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Hey, friends— Apologies again for the gap between Museletters. My goal is one a month (perhaps two?) but I haven’t exactly stuck to that schedule. I’ll find my groove, I know it! (If you’re new to these - welcome! - you can catch up on past letters here.)

This Museletter is mostly going to be about optimism, as I’ve had to give myself more than a few pep talks since the election. But first: 

Laura Collins-Hughes wrote such a lovely profile on me in the New York Times last Sunday. We spent three hours at the Rubin Museum, which is one of my favorite places in New York City (http://rubinmuseum.org) I felt she really honored our wide-ranging conversation and was open and understanding of my concerns re: press and talking to journalists generally. She didn’t seem to come armed with any kind of agenda and was just curious about what I’ve been up to and what I’m working on and what I care about in the world. Here’s a link to the article. And she did an extra piece on what I’m reading, watching, and loving these days here.

Here’s what happened to me right after the election: I got a sinus infection and a tooth infection (which led to a root canal) at the exact same moment. The revelation of our next president basically defeated my immune system.  

We started previews for The Babylon Line (the beautiful Richard Greenberg play I’m doing at Lincoln Center through January 22) right then, two days after the election. Thank God for that, actually. To be able to throw myself into a play so rich with language and ideas and humanity was a true life-raft. Something I love about this play: There are characters who think they’re in the middle of tragedy and it turns out that they are not. It’s just a chapter in their lives - lives which turn out quite beautifully. I’m holding onto that notion in these seemingly dark days. 

I would like to think of myself as post-political. I have a vision of an older me, suffused with perspective and empathy, calmly watching what others assume to be calamitous end-of-the-world events and knowing it was ever thus and that things have a way of stabilizing themselves. My father has been subtly making this case to me lately and I’ve been mostly swatting it away. Maybe I need to feel the grief, the loss and the disappointment. Maybe that’s a healthy part of this process, I don’t know. I do know that I’ve never experienced anything quite like this in my lifetime. 

A Chinese proverb: “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” I agree with this. The transition from darkness cursers to candle lighters is essential. Yet the candle lighter must acknowledge the darkness, she must recognize that the room is dark and in need of light. I’m always trying to make sure my optimism is not pollyanna-ish, that it is the result of a clear-eyed objective look at things. Initially that honest assessment of things can make me want to wilt or scream or weep or hide or huddle together with like-minded folks and violently agree with each other. None of those seem like transformative paths.

I’m not sure about what our next steps should be collectively. I’m confident some healthy and appropriate ways forward will reveal themselves. On the individual front, I see a great opportunity. I know that I can be an antidote to the madness in myriad small consequential ways every day:

In the face of noise I can be quiet.
In the face of anger I can be patient.
In the face of fear and panic I can remain calm and measured.
In the face of judgment and finger-pointing I can be self-reflective and honest about my own faults.
In the face of hopelessness I can pray
In the face of ingratitude I can be thankful
In the face of greed and scarcity-thinking I can be generous.
In the face of egos run amok I can acknowledge the egoic madness of my own mind and recommit to words and actions guided by the heart.
In the face of each day’s fresh calamities I can be a better friend, brother, uncle, son, and citizen.

Can one really affect the world this way, push it a notch closer to justice? I have no idea. My suspicion, though, is that this is how it works. Change is incremental and it begins with individuals. Revolution is incremental and always begins with individuals. True change stems from discontent, from the feeling that something is off, that there must be a better way. 

That’s a good feeling ultimately. 
It all starts there.
 
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Some things that have renewed my faith and brought me some joy, comfort, and perspective recently: 

On Christmas night I went to City Center in NYC to see Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and OH MY GOD it was astonishing. Gorgeous and stunning and life-affirming. My friend and I felt so intensely grateful to be able to witness that level of grace and athleticism and skill. They did a whole section that was scored by the French-Cuban musical duo Ibeyi and I totally flipped for this tune “River.” Listen here.

 

The musical “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway. See it if you can, a gorgeous heartbreaker of a show. You can listen to two excellent songs from the show on the web-site.

This Amazon commercial got to me.

And boy, so did this: An Illustrated Talk With Maurice Sendak 

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope. Wow, this book is so special. The author uses Krishna’s dialogue with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita as a lens through which to explore the concept of dharma (which could be defined as one’s ‘sacred duty’) and he looks at the lives of Whitman, Thoreau, Beethoven, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Gandhi and others to illustrate how different people rise to the occasion of this sacred duty or calling. It’s such a terrific and inspiring read. Grab it if you can.

 

There was something also about Dave Chappelle’s post-election opening monologue on SNL that gave me some perspective while also being hilarious. He’s got a special mind.

And then these: 

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“Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. At the beginning of his massive 1930’s treatise on hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, "The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong." To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.”

By Rebecca Solnit, excerpt from Hope in the Dark, c. 2004

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Howard Zinn:


I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of one another’s existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain. I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the very people who are disheartened by the absence of a national movement are themselves proof of the potential for such a movement.

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. 

 

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And here are some wise post-election thoughts from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield: 


PRACTICING THE DHARMA IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

When times are uncertain, difficult, fearful, full of change,
they become the perfect place to deepen the practice of awakening. 

After viewing the elections....whatever your point of view,
Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart. 
Then go out and look at the sky.

Remember vastness, there are seasons to all things, 
gain and loss, praise and blame, expansion and contraction. 
Learn from the trees.
Practice equanimity and steadiness. 

Remember the timeless Dharma amidst it all. 
Think of the best of human goodness.
Let yourself become a beacon of integrity, with your thoughts, words and deeds.
Integrity in speech and action, virtue and non harming bring blessings. 

Remember the Noble truths, no matter the politics or the season:
Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go.
Love, generosity and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.

Remember the Buddha's counsel, 
"Hatred never ends by hatred but by love alone is healed. 
This is the ancient and eternal law."

The human heart has freedom in itself to choose love, dignity and respect. 
In every circumstance, embody respect and cultivate compassion for all.

Let yourself become a beacon of Dharma.
Amidst the changes, shine with courage and trust.

This is your world. Plant seeds of goodness 
and water them everywhere. 

Then blessings will grow for yourself and for all.

 
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Happy Almost New Year everyone.
Deep peace, 
Josh

 

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