Saturday, September 30, 2006

Good Things and Unintended Consequences

This is gonna be a quick one. Basically, I wanted to say that I passed my martial arts level test; I'm now a phase one, level 2 student. There are three phases, and three levels in each phase. This really just expands the number of classes I have the option of taking, accelerates the pace a bit, and increases the number of weapons I may get to handle in any given class. It hardly puts me in any elite upper tier, but it moves me closer to where I can lobby to become a core team member (level 3 or above), and, eventually, start training to teach others.

I don't want to jinx anything, so I won't name names or count on publication . . . but I was finally contacted by a nationally distributed music magazine. They were interested in my writing, and I've been reviewing the CDs they sent me over the last two weeks (I've sent them 4 reviews; I've three more to cook up), and I had my first interview with a band yesterday for a 1500 word feature due . . . well, any day now. The transcription of the relevant points from the interview already well exceeds my necessary word count, so I'm not worried about coming up with the verbiage. Some judicious editing, a good intro/conclusion . . . we'll see. No guarantees at this point, but I've heard some great music, learned a lot about my own writing (when your reviews are supposed to be 250 words, you learn a lot about distillation), and had the opportunity to meet and speak with two of the nicest, most intelligent members of the Seattle arts community and of, I'm given to presume, the hip-hop community nationally.

If it turns out that any of what I've written gets printed, I'll be sure to let y'all know. And if you're a visitor to this site and DON'T buy my published work, I will find a way to punish you. No, really.

So once I write my remaining reviews (no sweat--of the 3 CDs left, two are actually among my favorites of the batch) and my feature (terrifying prospect, but at least I've got all the content I could possibly use--like I said, these cats were smart), my next major priority, aside from just plugging away at my training, will be the teaching project. Which still terrifies me, of course, but I feel like I've got a little more credibility simply through tackling these other obstacles.

It's funny how succeeding on your own terms can create as much angst as it does pleasure. I'm as stressed, anxious, and plagued with insecurity as ever: probably more so. I don't know if I'm good enough to do any of these things, that I'll be exposed as a fraud any minute now. But I'm getting better at simply acting on the demands placed upon me; my insecurities don't keep me from doing the things I feel unqualified to do.

Anyway, that's it for now. Hope the weekend finds you all well.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More On Yesterday's Post . . .

If you haven't read this, you might want to before reading this extra bit of navel-gazing.

See . . . There's more to this desire for "greatness", this need to prove my capacity for transcendence, than a mere ego-boost. And while I already made it pretty clear (I think) that the issue extends well beyond the martial-arts, theatre, and education projects facing me this fall, there's actually a piece that I've been hesitant to address given the number of parents in our little flock. Because part of what I feel incapable of is parenthood.

Now I've always been ambivalent about parenthood. Not in the sloppy, American sense of the word, which tends to treat it as synonymous with apathy (oh, the crimes of Americans against the English language). No, I mean REAL ambivalence, wherein multiple strong emotions create a noisy stasis. Some of it's the usual stuff: Can we afford it? Am I ready for the impact on my career (such as it is)? Is this world a fit place for a new life? Am I unlikely to raise a serial killer? On the other hand, I'm stuck with other, less obvious questions: How can I provide economic stability while making it clear to my child that I'm suspicious of my culture's economic values? Can I impart an operative definition of integrity? Can I instill a love and valuation of aesthetics? How can I ensure that I bring a life into the world that improves it, when so much of what calls itself life seems to debase and degrade the world in which we live?

This isn't my sole preoccupation--everything I've said about wanting to make "important" art, teaching warrior ethic, altering the culture, what-have-you is still true, still a prominent desire in my life. Sometimes I think that, insofar as I want to have children at all, that need extends from the other, that I sometimes think the family is the most effective vessel for passing on revolutionary concepts and ethics.

Since 'Stine and I can't have children naturally, I'm faced with the prospect of needing to appear, while we're still young enough to have children out of the house before retirement, to be a reasonable candidate for adoption. Parents who can be parents naturally don't have to prove themselves "worthy", but prospective adoptive parents do. So one of areas where I feel the sting failure is in looking at myself as a candidate for parenthood financially. I see an actor/writer/musician/martial artist who offers his talents for free, who does desk-monkey work for a pittance that is less than the combined total of the monthly household credit card bills, and who doesn't seem to be headed for any kind of career. This approach might suffice if there's never anyone but us for whom to care; indeed, it might even suffice for a child, were it possible for us to have one without anyone evaluating our worth for such. But when held under a magnifying glass . . .

'Stine's got a lot going on. She's found something morally and spiritually satisfying in which to specialize, at which she excels, and for which she is paid. She's not the obstacle. There are many reasons why I would like to become less shiftless and vague in my approach to life, even before introducing the idea of children; but making that transition with an eye towards both my values and my aptitudes could take more time than it seems like we have.

Where do greatness and transcendence fit into this? Well . . . again, it's largely a matter of being able to hold my head up even without the trappings of financial success or professional appreciation. Maybe successfully teaching at-risk youth about theatre, or passing a level-test, or writing potent works of performance text for myself have nothing to do with being a good parent (indeed, I'm fairly CERTAIN they bear no relation), but they DO speak to my ability to put my values and abilities into action. I'm never going to be the guy with the corner office, and I wouldn't want to be. I've no gift for sales, little respect for current educational hierarchies, and no idea what, besides sales or teaching, someone of my particular skills could do within the market. Working with my body, with ideas, with patterns and cycles in art and media, is what I'm built for, whether I'm doing it for free or for pay, whether I'm doing it well or poorly. And for all that, if asked to account for my lack of success, I'd want to be able to say, "Yes, I'm broke; but I'm broke because I've stayed true to my values, an approach to life I'd hope to pass on to any progeny. I work hard and I get by. I sacrificed a lucrative career to study those disciplines I found compelling and important; I sacrificed a career in those disciplines to maintain what I see as the integrity of the forms."

As it is, despite the work I've done and continued to do, despite my efforts at self-improvement through art, religion, philosophy, and combat sport, I'm still all but overcome with shame when I look at myself. I still worry that it's laziness or--worse yet--utter lack of talent that's kept me where I am, not some vague notion of integrity. I fear asking someone to let me raise a child because I fear, on some level, that I really don't deserve one, that I'm really not qualified. As worried as I am that I will be rejected by any adoption agency for being too poor, too old, too colorful, I'm scared of something even worse: that the reason for which I am these things isn't because I was too dedicated to my vision quest, but because I'm too potently self-absorbed to be any other way, and that to give children to so hopeless a scoundrel would be a cruel condemnation.

Anyway . . . sorry that the above is both technically sloppy, writing-wise, and wildly self-indulgent. I guess that true, bone-deep self-doubt is usually both.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some Prosaic Greatness

Apologizing for navel-gazing on a blog is like apologizing for farting at a chili cookoff: it's probably the right thing to do, etiquette-wise, but the guests knew what they were in for when they showed up. But since we're all into worrying about how we come off, I'm going to apologize for the navel-gazing. The fact is, for all my attempts at altruism and self-improvement; for all exercise of my listening skills, kinesthetic response, and empathy; for all attempts at a truer, more generous state of being, I remain among the more singularly self-absorbed people I know. There are pluses and minuses to such a character, and I'll probably be forever working on that balance. But for now, I'm somewhat entrenched in a period of self-regard and self-analysis. So here we are.

I have two major events coming up in the next month (or so) that have me absolutely petrified. The first is a "phase test" in my martial arts class. See, at our school, since we're studying multiple disciplines (Kali, JKD/Jun Fan, Panantukan, CSW, BJJ, Savate, and Muay Thai), there aren't "belts" in the traditional sense; rather, they've devised a system of phases. There are three phases with three levels each, and students test once every 2-4 months. This would be my first test, and, if I pass, I'd move to phase 1, level 2. Which would just mean that I'd have a couple more options as to which classes I'm allowed to take, and would hopefully mean I'd get to play with weapons (!!!) a little more.

Thing is, I haven't been quite as consistent in my attendance as I'd like. I've been shooting for going to class 3-4 times a week, but it's really been more like 2-3, and some weeks have been a little less. Not exactly a shameful track record, but enough that, given how new all of these arts are to me (and how little they resemble the Goju-Ryu Karate, Aikido and Capoeira Angola I've already studied) and the length of time it's been since I last studied martial arts, I definitely feel . . . not so much unprepared as unready.

The second petrifying event is the beginning of my education project in mid-October. For those who missed the last few descriptions of this project, a close friend of mine and I will be co-teaching a series of classes on physical theatre, improvisation, and acro-balance. The emphasis will be on how one may apply martial-arts principles thereto, with a secondary emphasis on how one may use the performing arts as a platform for understanding the warrior ethic, insofar as one takes that to mean the ethic by which the "warrior" takes responsibility for her community, and to offer humility and healing by way of her art.

In this case, my fear stems from some of the same concerns, specifically the concern that I'm simply not a good enough martial artist to teach these principles (though the literal martial character of the art is essentially stripped away--we're only dealing with technique in the abstract). I'm worried that, never having taught before, my attempts will be awkward, amateurish. More prominently, though, I fear that these kids will see through my cirriculum and ideas to the lily-white face of my privelige, my paternalistic liberal desire to "give to the community". I find myself second-guessing my own motivations, wondering if my very intent with this project is so stone self-serving that my credibility will be shot before I open my mouth to say my first words.

As I approach these challenges, I hear the steady drone of the same old insecurities: that I'm a mediocre talent, that I haven't managed to do much of anything with myself, that I've a lazy intellect, that it's too late to establish any meaningful direction in my life. Basically, that I've squandered my modest gifts and given the shaft to any chance I might have had at greatness.

Greatness, you say? Yeah, that most prosaic of all goals, greatness, the longing for which is almost ironclad proof of mediocrity, even when the quest for it leads to a quiet (or not so quiet) contempt for all that is perceived as mediocre.

Greatness is a difficult thing to quantify for a dedicated abstractionist like myself. Though I've always hoped for comfort, I never sought wealth; though I crave recognition, I've never chased fame. Of course, I'm pretty sure I always secretly craved both wealth and fame, and had, at one time, that secret, youthful, vaguely megalomaniacal self-regard that whispered in my all-too-eager ear that I was gifted, dammit, that I was special, and that riches both literal and figurative would emerge as my birthright if I pursued truth, love, vision, and autonomy at the expense of all else (that those four directives might prove incompatible never occurred to me). But I've failed to create any legacy as an actor, a writer, a cultural critic, a martial artist, a musician, or a philosopher; attempts at fusing these disciplines into a single line of pursuit has been futile. I keep hearing the snide voice of this guy I heard, once, on NPR, talking about how, with few exceptions, people don't achieve greatness at pursuits picked up later in life, and I worry that the years wherein I could have made this work are past me, that sinking in anonymous routine is the only option left.

Obviously, studying new martial arts in my thirties and teaching eight weeks of an after-school theatre program to at-risk youth could hardly be called bids for greatness. I certainly don't seek fame or fortune in teaching or combat sport. But as these projects certainly pertain to my quest for truth, so, too, do they relate to my longtime musing on the abstract matter of greatness. My insecurities on all matters seem to rise from the same place, that dark little center where I wonder, at every moment, whether I'm an irretrievable failure. Of course I'm chanting on matters micro (the test, the classes) and macro (the quest for truth, the yearning to succeed at something), and it's kept me from getting stuck in too ugly a spiral. But this week in particular, I feel mired in doubt. And while my more immediate doubt is that I'm not enough of a martial artist to pass this relatively simple test, my greater doubt is that I'm not enough of anything to offer these kids any guidance, that I've already squandered my future, that all I have to share is a mish-mash of half-formed ideas that have already demonstrated their own poverty.

I suppose, all said, that all I can do is persevere, envision myself succeeding at these challenges while preparing NOT to chastise myself if I should fail, and hope that either truth or success peaks over some horizon.

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