I recently saw a play that stuck with me, Lisa Kron’s “In The Wake.”  She’s a whiz and wild mind, once a member of the theatrical think tank The Five Lesbian Brothers, a playwright who usually casts herself in her plays, and whose works are for sale; see here.


“In the Wake” largely critiques the modern American assumption that the world is fair (in truth, it’s only “fair” for the rich).  The play’s slightly sloppy: Sometimes the affected dialogue is jarring; and when characters play wrestle on stage, they really should play wrestle, not actor-play wrestle.   But like all deep things, the mess was a sign of thinking that went beneath cliché.  And at times, scenes jumped with such clarity they could change your worldview.


One great moment came in a scene about creationism.  As the scene opens, we witness the end of a conversation between two women, an artist and a political thinker.  The politician has spent the last four hours blathering in high-minded prose about her liberal theories, it seems.  Without noticing, she’s talked the room empty: A large audience has left, and now only the glassy-eyed artist remains.  The artist, sitting tired with some awe, finally whispers, “I love watching your lips move.”  That is: She hadn’t been paying attention to the politician’s argument at all – just soaking in the look of her lips.


We quickly see that these two women represent two ways of engaging with the world: logical and experiential.  The politician invests in preformed beliefs – about social class, human rights, and code of law.  In contrast, the artist doesn’t like to talk or theorize as much.  She lives through a romance with chance, exploring her accidents.  She makes art by letting objects fall onto paper. 


After the politician’s longwinded argument, the artist breaks the tension with dismissal: Perhaps, she says, the most magnificent things in life aren’t the ones we plan.  Perhaps the greatest moments are born from chance.  After all, even scientists admit this, she says: Penicillin was discovered without the plan to discover it.  Gravity was too – discovered when the surprise of a falling apple bumped a thought to the surface, so they say.  A lack of plans might be the key to brilliance. 


The rational politician lets herself agree a bit, releasing tension in her shoulders.


The artist goes on: This is what makes me angry with creationists, she says.  Creationists so often make their case by arguing that the world is so beautiful – so wild and wonderful – that there must have been a plan behind this life.  But haven’t we been given repeated evidence that rational plans have greater limitations than chance occurrence does?  Why don’t we assume, by default, that the universe’s brilliance was formed by an accident?


Nice idea.  That scene popped like a new idea for me.  Kron’s essentially saying that our minds so tightly manage survival by putting a rational order on things that we (defensively?) assume that Nature, too, uses an individual mind’s stubborn plan.  But if we just admit how frequently chance has trumped logical planning in the birth of brilliant things – from penicillin to romantic couplings to Jackson Pollock’s paintings – we have evidence that chaos is the more complex designer.  Is complex beauty more likely to come from a single mind with one idea or by innumerable events happening without consciousness of each other, gathering intensity as they clash?


Then Kron goes a bit deeper, arguing that we should all have less loyalty to logic in everyday life.  Real receptivity might be wiser.  If you trust your plans too much, you tend to become closed minded; faith that you’re right also tends to steer you toward hypocrisy and make you unfun to be with. 


But to see the wisdom of those bits from Kron, you should see the play.


Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.

by on ‎10-29-2010 01:53 PM

So many visions and thoughts are running through my mind right now.  I've sat here for an hour, and thought, and thought, and thought.  I'm predictable.  I'm here, thinking. 


My first thought was of the time I planned a vacation.  Every hour was planned.  When you have children, you need to plan.  You want the vacation to be fun, but structure to hold things in place, as to not have unpredictable accidents happening.  The fallacy of this is, it's not spontaneous, accidents happen, and frustration builds =  Not so good vacation.


I thought about a program I watched on TV, Nova, the long and tedious creation of the lens for the telescope for Palomar observatory.  To the point, trying to find a substance that would polish that lens...one substance after another, and nothing worked - and was found out,  the simple use of their thumbs against the glass, worked.  What a beautiful, accidental discovery, that was! We would never have thought that the surface of our thumbs as being an abrasive!


I thought about the time I planned and planned an art "production".  I call it a production, because that's what it turned into, unintentionally.  I placed a very large framed canvass, one I had made, covered in hard cement like material, onto the grass by our art department......Climbing a ladder, up I went to the top with handfuls of balloons, filled with primary paint colors..... To drop these balloons down onto the surface of the canvass.  I strategically planned it all,  how the colors would splash...Except for the thunder in the background, on this cloudy day; or the breaking of the canvass, when the balloons collide with the surface;  colors did splash, but it went in all directions, as onlookers stood, paint covering the white surface of their tennis shoes.....Awe was struck from their mouths, as they stood still, then wandered around this broken canvas, inspecting these pieces.


I felt disappointment as I climbed down from the ladder.  I felt a failure.  I felt surprise!  I felt thrilled that these people thought it was magnificent that this failure became such a beautiful spectacle, innocently in pieces, broken, in the paint splattered grass.  A production!


One never knows when good, clear logic will turn on you, and splatter your brains into a happy accident.  The world is a beautiful place, as Nova programs show us all the time.  Whether by accident, or by design, it's also going to be a wonder. Planning, or mishaps, it's just a matter of understanding that there can be possibilities that come from them. 

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎10-30-2010 04:30 PM

Thanks for the great post, Kathy.


Funny collisions: I'm putting together a group art show here and just hired a performer for opening night whose act sounds a lot like your production: She chews crayola crayons and spits them--partly-digested waxy colors--onto canvas.  The most delightful thing. 


And you're so right about vacations - too much planning can spoil an adventure.  I have recently learned that I naturally tend to the same old plans repeatedly, so I've purposefully been making myself resign plans to others, and my adventures have been a bit better.

by on ‎10-30-2010 08:58 PM

Oh, my g.....!  .... what I wouldn't give to see that show!  Take pictures!  All the best!   I can't imagine..or I can, chewing crayons...!  Dental floss, anyone?  How does the stuff stick to the canvas?  With just spit?


Talk about adventures, I couldn't sleep last night, so I turned on the Oprah show....camping in my most favorite, beautiful place on earth!  Yosemite National Park.  It was so much fun, I couldn't stop laughing, watching those two, Gayle and Oprah, setting up camp!



by on ‎10-31-2010 10:40 PM

I think back, over the years.  All the plans to make things a bit more spontaneous, even those were planned.  Planning to have fun.  Planning to be happy, to make happiness happen.... backfired more times than I can count.  I don't know if I know the answer to letting go of control, in reality.  There's a pridefullness involved, definitely.... I've tried my darnedest, and hardest, to delegate.....or to just let go.....


I think about the woman, me, who once sat and watched lips move, and then, out of nowhere, gets quizzed on the subject!  I had lost control.....completely.


It's almost...... as if...... gads, to identify what it is.....just wanting to soak in, and feel, the aweness of it all, perhaps, without being watched, or questioned?  Without having to take that control back?  Creativity, inventiveness, quirky times.....having a moment..... is always, I think, going to be at odds with reality.


I'm rambling....

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