It is a theme that comes up again and again in discussions here, especially with actors: We are harder on our selves than we are on anyone. Jesus, we are hard on ourselves.
This is a struggle for me on so many levels it’s hard to even express it. It is a struggle against decades-long fears and established patterns of thought, against procrastination and bookkeeping and isolation and money and inertia. It is a struggle to face secrets, mine and others. It is a struggle against loneliness, against things I’ve told myself, about myself, for my entire life.
It is, in many ways, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying it. That may sound weird, but I really am. I am by turns inspired, terrified, intrigued and overwhelmed.
But when an acting friend looks at me and says, “You need to risk more,” my brain explodes… “Risk…MORE?? More than THIS??”
I have never felt more pushed in my life. I am facing challenging, lifelong devils, from my lackadaisical attitude towards numbers (learning to manage my dwindling money with spreadsheets) to childhood traumas (embarrasment, humiliation, feelings of abandonment), from my inadequate skills in new endeavors (as an actor, as a playwright) to my lack of financial security in a new, expensive town.
I feel in terrible physical shape, and I am not getting to the gym. Stuff like THAT.
I have a lot of friends here, but they aren’t my lifelong, secure friends. And even those longtime friends are so far away, and so preoccupied with their own lives and dramas and traumas…sometimes everyone feels very far away. I have no “crew” in New York, just individual friends. I’m not lonely, and even if I were, that’s part of the price of what I’m doing. Being alone a lot feels necessary, and right. But not necessarily comfortable. I miss my gang.
I AM making progress. I am learning. I am creating. But it’s slow, and it’s meandering. and heading towards goals that have not yet been defined very well. I am wandering in the dark. It is exciting and fun and yes, challenging. And yes, I’ve written about this before. And exposing myself in THIS way, writing about these feelings, is challenging, too. Could you do it? Would you? Am I being – judgement looms – self-indulgent?
Oh my goodness, the terrors of THAT characterization, that accusation.
The self-consciousness that has plagued me my whole life has a field day with that. I worry I go too far; I worry I don’t go far enough. I worry that no one cares; I worry that people are paying too much attention.
And then comes that instruction: RISK MORE. More?? Really? And so…I do.
I risk more because, as I’ve written before, and as many of my new friends, particularly in theatre, have said before, this is a world of self-revelation. This is about not hiding. This is not about showing a brave face to the world, or hiding behind a mask. This is about standing naked before the world, sometimes literally. This is what actors do. This is what writers do. This is what artists DO.
And it is harder, much harder, than it looks.
I had a drink and dinner, the other night, with a friend who has been an actor her whole life. She made reference to being an actor and opening yourself up completely in front of an audience, and what terrors that holds.
And I realized that my response, just a few months ago, would have been: “What? Open yourself up? But you’re in character! You’re not being you! You’re...acting!”
But now I understand better. Theatre, acting, performance…the essence of this is opening ourselves up, is sharing our deepest fears and loves and feelings…whether we’re sharing them as ourselves or as another character. Being a good actor, or playwright, isn’t just about memorizing, or writing, the lines. It’s about embodying them, and experiencing those emotions as clearly and nakedly as we can. Living out loud, as the amazing Matthew Corozine says.
That’s what people come to actors, to artists, for. We do that for everyone else. We show our vulnerabilities, whether we’re “in character” in front of a crowd, or sitting at home in our pajamas in front of a laptop, trying to figure out what we’re feeling, and how we can share that.
It’s the same. We are always choosing whether to dig in and face it, or hide. We risk everything, we risk the things that we are most afraid of: Humiliation, embarrassment, being imperfect, the judgement of others (and ourselves), financial insecurity…that is, in some ways, THE WHOLE POINT.
Why would anyone do that? Would you? Could you?
I am realizing how much of my life I’ve spent hiding myself. My friends might find that surprising; I am not a secretive person. If anything, I am inclined to “over-share.” I’m doing it now, right?
But on some deeper level, I have always kept parts of myself hidden. I have been inclined to secrecy, to keeping myself held apart, somehow. I have been alone in a crowd. It’s a hard feeling to even explain, but I am really feeling it right now.
It has deep, deep roots in my life. It goes way back in time, and way down inside.
And I am trying to mine it, I am trying to face it, and not to be so hard on myself. Because we – ok, I – have been so judgmental for so long, especially of myself, that I have hindered myself. I have limited myself, even as I have spent my whole life pushing against external limitations, aggressively, outrageously, “being free.” I have not let myself out enough. I can feel that when I try to act, and when I watch others try to dig down into themselves, and don’t like what they see, and fight to keep it down, keep it manageable.
Even just watching my fellow actors work in this process, struggling blindly with how to express what’s stuck inside them, trying to verbalize their deepest shit, even just managing a cry, out loud, is an amazing, helpful experience. I realize that this isn’t just hard for me. It’s even hard for those who have been working at it for years; imagine how much harder for those who’ve never even addressed it!
Moving to New York was just the first step, and I really had no idea how difficult the subsequent steps would be. In some ways, I still don’t, and that is terrifying. And this is just the internal stuff; the external stuff looms. My friend also said, “This is a tough town.” And so I’m bracing for that, too. Opening up, learning to be vulnerable, and simultaneously worrying about, and bracing for, the external struggle. Money, for instance.
Tough town, tough business, tough internal process. Wow. I just had no idea. I was right to be intimidated. Moving to New York was the goal, and it wasn’t easy to accomplish. But it is starting to look like the easy part. Of course it was.
But I was right to do it, too. And there is no turning back now. And on days like this, I’ve got to be careful about the judgement. I am doing my best. I am trying some very hard things. So much has changed. But while it often feels like I’m doing them alone, I am not. This is what we do. We are, in some ways, doing it together.
And it is worth doing.