE ARE DESPERATE FOR THE LIGHT
In some ways, I think the public’s disfavor toward Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and the rest of the corrupt crew down there in the White House bunker flows not just from their incompetence and dirty deeds but from an unconscious revulsion at having been dragged down into their fetid dark hole for much too long. We need, we long for, we are desperate for, the light of critical intelligence, the fresh air of imagination, creativity, optimism, hope in our polity.
This doesn’t mean we’re unaware of all the bad stuff happening out there, all the greedy and lieing types stealing us blind and the very real terrorists who want to do us in, but we know that there are better, more uplifting ways of dealing with the shadow matter in front of us.
Our current leaders have sullied America’s soul, they’ve made us feel dirty, slimed, by scaring us into their dark, narrow world, with its severely limited view of humanity’s possibilities. Republican office-holders in Congress, enjoying the perks of being in power, have hung in with Bush&Co. much too long and are now starting to realize that they are likely to go down in the next election, and thus are making tactical “adjustments.”
Watching GOP morality shift away from CheneyBush’s disastrous policies makes for some fascinating theater of the absurd. That shift, oddly enough, is not reflected all that much in the announced and unannounced Republican candidates for President, who have hitched their wagon to regressive policies that will take them over the electoral cliff on Election Day 2008.
The sad truth is that while CheneyBush — and the Republican presidential hopefuls — are playing their parts in this tragifarce, trying to elongate the run of their show through January 2009, thousands more Americans will die or be maimed, tens of thousands of Iraqis will be slaughtered as “collateral damage” (by both the U.S. and “insurgent” forces), and the CheneyBush Administration will get even more lunatic, with additional wars and escalations, more destruction of the U.S. Constitution, further movement toward an imminent martial-law society.
Impeachment is called for not only to remove the crooks and liars from office so they can no longer continue to do great damage to the national security and to the Constitution, but also as a symbol of America’s rededication to hope, honesty, rationality — in short, to the light that will help guide us out of our present dark morass.
Largely responsible for that light, and deserving of far more support and encouragement than they tend to get, are our country’s artists: the poets, playwrights, comedians, satirists, musicians, dancers, painters, sculptors, composers, et al. By their very existence, they keep the torch lit, speaking truth to power, and thus will never be defeated.#
Bernard Weiner, a playwright, poet, and Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org) . To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 7/31/07.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner.