To be Brave or to be Fearless

Once I told somebody that when I grow up I want to be fearless.

At the time I thought that I meant it. I believed that if I could just get out of my head and not worry about what others thought and not worry about what I thought that everything would get easier.

Since then I’ve thought more about the ideas of bravery and fearlessness.

I’ve realized that “fearless” and “brave” are very different. To be fearless can be reckless. To be fearless can mean that you don’t care – there is no thought of consequences. To be brave is scarier. To be brave means that you feel – that you care. You have thought through every eventuality and you have to push yourself to face the scary thing or do the scary thing because it matters so much. “Fearless” means acting for the sake of it. “Brave” means acting because you can’t imagine it any other way. There is a difference in intent – one is almost apathetic, while the other is rooted deeply in love.

In order to be brave you have to be aware of the things that scare you.

I can think of lots of things that scare me. There are the classics, of course: aliens, snakes, squeaky doors on stormy nights. Those are the things that make your adrenaline levels rise. But they pale in comparison to the really  scary things, the things that have more to do with feelings. Specifically one feeling – the one that forces you to be brave: love.

I am scared of losing my family. I am scared that I won’t be able to do what I love and that somewhere in life work will start to feel more like work and less like passion. I am scared that I am not enough for the people that I care about. I am scared of all of the ways in which love makes me vulnerable. I am scared by the beautiful feeling of total exposure, of heart-pounding, head-racing, breathlessness.

So I am not fearless. And I don’t want to be. If I were fearless I don’t think that I could appreciate the terrifying emotional spectrum of the human experience. If I were fearless I wouldn’t care so much about the people in my life.

Part of life is about being brave and reconciling our fears. So I want to be more than fearless. I want to be brave.

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The Art of Communication

impression

“The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.” ~Ludwig Wittgenstein

Communication is like painting. Sometimes a person may come up with a masterpiece of an idea, and put it forth into the world clear and fully formed, saturated with color on a scale which others may digest comfortably. Other times a sentence may morph into a Pollock, becoming more and more layered until the starting point is all but unidentifiable. Yet other times there is a middle ground – a place of nuance. In those moments a person may have a thought to share, but release it in parts, or in phrases with subtlety. Some ideas come out clearly while others are fuzzy to the receiver. Here, communication becomes impressionistic: forming a whole a scene, a whole feeling, with well-placed brushstrokes and smart colors.

All of these ways of communicating are limited by what an artist can imagine, or what a speaker can name. Yes, we may be able to identify a feeling without being able to fully describe it, but because we lack the precision to completely talk about it, it is never fully comprehensible and communicable.

When I don’t know what something is, I default to calling it the infinitely descriptive “thingy.” This does nothing for someone to whom I am trying to communicate. We are all limited by what we can describe. As such, we are all limited by what we can control. So, really, I have no power over that “thingy”.

But what happens when that thingy which you have no name for suddenly becomes important?

Well, then there is no choice but to become a Degas or Kahlo or Pollock or Picasso or Monet and put some paint on a canvas – put some words into the Universe – and expand the limits of your language and thus the limits of your mind.

 

Image: Impression: Soleil Levant – Claude Monet, 1872  <https://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/monet/first/impression/impression.jpg

Palimpsests: Being Haunted by the Ghost of a Ghost

In just over the past week the word “palimpsest” has come up in my life in three different contexts. This seems to be a sign from the Universe (with a capital “U”).

A palimpsest is an old animal skin, such as parchment, which has been written on, then scraped over so that new text may be added. It is a document with attempted erasure, but which still has underlying traces of its past stories.

And so: I am being haunted by the ghost of a ghost.

The word’s repeated appearances have gotten me thinking about palimpsests of the world, outside of literature. I heard a great example of a “cultural” palimpsest in my first recent encounter: when an adult uses a cutesy word from their family or their childhood, such as “jammies”, that could be considered a palimpsest. People may do this and create verbal palimpsests without even realizing it.

Another example I heard was New York City. It was in my second encounter, and it floored me. I have a certain romantic obsession with New York – the lights, the people, the art – and the more I thought of it, the more I realized how perfectly the comparison works.

Initially I had thought of Rome as a city-palimpsest. But Rome has been built over itself in layers, creating a situation in which the further you dig down the more you find. That’s more of a messy manuscript than a carefully kept recycled story board.

But New York… New York is constantly in flux, keeping up with the times, modernizing, destroying to create and create and grow and grow. It maintains its status as a shiny beacon of the world by being just that: shiny and always new. Undoubtedly some ghosts have been created there in the process, but not buried alive like in Rome.

No, these urban ghosts linger; ready to draw you in with a whisper and ask you to join them in the city, even if it means that someday you will be just another layer in the palimpsest of time.

Performing Dreams and Demons

“Dreams are manifestations of our deepest desires, anxieties, and fears. When we experience bad dreams, our natural instinct is to break free of them and struggle back to consciousness. But, if we give in and allow our dreams to take over, only then can we delve into our innermost thoughts and confront our demons.”

On January 19th, fourteen dancers bared their souls on stage. Shaping Sound dance company, a single unit composed of distinctively sculpted bodies, told a story in black, white, and red. The narrative seeped out of them and they were simultaneously performers and storytellers. Their bodies illustrated a love story.

Under the haze of the lights, the dance bled out from behind the curtain until I was steeped in the life that emitted from the story. I was invested in the joyous ruckus to the verge of tears, brought on by the seductive beauty. The performance was sexy and raw, flirtatious, but emotionally naked. I was close enough to hear the puffs of breath propelled from the dancers’ bodies. They left me breathless, too. They released not only air, but also emitted the feeling of the piece: the pain and tension of abuse and the hope at the opportunity for a new love. Exhale. Then they filled themselves up again, ready to keep going. Inhale. It created a process of osmosis between the audience and the performers: they released the story, and we absorbed it in exchange for a sense of awe that floated almost palpably in the air above us.

The show was violent, hopeful, desperate, and – above all – lovely. The dream state created by the dancers and the props was a perfect setting, and the passionate physical confrontation of demons made for a finale that was nothing less than inspiring.

Ultimately the show left me thinking about the quote from the program, and contemplating dreams and demons. I realized that if battling ghosts looks like that – tough and elegant – and feels that raw and hopeful, then maybe everyone could benefit  from trying it more often.

Learn more about Shaping Sound at their website: http://www.shapingsoundco.com/