By Eliza Jones
I went to an event this week on campus — I won’t give specifics — but let’s just say it was open to the public as well as to faculty and students, and it featured the presence of several artists who had been so gracious as to travel all the way to Orono in order to share their work with our community. Key word here being share. Each of these artists were willing, for 20 minutes or so, to give to members of the audience little hidden pieces of themselves that had been sliced straight from their souls. They did not ask anything of us in return expect attention and respect. They were certainly practiced at this exchange, having done it for years — but I don’t think one can ever completely conquer the vulnerability that comes with the act of sharing, of opening oneself up to others and risking either reception or rejection.
I sat in the back row and surrendered to the moment and to the artists. This was their time. I glanced around the room. I smiled at one professor who had surrendered himself to the moment, too, for he sat still in his chair with his eyes closed, clearly concentrating on the artist before us — the artist who stood at the podium, bravely risking either reception or rejection. I noticed other styles of concentration, too, different methods for listening and attentiveness: some people sat forward in their chairs with elbows on knees, still and silent, some sat straight-backed with their heads cocked to one side, others sat with legs crossed or hands clasped in laps or chins down on chests.
Then I noticed several students around me who were jostling their legs. Another student sat in his chair with his neck craned up towards the ceiling and rolled his head on his shoulders. I saw people scrolling on smartphones, stretching, rubbing their necks, hanging their heads. Their discomfort and boredom was palpable. And in the front row, feet from the artist who stood at the podium, someone yawned — the ultimate rejection. A yawn screams, ‘You are boring me to sleep.’
I was dismayed. If you willingly show up to an event or a performance of any kind, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that for an hour or two you put aside your somatic ticks, your private personal needs, your smart phones and your screens. Try to forget, for just a little while, your hunger, your stress, your bladder, your heartbreak and humor and homework. Surrender to the performance and to the artist. He or she is giving you something valuable: a true escape. A performance, by asking you only to listen or to watch, is giving you the real and vivid experience of temporarily vacating your brain and immersing yourself in a new one. Certainly that kind of escape is fuller and richer and more vibrant that anything on Facebook or Instagram.
I notice it in class, too, during lectures and student presentations: students yawning and fidgeting and checking Facebook. Shouldn’t we respect one another enough to pay attention to what the other is sharing for just a few minutes? This is my plea as one student to another. We all know it’s hard to stand up in front of our peers and share something. We’ve all been in that terrible terrifying moment when you are at the mercy of your audience and vulnerable to either reception or rejection. But it’s much harder when you look around the room and see indifference. So smile at the presenter. Laugh if he or she makes a joke and it is funny. Don’t be afraid to look interested and engaged; it’s certainly not becoming to look unimpressed. Boredom and indifference are two of the ugliest faces on the planet.
Please, if someone is willing to give you a piece of himself or herself, have the courtesy to give something back.