Sunday, March 6, 2011

I want to change the world.

This hasn't been a lifelong ambition. I was never the kind of kid who wanted to be an astronaut or the President of the United States. I never wanted to be a doctor in an impoverished country, or an activist on a crusade. I never wanted to dream up technology. I never wanted to teach young children. I never wanted to be a knight in shining armor. I had no delusions about my chances of being heroic.

I was a self-possessed child, and I took it as a matter of course that I would throw my life, the whole kit and caboodle of it, after some sort of vocation, but only because I loved it. The world could go off to another room and close the door, for all I cared.

And now I find myself rather older and still committed to the things I fell in love with while young and impressionable, but haunted and obsessed by the need for it all to matter.

I can argue for why dance should matter and why stories so often do. It's easy to list the reasons for why you should go to the theater, why you should read a book. Pleasure, obviously. And beauty. The exercise of compassion, the shock of empathy, the way you are given transportation outside of your own experience and into the lives of others. An education in being a human being.

I can tell you, emphatically and with no equivocation, that the pursuit of dance and the pursuit of writing have made me a better person. They shaped my character, enforced ideals, and trained me to think with rigor and imagination. I would not change that education for any other... And, yet...

The last time I went to the theater, I saw an extravagant production featuring one of the most famous dancers in the world. I arrived early, so I went up to the cafe and had a cup of tea and leaned over the railing of the second floor promenade to watch people wander in across the lobby. They were all, almost without exception, older, obviously well-off, and spectacularly, breathtakingly bored. They seemed prepared to see something pretty, to have a cocktail, and to go home; there was so little expectation for anything more that I found myself uncomfortably depressed.

And now I find myself worrying, more than usual, about a person's responsibility to change the world. Is it right, is it good, is it a meaningful use of the privileges that I've been given if my life pursuits have such a narrow range of effect? I sometimes think about how much easier it would be, in certain ways, to go back to school, even this late in the game, and become something more clearly beneficial. Would I feel less conflicted about the minutes that I keep inexorably spending if I were a doctor, or lobbyist, or an investigative reporter?

It might be incredibly obnoxious to say that I want to change the world, but I do. Not necessarily in any grand or great or indelible way, but relevance seems like something we owe when we are so lucky as to do the things we love.
I so very badly want for this to be true.


Monica said...

You're already relevant, love :)

We just live in a society that places far more value, monetary and therefore social, on one kind of pursuit over another.

I am sure that doctors (and teachers, and scientists, and politicians) go into their field wanting to change the world, and often feel as though they're making no headway at all. Even though they're in a sector that has been anointed by our society as having "value."

I wish I could spend more time writing about this, but this is just to say: I understand what you're saying. But--having been through the academic wringer, and working a day job now, in the pharmaceutical industry--I feel like the people who are happiest are the ones who are doing what they love and being no one but themselves. And SO FEW PEOPLE do that.

If art is relevant to you, then it's relevant to everyone you meet.

Blahh, I can't be more cohesive, but that's what I'm leaving it at for now :)

Damien said...

There is a saying in meditation - breathing is boring. Until you are underwater. Then it gets pretty interesting.

When I think of the relevance of art, I think of cave paintings. I believe that when they were painted they must have been also combined with dance, with storytelling, with music and song. With ritual and magic maybe. Those things did not have forms then, weren't judged by any pre-existing aesthetic. Art was just the raw attempt to try and show people who were not much more than animals, how they could be something more.

I think, as artists, we are probably still trying to do the same thing. Show those wealthy, bored people how they can be something more. I'm certain anytime they have seen you dance K, they've felt that very deeply.

Megan Kurashige said...

You guys make me feel better. Thank you so much. I hope I get to see you soon... Would love to talk about art and responsibility and relevance over a pot of tea or in a nice pub.