New Year’s Day this year was a cold, rainy one in Manhattan. The bright lights of Broadway had always seemed to warm the chills running through my body, particularly on that date.
That evening I was attending “Constellations,” a play brought across the Atlantic from its London roots for American audiences to examine. Examine is the only verb to use in this situation, as the play follows a relationship over multiple scenarios throughout time. It’s one-part experimental theater, one-part scientific fodder and – as a whole – completely riveting.
Like the play itself, I paced backstage after the performance with my mind considering all the scenarios that could play out when I met its stars – Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson – for the first time. Encounters with actors and actresses can be a real mixed bag depending on their personalities that seem to rapidly shift from on-stage character to backstage human being.
Luckily, the positive scenario of a warm, receptive meeting came to light. Handshakes were exchanged and typical introductions were made. Accompanied by two friends eager to explore a professional future in the arts, I asked the question most dread to be confronted with: “What advice can you give us?”
I don’t know why I asked it. Perhaps it feels like an unavoidable question. I’ve been asked it many times, and each one triggers just as snooze-worthy a response as the prior one. In a quick moment, I conjure together a few words on never giving up and staying true to yourself. You know the whole rundown. Grimly after asking the question, I began to consider a similar answer from Gyllenhaal I knew was coming.
Only it didn’t. He began with the customary reply, “God, I never know what to say when asked this.” His arms were folded and eyes focused on the floor beneath us. He then began to jumble together something inspirational and, shall I add, a tad stunning to this listener.
“I’m a big fan of hip-hop,” Gyllenhaal said. “Drake has this line in one of his songs. I’m sure I won’t say it correctly, but it goes something like, ‘Being humble isn’t as good as being aware.’”
Jake’s quote attempt was close enough. The actual line, from Drake’s “The Catch Up,” says, “Bein’ humble don’t work as well as bein’ aware.” As I stood in silence, slowly nodding my head, I thought my God, what a brilliant piece of advice. The common expression of many to “stay humble” is adequate, but fails to deliver much of a punch to someone young, hungry and full of ambition.
“Being aware” is more fitting. To live in the moment where you recognize your full strengths and worth, while acknowledging your weaknesses and insecurities, is the definitive sign of someone who has reached the pinnacle of personal understanding. Perhaps actors like Gyllenhaal and singers like Drake would find such a phrase more substantial, but even to a red-headed boy who grew up on a farm in West Tennessee, the words radiated with great importance.
I’ve replayed that meeting in my mind a few times since it occurred, still fascinated with the answer I received and even more intrigued by seeing Drake as a spiritual advisor of sorts. When Drake’s latest album/mixtape/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it “If You’re Reading This, You’re Too Late” dropped, I pressed the BUY button on iTunes without much thought at all.
I discovered a few more gems, with this one being the shiniest: in “6PM in New York,” Drake says, “Some nights I wish I could go back in life/Not to change things, just to feel a couple things twice.”
Simply put, the line shook me to my core. The quote, like the lyric on awareness, is a perfect observation. How often can we all relate to this idea of wanting to recapture not the moment itself but the feeling of the moment?
And while time will not allow us to recapture, we do attempt to replicate. And so we plan out a weekend with the same people in the same place to relive the memory again in the flesh, only to be disappointed when we discover it wasn’t so much the moment but the exact feeling we gained from it.
Of course, it works both ways, too. There are past moments of pain and suffering we’d rather not confront again, but I’ve found as time has progressed, I would like to get just a sprinkle of the feeling I felt in those dreadful bits again. Those memories of emotions we felt in the immediate aftermath of tragedy remind us of who we are and why we became who we became. Sure, you put your hand on the stove, realized it was hot and didn’t touch it again, but maybe we need to feel that brief burning again, if for no other reason than to wake up the fire inside of us.
I wonder if Gyllenhaal carried the same reaction to that line. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to ask him on a future occasion. If I do, I’ll thank him for providing career advice via Drake. Perhaps those on the outside would laugh at a conversation between two young successful white guys quoting a hip-hop artist like Shakespeare. If only they would dig a tad further beneath their assumptions, then they would discover the source of our inspiration and glee.