Regardless of outcome, the most important measurement of a life’s work is how little you have compromised, how much in you has been brought forth whole and entire, in the original form you have envisioned deep in your heart. This is the secret of great art, great achievement: the refusal to compromise, the stamina to see to the last detail cast in the mold of the mind’s highest dream. This is Stanley Kubric, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet. This is Confucius, Jesus, Sakyamuni, Socrates. The courage to stand by one’s conviction in an otherwise humble spirit is always the sign of greatness and mental maturity.
Ballet is such an artificial form of art. It represents the human desire for dancing freely beyond the limit of gravity, for a beauty unreal to blood and flesh. It is cruel to the dancers. They have to stand, walk, jump on their toes, and the nails are broken again and again. Yet with such inhuman effort, the dancers present to the human eye a seemingly effortless near-perfection of the bodily form in movement and gesture, hence an achievement of transcendental value.
Otherwise, it is really just an unnatural way of dance, rooted in men’s fantasies of women and successful at molding real women into their fantasies. It is based on lives not of labor, but of luxury. Men who have choreographed such art are highly regarded, such as George Balanchine and Marius Petipa; so are the women who willingly achieved their choreography with their own heart, body, and life, such as Suzanne Farrell, Maya Plisetskaya, and Galina Ulanova.
Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham are closer to my ideal. They used their body and technique, not to conform to a classical yet dying art, but to communicate what their hearts hear, what nature calls to them, what the human emotions struggle to express.
Fireworks are such beauty. There always comes a point that you cry silently inside: “Please stay, oh please stay!” But they never do. Next second the beauty turns into a thousand shooting stars. Then the shooting stars turn into nothing. A moment of perfection, cherished with the knowledge of its very short lifespan. Light and color explode to draw the symbol of magnificence in the nightly sky, revealing to human eyes for just a second, to overwhelm their dim, vague, suffering-filled life, then gone.
And we practical human beings, we hold on to it, even know it is only an illusion and won’t last for more than 5 seconds. We spend many thousands of dollars on this celebration, and swarm the beach in millions to watch it, every year.
I find this obsession of beauty and magnificence both pitiful and heartening. This is what we want: a glimpse of the impossible, of a higher existence, of what’s beyond imagination. As long as this persists, there might be hope.
Every person’s life is a failure. What we can do is to make this failure a good story, a story filled with courage, compassion, nobleness.
And about fireworks, who knows? Maybe in that split second, the passing beauty ignited a seed of fire in one person, one child. And the spark will spread through his or her work, shed new light of comfort and joy for this agonizing world.