Sunday, July 02, 2006

Inspiration, Enthusiasm, Joy

Last night, we went to see a local community theater production, a musical with lots of tap-dancing… the actors put everything they had into it, and their enthusiasm was catching, even from the back row where we sat. I was alternately amazed and inspired by their footwork and their unseen-but-obvious talent for sliding out of one costume into the next. It was a delightful evening. Live theater is so different from movies -- there is a relationship that develops between the actors and the audience that somehow beckons the ones who are seated to express our own talents, a kind of subtle “now it’s your turn -- go out and be creative!”

Last night, I wondered what gets a group of local people, all of whom have day jobs, involved in the kind of hard work needed to put on a live theater (or any other kind) of show? There are probably a few in the group who believe it is a stepping stone to greater stardom, or at least full-time work in the field, but they can’t all believe that they are on their way to Broadway… so I assume some are just delighting in the production itself. I did plays in high school, but not since; it’s hard work. I admire those who make the effort in order to bring fun and beauty to the rest of us.

This morning, I’m musing about enthusiasm -- about putting one’s heart in one’s work. Originally, it meant “filled with the energy/spirit of the gods,” (Greek en & theos “god”) it now means an emotional surge of energy toward some goal or idea, often overcoming rational reservations. We have a love/hate relationship with that attitude in America… you can see it in the many movies, plays and stories about the brash innocent who “wins big“, after being hampered by the experienced, cynical professional who may or may not be also “evil”. We want to believe it so, yet fear that it isn’t so. (Incidentally, rarely is the innocent portrayed as an older person; we see enthusiasm as reserved for the young, though in practice, I haven’t found that to be true). What I find when I talk to friends and colleagues is that few of us want to admit to being either character; we usually temper our enthusiasm with a few sentences of “of course, I know there are downsides to it…”, but we also find a lot of fault with the cynic, who seems poisonous. So we all waffle back and forth, a bit worried to be classified at either pole. Enthusiasm is suspect but enticing… an appropriate response, perhaps, to being filled with divine energy. After all, who knows where it might lead?

In my own work, I have experienced times when Time disappears, when the art-making or writing so catches me that I literally lose awareness of my surrounding, until something calls me back. It’s wonderful, and a little scary. It’s unbalanced, in the literal sense of throwing over all other priorities except the current one. It has a driven quality, and it’s hard to say exactly who/what is doing the driving. And when I return to a more typical state of mind, I wonder at the force that sent me off into unexplored areas of creativity. What, exactly, triggered it? What fueled it? When I’m in the moment, I can’t really examine it, but afterward, I look for clues about myself. The “me” that most of the time thinks it’s in charge is shocked to find that it was momentarily unseated. Yet the experience is filled with such joy that I can’t wait to do it again!

Since I have been striving for balance in my life, and since I have experienced that “flipflop” (technically enantiodromia) when too much enthusiasm falls into cynicism, I have been looking for that point of enough but not too much… I’d love to hear if anyone has thoughts on it.

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