Jasonpost 2: leadership
My God, I’ve forgotten how overwhelming acting is. I am playing two relatively small supporting roles in Jason, and still I haven’t been able to focus on anything else for the past two weeks. I have been scratching notes in my notebook, frantically looking for time to sit down and record what’s been going on. I have a half an hour now, I’ll see how far I can go.
We’ve been in tech, and tonight is first preview. It’s going well. I thought I had injured myself playing Inos, but I made an adjustment in the way I slither around the stage and now my shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore.
The character Hypsypole sows doubt, but Jason chooses faith. He chooses it. Not because he knows he’ll reach Colchis, but because he chooses to believe he will. Choose to believe: a recovery catchphrase. This is where the evangelicals have it so wrong. No one knows that God exists. Some of us believe it, some of us don’t. My hunch is that actors are good at believing in things, especially in things that matter. The cynic will say, no – actors are good at fooling themselves. Whatever. It’s like my Russian acting teacher Slava said, when I asked him about spirituality and the actor: “Acting is isn’t for smart people”. What he meant was, it takes a kind of foolishness to believe in anything, especially in things that you can’t see or prove, like God, or the success of your improbable trip to Colchis. At a moment of crisis at the end of act one, Jason prays a sort of, “help me, help me, help me” prayer. A bird appears and guide him and the Argonauts to safety. He says, “Thank you”.
Jason is a great deal about the hero’s journey, in the great cycle that Joseph Campbell mapped out. I find myself relating to the title character a lot: facing great doubt and forging ahead; relying on my friends to get him through, trying to choose ideals to follow, even when they aren’t expedient.
Jason is a leader. So am I. Does that sound grandiose, friends? I don’t mean it to be. But you live with yourself for a while and you begin to accept who you are. I am always jumping to the head of the line. I enjoy making things and inviting others in. I am comfortable with responsibility. I’m good at making decisions. I think innovatively. I encourage input from others. God gives us each different gifts, and we must be able to name them and celebrate them in ourselves. There are plenty of things I’m not good at, and part of what Jason shows us is that we need to gather people around us to fill in our blanks. A shadow aspect of mine is an unease with institutions, with hierarchies. I am part anarchist: I’m prone to tearing it down and starting over. This can make me hard to work with.
And there is in loneliness in leadership. There is a prophet-like quality in it, in which at the outset people call you a fool a lot. Prophets go against the current and buck the trend. I think Phineus was such a prophet, it. What got him into trouble with God was his tendency to tell people exactly how thing were going to turn out. Phineus began to operate as if he was God, and God said, “Um, no”. I think God much prefers to work in suggestions and symbols. God makes it possible, we make it happen. Leadership has the aspect of moving forward even when you can’t clearly see where you’re going, but if you have a quality of faith about you that is compelling, others will sense your prophetic power and peel off from the main stream to follow you. Rufus Jones, a great Quaker who worshipped at my meeting in the early 20th century, writes about this kind of prophetic leadership in his book Spiritual Energies in Daily Life:
The prophet has a very different task. He cannot give people what they want. He is under an unescapable compulsion to give them what he believes to be true. He cannot take lines of least resistance; he must work straight up against the current. He cannot work for quick effects; he must slowly educate his people and compel them to see what they have not seen before. The amens are very slow to come to his words, and he cannot look for emotional thrills. he must risk all that is dear to himself, except the truth, as he sets himself to his task . . . .
But this is not all there is to say. It is not possible to teach the new effectively without linking it up with the old. The wholly new is generally not true. New, fresh truth emerges out of ancient experience; it does not drop like the shooting star from the distant skies. The great prophets of all ages have lived close to the people. They have not had their “ears to the ground” . . . but have understood the human heart.
I reflect on my constant sense of “otherness” I have carried around with me in my life, how I have always chosen rooms away from the rest of the family to sleep in. I know this is born from my strange childhood, but maybe it also something from another Source. Maybe it is who I am – and being who I am makes me best.
I reflect on my first prayer. In a moment of unbearable anguish, after having received a thrashing from both my father and my stepmother (physical from him, verbal form her) I was left alone to cry in my room. I was 10 or 11. Sobbing, I buried my face in my pillow and said, “Please help me. Please help me. I won’t let them beat me. I won’t let them”. I must have been imitating something I had seen in a movie or a T.V. show. I had no religious instruction as a child. And abuse like that was very rare. I remember this episode being shocking because of its suddenness and disproportion to whatever I had done to trigger it. But the grief I felt was real, and so was the prayer. My next prayer was 18 years later, in a similar darkness, only I was the one administering the beating, me and my mistress, drink. The form was similarly borrowed, but again, the grief was very real. Out of these borrowed forms a true faith emerged, forged in despair.