Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Standard

A very different venue tonight for my speaking engagement series, the Standard Hotel in Hollywood, described as "Hollywood's Hippest Hotel" by no less an authority than Playboy Magazine. It may feel a little odd, in this context, to be talking about the negative effects of celebrity and money on the creative spirit! Still, as I have reiterated frequently, when asked about this, I have no objection to material success, for those fortunate enough to achieve it. My worry is for those many talented artists, writers, musicians, and so on, who have not achieved this kind of recognition and success, and who perhaps never will. Does this make them any less "artists" in their heart, their sense of who they are and what they were given to do with their lives? I think not. So then the challenge is in knowing how to "persist," how to live in integrity despite all obstacles and discouragements.

I know there are some who will disagree with me, who feel that our (still!) new President has betrayed our trust and dashed our hopes for change. For myself, I was struck by one line in the brief speech he gave, late at night, after the result of the House vote was known. He said, "This is what change looks like." Those of us who longed--still long--for radical change on almost every front in American life do well to remember the struggle for change in our own lives. It rarely happens fast, in a bolt of lightning. And even if the bolt of lightning strikes, with a sudden epiphany of realization and determination to change, the change itself takes a long time to process. I still find myself slipping back into old behavior patterns that I had hoped to leave behind me, still re-fighting the old battles, still finding new areas of resistance.

My choice is to see in Obama not the savior, not the rapid game-changer, but one who offers the model for what it is I fervently believe in: persistence. I do not believe that the change in our health care system could have happened without any of the anguish we have experienced this past year. Sure, there were missteps along the way. From my comfortable distance, I could have handled everything much better than Obama did. Fortunately, though, I'm not in charge of the situation. My magic wand exists in my imagination only--a fond delusion.

And sure, I would have fashioned a more perfect bill than this one--in my dreams. I find it particularly galling, speaking for myself and I'm sure for many others, that the abortion issue was allowed to play so large a role, and that those I personally disagree with were granted so much power.

That said, however, this is a big, difficult country, intolerant of government, intolerant of change. And the health care problem was--is--a big, difficult problem, no matter how much we would like to reduce it to simplicities. Decades of neglect have made it even more complex than perhaps it needed to be, had we addressed it in good time, before it loomed to critical proportions. Seen in this light, I believe the achievement of Obama, his administration, and the Democrats in Congress to be one of huge significance, and I honor them for having managed it, with all its imperfections.

There is a piece in a poem by Robert Creeley to which I return often in my mind. The poem is called The Innocence, and the last two lines read thus:
What I come to do
Is partial, partially kept.
I find in them a quiet serenity, an acknowledgement of limitations, a permission to be less than perfect in "what I come to do." In this, they are profoundly comforting, as is the poem itself...


kduyehj said...

I agree that commercial activity and creative activity affect each other. To what extent, I don't know.

CHI SPHERE said...

Can we form a more perfect Union or health bill?
We can over the years.

It is not a small business, this government is a leviathan. Unlike other models we are so inclusive of the opinions of all that many foolish selfish interests or faith based realities have their say.

Obama is showing the world how to move forward in small steps by leading us towards an eventual goal. I think he meant that change is slow and steady. Those who want absolute radical change must make it occur within their own lives.

What goals are achievable in one step? Very few.

The party of NO stands still, unable to even compromise an inch. This is what happens to mud
when it is exposed to heat, wind and time. Another word for it is paralysis!