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Sunday, May 11, 2008

when to risk unreasonable... hope

April 18, 2008

Hope and, by extension, hopelessness have been big themes of this year’s presidential campaign. They are themes that resonate with me, and themes that weave through THE PIEMAKER.

I think it’s an almost universal experience of childhood.. that at one point or another you have your hopes dashed. I believe most of us can remember at least one devastating moment of grief when some hope we’d been filled with, silently praying for, wishing and wishing and wishing for doesn’t happen. This might be because as children we are so willing to hope, to hope big, to hope unreasonably even. When I was 5 I hoped fervently and absolutely secretly for a year that my parents would get back together and I was inconsolable the day I discovered that my father was remarrying, the day I knew finally that my wish would not, would never come true.

Experiences like these teach us caution. Teach us how to temper our hopes. Loving parents, totally unnerved and distressed by the wild grief they’ve seen their children feel, do all they can to protect them from more, and with the best of intentions help them lower their sights, scale back, develop a sense of ‘reality.’

The trouble is that then.. we may turn around and find ourselves part of a world of people who have given up hope, who see others through a cynical lens, who believe there is no altruism in the world, no generosity, no real integrity, that everything is ‘fixed’ in favor of a few, and who are too convinced of this version of reality to hold on to even the smallest dream.

I’m an artist, and oddly enough, I make a living at it. Not famous, not rewarded much, but still.. I’m a working artist. Many people assume that means that I’ve followed my dreams, and that things have worked out. Not quite. When I was 18 I imagined myself an actor. I’m not. I’ve done a lot of non-artist things to be able to sustain myself in the theater, learned management, bookkeeping, fundraising, every form of nonprofit administration; I’ve done the labor too, cleaned, moved, painted countless sets late at night. I’ve pinched pennies, I’ve worred a lot. Its not all art. There was compromise, there were difficulties, there were times, when the door closed, and I had to look long and hard for an open window. My life wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I wouldn’t trade it.

Hopelessness is a passive state, an acceptance and belief in limitations… which may or may not be real. It can look bitter, or tired, or smartass, or sad. It tends to spread from the person whose inner mantra is 'I can’t', to telling others… 'you can’t, it won’t happen, oh puhleaaase.'

I don’t like the sort of cheerleading mentoring that just shouts out at young people, 'Hey, follow your dreams!' That’s not backing young people, that’s just trying to sound like you’ve got hope for them even if you don’t. But if instead, older people might say to younger people (and maybe even to themselves) … now what is it you hope for? Uh-huh. Well, that’s a great hope.. I think you can get there but there are going to be some obstacles on the way. How about we do a little research, begin to shape a strategy for how you might move down that road?

If a dream isn’t worth taking the time to strategize for, then it’s just a passing fancy. When you’re talking about a real heartfelt dream… there’s always the willingness to work for it. A dream like that should stay alive. A dream like that deserves support.

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