Thursday, March 25, 2010

"I am looking for a dare to be great situation. "

My wife invoked this quote from Say Anything the other night, and I kinda chuckled. That film's become such a touchstone for my generation, it's just silly.

But as I thought about it over the last few days, I realized it's not silly at all. It's just become lost in our cynical, self-centered world. It all came home this morning when, as I was working out, I watched a remarkable documentary, Man on Wire.

Here's the synopsis from;
On August 7, 1974, a 24-year-old French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit committed one of the most astonishing performance stunts of the late 20th century: he strung a thin cable in between the two towers of the World Trade Center and not only walked across, from one building to another, but did a nerve-wracking series of knee-bends and acrobatic movements on the cable, some 1,350 feet above the ground, before turning himself in. This occurred to the consternation and chagrin of Port Authority policemen, who immediately arrested Petit for the act -- prompting many to dub Petit's stunt "the artistic crime of the century." James Marsh's documentary Man on Wire revisits and recounts this chain of events some 34 years after they occurred. ~ Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide

I suppose it ties to how much I love the Apollo Space Program. The idea that there are things in the human experience that are done for the sheer joy and adventure of it, and not because of some intellectual program. Sure, Apollo was a race to beat the Russians, but when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the Sea of Tranquility, it was a moment that reached far beyond political or geographical borders.

It was humanity stepping out and doing something beautiful, for the sake of it's own beauty. For the sake of man's own place in the universe. As Mr. Armstrong said, "One giant leap for all mankind."

As I watched the footage of Mr. Petit out on that wire, dancing a quarter mile above the earth, I began to weep. His girlfriend, describing how she watched from the street below, put it best;

"It was beautiful."

His moments were graceful, his mastery of the wire breathtaking, but it was more than that. It was the drive to mount an operation not unlike a bank heist to gain access to the roof of the World Trade Center, install the thousands of dollars of equipment needed, and risk your very life just because you feel compelled to do something amazing. My heart leapt at the thought of it.

I suppose you don't go into the work I do without aspiring to something more than the mundane.

I grow so weary of selfishness. I see people motivated solely by their own selfish needs and beliefs. I fear there is no longer anyone who would see the wonder in Petit's act, as there are certainly few who see the grandness of NASA's work, let alone those who would take such wonderful steps into the unknown.

I guess I don't care about status right now, if I'm working with a playwright deemed "hot" by the powers that be, or about playing nice about my feelings. I want challenges put before me that I have earned. I want something that ignites a fire in my belly that drive me forward with purpose, that makes it impossible for me to not give 110%. I want to dare to be great, and not worry about how it's taken.


  1. NASA recently installed a cupola on the International Space station. Something that had to have been conceived and planned for and constructed years and years ago. What's the purpose of it? Boiling down the doublespeak- so the crew can have a decent damned look. So that the people up on the station- a giant tube crammed full- can take a moment or two and just look out. At the earth as it floats along below them. To me... that says that people still get it. That even in NASA's cold and calculating heart, there are people who still have The Dream of The Stars. I think NASA's day as a manned space launch agency is about done. They'll settle in to doing what they do better than anyone- amazing robot probes and hardware. But manned national missions? That was all driven by chest thumping cold war nationalism. The need to prove that we could do it better than the Soviets. Well... we proved it. We got farther than they did- and cleaner. With that done? What point is there to spending all the money as a nation to get back to the moon- or Mars? There are a thousand scientific reasons, but nothing- really- that CAN capture our interest like the moon shots and our astronauts going out in single combat again Johnny Red. That only happens once. Science fiction aside. And barring the need to repel alien hordes. All is not lost, however. Because it's no longer just NASA in the game. The dream lives on in Sir Richard Branson and the loonies at Bigelow Aerospace. Branson's commercial space ship- Enterprise, natch- is about ready to ferry passengers up into orbit and back. Bigelow has flown two inflatable habitats- I think one is still up there. Designs for an eventual space hotel. These people fully intend to make a profit from this stuff- but do you think that's really the reason for it? Nah. They have the dream... and they want to do amazing things. Dare to be great... The Dream of The Stars. Still out there, my friend.

  2. I remember watching Petit on television that day. I also remember seeing that first moon landing and walk on my Aunt Judy's B&W TV in Yuba City, California. And even though it ages me to have said so, I'll willingly embarrass myself even further: I cry repeatedly during the Olympics. Sponsor-laden star athletes aside, there is something just unspeakably cool about seeing someone achieve a dream, no matter how obscure the goal or "unknown" the person.

  3. Interesting posts, which sparked a couple of thoughts in my head. One is that sometimes great things are brought about by a series of small things, and often small things escape notice.

    When I lived in the D.C. area, I attended a celebratory event given by a noted Captain of Industry to award a "lifetime" award to a noted Senator. It was all well and good, both men have done well, and have contributed greatly to the greater good. However, it brought to mind people I knew who labored their entire lives under the radar. They received no catered dinners or news coverage to reward their tremendous contributions to their communities. Contributions that are in some ways far more profound than Captains of Industry and Politics get awards for. Most often, I think, the people performing the small things don’t even give themselves credit for their small, yet ultimately rather profound accomplishments in their own lives and in the lives of others.

    Any high wire story brings to my mind Karl Wallenda’s quote, “Life is on the wire. The rest is waiting.” I like that this was a man who was passionate about his chosen profession, and found great joy in it. He died falling off the wire, so one can assume that is the way he wanted to go. But a LOT of LIFE waiting. Waiting provides the background, the contrast, the antithesis that underscores the joy of walking on the wire. If one can’t find some joy in the waiting, there will be less joy when whatever it is you are waiting for comes along.