Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Life Worth Living

It's my birthday tomorrow. This morning I found myself overwhelmed and moved to tears. No, not because I'm getting older. I actually couldn't give a rats ass about that, except for the whole biological clock thing, and that my frown lines may benefit from a touch of Botox. But regardless, I believe that if I don't care about getting older, nobody else should care. I guess that's a pretty novel idea considering I work in Hollywood. Plus I honestly feel like I'm 25, fresh out of college with the world awaiting my thumbprint. No, I didn't cry about my birthday. I watched the You Tube video of the young woman bleeding out, to her death, on the streets of Tehran. It was one of the most moving, ethereal, horrific things I have ever scene. Even though there were people screaming around her, shouting, "NO! Why?!" it was an oddly silent experience. She just lay there, looking at the camera with a sad, peaceful expression, her spirit leaving her body as rivers of blood streamed out her nose and ears. At first it didn't affect me. More like I was watching a war movie filmed indie style with no steadicam; we are so conditioned now to view graphic, horrible things with a sense of detachment. But a few minutes later, it seeped into my consciousness and I understood what I had witnessed. That's when the tears came. I couldn't figure out what to do or what to say. I just wanted to reach out and share what I had witnessed, but I didn't WANT to share it. I didn't want to link to the video as I just found it just too opportunistic to share. God forbid someone ReTweet me. And furthermore, how do I properly articulate in 140 characters how the video really made me feel, yet at the same time acknowledge that my experience from it in the grand scheme of things means absolutely nothing- as I sit in my swivel chair in front of my almost new MacBook Pro. Or does it.

A visiting friend last night talked about a conversation she had with her old boss, how she had been passionate about developing a serious film about the Middle East. Her boss apparently shook his head and said, to loosely paraphrase, that those stories were too depressing and that no one would want to see it. That memory made me think about our role here in Los Angeles, here in the entertainment capital of the world (though I think India has the money now). If Art is supposed to imitate Life, how do these momentous events affect our storytelling? The beauty of this country is that it is up to you. You can make a war movie based on a real life story, a metaphorical, scifi movie ripe with current themes, set in a dystopic future. You can make a heartfelt, quirky movie that celebrates the complexity of love, family and life ('Away We Go' sounds much like that and 'UP' was certainly effective in illuminating those themes as well). And you can just make pure entertainment, something that relieves the burden of real world trouble in a two hour time out. Regardless, you storytellers and non-storytellers alike, let it AFFECT you. Let it make you think and feel. Capture this moment where people are dying for their freedoms in moments of clarity. Do not turn your back or think that it is beyond your control. Your mere awareness will change the paradigm. And for you storytellers, take up the torch and let this changing, troubled world color your creations, augment the way your publish and share your art, as this conflict once again showcases the powerful tool that is the internet and Twitter.

For myself, I give myself the birthday present of free speech. Speech free of fear of what the other person will think, of what the ramifications will be if I believe that it should be said. Not that I won't think before I speak, the contrary would be indulgent and potentially hurtful, but I would like to embrace the gifts and freedoms that my North American upbringing has afforded me. Power and prayers to those, however, who protest in silence. May they find their way out of the dark and discover the peace and change they seek.

All Things T

1 comment:

annehager said...

I realize I am commenting on this a bit late, but I have only begun following your blog recently. This post, in particular, struck a chord with me.
I, too, watched feeling heartbroken and helpless, as I witnessed the horrific video of Neda Agha Soltan's death. I found it especially poignant that you acknowledged the relevance of art in affecting social change. That is a point about which I feel so strongly, yet there are moments when even I grapple with its truth.
I am an artist-a painter and illustrator, mostly. I tried to be an actress some years ago. I studied in college. Although, I believe that now, that ship has sailed. But the arts, musical, visual or theatrical, have always been ever present in my life. My other passion has been helping animals. In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, I traveled to New Orleans with HSUS to aid in animal rescue. It was a startling experience. With the water still rising and bodies floating by, we would knock down doors of condemned houses, not knowing what we would find. It smelled of of filth and death. Sometimes, I would hear meowing from under a bed - what a welcomed sound! But often times, it was too late.
Prior to that and after that experience, I have worked in rescues and shelters, but that salient time in New Orleans is probably what inspired me to pursue veterinary nursing. Seeing death constantly, needless to say, often makes me feel powerless and insignificant. My love for art never has left me, but after returning from N.O., I felt such a disconnect between being an artist and being an activist.. between being a caretaker and a creator. I had quite a dry spell. I managed to convince myself that creating art benefitted no one but me. (Going to Catholic school for 12 years probably cause such guilt-ridden scruples). :-)
But I realized that art does not just reflect life, it can influence how we live our lives. It does not just express the emotions of one individual, it creates an empathetic relationship between the artist and the audience. Art can create a dialogue, be a catalyst for critical thinking, can inspire new ideas, can challenge a society's beliefs. It can provide an escape, as you said, so that people can rebuild and regroup.
I read your words: affecting change is not "beyond [our] control," as artists, storytellers, creators of all kinds... I read it right at a moment when I was starting to feel hopeless and useless yet again. But you confirmed, once again, that art and altruism, creativity and caring are not mutually exclusive. We have the ability within ourselves to make a difference. Thank you for a much needed reminder.