The other night Destiny Arts Center, as they could not perform their new show to an enthusiastic live audience, held an online Gala instead. But it was not so much a performance as a spirited conversation between all of them and us, their larger community; it was a virtual love fest and I cried through the whole thing.
Destiny Arts Center’s mission is to inspire and ignite social change through young people and the arts. They have been doing this for over 32 years, offering classes in martial and performing arts at the Center’s studio as well as in public schools and community spaces all over the city of Oakland. The program serves over 2600 youth, ages 3 to 18, from different backgrounds in the city.
They also have pre-professional dance/theater companies, where young people learn to get down with stories from their lives expressed through their bodies in motion, and they are always magnificent.
I have been a loyal fan for years, continually grateful for their vision of a diverse community of young people discovering how to express their innate brilliance through the performing arts.
Sarah Crowell, Destiny’s Artistic Director, who has been guiding the organization for over thirty years, spoke to us on-screen about everyone’s deep disappointment at not being able to perform onstage that night, that all that energy, talent and pubic emotional expression had been stopped in its tracks by ‘shelter-in-place.’
“Yes, we’re heartbroken,” she confessed to us sheltered in our own rooms, ”but if it doesn’t work one way, y’all can get creative and find another way, right?” Her eyes got sparkly and she continued, “We’ve had an offer to make a movie of our show!”
I imagine that several hundred of us around the country – maybe even the world – were roaring our approval. “So,” she continued, “no reason to give up just because things get tough; they always get tough, you know? And we know how to find a way!”
Even as I write this, my eyes fill again with tears.
So I’ve been wondering all these long days and nights, alone in the house, how we could do something similar with this global pandemic, by how we re-think our roadblock and figure out cunning and creative ways of going around it?
I’m watching it happen in small ways right from my front porch – neighbors joining forces to celebrate Kerry, our mailman, with love notes pinned to houses and trees; strangers spreading their arms in pretend hugs; people spading up their gardens to put in tomatoes and greens to share when the plants come in. It’s as if this crisis has handed us an opportunity to shift our frequencies higher, and stretch our imaginations to possibilities that transcend fear and inspire us into novel experiments.
Perhaps, who knows, we may be inspired to make our own new movie! Perhaps we humans are actually being pushed to evolve because there is no other choice! Maybe this virus is a gift in disguise – if we could but see it that way.
Yes, I’m a Pollyanna, I’ll admit it, and often make people furious when I suggest that our Frump might be part of this Shift, a consummate actor whose role is to outrage us down to our toes until we have no choice but to take him on! Not by whining and fighting but by elbowing our way past his tantrums, joining up together to update our human societies with new ways of doing our economies and technologies so they serve all our relations and the earth we inhabit. By re-thinking education to teach through the body and the heart and the mind, as Destiny Arts does. By providing for one another locally and forming communities that serve all of us as well as the land and eco-system we inhabit. By getting rid of a mind-set and money system that are infantile, smell bad even from a distance and are embarrassing to be part of.
For myself, I’m glad to be alive right now, quarantine and all, because now, when everything is unstable, is when the changes can happen.
We’re scared, of course we are, but maybe the timing is perfect because many of us now have the free time to face our fears, get enough sleep and bravely take on the hard stuff we’ve been avoiding. Nightmares tend to wake us up, right?
I believe that’s where the juice is, those places we’ve shut down tight because they terrify us so much. For me, that’s where I am most deeply honest, and where my soul and my innate artist live. So I’ve learned to dig deep into where it hurts, like a cave explorer crawling through narrow spaces in the dark. That may even be where my optimism and penchant for fun and games come from, that willingness to get down into the dark, deep places and look them in the eye.
Much of what I know I’ve learned by facing down my demons – and we all have demons, right? Many of them have turned out to be ephemeral balloons with demon faces painted on them, placed there early to help us survive and have popped into the air when we’ve caught them at it. So I can wave them goodbye and even thank them for their help when I needed it, and move on with less junk to push aside.
A little less subject to the things I am supposed to be fearful of, I can more easily side-step the ‘standard’ ways of doing things and seek out quirky, unexplored side paths where new ways of solving old problems are more clearly seen. Not everyone appreciates my methods, but it suits me and more often than not it works, providing models for interesting alternatives that keep me busy and quite happy most of the time.
Not a bad way to live.
I wish you could all see the ‘green retrofit’ we have done on an old wreck of a house on the farm. It is now a gorgeous ‘living building’ created by the skill, imagination and collective effort of a group of people willing to try out uncommon possibilities. The insulation is a wraparound of straw bales plastered with mud; carbon is sequestered and ‘split-heating’ both cools and heats the rooms, graywater runs out into the gardens, and we are still dreaming up a neighborhood solar array.
The project has taken us well over a year and bonded us with hard work and laughter, showing us that smearing mud over straw walls can bond not only the mud to the straw, but the smearers with one another!
The first four moved in this week, and to see the little ones discovering their new magical home – keeping our 6 feet distance – has made all the hard effort worth it!
Even though this is a time of separation and anxiety, we are challenging the message of mandatory mistrust of one another and creating home together in new ways. I am so moved by these gutsy young people – in both Destiny and Wild and Radish – who are teaching me that trusting is both a radical and a necessary act.
I am learning that trusting the universe, more often than not, will inspire self-trust in return in ways more magical than logical. It’s true!
More and more as I accept my own fears and preferences, my intuitions and my doubts, I also build my own courage to see beyond the limitations of what we have been taught is true. I discover each day that the world and human history are much more dimensioned than I thought, and that we all have the ability to understand it more than we tend to.
In this time of sheltering, many of us have the space and time to let our perceptions spread, like tidal water, into the cosmic cracks where many dimensions of reality exist simultaneously and we can softly feel for how they subtly fit together.
Stopped into silence, our very stillness makes this possible.
There is a feel to this subtle fit, and I recognize it as the same vibration as love, and I sit here in the sun feeling it and feeling it…It is the very template of connection amongst us all, who and wherever we are, and it pours in without effort even when we’re hardly noticing.
Every moment of the world, even in lockdown, is a wonder.
Soon the Destiny Arts folks will be busy making a movie and before long we will get to watch it. The kids are brave and resilient, the faculty is committed and gifted and the parents and grandparents form a strong and protective community supporting them all.
I love these people and look forward to collaborating with them for as long as I live – and beyond – because in these mad times of so many folks, like artists, for example, being priced out of affordable housing in our town, I have made a radical decision to try and change the pattern.
Our family home of well over 50 years was bought when a young family like ours could afford it. Now it is worth many multiples of that price and so I am donating it for affordable housing to a visionary group called the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative that will keep it affordable in perpetuity for performing artists in general and the faculty and staff of Destiny Arts Center in particular.
The fit is perfect.
Nobody says we have to play their game if we do not believe in it. Of course we don’t!
Not every one of us can swing it, I’m quite aware of that. But some of us can, right?
So why not?