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Archive for October 15th, 2011

Blessed Unrest / Divine Dissatisfaction

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

A Strong Woman

I have long been fascinated by Martha Graham, modern dance pioneer. I studied Modern Dance in high school, with a woman who had danced in some sort of capacity through Martha (I assume at her school).

Reading about Ms. Graham has been riveting. She was not vanilla-flavored! I believe if I met her in person I would have been afraid of her. However, those of us with a “strong flavor” do tend to make a mark on those around us.

From PBS.org:

Martha Graham’s impact on dance was staggering and often compared to that of Picasso’s on painting, Stravinsky’s on music, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture.


Martha Graham changed the course of dance in one very long lifetime. When her body became too old and frail to dance any more, she spent about a year holed up in her room.

When she came out, she became a full-focus choreographer, sometimes teaching other dancers to dance roles she had created for herself. She had to re-invent herself, and in the end she triumphed.

Art as Writing

Martha hung out with another dancer/choreographer, Agnes DeMille, who worked most in musical theatre/ Broadway. They were in the same field but not directly competitive.

Agnes wrote my favorite words about Ms. Graham. She wrote a biography titled “Martha.” It’s not sugar coated at all, but it’s not mean either. It made me laugh, cringe, and open my eyes in amazement. I’m really grateful for that book, which I’ve read twice.


At some point, Martha wrote a letter to Agnes. Somehow it got transcribed in a public space, where other creatives could be encouraged by the words.

A long quote from that letter has been an amazing help to me at times. What I read into it is this: don’t worry about perfection, just DO THE WORK you were meant to do, the work you do which nobody else can. (There is no such thing as perfect anyway, right?)

So often, creative people think what they do is no big deal. It’s easy for them… but not for others. This does make it a big deal, if you ask me. On the other hand, they sometimes fuss so long making it perfect that they never release their work to the world.

Here is the quote which has really informed my creative life for years:

There is a vitality, a life-force, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares to other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased…

There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching – and makes us more alive than the others.
Martha Graham
(to Agnes DeMille)


From PBS.org’s page about Martha Graham:

It is nearly impossible to track the influence of Martha Graham. Everyone from Woody Allen to Bette Davis cites her as a major influence. She is universally understood to be the twentieth century’s most important dancer, and the mother of modern dance.
…She was the first choreographer to regularly employ both Asian- and African-American Dancers. Her contributions to the art of stage design and dance production are countless.


My friends… keep marching, keep creating, keep noticing joy – or blessed unrest if that’s what you’ve got. Do it in spite of yourself, do it even if the neighbors won’t understand, do it even if your parents think it won’t help you make a good living.

Fit your creative needs into your already too-busy life. You might just feel relieved from allowing yourself that time… to be yourself. Hugs.