Inside the Storm, Finding Oneself

    One thing a person learns when reaching some level of recognition in the arts is that people are often curious about who you are, what is behind the art, what your life is like. Most of that curiosity is not threatening, and actually quite flattering. At the same time, people who have been in the spotlight a long time will advise you that privacy, and even personal security, can become more difficult to maintain as your popularity increases. So over the years, I have learned to find a good balance between privacy and my public profile.

     Recently my performance and production group has taken on a number of new artists who will be working with us. This is quite stimulating; of necessity, it has led me to be speaking out, talking about myself, and reflecting on my own experiences, much more than I was doing a year or two ago. The special challenge of opening up to new people like this is that I have to do it online, or through a mask which covers half my face. Meetings have to be arranged with much more planning, rehearsals have to be virtual or in carefully controlled spaces, and handshakes and hugs are replaced by elbow taps or a simple look in the eye.

     One inspiring change I have noticed in the people around me, and in the places I occasionally and bravely go, is that people seem to be much more aware of each other; most are taking extra measures to be cautious and considerate. The number of friendly nods and smiles seems to have risen somewhat on public transportation, even as people strive to stay away from each other. New colleagues seem unusually pleased when I share personal stories, as if they are starved for the chance to get to know anyone a little better.

     The arts are always a solid means of communication among people. So many things can be shared more effectively through artistic expression, than with simple words...things like dreams, fantasies, hopes, memories. Increasingly I recognize that as director of a multi-arts consortium of performers and creative people, I have a responsibility and an opportunity to use my platform to help those in need of help...and let's face it: the number of people who need help of one kind or another is probably greater than it has been in at least a century.

     So when people ask what I do in my spare time, or what books I like to read, or how music has influenced my life, I find my answers are increasingly mindful of how they may help the questioners with whatever their current challenge may be. I probably overlooked a thousand similar opportunities to reach out in the past -- but now that most of the world is truly at war with at least one, maybe two or three, invisible enemies, I realize that if I am generous and descriptive when answering questions about my life, I might actually give them strength or new hope n their own lives.

     'Every cloud has a silver lining'....I wonder if this pandemic storm might actually provide a great way for all of us to use our own visibility and accomplishments as a means of giving strength to those around us who falter. It is certainly worth a try, and it sure beats sitting at home and feeling sorry for ourselves! The smile behind the mask may just turn out to be the pill that carries us through until the vaccine arrives.

----James Gibson

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