|The word "brave" is often tossed around to describe Kathryn Bigelow, director of "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker."|
On Sunday, the parade of speeches at the Oscars will offer up a celebration of courage not unlike a Medal of Honor ceremony.
There will be stories of brave performances and courageous choices, and actors or directors clutching their chests to illustrate how their breath was taken away by the fearlessness and tenacity of someone with whom they worked.
And around the country, firefighters, soldiers, police officers, foster parents and people about to board a plane for their Doctors Without Borders assignment will roll their eyes in unison.
Yet, let’s face it. Bravery is in the eyes of the beholder. By its very definition, bravery is doing something others would not do. Often those doing something “brave” are people who find something easy that others find so, so difficult.
There are plenty of people who would run into a burning building before they’d get up on a stage or behind a lectern in front of other people. There are some who can’t imagine a world past high school where they are required to write anything that other people might read.
Still, I get a little weary of those who equate creative activity such as writing, acting or performing with the Great Struggles of Our Time.
Writer Elizabeth Gilbert recently weighed in on this topic, taking to task one of the literary legends of our time, Philip Roth. Now, I couldn’t get through Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” but on this score she was dead-on. She was reacting to a story that Roth had tried to dissuade a just-published author from continuing on in the business because writing is torture, just awful. Gilbert feels just the opposite.
“I'm going to go out on a limb here and share a little secret about the writing life that nobody likes to admit: Compared to almost every other occupation on earth, it's f*cking great,” she wrote on the Bookishwebsite. “You don't have to wear a nametag, and -- unless you are exceptionally clumsy -- you rarely run the risk of cutting off your hand in the machinery. Writing, I tell you, has everything to recommend it over real work.”
Writers aren’t the only ones susceptible to this. I was at an Ani DiFranco concert years ago, not because I’m a big fan but because my friends were and it seemed a fine way to pass the evening. We were down in front and the crowd behind us screamed and screamed for Ani.
“I never wanted this,” she said coyly, over and over again. “Really, I never wanted this."
I wanted to shout, “Well, give me my 20 bucks back and go play in a coffeehouse.”
Courtney Love surmised that Kurt Cobain was a victim of the pressure around him. On the one hand, you think, “Well, why do you become a musician?” but in Cobain’s case he was sort of catapulted into a stratosphere that most wanna-be rock gods would never see coming.
There are elements to what Philip Roth said that aren’t full of hubris and ridiculousness. As an artist, you are driven by a need to create something but at some point you have to let it go. That’s where everyone else’s opinion can come in and that can be the hard part.
Just this week, Dame Maggie Smith said on “60 Minutes” that she’d never watched a minute of “Downton Abbey.” For some people that came off as a pretentious load of crap. But as a journalist who looks at a clock and has to let a story go, I understand. You don’t want to look back, you might not like what you see because all you'll see is what you could have done better. Heck, I edited a local history book that came out two years ago and I have yet to read it because I would weep at something as minor as a misused semicolon. Conversely, something like a blog can be tended to and fixed, weeks after the fact, making this a very emotionally easy way to create.
For most people, all of life is a one-shot deal. You go through, trying to do what you can and if you mess up you try as hard as you can to do it right the next time.
It isn’t coal mining, it isn’t MedFlight piloting, it isn’t pediatric oncology. But maybe real life is the bravest thing of all.
The fire department in Mount Horeb, Wis., is doubly brave: Members will run into a burning building AND stand in front of 42,000 people to sing the national anthem.