In this issue ~~
In the wake of the World Trade Center event, I've been hearing people say that in light of what happened, their work suddenly seems meaningless and trivial, their goals empty and hollow. This is understandable. Anything that doesn't contribute directly to the relief effort just doesn't seem to matter right now. Even those who haven't been personally affected are stunned, and those of us on the front lines have been finding it difficult to focus on work at all.
For those of us in the arts, in a country where our work has been treated as a luxury item anyway, this feeling may be compounded. We feel that we should be doing something that more directly helps humanity, especially in this time of crisis. But where is it that we turn for comfort and beauty at a time like this? Aside from our loved ones, we find solace in art, in music, in books, in entertainment.
In a recent e-mail to subscribers, Victoria Bailey, Executive Director of the Theatre Development Fund, spoke eloquently on the value of theatre: "As I searched my own soul last week for the relevance of what I do, I came to the realization, one shared by many, that the theatre has a vital role to play in our lives and our recovery. Coming together in a theatre allows us to join with other people for a few hours and share a common experience. We are less alone. The work of our artists provides us with insights into the human condition and illuminates things we do not understand. We may find answers to questions. Being entertained and, yes, laughing allows us to forget for a few hours the challenges and sadness that may seem overwhelming. We are refreshed and reinvigorated."
During the Balkan crisis in 1999, movie producer Caroline Baron heard that the greatest problem in the makeshift refugee camps in Kosovo was the sheer monotony of daily life. Inspired by the Preston Sturges film, Sullivan's Travels" in which a disillusioned Hollywood director concludes that creating comedies and making people laugh is a high calling, Baron decided that her greatest contribution would be to provide films to alleviate the boredom. With the support of several film companies, the United Nations and actor Robert DeNiro, she created FilmAid and set about bringing films with strong visual story lines, including cartoons and Charlie Chaplin silents, to Macedonia. Robin Graves, senior external relations officer of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, recalled the families in the camps laughing together and commented that FilmAid was an example of the good American film can do.
Our president has encouraged a return to normalcy. What better way to do that than to enjoy our favorite TV programs. Some of these may seem frivolous at this time, and these events are certainly nothing to joke about, but they can give us a sense of stability and an escape from the hourly bombardment of horrific news and images we've seen these recent weeks. The Miss America pageant aired this past Saturday, and it attained its highest ratings ever.
Aldous Huxley said that "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." Last Friday, the theme of the Oprah Winfrey show was "Music to Heal Our Hearts." That evening, a concert was aired on almost every channel to raise money for the cause and help us heal. The music was indeed healing, and it was heartening to see how many celebrities gave of their time and money. It was Canadian Celine Dion who offered a heartfelt rendition of "God Bless America."
Art is a way we can connect and communicate across cultures. We look at the same images, listen to the same music, watch the same movies and TV shows. During the crisis, seeing pictures of others grieving throughout the world gave us a sense of worldwide unity that I doubt we've ever experienced before. Professional and amateur photographers and videographers have caught this historic event on film and tape, and many of their beautiful and touching images will stay with us forever. (As of this writing, pictures from around the world can be seen at http://thankyou.fast-networks.net/.)
Healing can be achieved by creating as well as experiencing art. Michael Samuels and Mary Rockwood Lane, authors of Creative Healing, remind us that "prayer, art, and healing come from the same source -- the human soul." Art is a way we can express emotions we're not yet ready to let into our consciousness or that we just don't have words for. Art therapy has been recommended as a particularly effective way for children to handle crisis. We can express through drawing, painting, writing, dancing, making music, putting our hands in some clay or even baking bread. We may feel a need now to nurture our families, to let them know we love them, and creatively preparing a meal can be a gratifying way of doing that.
The experts have encouraged us to keep talking about our experience as part of the healing process -- to express our feelings and connect with other people. We can also use writing and journaling as an outlet for our thoughts and feelings or as a way to record our experience. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said that whoever survives the test must tell the story. By doing so, we keep the memory alive and prevent history from repeating itself. We build compassion by hearing of the suffering of others. We learn that while we may be of a different race or religion, we all feel the same pain and joy. And we heal ourselves in the process.
Life will never be the same for any of us, but we can connect
to continuity and safety through the arts. Events happen. People
change. The terrorism and destruction will one day be a faint
memory, a record in the history books. But art endures and will
continue to bring joy and beauty to us and a connection to history
for future generations.
Be patient as you deal with the effects of the crisis. Each of us processes differently. Some will heal quickly, others will take more time. If you're having unusual physical or emotional symptoms, they're probably a result of the trauma. Be patient and give yourself time to heal. Get whatever help you need. Reconnect with your community and with whatever form of art heals and comforts you. Many have found healing in nature and animals.
"Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable."
"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation."
"When someone is wounded, first give sympathy, then first aid, then combat negativity and loss of hope with assertions of creativity."
"Write hard and clear about what hurts."
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