What a Body Knows

Finding wisdom in desire.

Earth Bound: How Making Art Can Save the World

What happens when a family of seven decides to put on a show?

Back in January, I had to come up with a name for our recent August 23-24 concert in order to secure a date on the Fort Salem Theater calendar. I was stumped. I had no idea what the show should be. I knew I wanted Geoff to play and me to dance. That was it.

A name came to mind: Earth Bound. I loved it immediately. Geoff did too. As an idea, it meant a lot to us. Earth is home, source, and destiny. Earth is where we are. Earth is who we are. Earth is where we are going. Earth is what sustains us—or not. We are bound by earth, to earth, for earth. And so we live.

It is a message I wanted our show to convey—one we humans need to hear if we care to survive--and one I believe the arts can help us remember. For art--music and dance in particular--have an awesome power to bring people together in a rousing affirmation of earthly existence. As Nietzsche writes in Birth of Tragedy, regardless of how deep our despair, art seduces us to life.

Once the name was set and our summer slot reserved, however, any ideas I had for the concert melted away as quickly as icicles in spring. What were we going to do? I had no idea how I would mount a show that would express these ideas about art, earth, and humanity. I tried not to panic.

Days and weeks and months passed. I scrawled notes. Listened to music. Imagined scenarios. Nothing was coming. Nothing. I wondered whether I had lost my ability to make dances at all. Where was my muse? I was showing up! It occurred to me that maybe I had to wait until Geoff and I could make time to work together. Then something would happen. It didn’t.

Faced with this seemingly impenetrable, immovable creative block, I finally came to the conclusion that I must be looking in the wrong direction. Perhaps Earth Bound was not a modern dance piece for Geoff and me. Perhaps it would include our kids, too—all five of them--in a family show, as we had performed the year before. I hesitated to ask the kids. I did not want to presume to gobble up their precious summer time with rehearsals.

I raised the possibility. A dam broke. Immediately, the kids started making suggestions for what songs they could sing and play. Geoff offered snippets of new ideas for piano solos that were now coming to him. His musical moments made sense in relation to the few dance ideas I had entertained. I began to breathe. The family, all together, was making it happen. The show would include solos, duets, trios, and septets; singing, dancing, and playing instruments. I couldn't do it without them.

Suddenly the name, Earth Bound, made even more sense than it had before. Of course! What relationships bind humans more strongly to the earth in us and around us than those of family? What bind us more to one another and to life than the ecstatic crossings of birth and death, the milestones of a marriage, the passages of bodily becoming? Even people who reject the families into which they are born seek to create a matrix of intimate bonds that will be, for them, life-enabling.

As the members of my family made decisions about what they wanted to do, a hodgepodge of pieces appeared. I was stuck again. I had no idea how to put the pieces together. I had a general idea why our process made sense, but no way to conceive of the show as a whole. No narrative. No flow. I kept humming the song that Jordan wanted to sing—“Something’s Coming” from West Side Story—hoping that it would be true for me.

Finally, about three weeks before the show, it clicked. In our family's work together, we were living the message I wanted the show to convey about art, each other, and the earth. Earth Bound would be a show about the seven members of one family putting together a show called Earth Bound.

Earth Bound would be about a family—one family, our family—making art. It would be about one family cultivating mutually enabling relationships through a shared creative process. It would be about one family working together to create a show in which each member would support and be supported by the others in giving what he or she had to give.

I wrote the script in three days. Every scene emerged out of real interactions that had happened—and were happening—among us. I stole ruthlessly—the humor, the pathos, the resistance. As I rolled out the script, various members of the family added to it, subtracted from it, and made their lines their own. We started rehearsing. The week before the show, we moved our rehearsals to the theater. When we returned home, the kids would hang out together, wanting to play some more.

I was dazzled. This shift in focus to a family production was not a failure of my creative imagination after all. Rather, it was exactly what I had needed in order to tap the deeper currents of my own artistic and ecological commitments. The process of creating the show was itself Earth Bound—rooted in and empowered by a matrix of life-enabling relationships.

Art is more than just a product—whether that art is a show, a song, or a painting. Art is more than the objective phenomenon that exists once the creative process is over. Art is about the challenges and work of attending, rehearsing, and relating; of sensing, imagining, and realizing that make its existence possible at all. What art “expresses” is not an idea per se but the process of its own conception and birth—the relationships required to make it real. In this way, any art is—or at least can be—about tending and cultivating those sensory, kinetic ties that connect us with ourselves, each other, and the earth in mutually enlivening ways.

Art brings our senses to life. We laugh. We cry. We rant. We soar. We feel, and as we do, we know our humanity. We know our bodily connection with others. We know our sensory receptivity and responsivity. We thus know ourselves as part of a larger web that pulls on us, even as we pull on it.

Art earths us. It en-families us.

A family is an ecosystem all its own. It is a matrix of relationships within which each creature finds its own niche. A matrix in which the push and pull of tides, seasons, and cycles all find expression in the movements these creatures make in relation to one another.

In our particular family ecosystem, making art together is a practice that helps us realize our potential to function as a symbiotic unit—living in love with the land and one another; aligning our individual actions with trajectories that sustain the whole, and devoting time and attention to the well being of one another as the condition for our own. It is what we know. It is how we have fun! It is what we have to share.

Earth Bound. Earth rich. Earth free.

 

Kimerer L. LaMothe, Ph.D., has taught at Brown and Harvard universities. She is the author of What a Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire and Family Planting.

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