I used to hate everything.
The young, male artist is typically, and sometimes even encouraged to be a surly, dismissive, destructive soul. Nothing is ever good enough, the good died centuries ago, and everything is falling apart. It’s a wannabe punk rock attitude. In reality, you’re just kind of a dick.
It grew harder and harder to find anything of merit in whatever art I observed. Movies were trash, plays pandering, and video games over-blown, overdone, and underwhelming. This wasn’t a choice, mind you. I simply could not stop my cynicism. It had taken root, and was quickly bearing fruit.
Through a confluence of many things I wiggled my way into a graduate playwriting program fully expecting to hit the road after the first semester, as I was certain all MFA programs were just a journey for a glorified piece of paper.
But I had nothing else to do. So fuck it.
I gave the program a fair shot. I was writing weekly, reading daily, and converting my mind to all-theatre-thought all day long. It was a true 180 from the dope-smoking, aimless early 20s of old, and, at first, a rather uncomfortable transformation. One semester turned to two, then a year, then another, and then I was officially a master.
And the biggest lesson I learned?
Cynicism is useless.
Or, at the very least, nowhere as useful as I thought, and as you may think.
I remember the day my mentor sat me down with Tom Stoppard’s play Jumpers. For those of you who have never read it…it’s batshit crazy. Like eating your socks crazy. Purely fucking nutty. Go read it if you dare. Enjoy wondering if you had a stroke halfway through the first page.
I hated it. Hated hated hated it. Every single page. Every scene. Every character. Everything. I found nothing I liked about it.
I drew up a laundry list of what I thought was terrible about it. The title blew, the setting was near-unproducible, the plot flopped, and the stage directions….were ridiculous. And meaningless. Like the play. Like most plays. LIKE EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD.
I came armed to the teeth to tear this play apart. Nothing was to remain unscathed. Shock and awe was my goal, and the world of Jumpers would never be the same. What remained that is.
I entered class, got my cup of coffee, took a seat, and ended the fucking world.
I chewed it to bits, set it on fire, and then pissed on the ashes. My cynicism glowed white-hot and I looked upon my work and knew Tom Stoppard despaired.
My mentor, in his infinite, unfailing (and at times ENRAGING) wisdom, nodded, and then, very quietly asked a question I never considered:
“So why does it work?”
I was stunned.
Such a question had never entered my mind. To me the play was a travesty from the cover. Why does it work? The fuck? This works?
My mentor calmly explained that the play is published, produced around the world, has won multiple awards, etc. etc. By that logic, something about it must work.
So what the hell was it?
Once my brain reassembled I made myself completely reconsider the work. Ok, maybe some of the dialogue was quippy. Yes, there was some truly elaborate activity that you couldn’t find in ten plays put together. Alright, fine, the ending did take me by surprise and was very satisfying without being too wrapped-in-a-bow.
These things worked. I could condemn the rest of the play to Hell (and I did, and my mentor was okay with that), but there was undeniable craftsmanship at work.
The play works. It wasn’t your typical machine, but it did the job.
So what could I learn from it?
By readjusting and evolving my sense of perspective, I started to view all art from a completely new corner. Instead of focusing on what was wrong, I strived to understand how it came to be. So when my mentor started assigning works that others might scoff at (yes, folks, I have been well-exposed to Tyler Perry), I was anxious to explore them to see how they traversed the distance.
This philosophical phase shift bled into other aspects of my life and ultimately lead to me being a more thoughtful and understanding artists, patron, and, truth be told, human being. By forgoing cynicism and, instead, opening my mind and heart to pure possibility, I was transformed. And I have done nothing but benefit from it since.
But that troll, that cynical little ghoul still occupies some space in my mind. It’s a hard spirit to exorcise and, occasionally, I hear his familiar little tune echoing in the distance. Sorry to say, but sometimes I still sing along.
But today I’m taking a stand.
Today, my cynicism has used up his last life. His game is over. No passwords. And certainly no continues.
The next level of art appreciation is upon me, and I encourage you all to join me. Let’s stop nitpicking, stop straw-manning, stop finding flaws. That’s an endless endeavor that yields nothing but disappointment. Why not lay the seeds for a more prosperous tomorrow? Let’s harvest what we can use, recycle what may not work, and learn through understanding rather than regretting. There is no perfect play or movie or book or song. Or video game.
But there’s a whole lot that work.
Tell me why.