Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Feels Good or Is Good
Feeling good and being good are not the same. Sometimes they come together, sometimes they do not. Having tangible results, or at least something we can point at and say "I did this," or "that is my progress" feels good. That's the catch, or can be a catch. The desire to tell oneself "I spent x dollars on y thing and have therefore made z progress toward my goals," makes the people who sell worthless products and services to actors millions of dollars a year. They are actually selling feeling good. At least that is part of what they sell. I'm not talking about valid, useful things that actually have purpose. I'm referring to things that don't help an actor. Not just the outright scams. Their offerings may have little in the way of actually moving an actor's career forward in the world. The spent money may actually move the actor's prospects back, away from their goals. This can be true if the product is merely overpriced and erodes the actor's financial resources that could be spent elsewhere.
Some products and services aren't good for the actor's place in the outside world. But inside the actor, in their mind and heart they may feel good. Buying something gives you a receipt as proof something has happened. That can feel nicer than simply keeping faith that: doing the right things, results will come even if no detectable results are observable right now. Spending money on some products and services may make the actor feel good, while doing nothing actually useful for the actor's existence in the outside world. As I've said before, there is nothing wrong with doing something only because it makes you feel good. Just remember that feeling good all by itself isn't a compelling reason to do things, or make decisions; feeling good in isolation is not a great justification most of the time. But while feeling good and being good are not the same thing, they can and do happen at the same time, and often. Can get confusing.
This is true in much of life beyond acting, but I'll try to stay focused here on acting. Stepping out onto a stage, to be watched and possibly judged by thousands of strangers, may not always feel good. Standing in front of a camera on set may not either, especially as on camera it could be millions not thousands of audience members. Nonetheless, doing our work as actors, largely between curtain up and curtain down and between action and cut is still good to do, no matter how it feels to us as people at any given moment.
In fact, the job of an actor is largely facing the unknown with courage. Films often work when the camera captures accidental behavior, when no one knew exactly what would happen next; the unknown. In live theatre, no one can accurately predict precisely how a performance will play out. The next moment of a character's lives, and our own, are unknown. Acting in the face of the unknown, behaving despite the unknowable, is often part of the best performances.
You, or your character, may feel any number of things, but our, or their, behavior may be very different, or need to be very different to get done what we, or they, want to get done. Feelings and behaviors are not identical. Nor should they be.
Uncoupling whether something feels good from whether it is good is not only wildly useful, but being able to separate actions from feelings is also part of what makes us human, and not merely stimulus-response animals. You may not feel like getting out of bed is good, but getting up and going to set is good for doing our work, getting paid and having people want to work with us.
If something feels good that may or may not have anything to do with whether it is good. Drugs feel good. They will also torture and kill you, probably hurting everyone and everything you love before they do if you do them with any regularity (not saying drugs are evil, but there is a reason you've probably never met a heroin addict over 40). Doing a great performance feels good and probably actually is good... for something.
Everything is or isn't good for something, what grammar calls an object, a purpose. Eating well is good for maintaining health, extending life and doing things, including act, in the most effective way possible. So to with sleeping well. Things are either good for something or bad for something.
Things serve purposes. Our characters want what they want for a reason, to attain their goal. Conscious goal or otherwise. An example from one interpretation of Chekhov's "Three Sisters." Perhaps the title characters, the Three Sisters, want to move to Moscow to feel like they once did. They tell themselves that moving to Moscow will make all their present pain and problems go away because they didn't have those pains and problems when they were last in Moscow. Or at least they don't remember having them. The cognitive mistakes aside, they deem moving to Moscow to be good. Partly because they think it will solve everything, and partly because it feels good. Thinking about moving to Moscow feels good, because they felt good when they were in Moscow in the past. Hanging their present chances for joy on a distant land and in the future lets them simultaneously avoid responsibility for changing anything where they are right now and lets the status quo, which is good enough to tolerate, continue. These two things can be why the characters call moving to Moscow good. Yet doing anything that would actually send themselves to Moscow may feel bad, uncomfortable, just as confronting any unknown can be. They think moving to Moscow would be good, and it may actually be good. It would certainly be good to make changes in their lives in the ways they want them to be changed. But taking action, doing something toward making moving a reality doesn't feel good.
It may be a good way to their goals, but it doesn't feel good so they don't do it. Having a non-acting job may be a good way to more easily pay bills and raise capital, increasing one's options as an actor, but day jobs often don't feel good. Something can be good without feeling like it. Facing uncertainty, or unpleasantness, with courage is part of our role. You may feel afraid of the next moment in your scene, or your life, but you do not have to act on the fear. You may not feel comfortable being in the position your character, or you life, is in, but you do not need to flinch and pull away. Making the awkward seem graceful is part of an actor's job at times. Things like hitting marks without it looking obvious. So to in life, and work, and art: remember that good things, the path to your dreams, may not always feel as good as it is.
Knowing the difference between the good feeling things and the good things and seeing each for what they are is a challenge that likely lasts as long as we do. Making the best determination which is which, what is both, and what is neither will basically always be helpful, whether or not it is actually possible. Our life's work is trying to figure it out, both in and out of character. Try not to waste your time or money on what isn't good, but feels good. Cherish what is good and feels good. Remember we'll all make mistakes. Keep taking action anyway, keep acting.
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