Samuel J. Tanner 6 minute read


William Blake, in his poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, wrote that Energy is Eternal Delight. He also wrote that Evil is the activity springing from Energy. He also wrote that Energy is the only life and is from the body.

What am I doing offering seemingly contradictory, poetic quotes from a long dead British poet this week? How should I know? I'm improvising here. Still, your question is a good one.

For Blake, energy is the only life and it comes from the body. It can produce delight. It can produce evil, too. Okay.

My sons have such energy. Samson can run around the wall that separates the kitchen and the living room 45 times without taking a break. Me? I can muster three or four laps before I'm tired. Solomon can't stop bouncing off the couch if he sits down to watch television. You should see him try and eat dinner. He gets up from his chair 50 times before the meal is over. Such energy. Their energy quickly turns to evil. If they are playing too hard - with too much energy - Solomon might push Samson or Samson might hit Solomon. Violence ensues. Destruction. Screaming. I think destruction is evil.

I've lived an energetic life. Maybe it's because, like my sons, I'm short. Short people have energy, man. You should have seen me teach high school. I was, to quote my friend and mentor Steve, a bug light.

"Students gravitate to you Sam, because of the energy you spend on them. They're like moths and you're like a light."

My friend Steve told me this one evening after watching me lead a rehearsal for a play. He'd been watching me teach and direct during the year, guiding me during my transition from Cooper to Roseville High School. Steve was older than me. He was close friends with the coordinator of the theatre program at Roseville. Steve often hung around when I was leading rehearsals or classes. Steve didn't have a formal position with Roseville School District, but he worked as an acting coach in our program. Steve was one of the wisest people I've ever met and served as a mentor to me in my late twenties and early thirties. I write about Steve and his influence on me extensively in my newest book, a project I keep teasing in these blogs. I promise that book is coming soon. I'm still figuring out my next move to publish it. I'm not so much of a producer as an artist, but I'll figure it out. Anyway, Steve was such an powerful force in my life. He taught me so much about not imposing my will on others. I don't think there's a more important lesson for us to learn. For theatre directors, sure. But teachers too. Anybody would benefit from this lesson, really.

Steve kept talking to me that night, after watching my electric facilitation of a rehearsal.

"You're going to need to figure out how to manage your energy, Sam," Steve told me. "There's no way you can sustain the ways you are with people."

I laughed at Steve at the time. But then my twenties turned into my thirties. I often found myself thinking about Steve's words. Incidentally, that's why I think of Steve as a great teacher. Ten years later, I often found myself returning to something Steve mentioned in passing. For me, that's the mark of great teaching. It's memorable and it stays with you. Anyway, I began to notice how tired I was after leading an improv practice, teaching a class, or giving a presentation. I'd spend all my energy in the moment and, quickly, find that I was exhausted. I can't really explain it. I fundamentally invest in whatever I'm doing, even if I'm doing thirty things at once. I've learned, over time, that this can become a problem.

I'm thirty-eight now. Geez. I won't pretend that I have the same energy that I used to. And being around people is exhausting. I'm an introvert through and through. Teaching a class at Penn State Altoona leaves me with little energy. Teaching an improv class too. Performing. Going to conferences. Even attending meetings. The only thing that seems to create energy for me are quiet pursuits. Writing. Reading. Playing video games. These things restore me.

I share my house with two of the most dynamic vessels of energy I've met. Solomon and Samson. They don't stop. There's such delight in their energy. Potential for destrution too. Evil, even. I suppose that was the same thing with my teaching. There is such delight in the work I've done in classrooms. Potential for violence too. Regardless, there's life in energy, and life is good. But managing energy - channelling it - seems more and more important to me now. This is especially true as the reserves are becoming more limiting. Less energy to spend. I need to be more careful about how I use it. I need to watch what I'm investing my energy in. Some things don't provide any energy in return. Others do.

This fall has been, in a word, depleting. Physically exhasuting? Kind of. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually tiring? You betcha. Betcha? What am I, from Minnesota? You betcha. Anyway, energy. I'm depleted. I spent the last week being lazy. I ate too much food, played video games, and tried to stay away from doing any substantive work. I'm not really restored yet, but I have what it takes to make it through the rest of the fall semester. Thanksgiving break is done, there's only a few weeks before Winter Break, and I'll make it through. With less in the tank these days, sure, but I'll get by.

There's great delight in channelling energy well. That's what writing offers me. A way to channel my thinking and feeling. Psychic energy. Running affords me a similar conduit. Jogging around the park behind me lets my physical energy flow. I love improv when improv is good and works well. It's one of the few places I've found where people channel energy together by conjuring creative expression. Stories. There's such a delight in the sharing of that kind of energy. That's probably my greatest attraction to the medium of theatrical improvisation. Teaching and learning can offer something similar to this. A channelled classroom is a magical place.

So Blake, that prophetic poet, was onto something in his musing about energy. Our only life is born from the energy in or body that provokes us to move through and with the universe. I fear there's something dangerous that happens when we use our energy to impose an imagined order on the world. But smarter people than me have shared this worry. Steve, Blake, and Jesus all pointed out the evil in using energy to manipulate things into something they aren't at the expense of others. Violence, man. Who needs that destruction, that evil?