Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pursuing Perseverance (Vaera)

There's an old sports cliche, widely attributed to Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson that goes, "If you have good players and if you keep them in the right frame of mind, then the manager is a success." Knowing the outcome of the story of Exodus, it's clear the G-O-D proved this truism by getting the Chosen People out of bondage, despite obstacles that would force a duo with weaker constitutions than Moses and Aaron to set down their staffs. (I'll spare you kids the lectures about Mo and Double-A debuting the roles MJ and Scottie would fill in the '90s. ... And the one about Moses not understanding no one is more important than the system, thus forcing the G(M) to rebuild on the fly around rising Biblical star Joshua.)

Okay, I lied about the first one -- it's relevant this week. Check the breakdown of Vaera:

Moses initially gets shot down by the people in his initial attempt at rallying them, so crushed are their souls by years of bondage. (See: wide-eyed Mike joining the Bulls.) So Moses expresses concern about his ability to lead, and God says he's on it, reminding Mo that Double-A has the ability to orate that the lead dog lacks. (See: Scottie got complementary game.) Finally convinced his boy is of right mind to do the damn thing, the G(M)OD sicks Mo and Double-A on the Bad Boys, at which point Pharaoh repeatedly lays the smack down. (See: The Pistons beating the Bulls many times.)

Strip away all else, and Vaera is a portion about perseverance. Moses (and Aaron!) spends the whole time trying to split a heart of stone like it's the Liberty Bell, hoping justice streams out upon the people of Israel. He marches out plague after plague, going through blood, frogs, lice, insects, pestilence, boils and hail. And seven times is teased with the taste of freedom for his people, but as God forewarns (Exodus 7:3), Pharaoh's heart stiffens and the Jews remain enslaved (7:13; 8:11, 15, 28; 9:7, 12). The final insult of the portion comes when Pharaoh finally concedes due to the hail (9:28), but takes it back AGAIN when Mo puts the kibosh on the wacky weather. (9:34-35)

At portion's end, the Jews were THIS CLOSE. But not there yet. And they've been rejected seven times. Our boy kept going back time after time because he believed in the system, that what he was doing would work. Moses questioned the system, but found a way to work within it, and kept slugging away. Something inside is telling him, "Coach knows what's up. This will be successful. And we almost got out that time! So close. Just wait 'til next plague!" We know Mo is rewarded three crazy MFing plagues later, but what's his motivation at the time? Why keep at this? It's clearly futile!

What it comes down to is this: Perseverance lasts as long as a goal matters to you. Because the second it doesn't matter as much, you're going to try a little less hard to achieve it, and be a little less successful. This often means taking chances that other people might find difficult. But one has to recognize when the cost has begun to weigh more than the benefit. You can live your 20s on a pittance while writing the Great American Novel I've thus far neglected to and still come out on top, but if you swing your 30s on a leaky pipe dream, you're gonna end up broke, wet and alone.*

Honestly, you can't always know if you're making the right decision at the time. All you can do is follow your instincts, and try to really listen to and build upon any criticism thrown your way. It took Jonathan Larson seven years -- and a lot of lessons in compromise -- to bring the Broadway musical RENT to production. Here's a quote from the book:
There were a lot of struggles between Jonathan and Jim [Nicola, artistic director] and us at the workshop. He took this project to other theaters, and they started it and dropped it because he was difficult to deal with. Jim was really great in teaching him how to be patient and how to collaborate. Jonathan just didn't trust us and needed us to say in writing that "you will produce my play by such and such a date." Jim said, "No, we'll see how it goes and keep working until it's ready to be produced."
--Martha Banta, assistant director at NYTW
Larson never lived to see RENT succeed, but his perseverance and learned ability to work within the system instead of against it drove that success. Broadway hasn't been the same since. It's a tale first told on the record 5,000 years ago, when Moses died without entering the Promised Land, only leading the Jewish people there. The student had become the master.

Never stop learning.

Always question where you're going.

I'll try to meet you there one day.

*I'm not grounding that paragraph in personal examples, because I feel like I've used them before (moving to Oneonta) or they're too raw, and not proper for the space. Let's pretend I did, k? Word.

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