How often do you experience a more than an ordinary moment?

Today is June 15 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you experience a more than an ordinary moment?” Those that navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, like American art teacher Robert Henri, are intrinsically motivated and understand the value of experiencing a more than ordinary moment of existence.


As Henri wrote “The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture. The picture is a by-product and may be useful as a sign of what has passed. The object is the attainment of a state of being, a high state of functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence.” Living well means doing something with no end result in mind. Experiencing more than an ordinary moment means giving of your time, perhaps your effort, and even your support, with no payback. How often do you ‘paint a picture for the sake of painting a picture’ without any expectation of a payback? Do you only involve yourself in ‘a sure thing,?’ Must you only give of yourself if there is a guarantee?

Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well often get involved with projects, people, or places with absolutely no idea where their path will take them. As Henri said, such people ‘paint the picture to achieve a more than an ordinary moment of existence.’ But identifying a more than ordinary moment of existence is perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges. More than ordinary moments are often unexpected conversations in unplanned places at unscheduled times. Such conversations lead to more discussions. Over time something happens, and a finished product is presented all due to an initial conversation that, it turned out, was more than an ordinary moment of existence. But herein lies the key to remember for today’s reflection, there was never a sure thing throughout the course of the conversation. Two such examples come from the backstories of writers Jonathan Larson and Sylvester Stallone.


Larson was the catalyst behind the Broadway musical RENT. A conversation on his building’s rooftop would eventually become a more than ordinary moment of existence. Billy Aronson came to New York in 1983 after studying drama at Yale University. He lived in Hell's Kitchen just up the street from Lincoln Center and would attend opera in his spare time, falling in love with Bohème in particular. "I had this idea for a Bohème for now — for our generation that had sort of a 'noise' and [that] captured the un-Bohèmeness of it: not sweet and not luscious," says Aronson. "Since I don't write music, I went looking for a composer, and I was affiliated with Playwrights Horizons, so Ira Weitzman, the director of musical theatre there, recommended two composers, one of whom was Jonathan Larson. Their first meeting was at Larson's apartment in the West Village. Aronson remembers that Larson took him up a fire escape on a hot day to flesh out the idea on the roof, where there was a beach chair and a crate. "You could feel the desire," Aronson says of Larson. It would take Larson over seven years to write the music, lyrics, and book for the musical, RENT, that would gain critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical.


Sadly, Larson died unexpectedly the morning of RENT's first preview performance Off-Broadway. He suffered an aortic dissection, believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, in the early morning on January 25, 1996. He had been suffering severe chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath for several days prior to his death, but doctors at Cabrini Medical Center and St. Vincent's Hospital could not find signs of an aortic aneurysm even after conducting a chest X-ray and electrocardiogram, so they misdiagnosed it either as flu or stress. New York State medical investigators concluded that if the aortic dissection had been accurately diagnosed and treated with surgical repair, Larson would have lived.


Stallone, the writer behind the film Rocky, had a passing conversation that would eventually become a more than an ordinary moment. According to an interview Stallone reflected on that time in his life and said “I first met Bob Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, and I believe I was there on a casting call. So, we're talking a little bit, and I said I really wasn't right for the acting part. And on the way out, I said I don't know if it matters, but I do a little bit of writing. And he goes, really? And I says yeah, I'm writing this story, I have this thing about wrestlers, and I might do something about boxing. He goes, well bring it around. And I thought if I hadn't stopped on the way out, you know that's why I tell all actors or writers, don't give up, keep talking, eventually you might hit a nerve somewhere and they go come on back. And if they didn't say come on back or bring it later and let's see what you developed, I wouldn't be sitting here.” Rocky, made on a budget of just over $1 million, was a sleeper hit; it earned $225 million in global box office receipts, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1976. The film was critically acclaimed and solidified Stallone's career as well as commenced his rise to prominence as a major movie star. Among other accolades, it went on to receive ten Academy Award nominations, winning three, including Best Picture.


Larson and Stallone were struggling to navigate the chaos when they experienced more than an ordinary moment in their unexpected conversations with others. They were struggling financially, personally, and professionally. Yes, they both understood the value of how life can provide a more than an ordinary moment if one is aware. They each turned those momentary conversations into ongoing dialogues resulting in Larson’s RENT and Stallone’s Rocky and forever altered the landscape of musicals and film respectively all because they experienced more than an ordinary moment.


How often do you experience more than an ordinary moment?