Meditate On Mistakes

taking advantage of my mistakes: a detail of my latest painting in progress called Weeping Man

taking advantage of my mistakes: a detail of my latest painting in progress called Weeping Man

A meditation on mistakes:

Actors know. In performance, when they forget their line, they come alive. The exhilaration of forgetting shocks them into presence. The mistake achieves the essential thing: presence. The audience may not be aware of the lost line but they cannot help but come into presence when the actor does. That’s how it works. Presence begets presence. Actors also know that, in such a moment, tension is their enemy. Panic is counterproductive. Relaxation is the only path back to their play.

Mistakes wake us up.

Many years ago, I produced a summer theatre company. In the middle of a performance, a storm blew out the power to the theatre. The performance stopped. The emergency lights came on. The actors looked at the audience and the audience looked at the actors. And then, in the ghostly blue-white light, the actors continued their play. It was the one and only time that the play was riveting. Actors and audience alike became invested. They were together in an experience that was unique. It was, as are all true mistakes, unrepeatable.

the under painting and sketch.

the under painting and sketch.

The playwright John Guare wrote that a writer must write ten bad pages to arrive at the one good page. The writer must value the ten bad pages for the single good page to be possible. The ten bad pages, what educators, locked into testing regimens, might call mistakes, are necessary. Up front expectations of perfection are guarantees of mediocrity. No process is perfect – and that’s the point. Perfection, like happiness, comes after the fact. It is the blossom of a rich process. It ensues and only becomes available when mistakes are valued, when exploration is encouraged. A rich process is alive with trial and error, with strong offers that may or may not work. The strength of the offer, the capacity to make a grand mistake, learn, adjust and boldly offer again – is a great definition of freedom. It is otherwise known as vitality.

It’s what artists understand. When nothing seems to be working, when the most powerful offers fall flat, when paintings turn to mud, relaxation is the only path forward. There is comfort in knowing that the single good page is out there somewhere if only you keep making grand, luscious, brilliant mistakes.

2 Responses

  1. This is so incredibly true.

  2. This is worth reading many times over. Rich lessons! Thanks, David.

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