Elia Kazan

On a recommendation from Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader, I checked out A Life by Elia Kazan,  one of the best memoirs he ever edited. I picked it up at my local library branch shocked at how thick and heavy it is–over 1000 pages (including index) and weighing over three pounds.

But it is a page-turner full of juicy tidbits including stories about Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur (Art) Miller. It took a few weeks, but I recently completed it. Here’s a passage I want to share with you, especially you creatives, that talks about artistic risk-taking as brilliantly as I’ve ever read. I’m taking the liberty to quote a large chunk of his text:

The tragedy of the American theatre and of our lives is what could have been. Forces dispersed instead of gathered. Talents unused or used at a fraction of their worth. Potential unrealized. We all know our problems…It is now time to stand up for ourselves before we disappear from the scene.

What is so terrible in our society is that people like ourselves are only rarely in control of their own lives and destinies. We don’t do what we want to do. We do what we think we have to do. Or what’s worse, what other people want us to do, what “they”–whoever “they” are–want us to do…

Now we are going to try to do something we respect for a change. It is hazardous. When you say something is difficult, you are saying it might not work. We are here to attempt a birth. All births are difficult. Look at a baby’s head. Don’t you wonder how it managed to get through? Like everything else worth doing, it is impossible…

Yet in a long and lively life, I haven’t found anything worth doing except the impossible.

If any of you are one of the 43 million plus who’ve watched Will Smith jump out of an airplane, he’s saying a similar thing. That the only way to get to our bliss/vision/dream is to get beyond the fear and do what scares us. It’s the only thing worth our time and attention.


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