Every human life has two parts: Spectator and Actor.
The Spectator reads, watches, analyzes, debates. He is sometimes rational, sometimes emotional, but always separated from reality by a glass wall of abstraction.
The Actor does things. He lives moment by moment in the real world, riding the highs and lows of joy and terror, impossible pleasure and unspeakable pain. While others watch, the Actor survives.
Everyone plays both these roles, switching from one to the other and back as each new situation arises. Both are necessary. Each informs and strengthens the other. Spending too much time as a Spectator locks you in an ivory tower, makes you write bad complicated poetry that only academics read. Spending too much time as an Actor makes you wild, undisciplined. As the proverb says: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”
I grew up as a Spectator. I read books, watched movies, played video games, did homework, avoided sports. Even the areas where I did compete – Science Olympiad, National Spelling Bee, Quiz Team – were abstract and intellectual. A childhood of Spectatorship has advantages, certainly: it’s safe, and it gives you time to think, and those are both wonderful things. But it does leave certain weaknesses.
I’ve written recently about getting my first IV as a needlephobe. Facing a phobia leaves little room for Spectatorship. It makes you an Actor. That afternoon, confronting my terror in the hours before the procedure, I meditated and I worked out. And I listened to Eminem.
Zen Buddhism and Eminem may not have much in common, but they share this: they both dismiss Spectatorship. They demand you become an Actor.
I’m not afraid
To take a stand
Come take my hand
We’ll walk this road together
The editor in me complains this is a string of cliches. I don’t care. Whatever his flaws, Eminem creates music that reaches out directly to the world of experience, of living reality. This is the world that my academic side shrinks from, the world I tried to embrace by choosing to skydive and learn karate.
I’m afraid of it. I need it.
I’m getting better at it.
Are you a Spectator or an Actor?