From within the experience of the Loeb fellowship, current fellow Jim Lasko, founder of Redmoon theater company in Chicago, reflects on failure, accomplishment, gratitude and the messiness of human connection.
I’m just returning from Chicago where I had the pleasure to speak at the Cusp conference as well as to see all my Redmoon compatriots at Expo Chicago.
At Cusp I spoke on failure. I talked about the importance to embrace Failure as a byproduct of pursuing a Grand Project. Through examples of Redmoon’s work, I talked about how failure sometimes reveals both the pursued Ideal and the Effort to Achieve. That failure holds the effort side by side with its Goal, that in failure we see the pursuit and the objective standing side by side. I also tried to relate failure to the messiness of human connection, that intimacy is, in the end, uncontrollable, and that failure must therefore be considered part and parcel of that process.
It was, in the end, too much to try to say and it wasn’t all that successful. It was fine and many people told me that it worked, but I could feel the whole thing slip away in the middle. I caught it again at the end brought it home with the story of “Sink, Sank, Sunk…”
I realize now that I was speaking about Redmoon filtered by the lens through which I generally see it: the one that seeks to recognize our shortcomings more than our accomplishments, the one that sees the opportunities for growth and change. (It does not escape me, for those of you noticing, that this is also the lens through which I am also currently viewing the talk itself.)
I notice this with a new clarity because my time with the board and staff was spent glorying in the fortune of my time at Harvard with the Loeb Fellowship. There are a couple of elements to this:
1. The Loeb Fellowship isn’t my project. I am not running it. I’m its beneficiary. So I see it as the lucky recipient, as the boy in the stands in whose lap the ball just dropped. That boy would never critique the ball, only relish its gift. Whatever incidental blemishes and smears on the ball would only be understood as part of its unique character and augment its value. It’s an amazing place to be.
2. Standing there in front of Redmoon’s board and staff, I understood that my job was to thank them, thank them for both creating the time and space for me to take this year, but also for being part of the process that rendered the work that the Loeb Fellowship recognized and rewarded. The best way to be thankful was to show how great the gift was that they had bestowed. In other words, the better the Loeb Fellowship experience, the better the gift and the more sincere my gratitude.
The question I have for myself is how far can I take this? What of this moment should transfer into my practice as a creator, as a manager, as a visionary? It is easy to think that it is always best to sit in the gratitude of every moment, to relish its gifts and successes, to see its incidental blemishes as simply marks of distinction, reflections of its unique character. But I fear that is too simple. I am sure that the board and staff rely on me to track our shortcomings, to see and understand them, and to plan for addressing them in the future.
I am also sure that they would appreciate my being able to see and speak to our tremendous strengths, our currency and our success. The time on the Loeb Fellowship has been a tremendous gift in that regard. The response to our work has been so very positive it has encouraged me to shift my perspective. The context of Urban Design and its overall project of creating a vital, healthy, and sustainable urban environment is a more powerful and affirming lens through which to see our work. So it is a fair exchange, perhaps, that the opportunity provided by the staff and board may also be the mechanism through which I become more able to be more generous to our process and product.
I present in Roanoke, Virginia in a couple of weeks, I’m going to try a whole new tack there. I’m going to glory in our successes.