A little while back, I was in the presence of joy.
I was at a music club that I hadn’t been to in more than 20 years, watching an indie band play to a full and very supportive audience. The crowd was a mix of middle-agers (like the band), those who could have been the band’s parents and young hipsters. One of the lead singers is a friend of one of my friends. Years ago when they first met, the singer had an entirely different life – married, working in the corporate world and thinking about having a baby. She was already dabbling in music part-time, but wanted to try it full-time, so her husband gave her something like a year to give it a shot. If she couldn’t make a serious dent with it, they’d have a baby. Long story short, she’s no longer married to the guy, she came out as a lesbian and she’s a full-time, full-on musician, in a band with a very loyal following that includes my friend.
The joy moment occurred during the encore, when the band stood at the edge of the stage, close to the audience, unplugged, no mics, just acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies. This singer, this gal with this story, had an expression on her face that struck me. It wasn’t a look of the performing pro that she’s clearly become; it was, very simply, joy.
I scanned the seedy club, with its eau d’urine stairway and dim lighting, and thought about this gal’s imaginary backstory: maybe she made more money in her other life; maybe she had a bigger house, a nicer car, more affluent colleagues; maybe her husband was a good guy and she could have continued to have a pleasant enough life. But this look of joy on her face, caused by the thing that changed everything, in this dingy club filled with friends and a bunch of strangers was something special. And I wondered if she would have ever known this in her other life.
What are you willing to struggle for?
I recently read an article by Mark Manson asking that question. Not, What do you want? Rather, What are you willing to slog through the shit for? Because we all want something – to be rich; to have a great relationship; an awesome body; a fabulous career – we just aren’t willing to deal with the shitty stuff that can go along with getting it.
So I thought about all of my wants and asked myself what was slog-through-shit-worthy. Dance has been that for me. At more than 30 years, the longest (and so far) ongoing love/hate relationship of my life. That’s a shitload of shit that I’ve tolerated, accepted, ignored and endured on the way to those gems, those rare moments of joy that somehow sustain me until the next joyful moment. These gems often occurred onstage when I was still performing. There’s really nothing like the sort of mash-up of control and abandonment that I sometimes felt as a performer. Not to mention the recognition. I don’t care how much a dancer denies it, if you want to be a dancer then you want to be SEEN and RESPECTED and RECOGNIZED. End of discussion.
Those feelings didn’t just vanish once I stopped performing. They were just rerouted, as I transitioned to other areas. Every now and then joy will strike me in a rehearsal, and I’ll think, Holy crap! This is good. And no one else gets to feel this. Same thing happens sometimes when I’m teaching class or when people respond to my writing or when I’m watching a rare phenomenal work that gets in there; right fucking in there!
Catch me on a good day, and I’ll bypass the shit and only talk about the good stuff in my artistic life. Admittedly, the good stuff is harder to come by as I get older and less patient, and the slog-through-shit-worthy criteria changes as the years go on.
But I’m still at it.
I’m still here.