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Practicing Spontaneity To Increase Our Collective Courage

All Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and grassroots movements require the ability to think for yourself, on the part of organizers and participants, against a tide of corporate advertising assaults, and amidst conflicting religious and political agendas. Somewhere inside this whirl of spin doctors and commercialism, exists a people who still operate free of the machine. There is great freedom in knowing you can trust your own intuition, independent of peer pressure, the status quo, or criminalization of thought. Most great art, music, literature, et al, comes from people who follow their own drummers, to paraphrase Thoreau. The cost for this thought freedom is courage. The courage to follow your own eyes, beliefs, instincts, logic, and visions, off the beaten path, is like the boy who points and shouts the Emperor has no clothing. It is dangerous and risky, but necessary. And you are sure to have failures as well as successes. That is also one of the prices for this freedom: accepting the risk and reality of occasional failures. But the only real failure is the failure to try.
Practicing Spontaneity To Increase Our Collective Courage
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

All Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and grassroots movements require the ability to think for yourself, on the part of organizers and participants, against a tide of corporate advertising assaults, and amidst conflicting religious and political agendas. Somewhere inside this whirl of spin doctors and commercialism, exists a people who still operate free of the machine. There is great freedom in knowing you can trust your own intuition, independent of peer pressure, the status quo, or criminalization of thought. Most great art, music, literature, et al, comes from people who follow their own drummers, to paraphrase Thoreau. The cost for this thought freedom is courage. The courage to follow your own eyes, beliefs, instincts, logic, and visions, off the beaten path, is like the boy who points and shouts the Emperor has no clothing. It is dangerous and risky, but necessary. And you are sure to have failures as well as successes. That is also one of the prices for this freedom: accepting the risk and reality of occasional failures. But the only real failure is the failure to try.

Dostoevsky wrote that freedom is the thing that humans fear *most.* He said humans will do anything to avoid their own freedom. This is profound and seems quite true at times. It is scary to blaze forward into uncharted territory, with no leader, no guarantee of success, no safety nets, and with no measure of success or failure, really, due to novelty. It takes tremendous self-confidence and trust in one's self to follow your own drummer and to act on your own beliefs.

Henry David Thoreau's famous quote says, "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music that he hears, however measured or far away." You notice he says the person *steps* to the music. Acting on one's beliefs, is important, freeing, and frightening.

While attending the University of Washington (UW), I was inspired to protest the Miss Seafair Pageant taking place on my campus. The pageant claimed to be a scholarship program for women, but the first "judged" event was a fashion show at a J.C.Penney's store, modeling swimwear and evening gowns. There was no GPA requirement, but there was an age requirement of 23. The male counterpart to Miss Seafair, King Neptune, is always about 50+ years old, and he is elected by the business community. Miss Seafair, instead, is kept to an age limit, and had to prance around in swimsuits for an "academic scholarship." Even though no one had ever protested this pageant in 42 years of Seattle history, I wanted to do it. But I was afraid I would end up one person, outside protesting, and that I would look stupid and be ineffective or even counterproductive. I called Ann Simonton for advice, since she had originally inspired me to protest beauty pageants.

Ann told me to go ahead and plan the protest. She said even if no one came, and it was just one person protesting, it would get on the news, which would get people talking. I have never forgotten that advice when I was afraid to try something "crazy" again in the future. Or as Rob Brezsny says, "Oh God, please let me be disciplined enough to go crazy in the name of creation, not destruction." I put out notices to the UW Women Studies classes and also to community groups. About 30 protesters showed up, we wore tiaras, and banners over our chests with names like "Miss Ogyny," "Miss Behavin'," "Miss Taken," and "Miss Understanding." Several people held a large banner that said "Beauty Comes In All Sizes, Shapes, and Colors." I sledgehammered a bathroom scale out front. It was great fun, and we were in all the local media the following day, from TV news to newspapers. The following year, we did it again. And that year, the UW's student paper did not run *any* listings of events around the Miss Seafair pageantry in their publication, then the day after the crowning of Miss Seafair, they published my picture, with "Miss Seafair" under it. The Seafair officials were hopping mad at the UW Daily!

I also learned about following your own drummer as a street performer and vaudevillian. I loved that people I knew were writing our own culture into our music, and entertaining ourselves. We were independent of commercial profiteering, such as when we performed in smoky bars to sell beer for club owners. We had no censors and no advertisers. We were not even using electricity when we played the streets. We were out in the public square, reclaiming that space for entertainment and free social commentary and interactions. Street performing in the Pacific Northwest was a high art form in the 1970-80's. We had amazing professionals in all arenas of entertainment from an amazing slack rope walker who tied ropes between two light poles and walked the rope, to a sword swallower who really does put 4 metal swords inside him and then jumps, to now-famous box jugglers, to people who sledgehammer cinder blocks on another's stomach while they lie on a bed of nails, to people walking on knife blade steps, to all kinds of crazy vaudevillian disciplines. We also had some of Seattle and Portland's best musicians amongst our ranks, as well as some of the best songwriters of the region. We had many jug bands of cutting edge subversives playing homemade political music on everything from saws to spoons, to washboards to washtubs, to jugs to concertinas, to upright basses and tubas. Our written music collectively was intelligent, political, funny, and moving. We all faced the common enemy of censorship, we all hated mainstream entertainment, and we all faced the problem of harassment for street performance by cops and commercial residents. We created our own culture and we still can entertain ourselves out in the woods at night, waltzing by the fire, wowing each other with crazy vaudevillian schtick, and laughing at our own hilarious songs. Who needs TV or CDs?

But being a street performer is scary. Even 25+ years into it, I still *hate* the first few songs while you gather a crowd. You change a sterile environment into an interactive stage when you break the silence with your voice and it is scary to be the person behind that voice. Even though I have done it a million times. It is awkward, uncomfortable and takes courage, but in return, I get the freedom to get people thinking and laughing and interacting with an entertainer in the public square, and that is a worthy trade off, honestly. It takes courage to stand alone on a street corner and to start entertaining people, interacting with those around you, breaking walls of personal space, and luring them into a collective and spontaneous group experience on the street, in the moment, with you. It is also scary to then offer up your own political insights, that violate the status quo, to them as the reward for their attention. I have tried to use humor to sweeten the pot. But it takes a lot of trusting your own gut. Doing what is already proven to be safe is boring. Often the risk takers are the artists we look forward most to watching. And as a performer, I can say rote recitation of material is deadening to the artist as well. I like surprising myself with spontaneity in my own act, especially by allowing the audience to interact with me and surprise me, making each show unique for me, not just the audience.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling troupe used to say in their shows, "This part of the show will be completely spontaneous. We know because we have been practicing it all day." Although that is a funny line, it is also true. They *were* practicing "jazz juggling" during the day. They were not practicing a routine per se, they were practicing random shot and spontaneous juggling. They were practicing spontaneity, as odd as it sounds. You can practice following your own drummer by just doing it more often. Instead of following the crowd or social pressures, ask yourself what *you* really believe and what kind of world *you* want to work now to materialize. And then stick to those beliefs the next time they are challenged, as a start. These are the steps to learning how to *step* to your own drummer, not just attesting to the drummer's existence in the distance.

Often defiance is contagious. I know when I read crimethinc.com's material, for example, I am absolutely inspired to keep *stepping* to my own drummer, no matter how many waves I cause. Open defiance inspires us collectively to act more often and more courageously. Being courageous is a service and gift you can give others. We learned that mainstream news had ulterior motives and followed our drummer to create a strong, new, grassroots alternative media for ourselves. We realized the corporate stronghold on our medical community, and created community clinics and DIY health resources. We want our own music, and we make it, in our diverse communities, in neighborhoods all over the world. Learning to trust yourself is a service to your community, as you will act more often and with more breadth of creativity if you can trust yourself. I often go on stage like jumping off a cliff. I have no idea what is going to happen, I have a loose framework, then let it roll. It is the most fun that way. And street performing is only a hair away from street protesting. Often the spontaneous direct actions are the best at a protest, and learning how to listen to your own instincts, and follow them, spontaneously, can be crucial at such times.

I also write in a similar fashion to busking, throwing my impassioned thoughts into articles, then letting them rip…with no safety net. I rarely have anyone to tell me whether an article is "good" or "bad," until after it is published. I have to use my own judgment, which is sort of scary, and it definitely involves following my own drummer, without help from outside. But I have learned to trust my instincts from decades of practicing spontaneity, like the Karamazovs say, and thus now, it is fun more than scary, to improvise. You have to move through the uncomfortableness in the beginning. And you have to accept some failures amidst successes, as they are inevitable. To use a juggling metaphor, the Karamazovs say that while juggling, they are pins if you catch them, and clubs if they hit you. That is true of all things we try to juggle. But if you can learn how to enjoy improvising, you will have achieved some amount of self-trust, and you will feel the warmth of the freedom that trust can bring.
 
 


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