According to the proponents of Positive Psychology –a relatively new movement in mental health—gratitude is useful if not essential to mental health.
Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, is one of the key figures in this movement that seeks to place the focus on psychology on understanding the nature of happiness and wellness instead of the usual focus in dysfunction. This feels especially apt after watching Dr Falke floating above the stage in the COC Die Fledermaus, a community of unhappy people unable to find or even define “happiness,” seeking solace in pleasure.
One might ask, to quote Peggy Lee: “is that all there is”?
While i want to be respectful of Peggy Lee (wherever she might be) and the people who wrote this song, the sentiment “Is that all there is” is about as far away from my sensibility as you can get. The subtext for this song is a kind of fundamental boredom. I love the circus, and would never say “is that all there is to the circus”. Even when it’s not life and death, artists put themselves on the line, and it’s a beautiful thing: so long as you take a moment to notice.
So while I like a good drink as much as the next boy/girl (although I prefer beer and single malts to champagne), lots of people are listening to Seligman, an aging population seeking the meaning of life in something more enduring than food, drink & real estate investments. Or in other words, if that’s all there is –the material pleasures of life– then of course, eat drink and be merry: because you’re already dead, not really living.
I’d like to think that we don’t just say “thank you” because it’s good for us. I have no doubt that gratitude is healthy, just as I have no doubt that a sense of entitlement (being bored and expecting to be entertained)or perpetual rage (a nasty variation on entitlement) can’t be healthy. Saying thank you, being grateful and feeling it from the bottom of one’s heart is a way of being alive, of knowing you are connected to something. Do it at first because Dr Seligman tells you, as a pathway to rediscover your humanity. But ultimately do it because you mean it.
So please, don’t think I am doing this –what follows in this space—because it might lower my blood pressure or win me brownie points with The Man Upstairs. I am actually inclined to gratitude because I think it’s fundamental, the one sacrament from which all others proceed. I never feel more alive than when i am connected to the sacred fire of artists creating, the colours and sounds of life.
I am alive, and that’s a miracle. I take in the beauty around me, also miraculous. Whether it’s sitting in a concert hall or in the presence of one of my kids, gratitude is the pathway to the miraculous.
With that in mind I am going to say thank you for a few blessings (among many) from this past year, in no particular order.
- Stewart Goodyear… I don’t know where he’s been all my life, and no we don’t have a romantic relationship even if it may seem that way. But for me he burst on the scene with his plan to play all the Beethoven sonatas in a day. I spent a good chunk of the late spring and summer playing Beethoven sonatas, measuring the feat by trying it myself (haha NOT nearly as well). As a result I changed the way I look at these pieces, as well as the music of many other people. I am not sure about the way we currently program concerts, except that the newness of his Marathon was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever encountered on the concert stage. His set of Beethoven sonatas –that I first encountered with a pair of youtube performances of the Hammerklavier sonata—are very original, and as far as I can tell, the best versions out there. I wish more people would discover these, and I am eager to hear what else Goodyear might play in the years to come. He’s so young,…!
Thank you Stewart.
- Against the Grain Theatre.. I like the excitement they brought to their projects. Their La boheme in the Tranzac (a pub) gave me a word that I have been over-using. I apologize for this –it’s a bad habit—that once I latch onto a new concept I beat it to death, looking for it everywhere. Buzz has been my word for 2012. Who managed to create buzz? AtG didn’t just do it, they created the template, with interesting ideas in new places, with breathless audiences jammed into tight spaces. Other people are now imitating them, but even so, they’re the prototype, and I am sure people continue to watch their every move. Thanks for making theatre exciting.
- Robert Lepage… Some people want to reduce him to his Vegas achievements, to see his Ring through that very narrow lens. I am eager to see his production of Thomas Adès’ operatic setting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, coming up in a High Definition broadcast in November. I love that he challenges us with new ideas. Thank you Robert for refusing to do it the way everyone wants you to do it.
- I am thinking again of Glenn Gould, whose 80th birthday was celebrated recently, 30 years after his untimely passing. He’s still my prototype for the iconoclast, the daring artist. Hunched over his piano he looks all wrong playing. He fled the concert stage for whatever reason, to the privacy of the studio. He makes it okay to be a nerdy artist. Thank you Glenn wherever you are.
- David Warrack is a national treasure. I can’t possibly sum him up, but will only speak to the tiny window I have on his life, a man who has written 100 musicals or more, who conducts classical music, plays jazz, leads my church choir/plays the organ with no more effort than a walk in the park on Sunday morning –speaking of doing nice things to keep you sane—and is a brilliant teacher and mentor. Being around him is a chance to learn something, if not through a well-delivered anecdote, then through the example of his gentle musicianship. Thank you David.
And thank you anyone kind enough to read my rantings in this space. If you’re here reading: THANK YOU.