Failing and Falling.
I was shown this video yesterday and I'm obsessed with it for so many reasons. It's called "Daily School Pickup with Jalen" it's a compilation video of this kid falling again and again and again when his Dad picks him up from school. I suggest you go watch it now and then come back. Go!
So, what ya think? You laugh? Are we terrible people? I laughed the first time I saw it and I laugh still now knowing that Jalen is a comedic prodigy and doing pratfalls to make his Father laugh.
I. love. this. for. sooooo many reasons.
I love this because Jalen is doing all of this to make his father laugh, I'm sure he's also making his classmates laugh because this kid's got something but there's a devotion about how he does this at the end of a long day of learning just for his Pops. I don't need to watch sappy videos about kids hugging their parents or making them macaroni pictures - this is the love I feel.
I'm also into this because Jalen is teaching us something spherical about the craft of excellence. His pratfalls are fucking good. Like go back and watch around second 20 where he gets in a double pratfall. He hurls himself stage left and the distance he gets between him and his backpack is hilarious, he gets spacial comedy. He is so talented he gets us imagining him being funny because we think, I bet he's gonna crawl back and he's going to have to do something pitiful and necessary which comedians know is always funny.
This is someone who knows how to make comedy using everything around him, the snow, the signs, his limbs, his backpack, the papers in his hands, the way he wears his jacket and jeez he knows his angles, it's genius. He is a prodigy and he has maybe the most important male figure in his life filming him, encouraging him and laughing with him. Cause even if you don't see him laughing in these cuts, there's something that happens for comics in the recovery that's this blast of happiness. The recovery joy maybe we can call it. It only ever happens for moments because it's this state where everyone including the performer is holding joy right after something funny occurred. It's the reason comics love making people laugh. It's why you like making people laugh.
The other point of learning here is the obvious, Jalen has to fall again and again to become excellent. Whether he's conscious of that practice or not, he's falling and failing over and over to be great, proficient, accomplished and that is something that not just comedians but leaders and community members can all learn from. Jalen is taking a lot of risk in his falls, he's really pushing himself publicly and that is something we need to be cultivating in the creative community. We can't be risk averse, we need to fall and fail and that needs to be celebrated because that vulnerability takes an immense amount of courage.
I listened to a podcast earlier this year about how Google's Moonshoot X Division celebrates failure. You can read more about it here but in summary Astro Teller the leader of this division, who considers himself a cultural engineer has created an environment that elicits innovation for his teams while also embracing and celebrating people letting ideas go, so quitting essentially.
"So how do you go beyond lip service to get people to actually give up their ideas when they’re not working? Create incentives that make it the “path of least resistance,” says Teller. At X, when a team kills their own project because they find a fatal flaw, they often get a bonus, Teller says–not one so big as to encourage people to kill projects without good reason, but not pocket change either. Even more importantly, they are applauded by peers and supervisors at all-team meetings and often rewarded with a few months of exploration time to work out what their next project will be."
Holeh that's cool. Recognizing that smart thinking is knowing when something is not working and letting it go and that's fucking brilliant leadership. I think sometimes in theatre because we have manufactured such a false environment of scarcity we couldn't possibly do this. We create in fear, fear that no one will appreciate the work, fear that no will get it, fear that no one will come bear witness, fear that the board will fire us for taking too many risks, fear that our peers will no longer support us. Fear is our dominant culture and it's not conducive to big and bold risk taking in any sustained way. I think that painfully impacts the art.
So, inspired by Jalen's excellence, I'm going to share 5 examples of me utterly and completely failing this year, in and outside of my artistic practice. I am not a bad creator because of these failings, I am not a bad person because I failed, I fail to become affecting at what I do. I fail to lean into courage and to get up to try and better serve the community.
1. I failed to secure any grants over this past year. That's right! 3 applications in the last 12 months and zero were successfully. I guess we'll just see how rent happens in the new year! In all serious, I have to go back and really read those grants and assess how I didn't make it clear that I think this work I want to do is urgent and necessary. How can I create a more compelling rationale that I want to facilitate systemic change and reform in the way we create and embrace theatre to centre's peoples dignity. My Dad raised me, mostly in sports telling me "be so good you can't be denied." I gotta go do more work to get closer to that.
2. I'm a terrible friend, I'm challenged to find a balance in life when I'm deep into creative work. A childhood friend had baby that I didn't meet until she was 8 months old, another friend is 7 months pregnant and I had no idea, I got angry at a friend who I deeply love and respect and I might've ruined that friendship forever. I have a list of like 10 incredible people who want to hang out and I can't figure out how to do it in a healthy way. Which is totally fucked because I want a stronger community so I should be prioritizing these relationships. I bet there are people reading this being like, Kim is a terrible friend but I'm ok with that because I know it and I'm working on it the best way I can.
3. I failed to get everyone in Kamloopa a living wage, including myself which is an epic fail. I did the simple math of the work I put into that piece, fulfilling two major roles (playwright and director) and I made minimum wage circa 1999. I also realized I work in a way that I did 2 more jobs, producer and cultural consultant and I didn't get paid for that work and I don't even want to do the math for that.
Now, I worked in systems with precedents that I inherited but I participated in maintaining them, I accepted them, so I'm responsible for that failing. But I won't do that again I refuse to continue to work and not get a living wage. I can do the work but then I'm complicit in holding up a system that marginalizes its artists. Canada has a deplorable system for compensating playwrights and it actually embarrasses me that it's being sustained. We have to stop believing it's ethical to just compensate people for successful products (plays).
We actually need to start paying playwrights for their creation work, playwrights need to be given a monthly stipend at a living wage period and if you're on a jury please make sure that when playwrights and creators ask to be given a living wage - give it to them. Don't shackle yourself to this notion that we should be starving to be great or worse that you didn't get it so nobody else should. We need to be better advocates for one another, I firmly believe that it's theatre makers that keep theatre makers poor, we're in a peer assessment system and or artists are running companies and signing the wages on the contracts - how could it not be self inflicted poverty.
4. I failed at providing a completely safe space for the Fire Holders of Kamloopa. I'm currently in the midst of dealing with an Equity complaint against a company for cultural violence, yes I'm still dealing with this. No your employees can't wave their hands around our medicine and make Indigenous women feel like shit, not on my watch but that's the thing, it was. I was the Fire Creator and I assembled the Fire Company and I am responsible for them while their in the work and I failed them. As the leader I should've done a more thorough job in ensuring the spaces we entered were culturally competent and had the capacity to host us. I won't make that mistake again.
5. I failed to stay focused. I got sucked into too many irrelevant micro battles encased and enticed by patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism. Yes, addressing the oppression of these systems intersects with my work but it is not the work. I need to do a better job of hair flipping myself out of these situations to stay focused.
I'm a big fan of Brene Brown and her approach to living authentically she states "vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change" and that's what I'm about. I don't want to live in a society with a vulnerability scarcity where we can't share when we messed up, when we failed. I think it's ultimately a failure of leadership when we don't. We have to be able to say I failed and the community has to receive it as courage otherwise we will continue to deter innovation and creativity and that is not a healthy artistic sector.
Brown says this about leadership, "to me, a leader is someone who holds themself accountable for finding potential in people and processes." When I look back at my failures, I see potential in the systems, I see teachings and I get excited because through the journey of reflecting on failing we get Jalen, a master at falling and focusing on the joy each time he does.
To failing and falling on our faces with courage and love,
p.s when I was about 7 years old I was at my Grandparents house on the Tsilhqot'in and I was sitting on the cattle fence watching my Grandpa and family brand the cattle. I loved doing this, I was always content and at peace sitting in the hot sun, scratching my hands on the splintery wood. I was kicking my legs around or maybe a calf came towards me and I got jolted and off balance but it doesn't matter how it happened but the result was that I fell off the fence and face planted into a giant hot steaming pile of cow shit.
I screamed and then cried and my Grandma held my hand to the house because I couldn't open my eyes. She gave me a bath, washed my face, smiled and looked me and said "you're okay". I put on a fresh set of coveralls and I marched back outside, thoroughly checked for cow pies near the corral, climbed back up on the fence and spent the rest of the afternoon perched in the hot sun, armed with a good story and moment with my Grandma I will never forget.
That was a great fall.
Here's a pic of me at around 10 years old out cattle ranching with the fam.