Finding Beauty in the Tundra

I live in a place. A hard, tough, cantankerous place that prides itself on its heartiness. The landscape can be unforgiving and the people are complicated. My mother jokingly calls it the tundra. For now this is the place where I create. Where I try to bring to life many somethings from nothings.

For me, this continual birth and rebirth is only possible through a diet of awe inspiring beauty.

The town I live in has only one community theatre and no professional theatre companies. There are no art museums. So my regular ways of taking in beauty are limited. I have adjusted my expectations and try very hard to enjoy what the community does have to offer. A dance company that does performances 3 times a year, many art galleries, a symphony with 10 performances throughout the year, many touring shows that come and go and of course the offerings of the university, technical and community college.

My first years here however I depended on the art I enjoyed on vacation to feed me. One amazing night at the theatre kept me feed for a year and a half. That was until on my trip to Washington DC I realized I had been starving.

Since then I have tried desperately to seek out beauty: Online resources, traveling to other cities only a few hours away, anything to keep from starving.

Over the holidays, I was lucky enough to visit The Getty Museum in Los Angeles. A vast and wide sense of awe and joy filled me as I walked from one amazing painting to the next. Exquisite beauty was free and there for me. It was easy and enjoyable. I instantly felt renewed and full.

Coming back to the tundra is always filled with some sadness. Returning after experiencing a week of bliss and joy and beauty in LA and San Diego that sadness was larger and more present than before.

I think this is because here in the tundra beauty doesn’t reveal herself to you so easily. She is much more coy on the plains. She whispers and taunts you and tests you. She demands to be sought after.

It is this game of hide and seek that I find so exhausting. I don’t want to play, but then again maybe beauty on the tundra is trying to teach me something.

My experience in California was heightened. I didn’t take for granted any of my experiences at the various art museums or on the beaches. Not for one second was I distracted by my phone or any random thought. I was fully present.

I have to wonder if beauty always wants to be sought after. If the chase, the seeking makes the finding more enjoyable. Also beauty could just be a jerk and/or I’m not hearty enough for her. For now I’ll chose the more romantic notion.

If beauty wants to sought after I will seek her. And since I will be searching I will be that much more likely to find and see the beauty within this tundra of mine.

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Fighting Sweetness and Light

I just finished a Christmas time play. The play is short and lovely but not amazing. It plays on the human need for sweetness and light. As a young theatre artist living in a one theatre town I often find myself fighting against these things. Saying things like “nostalgia is just a place of ignorance or selective remembering”.

I am surrounded by people who limit all forms of art to entertainment. For me that is the bare minimum. If a piece of art regardless of the medium doesn’t provide some form of entertainment it hasn’t even begun to do its job. In my region however that is all an audience expects, to be entertained. They don’t expect or want to be moved or made to think and something really wrong has happened if they are made to feel. These for me are what art is meant to do. So I fight against farce. I fight against joy. I fight because I want for the people around me to understand that when art is at its best it can open up your world, it can change your life.

The thing about this play I just finished is it reminded me that sweetness and light and nostalgia aren’t bad. It’s ok to want to be comforted by something that doesn’t make you think. It’s ok to want to selectively remember for an hour. The play reminded me that sometimes great things can come out of work that does this. A movie comes to mind, Forest Gump.

This movie reminded people that although the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were a rough time in US history it wasn’t all bad. I think the difference between this movie and much of what the audience in my region wants is that Forest Gump doesn’t forget the bad. Sgt. Dan is still bitter and angry and broken but he isn’t the star of the movie; he isn’t our focus. The writers of the movie however don’t shove him out of the frame. They don’t say you can only look at the good by forgetting the bad. Rather the writers and director of this movie make a choice to focus on the good while allowing the bad to still exist. What a hard thing to accomplish; but by doing so they strike a beautiful middle ground. They created a movie that is happy and joyful while still being real. This gives me hope.

Hope that maybe in my work at the theatre and my work in my writing I can find this middle ground. I can stop fighting joy. Maybe if I can find the middle ground then the audiences in my region can too. Here’s hoping.