I’m a square peg. Occasionally rectangular. Every so often, a triangle. But…never round – it seems. Regardless of my shape-shifting, my perception was always an ill fit. It’s gotten better with age. Gravity and experience have softened my edges, coming slightly closer to round I guess. In addition, I don’t care so much about being square. My oddities have turned out to be powerful. And some of the most interesting people I’ve met in life are the kind of people that my conservative Mother would refer to as “strange”. I have a different vocabulary. I appreciate their eccentricities and I applaud their bravery.
In my late 20’s (twenty years ago) I produced a hands-on arts festival in San Francisco. I made a lot of noise about cuts in arts education. It was an important issue. There were young square pegs out there that needed to communicate, damn it! When I look back with a bit more insight – it was likely not their well-being that drove me. I was aching for more square pegs; validation for my own odd shape. I needed to prove that I and all the other funny pegs were capable of great things. I did that, I think. I was successful. I rallied great artists, secured sponsorship by Haagen-Dazs and The Fort Mason Foundation, and threw a wildly fun event. I was written up in papers. I was invited to speak on cable TV shows (that was big stuff back then, very edgy). And, for the hundreds of kids that it touched, it was powerful. I know that.
It was a tremendously stressful time that was full of extreme work and anxiety. I had fears battling faith over my ability to pull it all off. I was young and I was trying to show the world what I could do. When I was in it, when the kids were there, I was fully alive. But when it was all said and done – the day after the event closed – I crashed like nobody’s business. The artists that I worked to surround myself with all went home. The kids went back to school. The press went away. And I was alone, wondering why I did it at all. Did I do it for the kids? Or did I do it for me? Was I trying to bring attention to the issue, or bring attention to myself? Did I want to find support for them, or for me?
I was the proverbial squeaky wheel. I have learned a few things over the years. That kind of noise inspires action, but the intent is to shut it up, not make it sing. You can cause a great stir, but the ripples might wash your community away. You can put yourself in the spotlight, but if you don’t share it, your hair will catch on fire, and that smells really bad. You can celebrate your squareness more fully if you’re not afraid to soften your edges once in a while. Community and the need for it will always exist. An egoless immersion into it will yield the highest return – membership.
I am in the throes of developing my career opus. A global project. The opportunities and anxiety of its production present themselves all over again. I will produce it this time with a similar thirst for community, but with a calmness and confidence that only age and experience has provided. I realized somewhere along the line that community comes in many forms. You must participate in it, and, reciprocally, it will provide more than just round holes.