Julia and I saw a improvisational theatre/dance piece yesterday afternoon, called “bobrauschenbergamerica,” which I’m not going to describe here for several reasons, one of which is that I write these little unsigned theatre reviews for The New Yorker every week, and my tiny piece on this play won’t be out until Monday; I don’t think it’s kosher to write about it here first. But I will say that (oh my god, I can’t help myself) I laughed so hard throughout the whole thing that I felt like I needed to stop laughing or I might become a bother. I was crying, actually, I was laughing so hard, but it wasn’t acid-tripish funny, like your jaw hurts: The hilarity had actually flipped over into sadness pretty soon along the way, so what really hurt was my heart. I could go into that more, but we all know that about great art, and I have to do some work so I’m going to make this fast.
The long and the short of it is, that, because the work was so original, and the performances so unusually vibrant, I looked up the company—Siti—this morning, just to check them out. I found the director, Anne Bogart’s, blog. It’s pretty wonderful, what she says about making art, and I highly recommend it to anyone who could use a little creative shove. This was not the most profound thing she said, but I wanted to share it with you, because I think it’s a kind of a pith instruction:
According to David Logan in his recent book Tribal Leadership, groups and the individuals within these groups tend to function in five possible paradigmatic stages. Stage one is: “Life sucks.” This attitude, according to Logan results from the group experience of, say, prison. This is a difficult paradigm to transcend and groups in prison are susceptible to the understandable “life sucks” thinking which permeates the attitude and violent action or inaction of the inmates. The second stage is “my life sucks.” In line at the DMV everything feels grey and impossible. No one is there to help anyone and you are not about to contribute either. Next up, stage three, is “I’m great and you’re not” in which your life is a Darwinian struggle with “who’s on top” embedded with competition, and one-upmanship. You see the world as a place of competition and struggle for survival. Further up the tribal ladder is the “We’re great” clan. The example that Logan suggests is the corporate culture of the Zappos Company where people celebrate one another in the context of the corporate culture. The sensibility is of a group culture working for a united cause. Finally, the highest paradigm, stage five, is the “Life is great” model. The South African impulse to organize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a supreme example. Only in this humanitarian frame of mind can a group tend to such compassionate and ingenuous measures.
How people choose to see the world, so they behave. Words and actions are powerful and reverberate into the universe. I believe that how I describe my life matters not only to my own experience but also to the experiences of others. What is the story that I am telling? Does the story that I tell and retell inevitably become my particular experience and the experience of people around me? Do I choose to say, “my life sucks?” Do I choose, on the contrary, “Life is great?” The choice, if I am lucky, rigorous and attentive to process, is mine.