One of the most influential books my friends have read this year has been “Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies,” a manifesto about the spiritual significance of words and conversations. Strangely enough, it is all of the banter about Steve Martin’s appearance last week at the 92nd Street Y that has reminded me again of the notion of showing love and respect for language as part of daily spiritual practice.
You see Martin agreed to speak at the Y, an event conveniently timed with the release of his new book “An Object of Beauty”,but he agreed to a dialogue with friend and art expert Deborah Solomon on the topic of art, in part because his book takes place in the art world. He was not there to discuss his movies, his stand-up, or hosting award shows. It seems quite a few members of the audience – not just in NYC but on close circuit television- had other ideas. It seems instead of listening to a conversation about culture they wanted Martin to discuss something more entertaining and less substantial, like Hollywood and his career. In fact, Martin was interrupted mid-event and given questions to answer from the audience. Martin reluctantly complied but the evening quicky became what audience members deemed a dud. To add insult to injury, the Y offered a refund for the ticket price of the event because they were afraid of the bad word of mouth.
Now Martin has penned a briliant response to naysayers through an op-ed piece in the New York Times. In “The Art of Interruption”, Martin demonstrates that he too cares about the culture of words and and their value to our souls. I also hope his commentary will cause at least a litte more reflection on our celebrity-driven culture.

In his response, Martin acknowledges perhaps there were some gaps in the evening’s discourse and that maybe not everything was as scintillating as it could have been. But he also points out that in an impatience for some punchlines and pithy comments, the flow in ideas and conversation was ruined and a potential moment of beauty was missed. In Martin’s words the request to discuss Hollywood over art was as “disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy.”
He has a point. Ackward pauses, and rabbit trails of thought are all part of a typical conversation , right? Wanting to share about something he felt passionately about only to have resort to answering questions so basic even Leno woudn’t have asked them had to cast a pall on the evening. Martin could have fallen back on cheap, old comic bits or simply read from his book. That was the simple way to please everyone. Wanting to have a conversation about something meaningful in spite of celebrity is admirable. Too bad the event’s planners didn’t think so. It woud have been nice if the Y had been more supportive of Martin instead of wanting Martin to be a “wild and crazy guy.” The audience may get their money back ,but they will never know what they missed and what it actually cost them.

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