The Concept of Audience Obligation


When people give of themselves unselfishly, for our benefit, what is our response? Why do we so often decide to give nothing back?


Yesterday, our incredibly talented Relief Society pianist (and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend) adapted the prelude music into a work of art. I sat and listened, eyes closed, and wondered if anyone else heard the beauty of her music. She was giving the entire room a gift, but most of the people in the room were too busy chatting to notice.

My son’s college orientation was packed with students and parents well before the auditorium doors were scheduled to open. Instead of leaving us all standing and staring at one another over the doughnut trays for an extra half hour, the doors were opened, and the college Jazz Band, down on the stage, began to play for us.

They were brilliant. They were enthusiastic. They played for an extra half hour, dredging their memories to pull up last season’s songs,  just for us. My son and I  clapped after every poignant solo, and after each number; he was in Jazz Band for many years, we know how these performances are supposed to work. But in that packed auditorium, only a few people joined in and shared their appreciation of the Jazz band’s efforts.

A group of local artists hung their paintings in our city’s Civic Center for several weeks. None of the paintings were for sale; the artists wanted only to share captured beauty with concert-goers, to lift and enrich their spirits. A signature book was placed at the end of the exhibit, where people could offer comments or thanks. Although hundreds of people passed by and admired the paintings, it was never necessary to turn to the next page of that book; only a few took the time to respond to the artists.

We are all busy; we have much to do; our private thoughts are invaded and jumbled by bright, noisy notifications, events and ads we didn’t ask to see or hear. In the heat and chaos of our daily lives, have we forgotten our obligation to those who freely share their talents with us, who never ask for, and seldom receive, anything in return? Have we closed ourselves off from an essential part of our humanity?


Do we forget that the funny videos we enjoy on YouTube are created by people just like us, people who could use an encouraging word once in a while from their fans? Do we fail to notice the work of the muralists who transform the bare, ugly walls of inner-city office buildings into riots of color? Do we ignore the flower boxes planted facing outward toward the street, for us, not the homeowners, to enjoy?

When people give of themselves unselfishly, for our benefit, what is our response? What is our obligation? And why do we so often decide to give nothing back?

When I was a child, I attended a rag-tag circus. It was tiny, with only a few performers and some trained dogs and horses. The crowd was small as well, the trickle of fees barely enough to sustain the circus until it reached the next small town.

circus-231549__340The ringmaster, after hearing the initial lackluster response of his crowd of ladies, gentlemen, and children-of-all-ages, took the center ring a second time. He encouraged us to show our appreciation of the show, urging us to applaud, to stamp our feet, to holler if we liked, to laugh out loud, to react in any way at all. As the audience, he told us, it was up to us whether the show soared or flopped. The performers, even the animals, lived for the applause, he said. They would perform so much better, would stretch themselves to put on the best possible show, if they knew we appreciated them. As an audience, we shared an obligation.

I screamed myself hoarse that day, and so did most of the other children.  I believe the performers were encouraged, the horses were more inclined to arch their necks and prance, the trapeze artists were urged to greater heights, and the funny clowns and their dogs were egged on, all because of the response of that crowd. I learned something that night I never forgot. Audiences are not meant to be passive. All performances are interactive.

The next time someone gives you a gift, whether it’s a street musician, a sidewalk artist, or even the barista who takes the time to sculpt the whipped cream on your hot chocolate into a flower, please remember: if you enjoy the gift, take a moment to show your appreciation.  Much obliged.



Memoir = Memory Noir?

Writing a book about the past is like assembling a decrepit jigsaw puzzle after the box has rotted away.


The colors are blurred and faded, the edges have missing tabs, and some pieces have vanished altogether. Clues to the identity of the image appear only in fits and starts as sections of the puzzle are compiled. Many of the details can never be recovered. So why bother?

Perhaps we write about the past to gain an understanding of it.  Or maybe we feel this is the best way to set it aside and move forward into a brighter future. Or could it be that we write because we know someone out there, someone a lot like us, is struggling to muster the strength to get through another day?  We write because reading the stories of people who’ve spent time in the trenches, survived, and found their way to the surface again can rekindle hope in a despairing heart.

Authors who dug deep into their own pasts in order to drag the truth into the light gave me hope and strength in my own blackest hours. The chiaroscuro book I’m writing is my own attempt to pay it forward.