(This was written in 2013 during my winter residency at CCWOC, University of Winnipeg. I repost it now to get me restarted on blogging, and because, surprise surprise it is still relevant!)
The Questions of a Fool
At the beginning of this residency I said I would sit in the cold dark of winter and see what would come for me. What arrived in the blistering cold? Questions; a great unending sea of questions.
Questions like…What am I doing? Is this worth doing? Am I doing this well? What is worth aiming for? Was it good enough? Am I making a difference? Who makes their living as a storyteller? What is the nature of performance? Why do I do what I do? What do I get from it? Is it enough? Despite the fact that I have been working with stories since 2001 and making my living at it since 2006, the questions come. Not just during this residency, but every few months for the past couple years. Questions questions questions. Does this happen to everyone?
I sometimes get down off the stage after a bad gig and I ask a thousand more questions, far darker than the ones above. This happens to a lot of the artists I know. When this happens, when these questions arrive like a mad and hungry legion, I have struggled to remember why I do what I do. At this point I have often turned to my friends, fellow artists, great thinkers, and I turn to the dead; I turn to all the artists who have walked the path before me, and ask them what they did when this happened.
One friend, Mats Rehnman wrote from Sweden: “You have questions. And this I love about you. I find it difficult with people that have answers, but I’m at home with those who ask. I remember a time when I was filled with answers – I was not a nice person in that time. Questions are the essence of creativity. I bet that God (Is there one, or two, or a billion of her?) did not say: Let there be light! She said: Will there be light? And to that, Light answered.”
Isn’t that brilliant? God asked: will there be light?
It feels like our modern world doesn’t encourage questions; it encourages a sense of knowing. There is a collective illusion that we should all know what we are doing, and if you don’t then you are a fool.
According to my friend Kevin Kling in Minnesota this is the preferred state of existence; being a fool. It’s best to embrace the inner fool and become accustomed to uncertainty. Knowing you’re a fool, according to Kling, gives you access to the world’s questions and to the gift of uncertainty. A fool doesn’t bother to pretend to know the answers.
He wrote: “You really are a fool. I mean that as a compliment, Its the best/worst thing in the world. Its something I struggle with too, the power of fool energy. so…sorry sister, its not something we want but it can move mountains. The trickster is always hungry…..”
Funnily enough from sitting with this constant uncertainty the past couple of months, the uncertainty of the fool, some clarity has come about my path and why I do what I do. Not solid answers, but some ideas. Along with the words of my friends I also find some comfort in the words of the countless millions of artists and thinkers that have walked their paths, throwing their discoveries over the shoulders as they move along. Their words light up my dark and illuminate my questions. It does not give me answers, just ideas, strength, sustenance and a way to walk forward with uncertainty. Here is what they told me…
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
Vincent van Gogh
“If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”
“That we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.”
So my dear readers and fellow wonderers, when it comes down to these times of questions I guess I will live with them and lean into the uncertainty of the fool.