And yet... is this a guilty pleasure? I find myself having an awful lot of fun doing it. Last night, for example, I drove down to Long Beach City College for a gig that had been some time in the planning, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I was greeted by an old friend, a wonderful artist, Coleen Sterritt, who teaches there, (here she is on Facebook, and here are some images of her work) along with several of her colleagues, and was treated to a fine Italian dinner at a local restaurant. Good food, good conversation, such as can be had with artists, all engaged with passion in their work and lives...
On, then, to the small gallery where I found some fifty chairs set up and a podium, which I hardly used. I had been told to expect a diverse audience, some returnees to college, some just new, some advanced in their studies, some quite fresh--and it did seem, as they arrived, to be an accurate assessment. I wanted to be sure that I found just the right note for what I had to say, as I have tried to do for each of my very different audiences; and somehow the magic worked again. Up there in front, you can absolutely feel when you have the attention of your listeners, and when the energy is right: the flow of communication is tangible and exciting, much more so, of course, than in the act of writing. It's something I have begun to experience as a performance.
Perhaps, in part, it's in the genes. My father, before he entered the ministry, had wanted to be an actor. My memory of his presence in the chancel is definitely theatrical. Whether celebrating the communion service, or standing at the lectern to read from the Bible, or preaching from the pulpit, he was a skilled performer. My memory leads me to believe that it was, for him, one of the guilty pleasures I mentioned earlier. I could tell that he knew when he'd done a good job. He glowed. And sometimes, if memory serves, he would slap his own hand in mock rebuke for his pride: bad Harry. On one memorable occasion, when I was serving as an altar boy, I caught him in the act. Instead of bowing, properly, to the altar as he strode back to his place, he turned and bowed to the "audience." Then he caught me watching him, and realized his mistake. I won't ever forget that flash of knowledge that passed between us, father and son, in that moment. He knew I was onto his act. He was "showing off." I can't have been more than ten years old.
Anyway, listen, I'm discovering that there's a reward to showing off. I'm not very funny, but I can understand how the stand-up comedian feels when he's hitting his stride. For me, there's a gift involved, an act of pure generosity in speaking out, which is more than generously returned. Having spent a good deal of my life trying to hide myself from public scrutiny, I now begin to understand what I have missed. It's kind of humbling, and kind of exhilarating all at once. Tomorrow and Friday, I'm off to share some thoughts with students at CSU Fullerton, where I have been going for years at the invitation of a good friend who has been teaching there for many years. His class is called "Character and Conflict." I have written about it before now in The Buddha Diaries. Tomorrow, thanks to these new experiences I've had in connection with "Persist," I'll be bringing a whole new sense of what is possible.