Saturday, April 16, 2011

Being an Amateur Lengthens Life

It's odd.

I derive much of my pleasure and happiness in life from doing things I'm really not at all expert at, where my efforts fall far short of mastery.

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last two months since our cast's initial read through of The Taming of the Shrew.

I enjoy being in plays.  I love all that goes into bring a show into being, both the acting and all the glorious technical details, whether music, sound effects, lighting, properties or, as in our show, the making of a short film.

I don't consider myself an actor, though.  It's not something I work at regularly and, counting this play, I've only been five plays in my adult life.

I play small roles.  I have limited range, so I am mindful of working within my range.

And, still, somewhat foolishly, I play, I perform, and I put my limited abilities on stage. I expose my limited range to friends and strangers alike.  

Doing so energizes me, stretches me, opens up unexplored areas of my life:  it invigorates me.  During the last two months of rehearsals and performances, I've felt fulfilled, vigorous, happy, beyond what I normally feel.

And this uplift has almost nothing to do with whether I'm any good. 

It's the pleasure of taking part, of chipping in, of making a show work, of doing my part, of enjoying the work
of the others in this cast who really are actors, who do such beautiful work.

It's the pleasure of being an amateur.

I'm an amateur in so much that I do:  photography, cooking, writing, having a dog -- even listening to music.

Even listening to music.


In the car Thursday night, Julia was telling me and Dee about how her ex used to get her goat by telling her he liked Neil Diamond, knowing it would annoy her.

I said I liked Neil Diamond and wished I could see him in concert in Spokane where he's a performing idol.

Julia seemed taken aback and I said that maybe my love for Neil Diamond had to do with all the times back in high school that Tim O'Reilly and I listened to him while cruising the gut in Tim's Datsun after we got off work at the IGA.

Julia retorted, sharply:  "Well, there's a lot of music from the 80's that my friends and I listened to in the car driving around and it doesn't make it good music."

I thought to myself, "Yes it does."

I thought how that's exactly how I decide what's good.  Does it evoke memories?  Nostalgia?  Remind me of love, friends, good times, work I enjoyed, things I liked to do?

I rarely assess music musically.

It's why I sometimes tear up when Jigsaw's "You've Blown It All Sky High" comes on.  Or when I listen to Neil Diamond.  Or ABBA.  Or the Alan Parsons Project.

I'm not assessing the music. 

I'm being touched.

I'm an amateur.  I'm no expert.

My sensibilities are simple and so I love a lot of music. 

Somehow, my enjoyment of being an amateur parallels what Pirandello explores in Six Characters in Search of an Author.

In the play, the Father argues that characters in plays are more real than the people who are actors who play them.

I've been wondering how I might understand my character Christopher Sly as being more real than I am.

Then it came to me this way:  I can never fully be Christopher Sly.  He will always be more than I am.  He is a distillation, a nearly perfect form, an abstraction of drunkenness, good cheer, wonder, surliness, bravado, confusion, and any number of other characteristics.

He's a minor character, represents a small role, and yet his fullness is always out of my reach.  I can approximate some of who he is.  Some nights I do a better job with one or two of his aspects than with others.  It's never the same.  I'm always falling short.

It's the same with photography, giving sermons, giving a presentation at church, writing poetry, being a visiting writer at a writing retreat, singing, and on and on.

I'm an amateur.

I give it a shot. 

I have fun.

But I'm not an expert.

I'm not highly proficient.

I always fall short.

But being an amateur, to quote the messenger in The Taming of the Shrew:

....frame[s] [my] mind to mirth and merriment,
    Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life. 


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