02 April 2011

Line Up, Fall Out

Last summer, on the last night of a week-long retreat, I volunteered to co-ordinate and emcee an amateur talent night. The show was slated to start at 7 p.m. in the dining hall. Interested attendees were asked to sign up by lunchtime if they wanted to perform.

A few minutes before "curtain" an impromptu birthday celebration was launched. As the last pieces of cake disappeared, several folks decided they had something to share and added their name to the line-up. The show finally started about 20 minutes late. We encountered a few technical glitches as the show proceeded and it was soon apparent that what had been estimated to be a two-hour show was going to run much longer.

Two hours in, I noticed some restlessness in the audience and suggested a brief intermission. "Let's take a little break--go to the bathroom, get some air, some refreshment--and come back for a sure-to-be-stunning second half. Does 10 minutes feel right?" The consensus was that 10 minutes would be too long --"We won't get out of here till after 11!" someone cried. "Let's take just 3 minutes." I reluctantly agreed, doubting seriously that this somewhat rowdy crowd would be back in 3 minutes.

Twelve minutes later, folks were still milling about. Someone had powered on a boom box as musical accompaniment for the break. Two more people asked that their names be added to the roster of performers.

My mood turned sour as I attempted to corral folks back into the room to resume the show. Eventually the show resumed. As it turned out, two of the acts in the second half were sufficiently entertaining to alleviate some of my distress.

An organizer for the event, noticing my mood during intermission, suggested that my frustration stemmed from a conflict between the disorder of the surrounding reality and my strong personal needs for order and beauty. The suggestion felt like an insightful gift that night and has returned over and over again since then when similar varieties of frustration have occurred for me.
1. A condition or place of great disorder or confusion.
2. A disorderly mass; a jumble: The desk was a chaos of papers and unopened letters.
3. often Chaos The disordered state of unformed matter and infinite space supposed in some cosmogonic views to have existed before the ordered universe.
4. Mathematics A dynamical system that has a sensitive dependence on its initial conditions.
5. Obsolete An abyss; a chasm.
I don't prefer order over chaos: so-called rules of order that I perceive as arbitrary are as unsettling as unfettered anarchy.

I have boasted that as an artist--and especially a performing artist whose work regularly includes a dash of improvisation--I am right at home with "creative chaos". This is true -- and not true. A visit to a painter friend's studio not long ago comes to mind: full ashtrays, old brushes caked with paint, a horde of flies swarming in a column in the center of the room, a litter box placed dangerously close to a cluster of canvases leaning against the wall.

I also remember a couple of classes in art school whose syllabi contained way too many rules and regulations for my tastes...

Chaos and order exist always hand in hand, cheek to cheek... Neither is "better" than the other.

It is the chaos of broken promises, disloyalty and breach of contract that vexes me, e.g., if you say will return from intermission in 3 minutes, I want to believe you. Sometimes, I'd even say I need to believe you. I'm going to be happiest if you return from intermission in 3 minutes.

Or, if you come to me at the 3-minute mark and renegotiate.

Or, at some point, even much later, if you acknowledge that you were not true to your word.

Here's where I get uncomfortable and a little crazy: you don't return in 3 minutes, you don't renegotiate at 3 minutes, you never acknowledge that you didn't do what you said you'd do AND if/when I say "I am utterly confused, frustrated and annoyed by this situation. I feel like I can't trust you. What is the deal?" I am perceived as "intense" or "confrontational" or "mean".


if I say nothing but make a mental note for the future ("not someone I want to make art with in the future") and don't invite you to participate in the next show, I am "unforgiving," "a perfectionist" or my standards are too high.



I didn't plan to go down that road. I just wanted to muse upon chaos and order. Apparently I needed to vent. I'll save the scholarly discussion for another post....

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