Art and Livelihood: Part Two

By Miriam Gabriel

Last night, I called into an open conference call last-minute. My laptop has retired a few days ago; its dark-rimmed, clunky embrace with makeshift DIY Ubuntu operating system will be missed. The tablet is slow after a recent software update. The phone is on its last leg. My roomate's desktop, from which I write this blog, was not something I thought of asking to borrow at the time. It is 6:55PM, and by the time 7:00PM launched the conference call, and well into 7:20, and now 7:45, perhaps 8:00, I have switched between three devices, two apps, and a phone line, as everyone switched from GoToMeeting to Google Hangouts. I felt like a hacker-character from a futuristic movie: the Matrix, or Elysium, augmenting my body with plugs and head phones and second-hand screens.

Or maybe nothing futuristic at all, but a clumsy dance that is quite present in the lives of attendees, perhaps in your life reading this. The juggle of clocking in's and out's. The freelance document, the tip, the small grant, the college loan, the ecstatic opportunity for exposure followed by a shakily empty pocket on the way home, or a fuller wallet that can finally allow for the exposure-experience gig. The bill paid and the bill pending, the bill averted and the bill inevitable, and the whispers and cries behind Ben Franklin's wig: take it off. Replace it anew. Grow some roots, potatoes, turnips, strawberries instead. What can we do? Plug, charger, headphones, laptop asleep forever, tablet in repose, phone will do, an ungainly disco dart to the live camera, hair looks good, and my image cuts off, now back to the dialing…  

 

 

But it would be a sad reduction to say that this is all that went on. In this daft trudgery, believe it or not, there was a trance. And the Evolver Network is no stranger to trance, among multiple modes of consciousness, when it coms to the discussions and experiences of their meetings. From international locally-bound "spores" to free-acess online meetings to an open-source database to everyday hash-out e-mail threads. No aspect of crating an alternative, sustainably glocal culture is off the table for these dancers, academics, farmers, designers, students, change workers, writers, artists, and everyday folks. Not even money.  

While on GoToMeetings, I heard a collaborator speak of her sick parents, the tiresome energy that one feels in the wake of being a caregiver. To come back as organizer to free-form events, with Skyped-in live lectures and follow-up dance sessions, is inevitably herculian. We were siblings listening to a family's swinging precussions. On the phone, I hear a longtime member's story of how his village fought corporate influence at the city council recently. He provided such an intricate and well-delivered contextualization of how the abstraction of global capitalism sucks dry the bone marrow of living local power, and we were students beholding our very fibres travel along the renewed awareness of his words.

One very special organizer and newfound leader among the network revivified a discussion of emotional relationship to money (I am on Google Hangouts by now, mind you!), of looking at that long-brewing tie and examining it and helping each other re-shape it. Here we were patients being healed and healing, tending to each other's worn-out ststches and re-grafting skin with alternative timelines and ties to a form of watermarked paper we may have held much more ofen than the empty sheet. The freshly-printed manuscript, or essay, or lyrics sheet. The lined, the graphed, the illumutaed e-mail screen. 

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Speaking of the illuminated manuscripts of the Dell's and Acer's and iMacs, surfing the waves of information and art, I come across a commencement speech that sounded more like storytelling. Its relevance to my life as a recent graduate and aspiring artist was made even thicker on the soul by the fact that its narrator was a hero of my young adulthood, as well as of many aspiring transformative writers of many experiences and cultures. The narrator is none other than J. K. Rowling of the worldwide best-selling Harry Potter series, speaking to none other than Harvard Universiy graduates. I knew a long time ago that she started from abject poverty of pocket,  but not of imagination and drive to write a work that strives to tumble down social structures of domination and re-enchant our social and natural world anew.

I strongly recommend listening to the speech in full, but should you feel the strain of an average modern busy body, check out the segment at 05:32 concerning her personal experience with poverty as a prelude to  her shameless ovation to failure. She said this to Harvard graduates, to millions of online vewers, to you and me: 

"So why do I talk about the benifits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear has been realized, and I'm still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became  the solid foundation on which I re-built my life." 

Years later, I discover this speech by none other than one of the most powerful spoken-word storytellers in the world discussing the value of failure even after transforming culture, reaching masses, building wealth, and taking some of the most culturally influencial creative risks in America. Of course, I am referring to Oprah Winfery, whose description of her craft as a journalist at 3:25 comes off as nothing short of a TLA manifesto. Further on, she comes to narrate how she came to the following conclusions about failure: 

"It doesn't matter how far you might rise. at some point, you are bond to stumble. Because if you're constantly doing what we do – raising the bar – if you are constantly pushing yourself higher and higher and higher,… you will at some point fall. And when you do, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move you in another direction. Now down that hole, it look like failure,… give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost. But then, here's the key: learn from every mistake. Because every experience, encounter, and particulary your mistakes, are there to teach you and force you into being more of who you are. And then figure out: what is the next right move? 

"The challenge of life I have found is to build a résumé that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be but it’s a story about who you want to be. It’s a résumé that doesn’t just tell a story about what you want to accomplish but why. A story that’s not just a collection of titles and positions but a story that’s really about your purpose. Because when you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole that is the story that will get you out. What is your true calling? What is your dharma? What is your purpose?"

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Oprah's words here hearkened a lighting ember amid the rush of information, schedules, frantic typing and meals on the go. What are we doing all this for? What is the purpose that drives each artist and artistic community to undergo such risky, profound transformation in their on lives, knowing it will inevitably spill into the work and worlds they build?

My mother called from Egypt that night. It was a moonlit brooding night for me, as skies began to crackle with bird songs and sunlight in Egypt. I told Mama how I missed the sun over revolution-enduring, and revolutionary, Egypt, and she sent me picturs from her balcony. She spoke of her unwavering love for this land, of a God that watches over it and loves it because its people are kind. To what action does this kindness translate? "[Rough translation]People give. Poeple would have nothing and they give. You know: someone needs a surgery, someone needs to go to school, someone needs to get married, and people get together and give. A protestor needs a blanket. Heck, people will have nothing and give. They give, Misho [my awkward nick name from childhood]… 

"It's a rough patch, but we will endure it, because God sees the good that most people do here. Of course you have fools and ill doers, but most people here are kind, and they give. Give it two rough years or so, but we will overcome. I don't doubt it, Misho." 

I want to feel this shining path emanate Egypt, as much as I want to feel its warmth waft from the vision-encrusted chests of fellow TLA artists – writers, singers, storytellers, poets – the world over. Giving, dismantling, re-imagining, embodying, re-bodying life and communities and co-created "careers" that give back in ever evolving ways. That dismantle walls, re-enchant lives. Oprah mentioned in her commencement speech the lyrics of an old hymn that propelled her into rising from the "hole" of failure: "by and by when the morning comes… Trouble don't last always. This too shall pass." 

Should you, or me, ever feel like we may be at the brink of hemmorhaging what we have to give, of being sucked dry or simply tired, let us remember that – maybe two years or so – and it may pass. Heck, we may even will the cultural, creative or career storm to pass – be it something as concrete as money or as subtle but no less forceful as an idea of success, resume, or career profile. We can start by creating support networks and sharing opportunities, inspirations, and passions as to why we continue to create. In remembering the Evolver Network conference call, I often overlook that I in fact didn't leave the frenzy and ecstasy of a device-run conference without leaving a mark, before poor reception cut off the camera feed. A colleague said that these were the last words she heard: "I want to use writing and the arts to help channel scial change." I didn't leave the whirlwind of cyber "feeds" without a stated purpose. And I am not walking on without it.

Hope this last song by Daft Punk will inspire you to walk on with your purpose, too. As always, please do not hesitate to share your story for potential publication, or e-mail me your questions and queries, by directly contacting me at mgabriel.miri@gmai.com. I would love to respond to your electronic letters as soon and as fully as I can, or to honorably publish your addition to the November "Arts and Livelihood" stories and grow from your narration. Also, do not shy from commenting below. Be conscious, dreamy, ever changing, ever you, and well.   

 

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