Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anxious Advice

Anxious Advice

Not giving up is a hard but necessary thing to do.

DB - The Vagabond

There have been many occasions in my life when from someone else's perspective it seemed that I was giving up. But in fact I was letting go of something in order to grasp something else, as one has to move off of a comfortable foothold on a mountain side in order to hoist one's self up to a higher level. And the motivation was always a constant search for identity.
Having grown up poor I came into the habit of accepting anything that came my way that would pay me some money. The problem with that is that I soon found myself labeled as one who did whatever I was doing at the time and that therefore I was a janitor, dish washer or night watchman. The mistake is to classify one's job as one's career. I discovered some amazing people while doing so-called menial labor. One night watchman that I knew was getting his PhD in Russian literature at Harvard, one of the janitors was a violinist and another was an authority on 18th and 19th Century European furniture. Those were careers. Checking basement door locks and mopping floors was a job.
I wasn't surprised to find those people in those jobs, after all I was one of them and I knew I was only there to make a buck. Years later I used to joke: "The reason I'm an actor is because that's what they keep paying me to do." There was more truth than humor in that remark. I never had the luxury to pick and choose my roles. I had to accept work in substandard productions with directors I didn't respect just to pay the rent. But all the time I was pursuing a higher identity.
One day my brother took me out in his sail boat onto Long Island Sound. When we got some ways out I looked around and saw that we were completely surrounded by water. I admired the ability of the ship to float upon it and the way the water came up to embrace the ship, the way the sails grabbed at the wind and the way the ship moved forward with determination. I remarked about it to my brother and he told me that one day he had brought one of his clients out for a sail and when the man could no longer see the shore he panicked and needed to go back until he could. So my brother had to turn the boat around and head for the shore until the fellow was comfortable again.
I left a job as a radio announcer which was at the very pinnacle of my specialty as a classical music announcer. Everyone thought I was crazy. How could I walk away from such a high paying job, one with important listeners and a high standing in the world? The answer was clear to me. I was safely in port, but I wanted to sail.
The other announcers I knew were men and women who were just where they wanted to be. To go on the air everyday knowing that tens of thousands of people heard them was a gentle thrill. And I admired and respected them for it. But it was about that time that I heard the Paul Simon song "One man's ceiling is another man's floor" and I realized that I was bumping my head on a ceiling. It wasn't that what I wanted was better, more noble or more important to the world, it's just that it was different. Everyone has their own mountain to climb. I have a different mountain and I'm still climbing it. And my real identity is within my grasp if I keep climbing. I really believe that. And it can't necessarily be found on the stage, in front of a microphone or a camera, in a paint brush or at the end of a mop handle, but it might be found in any one of those places as long as the search goes on.
My journey isn't greater, grander, more colorful or more important than anyone's. It's my own journey. It has taken me across the water, under bridges, through valleys, into big cities and small towns, back stage and on stage, from one end of the country to the other, into libraries and book stores, concert halls and night clubs, along beaches and up mountains, into bedrooms and out of them again, through long winters and boiling summers, into courts and out of them again, into long lines at the bank and long walks in the woods, into fightsand flights, into certainty and doubt, into companionship and solitude and into some small collection of wisdom. My journey isn't any better than yours. It's my journey. It's a different journey. It's a vagabond journey.
Tags: not giving up, sailing, acting, menial labor, identity, classical music, radio announcer

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