Rebecca and I have worked in a lot of places. I can’t remember the name of the convention center in Vancouver or the college in Paducah. There was the art center in Mobile and the children’s museum in Lexington. I remember the barricaded school in East Toledo and more than a few stages in northern Indiana and central Ohio. I remember the work of scaling difficult subjects to fit into the realities of children, young adults, university students, and care providers looking for breakthroughs. We never played Carnegie Hall but in nearly every place Rebecca and I set up shop there was a life and death set of problems to be addressed. Rebecca made an art of keeping a saturated road schedule. Thirteen hour days were the norm.
And whenever we got done with workshops, presentations, rehearsals, and performances we’d try looking around wherever we found ourselves. One early evening, after a day full of nail biting work, we were headed for a few hours of rest. Looking out the window of the car I saw a spot that looked vacant, empty, full. All I could think was, “Let’s stop for a moment and see what is here.” I lived in San Francisco. In that town you can basically pull off to the side of the road anywhere and be treated to extraordinary vistas. But for most of the places Rebecca and I find ourselves in there is little in the way of classical “gorgeousness”.
My mother taught me that beauty was in the eye of the beholder – right? We stopped and I turned around in my car seat without thinking and grabbed the files I’d put together for the trip. I dropped out all the documents, found some rubber bands, and left the car. That was my first “-ing ring”. A circular ring of file folders rolled into cylinders in a vacant lot. That’s it.
Rebecca took out her camera and started shooting. We didn’t talk about it. We found a way to practice a pause. Over time and at different locations we found the conversation that existed underneath all we were doing. Anybody working with other people has to live out the questions of why and to what end? Each of us is born hard-wired to making ourselves relevant and meaningful to those around us. But this takes time and discipline.
When you spend most of your waking hours designing experiences that are relevant to others you loose a sense of urgency in your own expressive voice. You put other people first. You consider other people’s creative lives with greater rigor than you do your own. This little and almost absurd ritual of setting cylinders of file folders down in empty lots became something of the equivalent of taking a breath after not breathing for a while. You know the kind of breath I’m talking about – the big, slow, steady breath that comes naturally after walking through an intense interview or a life changing moment. I’m pretty sure this is something we all do whether we are conscious of it or not. To every action there is a reaction that perfectly balances what comes before and after.