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Practicing Spontaneity To Increase Our Courage

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...
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 belief 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

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

You can receive Kirsten's articles, as they are written, via an email list
called "Eat the Press." Go to  http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/eatthepress
to join the list.

homepage: homepage: http://www.kirstenanderberg.com

add a comment on this article

Beautiful 25.Jan.2005 11:50

Nyles copenhagen@riseup.net

Thanks much for sharing and giving examples of spontaneity. Know for me sometimes I over think actions or reactions. Thinking it's often fear of failure which prevents me from a spontaneous action. Thanks for the insight and the Thoreau quotes.