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You have no control over your life.

May 27, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Community Building, Teachable Moments

No answers here, just questions.

Big events have been drawing this fact of life into sharp relief over the past week/month/year, on a huge scale and many spin-off, convoluted, personal scales.

The manufacturer of my car, who happens to be one of the leading employers of a nearby state, will likely be bankrupt soon. I’ll probably be getting rid of it anyway, likely for well below the market value. Because honestly? Even if it is valueless, it makes no financial or environmental sense for me to keep it. In another year, that would have been a decision that mattered, and it’s almost an afterthought.

I’m getting to the age when mortality is an internalized fact of life for pretty much everyone I know. This Memorial Day, we lost Will. And we had another health scare the next day that was almost made worse by that ugly, gaping maw in the social safety net that most professional artists find themselves slipping through at one point or another: Uninsurance. Don’t get me wrong, I think children and the elderly deserve universal health care first as we as a society can afford it. But I also believe that we should freaking find a way so that everyone can have access to it. Even the simple fear of losing access to health care has its own cost in missed opportunities for screenings and preventative medicine. I don’t care how Social Darwinist you’re feeling today, I’m done with losing and almost losing friends, and I think we need to find a way to prevent basic health care and especially preventative medicine from being an even slightly financial decision.

Prop 8 woes in California also demonstrate the government’s and more importantly the Body Politic’s ability to remove our rights to well-being and a level social playing field, but there are encouraging signs that at least there’s a winnable battle yet to be had there. It’s not going to play out in the judicial oligarchy, because that wouldn’t really have a sense of finality – the decision lies in hashing out the problem once again in the court of public debate and ballot. There are ways and means to win back that control, and build lasting justice in reaction to a particularly clear injustice.

And there’s one more thing, probably the smallest of all these things, but the one that seemed the most like the universe coming right out and bitch slapping the people I live and work with, declaring: “You. Yeah, you. The technical theater artists and independent theater producers. That’s right: You. Fuck You.”

The Texas Senate, in an apparent fit of pique, proposed and approved a measure to make Lighting Design functionally illegal. The really bafflingly scary thing about this is just how often this happens. In the face of some other social ill, DIY creative enterprise in general can and will at any time be just plain eviscerated and made illegitimate with the sweep of a legislative pen. The tax code does this, the health care system does this, we do it to each other and we do it to ourselves by leaving ourselves vulnerable and unprepared. The society itself does not see this work – by which I mean the work of independent, non-profit theater whose goal is revelation over capitalization – as legitimate. Part of us doesn’t think it’s legitimate either, as measured by our actions and our real impact and influence on our communities.

But that vague sense of laziness is really hard for me to jibe with Will, who lived this life all the way through, without the equity card, without the health insurance, all the while supporting the small companies that he cared about as a grant writer and advisor, touring schools and being a crucial part of bringing developing plays to life for the developing playwrights that he believed in. Ultimately, we give all of ourselves over, and request a modicum of empowerment from society and government just to do our work – to explore troubling and mundane subjects and what it means to be a community and what it is like to share an imaginative spark – without quite this much fear of being left out to hang for spending time on this way of life. One of those subjects could be, certainly, how it’s only been (some) Americans in this last half-century that have lived under the delusion that we do in fact have control over our lives – and what does that mean?

If you don’t have control over your life, then it follows that sickness and health isn’t something you get to choose or earn based on market performance. I don’t know when that idea started to make sense to us. If the licensed electricians legitimized as theatrical lighting designers by the Texas legislature can work and get enough money or support to get health care – a safety net for when not if we eventually fall ill – we should be able to achieve at least that for each other.

Precariousness, large and small. I am thankful for what I am granted the chance to hang on to.

Not everything falls apart. Give a hand to @travisbedard and @jimonlight, who fought and organized intelligently over the past two days for their right to light. If the bill gets changed tomorrow, I’m giving them the credit. And see the steps they took to get there on Twitter – it’s a compelling call to action.

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4 Comments to “You have no control over your life.”

  1. I am sad to hear about Will. The love he left with those around him was (and is) palpable through the wires all the way over here in Baltimore. The sting of his passing is palpable too.

    I keep writing and rewriting my second paragraph here. I can’t figure out how to say the other bit I want to say. I’ve been at it for, like, 20 minutes now.

    Watching precarious things tumble does punch the breath out of me. And there’s this pause at the end of the exhale, where there’s just no movement, no breath, no air, no thought. Just empty ache.

    When the inhale happens, and the blood gets a fresh load of oxygen, and the brain sucks on that oxygen and the vision that went gray with the exhale snaps back into color, I find myself looking at…something. Whatever is in front of me: a piece of now, a piece of here. Not to be thought about. Just to be seen. And the echo of that moment, as I slide back into my normal mind, is a reverberating awe.

    I don’t really know how to deal with mortality. It scares me. I can’t honestly say it doesn’t.

    But wow: my life coincides in time with an artist named Nick Keenan, a dude who makes things in this same world I’m in. I get to trade ideas with him over an electron net. And wow: turn my head and I’ll see a thousand more humans, none of them exactly the same, but all of them–all of us–vibrating the same piece of the human timeline.

    I’m not a religious guy, but that fact feels so sacred it gives me shivers.

    So here’s to Will, and here’s to Travis and Jim, and here’s to Nick, and here’s to sharing a moment in time together, and doing something good with it.

    Maybe you should add a second link to “Buy Me a Beer”. For when a coffee just don’t quite cut it.

  2. thanks, Chris. You’re pretty neat yourself.

    That inhale / gray vision / snap back into color thing: that’s a perfect description of this thing Dan Granata did in Touch, every night. You could see it, and feel it in your gut as it happened. Fwap –> Eyes Snap open –> Hsssssshhhh. Having worked on that play this year – god, with him, with the director Jess, with freaking Toni Press-Coffman the author, which was truly unexpected – all of these people and these stories have definitely helped pave a way for me to deal with the hideous unfairness of early mortality, and realize that all it means is that it’s time to live.

    Obviously, understanding that is a journey, not a destination. thanks.

    (nice tie / shaving photoset BTDubs. A delightful, revealing stare into your character. Sure you don’t write for

  3. (Oh, whoops. My lame attempt at a Homestar Runner Joke looked like spam, I think, as it has disappeared.)

  4. It totally did. And I was going to say “wow, that’s really sophisticated spam, to look like it’s sent from Chris.” Ha ha. Thanks, the paper.


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