always now

This morning, I exited my apartment to find Jim, our next door neighbor, walking his dog. Jim and I cross paths most mornings. We always exchange a quick hello and, “Have a great day.” He typically looks like he just rolled out of bed. Today, Jim wore a suit under his overcoat.

“Looking sharp,” I said.

“Why, thank you!”

Jim could be my grandfather. Smokes cigarettes and wears white whiskers. He and his wife own the house next to where we rent. They’ve lived there for over fifty years.

“Why so spiffy?” I asked.

“Going to the wake of a dear friend.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. I’m actually going to a wake today, too,” I said, holding up my suit bag. “Christy’s cousin passed away earlier this week.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Give my best to Christy.”

“Thank you. Something we all have to deal with.”

Jim smiled a wide grin. “True. True.”

We wished each other well, and I left Jim to head into my day. As I walked to the subway, a couple plodded in front of me. I’d seen them before. They are an Asian couple who live at the senior citizen apartment complex on the corner. They always look beautiful. Today, I shot a little video of them, and I wrote a quick haiku.

Hand in hand they walk
Morning rays on wrinkled skin
Once more, together

I imagined morning walks with my wife in 40 years. I thought about the last time we held hands. I remembered I’m going to see our cousin’s face for the last time. Someone who went too soon. Someone who won’t ever hold hands again.

A few hours later, I read this: Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82

Things Fall Apart shaped my childhood. It was the first time I understood how storytelling creates empathy. As a white, middle-class boy from a small town in Illinois, I felt for the protagonist Okonkwo, and – though I didn’t know it at the time – his story influenced my views on racism and colonialism. It taught me nothing lasts forever. I love this tale.

Tears filled my eyes. Time quickened.

A text popped up on my phone from my father. It was about my stepsister:

Jessica had baby girl at 9:17. She has reddish blonde hair. No weight or measurements yet. Both mother and baby doing very good.

And so it continues. Another day. Another death. Another life.

In a week, Christy and I move away from Brooklyn, where I have lived for 15 years. I won’t see Jim in the morning any more. Who knows if I will ever see him again? But it was good to see his sweet smile today. That is what matters. Today.

Recently, on the online social spheres, I shared a personal insight I had. I’m offering it again here because I want to remember:

Woke this morning and realized this is the best time in my life. Wishing you similar realizations. Now.


PS. I suggest playing India Arie’s Growth while watching the video of the couple on the street.

my statement

I’ve been working all day on writing a grant application, and part of the application wanted an artist’s statement. I never wrote an artist’s statement before, but I always figured I should. It’s interesting that my need for a statement should come now, for I feel like my work’s aim is just now coming into focus.

Currently, I am reading Malcom Gladwell’s new book, OUTLIERS, which is about the path that the super elite take to get to the top. It’s a pretty interesting read, and it follows a similar template of his two previous books, THE TIPPING POINT and BLINK, by using case studies to support his thesis.

The opening of the book begins with a story about Italian American immigrants who settled a hamlet in Pennsylvania and create a sort of bubble in which heart disease barely exists in residence under 65. This was in the 1960’s, when heart disease was the biggest killer in America. To understand it further, a sociologist studied the townspeople. He studied everything from their blood to their eating habits to their exercise habits. But he didn’t find anything skewing off the average American of the time.

Then, he looked at how the townspeople interacted with each other. There were three generations of families eating dinner together every night. People stopped on the street to greet neighbors. In a town of 2000, there were over 20 community-based groups. In fact, the community that these people created was making them healthier.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard of environment making one happier or healthier. I’ve subscribed to Buddhist thoughts for years, and Ram Dass talks about food prepared with love being better for you than quick food cooked by a stranger. It has been a long time since I have walked the walk, though. Recently I returned to the path.

My theatre company, terraNOVA Collective, began a monthly party called SUBTERRANEAN. It’s an event where three or four artists perform music, spoken word, comedy, short plays or burlesque, and the evening tops off with a DJ playing the night away. The structure is not too far off from an event I use to throw in my loft in Brooklyn called Artists’ Night. The first SUBTERRANEAN happened at the beginning of January, and I told my mother it was “like coming home.” I really felt the joy and excitement of this wonderful artistic endeavor. Performers shared the love from the mike, too, shouting out Jennifer, the company’s artistic director, and myself. Thanking us for creating an environment in which they could have a platform to perform.

It was brilliant. And it made me realize – this is what I want to be doing. I want to create community. I want to celebrate ourselves and manifest new theatre that people enjoy viscerally.

As I sat to write my artist’s statement today, I remembered that feeling two weeks ago, and somehow it became clear why I write. I want to share aspects of the world that are new and unique with an audience that has never heard the stories.

So, here is my attempt at an artist’s statement. It’ll probably change as I do, but nothing is permanent. However, it is how I feel right now.

ARTIST’S STATEMENT – James Carter, dramatist and curator

Congregation and community drive what I create. Fortunate to wear several creative caps, I write for theatre and curate events celebrating new and innovative performance artists. Through these outlets, I examine the human condition from various perspectives, aiming to unify and enlighten our communal experience.

Social exchanges and personal perspectives spur me to write. How we communicate and gather, especially by use of cyber social networking sites, message boards, email, and instant messaging, fascinate me. Specifically, I delve into fringe communities that receive little or no mainstream attention and recently gained momentum because of increased Internet capability, which brings like-minds together. The transition of virtual relationships to physical interactions grabs my imagination, causing contemplation of possibilities. At the heart of my writing, I investigate how miscommunication destroys relationships and clear communication grows understanding.

As a curator, I seek artists who stimulate dialogue about their individual backgrounds, guiding the audience to a universal understanding of the human experience. By increasing communication and breaking down barriers to see the perspective of others, our human experience expands, developing empathy through understanding. Bringing people together gives me joy. Creating fun happenings stimulates community.

Playwriting and presenting are the tent poles for all my artistic ventures. Through my written reflections on human communing and fostering pioneering voices as a curator, I aspire to mark evolutions of human interaction and create an atmosphere in which other artists flourish by sharing their stories.