Art, Forgiveness

Yesterday, I wandered down to the Vancouver International Film Festival for a viewing of Shane Koyczan's "Shut Up and Say Something". Koyczan, who is a long-time spoken word poet, really broke into the national limelight when he performed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was one of my favourite moments in the Olympics (and there were an awful lot of those). 

The documentary, which spans over four years of his life, following him through a number of cities, is about art. About how performance requires a vulnerability that only comes to be on stage, about his growing up and where he draws his material from. How a difficult childhood of bullying and abandonment has led Shane down a path of not only creative discovery, but of trying to make amends with his past. He tries to give voice to his struggles, and those of countless others.

Part of the documentary also covers his meeting with his father, long estranged, who left when Shane was a baby (he was raised by his grandmother). The documentary captures so well the anger, struggle,love and the wanting to forgive throughout. 

It really got me thinking about forgiveness. Art is imbued with so many of our struggles and triumphs as artists, but perhaps one of the greatest gifts it offers us is a way to bridge together our creations with forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard. It is hard. The capacity to forgive wholeheartedly is sometimes the purview of incredibly evolved human beings (think about your various Lamas and nuns). Because it's just so much easier to burn up inside than to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Artists, however, have a special backstage pass to be able to access that most elusive and difficult of abilities. We as artists, have a deep, deep reservoir that feeds our creative impulses, often to some benefit to the world. Whether we are showing the world pain and saying "hey, I've been there too" or whether we're showing them something beautiful and saying, "there is better out there", artists have an incredible capacity to perform the things we feel and a capacity to express things that are difficult in only words.

Shane's journey to forgiveness, especially to his father has not been an easy one, and I get the sense that there is a lot there that needs to be worked out (he was on stage for a brief Q/A session after the film). Abandonment leaves a kind of dent that is easy to fill in ways that are not good. Anger often comes rushing back to fill that vacuum and has to be held at bay. It takes energy. 

But if that documentary taught me anything, it's that so much of our power as artists lies in our ability to use what materials we have - what emotional materials we have - and create something that clears away the dust. Forgiveness of ourselves and others helps us be better artists. Emotions are malleable materials. We constantly edit them just as we do our art. Whether you sing, act, dance, write, paint, create in other ways, the ability to manipulate your material is at the very heart of what you do. Emotion, forgiveness, is no different. It serves a purpose. It informs how you mold your reality.

I know that as a writer and musician, I've had many moments where revealing emotion comes at a cost, sometimes high (like crying on stage. That was awful). But it's an investment you have to be willing to make to grow in any capacity.

Shane's beautiful poetry comes from such an investment. It has a price. But it also has a benefit.

This is perhaps too much thought that's gone into this one small encounter, so I leave you with this poem of Shane's. If you do get a chance, check out the documentary (I hear it'll be on Knowledge Network in Canada in the next year or so).