There is a famous Soviet era joke that once made the rounds, in what is now capitalist Russia, about the then premiere Leonid Brezhnev. Having reached the peak of his career in becoming party leader and the supreme authority in his vast nation, Brezhnev summons his mother, then living in the wilds of rural Russia, to the Kremlin for a private tour. She is flown in, by private military jet, to Moscow, transported from the airport by a ten motorcycle motorcade and arrives in the Kremlin, where she is shown the opulence and splendour of her son’s office and immediate surroundings. Brezhnev then takes her to see his official residence, stopping to note the priceless artworks that bedeck the walls. After a sumptuous lunch, they are flown together to the Crimean, where they visit Brezhnev’s official Black Sea holiday residence, a palatial, sprawling complex of buildings overlooking the sea. At the end of the whirlwind tour, Brezhnev says to his mother, “well, mama, what do you think?” He is beaming with pride at his achievements. His mother replies, “It’s all very nice, Leonid. But what will you do if the Communists ever return to power?”
The point of the joke is that it helped many Soviet citizens endure the harsh, unjust, oppressive, stagnant years of Leonid Brezhnev’s reign. Endurance is a very necessary thing, sometimes.
We all learn that when under stress, or threatened, or cornered, we experience a “fight or flight” response. Often, those courses of action are unavailable to us, though, at least in the immediate term, yet we must still cope with the lack of choice we find ourselves with, until such time as we can fight or flee. Artists often experience years of torment, producing their works but getting no recognition for their art. During these long, dark days, the only thing that can be done is to endure.
How do you endure? I think some of the answer lies in fun. My mentor and friend Janet says that you should find a way to make the thing you must endure into something fun, or if brave enough, challenge the person setting the task for you to make it fun for you to do. There is something to be said for this approach, I think. If you can maintain a sense of humour and laugh at the adverse situation, you have a chance or making it through, intact.
There can be a tendency to take yourself and your art very seriously and, of course, it is serious, to a point. However, you always have to be ready to lighten up, have a laugh at yourself and your situation and get on with the task at hand, with a smile on your face. You have no choice. Your survival depends on it. Laughing is the most serious business there is.
So we have three possible responses to being trapped without any good choices. We can fight, we can flee or if we cannot do either of those, we can endure through humour. Isn’t it wonderful that human beings have evolved such brilliant coping mechanisms?