The Twenty-Four Hour Challenge of Martha Graham

I think it is best to face as a challenge getting through the next twenty-four hours as brilliantly, as truthfully, as clearly, and as kindly as you possibly can. This is how goals are met; friends are made and retained; sanity is kept at a safe distance; your work matures; and you are seen in the clearest, truest light. The acceptance of genius comes in the long-term, but the work that might be labeled as such is done in tiny, deliberate steps--in the next twenty-four hours. 

     Martha Graham said this to me on a hot July morning in 1990. She sat--regal, composed, still, as white and as fragile as Dresden--and told me that contemplation was a waste of time. "Five minutes of failed movement," she told me, "is better for anyone than five hours of contemplation or prayer: what we understand as prayer. Prayer is movement; action. We were born to move and to grow and to fail and to alter ourselves so that we stop failing."

   She paused, looked at me, smiled tightly, and asked: "Why are you looking behind you, when everything that will matter--to you or anyone else--is ahead of you, waiting for you to show up?"

     Notes from my journal later that day: It is lethal to live in the amber dream--that seductive but dangerous state during which we are dreaming of what we might become, what we hope we can be. Graham believes that we must not be lengthy visitors to this "tiny, airless room," except to learn what we can use, and then we must move, act, respond, deliver. "Katherine Dunham was forced to sit in an attic in St. Louis and draw on her reserves--of body and mind and soul--and she claims that she came out of that closet a dancer and an artist." So Graham insists. "You can look at what others have done; you can admire it greatly. If you copy it, however, or get lost in the amber dream that surrounds a Chekhov or a Shakespeare or a Mozart, you are only expanding their vision and giving nothing of yourself. Those who are timid or tiny stay in this sticky amber and feel they are artists, feel they are part of the creative process, but they are only feeding on the works and dreams of others."

    The ultimate test of a dream? "It has movement. It moves someone outside of your experience. It bores you the moment you press it to paper or sing it or dance it or film it. You outgrow it the moment you share it and allow it to belong to others."

     Look at and love the work of others. Live each minute of every day as the lover or creator of work. 

   Above all else: move, change, remain a forward thinker.

    Sanity and balance are overrated. "You have to earn the right to stand on solid ground. It is a gift; it is not bestowed on us by nature or architecture. We have to earn a balanced, solid square on which to stand."




  1. Keep 'em coming James. Wonderful to read. Inspirational and filled with life knowledge, meant for everyone...not just artists.
    What a giant she was.
    Thank you. Bill Smitrovich


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