Sunday, August 14, 2011

Community theater


In The Real West Marginal Way: A Poet's Autobiography, Richard Hugo wrote:


"I often found the sources of poems in the lonely reaches of the world, the ignored, forlorn, and, to me, beautiful districts of cities, like the West Marginal Way area in Seattle, the sad small towns of Washington and Montana, the villages and countryside of Southern Italy, wherever I imagined life being lived as amateurishly as we had once played basketball."

Until reading that, I have never considered life being lived amateurishly and immediately thought, how else could we do it? Let me rephrase that. How else could I do it?

My best guess is that I have not been here before and if I had it was not in this form, not with this particular set of variables. Hugo's words help support my belief that (and I will keep this in the first person) I make it up as I go along. Each moment calls for the weighing of possibilities and options. I am able to make some choices based on past experience, prior knowledge, but the present, no matter how accurately it mirrors another time, remains unexplored territory.

Amateur. Of course. And with that status comes a forgiveness for blunders and missed cues. I interpret Hugo's phrase to mean he believes or imagines there are places, not his lonely reaches, where life is conducted more professionally, full of style, grace, aplomb, never a false step, never a wrong fork. I assumed, though may not any more, there were teeming islands of sophistication and insider coaching where life skills were honed and graduates set on a path of sure success. All steps firm and certain.

But that is simply polish, a sheen, a veneer. Etiquette is no preparation for crises of the soul. If you listen closely, as we watch those who promise us they have it all figured out, the sound you hear, and I'd know it anywhere, is whistling in the dark. I'm not convinced that any of us know how to do this.

To live the uncertainty without wailing, flailing, slobbering and needless drama is an art; some have an intuitive knack, may have managed to acquire a modicum of skill or restraint. Still, whatever the situation, we are probably all first-timers. The ragged, messy imperfection of honesty appeals to me so much more than false insistence of rightness.

In a long-ago life, married to the managing editor of a small town newspaper, I attended - front-row center - most community theater productions. Yes, from those seats I could see faint make-up smudges on the costumes. At times the dancing was more enthusiastic than precise, but like the earnest cast and director of Waiting for Guffman, heart transcended training.

I realize as I inexpertly tap-dance my brains out in what Mary Oliver calls "...my one wild and precious life," that amateurishly is my adverb, my level, my speed, my truth. Remember in The Avengers how they referred to Emma Peel as "a talented amateur?" I can only aspire.

19 comments:

Angella Lister said...

as always, dear marylinn, you leave me deep in thought. a fascinating idea, living life amateurishly. i think you did not need to use the first person, that indeed none of us is a professional here, we all are improvising, smudges of makeup on even the grandest of our costumes.

happy sunday!

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - Thank you. The way a word, a concept will spring to life, offering a new way of seeing is a source of great joy. I gave the benefit of doubt to others, but suspected that yes, we all have runs in our stockings, whether they show or not. Happy summer Sunday to you. xo

Melissa Green said...

Yes, Marylinn, you got it right: we all are working at the very edge of what we know, guessing, choosing confusedly and hopefully, the next turning of the road, fighting with the bracken to get to the vista we think we see ahead. We tumble, lose heart, are distracted; act upon faith, fall apart in doubt. There is no Island of the Blessed where perfect people live. Only illusions, wishes. We are all making it up as with go along, with fearlessness some of the time, with sublime passions, with fury, with joy. Ray Bradbury wrote, "First you jump off the cliff, then you build your wings on the way down". Doing the best you can with paper and glitter and glue, balsa wood and feathers pasted on haphazardly and arms open wide to life. xo

beth coyote said...

Will Stafford was once asked what he did about any poem he wrote that didn't rise to his standards. His reply, "I just lower my standards." So much forgiveness, kindness and humor. I loser my standards as often as I can.

beth coyote said...

Lower not loser, I meant. See what I mean?!

Antares Cryptos said...

Amateurs at life is indeed a new perspective.

Joyous to discover that without a script or instructions we were never "meant" to be professionals.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Trust that Ray Bradbury would know we are amateurs. So much duct tape, glue, baling wire, string. The clear view ahead seems to be one of the impossibilities. What is the old phrase, a wing and a prayer? This community theater group seems even bigger than the band. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Beth - I can sign on easily for the lowering of standards. A familiar practice, as I stop and think about it. I like that very much.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Or perhaps Ant, as one of your readers calls you, if that would be okay. Isn't it freeing to know there's a solid reason why we are not skilled and perfect at this business of living? Amateur status confirmed.

susan t. landry said...

i like this idea, that we are just here to play at, be amateurs at, life.
it's not a professional job. being a professional puts far too much emphasis on winning or failing.
thanks, as always,

susan

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - You are welcome. That is where I think many make the wrong turn, the winning or failing. It makes me think of Hunter Thompson's, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Weird as it is, I'll keep my amateur standing. xo

Robert the Skeptic said...

Interesting thought. I would guess that we need to live our lives amateurishly - were there "professional life-livers" some of us might be inclined to pay someone else to live our lives for us. That would never do.

RachelVB said...

If Hugo finds poetry there, (in the amateur life) I don't want to live anywhere else.
xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - A line of work I, most surely, have never considered. People are employed doing most of the things we'd rather not. But unlike house cleaning at which I am no professional, I am still happy to plonk along at life in my unskilled way, a vision in my warts and all.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - Does it just make you happy to know he saw things that way? Poets and life lived perfectly, professionally do not seem to travel well together. I like this company, too. xo

Marta said...

My Dear Sistah Kelly...amatuer is not how i would describe your lovely and heart warming post....thank you for these words of wisdom and authenticity..on a day such as today, when life can feel uncertain and I can sometimes feel alone...I hear parts of myself described and feel a sense of hope..muchas gracias amiga...
Marta

Marylinn Kelly said...

Marta - If there is hope to be found here, I could not be happier. I have for a long, long time had a mental picture of myself as a fish, flopping on the dock, out of water and at a loss. What I took from Hugo's one word tells me that feeling is not as 'abnormal' as I thought. When the truth is told, we have so much more in common than we imagined. Thank you, Marta Bella. xo

Sherry O'Keefe said...

authentic is what i think of when i read hugo's use of the word, amateur. the closer we live to the source of our nourishment (thinking of a food chain), the closer we live the unpolished real deal. i like thinking of you once-upon-a-time sitting in the front row appreciating the bit of lipstick outside the actress's lined lips.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Sherry - Yes, authentic and unpolished, without the gloss. You know whereof he speaks. You and Hugo share Montana as place and state of mind. Like never being able to pass up kids' lemonade stands, non-professional theater, especially of the musical persuasion, has its own siren call.