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Never Stop, Never Settle

Posted by on Monday, May 1, 2017 in Analysis Essay, , , , , , , .

 

The day was Wednesday March 1, 2017 and I hurried my way across Vanderbilt’s campus just in time to sneak into Neely Auditorium. Tim Miller (internationally acclaimed performance artist Tim Miller) was getting ready to perform acts from his new one-man show followed by a question and answer with the audience to further allow them to experience his journey. I did not know what I was about to encounter, but I was thoroughly intrigued due to the surprisingly packed Neely Auditorium and the previous conversation I had with Miller in my performance criticism class.

After meeting Tim Miller and watching his performance, his story and all that he has had to overcome in his life blew me away. Dressed in a black t-shirt, black cut-off jean shorts, and tan beaten up boots (what we later learned was his wedding outfit) Miller took center stage and began to take the audience on his journey. Ever since the age of nine, Miller has been fighting for his identity to be accepted in his home country. He shared with us the time he told his 3rd grade crush that he liked him and wanted to get married one day and instead of getting the response he wanted, his crush beat him up and stuffed a Twinkie wrapper down his throat until he took it back. He told us about moving to New York as a teenager to pursue his dream of being a performer and watching dozens of his what he thought were healthy friends die for no apparent reason during the AIDS crisis. He even shared his battle of finding the love of his love and having their love not be acknowledged by the government for nearly 20 years. On top of that, facing the realization that him and his love might be separated for good because of a problem with his visa. Miller’s story is a powerful one and was very inspiring to hear.

America is facing a lot of difficulties with its immigration laws right now, but gay, non-married immigrants are not exactly whom homophobic America is fighting to stay in this country. Miller has had to fight and overcome all his life, and while it may have made him the man he is today, I don’t think he would wish his years of struggle, heartbreak and not being accepted for who he was on anyone. Hearing Miller’s story certainly appealed to my emotional side. I never like to hear about the struggles of others, especially a struggle I know I can never truly understand.

Miller’s performance reminded me of an article we read earlier in the semester. David Dower, the Artistic Director at ArtsEmerson wrote a blog, When Sympathy Turns to Empathy, about Bela Pinter’s Our Secrets, a story about the capacity of government to crush and corrupt the individual. In his blog one section stood out to me in particular. When Dower wrote, “I could sympathize. I could not empathize.” Dower could sympathize with the people of Hungary after their Prime Minister, Viktor Orban said that, “Multicultural society has been a failure,” and he reaffirmed Vladimir Putin’s call for an “illiberal democracy.” Dower could sympathize with this because he felt bad for the people of Hungary, but he could not empathize because at the time (February 2015) he never thought this would happen in his home country of America. He was concerned and sorry, but could not imagine going through what they were going through. While I agree with Dower’s viewpoint and at the time could not imagine going through what the people of Hungary were experiencing, his words stuck with me for a different reason.

These words were so impactful to me because I could relate them to my own life. I like to think I am a compassionate person who truly cares, listens, and tries to understand what people are going through. It is in my nature to try and relate to people and meet them where they are in hopes that we can coexist and build a relationship built on understanding, care, and mutual respect for one another.         Hearing Miller’s story and watching him perform really made me realize that I can never truly understand what someone else is going through, but that doesn’t mean that I should not try. It also got me thinking about the struggles in my own life and how maybe there were some similarities I shared with Miller that I did not know were there.

Thankfully, as a 20-year-old Vanderbilt student I don’t face problems quite to the magnitude that Miller has faced in his life, but that does not mean that I am without struggle. Miller faced many difficulties because he was different; in America’s eyes, he was an outsider. When I got to thinking about my own life, I realized that I too was an outsider in more ways than one.

First off, this semester being in a performance criticism class where my main job was to go and see play and then critique them, I was opened up to a whole new world. Everyone in my class, including the professor (newly tenured professor, congrats Christin!) was apart of the theatre community at Vanderbilt and going to plays, writing about plays, reading and even performing in plays was something that they were accustom too. Personally, I was never really apart of this world. My grandma is a fan of the theatre and she has taken me to a play every now and then, but really I am and always have been an athlete. Not to say that you have to be one or the other, but generally there are not too many athletes in the theatre world. I played sports my whole life growing up, currently work for a sports team, and hope to work in sports the rest of my life.

I was an outsider, and I had some catching up to do to get to the level of where some of my classmates have been for years. I know my classmates and professor sympathized for me, they saw I was trying to keep up and when they would talk about other plays and performances they went to or had seen in the past, they almost without fail had to fill me in every time. But I worked hard, and had to overcome a lot to get to the point that I am at. To get to the point where I am now “accepted” by the theatre community. The theatre community never excluded me, but I had to overcome a lot personally to let myself be “accepted” as a theatre person. Even though I have a long way to go, I am in a way a “theatre expert” compared to where I was just a few months ago and I am glad that this world has been opened up to me and I look forward to continuing to grow in my knowledge and experience of the theatre.

Beyond Vanderbilt and my struggles becoming apart of the theatre community, I face struggles everyday. Not that it has ever really been a problem to me growing up, or on this campus, but I am an African-American male going to school in the south. Naturally, I will face many problems. Whether it is receiving less opportunities than my Caucasian counterparts, or something as simple as being able to make a mistake, I have a bit of a target on my back and a pressure to always be aware of my surroundings and of my behavior, simply because of the color of my skin.

The last eight years have been nice because there was a person in charge who looked like me and probably had to deal with some of the same stereotypes and daily struggles that I deal with. With that, came a notion of “progress” and that America had somehow defeated racism. I can say for a fact that that is not true, but at least people were talking about it and were making efforts to grow closer to true progress. Now I cannot say for certain, but it appears that almost over night, that notion of “progress” will be completely overturned because there is a new leadership in America. There is no longer someone who empathizes with me in charge, but there is someone who has a reputation of being racist, discriminatory, and very, very proud to be a white male. I have no problem with someone being proud of who they are and they inherent opportunities that they were gifted with, but this means that I will continue to deal with some of the struggles that I have been dealing with my whole life. In fact, I might have to struggle a little more than I progress, but I will not quit, I will overcome, and just as Miller’s struggles made him the man he is today, my struggles will continue to shape the man I become.

Miller’s performance, Dower’s blog, and my own self-reflection allowed me to have a connection to others that I never really thought about. Looking back to sitting in Neely Auditorium on March 1, still breathing heavily from my run across campus, I now realize that every single person who was in the audience with me has their own struggles that they deal with on a daily basis. Every single person had a problem that I had no idea about and would never truly understand. I now realize that we all had a common connection to not only Tim Miller and his story, but to one another and all of our stories, even in they were kept secret. My sympathy for the situation turned to empathy when I recognized that everyone was experiencing his or her own unique struggle in life. Everyone has battles and things they need to overcome and while it is important to sympathize for each other, it is more important to empathize with one another and take the love, support, and care we so desperately long for and give it to one another so we can help each other fight and overcome our struggles. In doing this, we will help each other become the best version of ourselves and help America become the best version of itself. If we continue to love, continue to empathize, and continue to fight, together we can all live a life that we are proud of in a country that we are glad to call our home.

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