Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Reading the Grass

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My nine-year-old daughter asked the other day what was in grass that made it alive. We were raking the winter road grit off the boulevard, and truly there wasn’t a trace of green yet. We stood and looked at last year’s tawny grass and pondered. What is it, anyway? I trotted out the science, but both of us knew we didn’t come very close to a real answer.

I appreciate a question like that because it slows down the racket for a moment, and changes the angle of vision. Suddenly we weren’t just two people performing a repetitive task, coughing through the dust. We were standing on something alive—the skin of my urban neighborhood. Muse on that!

Artists make musing their specialty. They stand at that still point and let the unanswerables settle in. Then they begin their own kind of repetitive tasks, gathering words or sounds or movements or colours, fitting them together in a way that will allow someone else to have a similar experience.

A poem, a dance, a sculpture, a film: every one of them has, at its core, a question like my daughter’s, a question that slows the mind, opens it up to new possibilities.

Wrenching us away from our hectic life rhythms is one of the restorative qualities of art. We allow ourselves to be inhabited, to see and feel and hear as if we’re someone else. I think that’s crucial: being able to connect deeply to someone else’s imagining allows us to learn how to be in relationship with others, and with the worlds they offer us.

But being taken over by someone else’s creation also makes us more alert to our own capacities—our sensory sharpness, our ability to comprehend patterns, our openness to what is unfamiliar, our willingness to examine what we believe. We have a chance to identify and refine our strengths, and to realize how much we don’t yet know how to think about.
If we’re fortunate, we feel awe.

What is it in grass that makes it alive? I’m not sure. But I suspect it has something in common with what makes a good book alive, or a beautiful dance, or a powerful jazz solo. Something mysterious. Something wildly powerful and absolutely fragile. Something worth caring for.

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