Friday, July 05, 2013
Our characters spend a huge amount of time doing things people in real life work very hard to avoid. They fight, they take risks, they get cheated on, lied to, shot, arrested, abandoned, and killed. Our job, between action and cut, or curtain up and curtain down, is to go "there" to the places in normal everyday life people avoid like the plague. Yes, they also fall in love, vanquish the bad guy, save the world and do other pretty fantastic things, but those usually don't take the same emotional effort to embrace as watching our characters bury a loved one or realize their own mistake will keep them from being with the love of their life. So we as actors probably should embrace all that ick and unpleasantness in order to do our job.
A friend has been going through some tough stuff, so I'm going to delve into some of what feeling bad may be or mean, as I sort out the negative and polish my optimism.
"Embrace the suck" it's often said in the military, and in urban dictionary's words, it is when you have to "...complete a task that is pointless, tiring, and/or lame." It goes on to say "then just embrace the suck and get it done." It's not just suck it up. It is embrace it. Not quite cherish it, but go that direction. You have a day job you hate to go to, so embrace going anyway. You have laundry that won't do itself, embrace it nonetheless. You have a million things that are mundane and annoying. Ok. Embrace them.
As actors yes it is tempting to try to say things we have to do to have the lives we want (or simply avoid eviction or foreclosure) give us experiences to draw on in our work. They may, but that isn't the point, at least not entirely. The point is, unpleasantness and pain come to everyone. Everyone. The question is what do you do with it.
Do you have more pain and unpleasantness than would be fair? Probably, but an objective analysis of how much pain one deserves verses what one gets is neither possible for a mortal to do, nor useful. You have what you have, you are where you are. Don't work to dwell in bad situations and certainly work to improve things, but pain is part of life. Forgive a slightly philosophical digression: we are all born crying, the world is a scary place while it is also busy being unimaginably beautiful. That's not my point here. You have pain. You will have more pain. You choose what you do with it.
Our characters often flinch, respond by reflex, stimulus-response. This is good, for them and drama, partly because we often do that too. But I suggest when it comes to our lives, there are better options.
The people close to us, by virtue of not being us, and being close, will, accidentally, do something that will cause us pain. Whether or not they react well to this accident (if and when they are aware of it) is not something we can control. We can control how we respond, at least we can in part. We can flinch, lash out, pull away. That can lead to isolation. We can complain, whine, be passive aggressive. That may feed our ego in the short term but eventually may very well lead to misery too. Or we can tolerate it. See the pain, feel the pain, and not give it the power to make our choices for us.
Half way through an amazing take the other actor steps on your foot and wincing will ruin the otherwise brilliant take? Perhaps you can hold it in, conceal it until cut. Family member only reacts well when you mention getting a traditional 9-5 job and believes that is what truly makes you happy and can't fathom that when you've had such a job wasn't actually the happiest times in your life and this underscores how in some way they may never understand let alone share the joys you've had in your personal and professional life that don't look conventional? First, no need to generalize into the future that their not seeing things exactly as you do means they can't and second, ok, so that family member will always have limits to their understanding and encouragement of who you are. Welcome to the human race and try to love and respect them and yourself anyway. An agent drops you for purely business reasons and while you know that, in your brain at least, it is harder not to feel like you are moving backward professionally because you no longer have that tangible thing of having that agent to point to as your status/progress/level and so fall into the every-actor-does-it-pitfall of feeling like you're never going to work again and all the work you've done before was only you faking it and people will be on to you that you aren't accomplished or almost even an actor. Ok, feeling like a fraud and actually being one could not be more different. You will act again, you will work. It is going to work out not matter how it feels now.
Feel like a failure all you want, but also know, you are not now nor have you ever actually been a failure. Not only is the new age-y observation that giving up is the only true failure somewhat valid, but you are the only and best example of being you there has ever or will ever be. And be humble enough to know that your expectation of what your career will be like is not exactly what the world will actually provide as your career. You are enough. You are more than enough. Sure you haven't accomplished what actor X has, because you are not them, and even if you were or somehow could be, that would be pretty useless because since we already have one of them, we don't need or want another. We do, however, need the only you there is. You're doing a pretty bang up job of being you.
Even if you are telling yourself you are failing to do what "you should do" recognize you can't know that without knowing the future which you don't. In all honesty, a few seconds delay could save you from being in a horrible car accident later. You don't know. Welcome to the human condition. Realize, as scary and painful as it is, you don't know what is best, you only have ideas.
So if you are feeling bad, feel bad. While you're feeling bad do something that makes sense: get some exercise, eat a healthy meal, do your household chores, learn those lines. Still feel bad if that is how you feel. But also: still live. The feeling is not permanent no matter how much it tries to convince you it is. It isn't. And feeling bad happens, just as pain happens.
Pain is guaranteed, misery is optional. Hone the skill of tolerating pain. Even as you alleviate it (ex: apply ice to a stubbed toe), feel the pain. It means you are alive. And if you are alive, your life has options.
Whether you see them or not, whether or not you believe it, being alive means you have options, and pain and feeling bad are both trying to keep you alive. They exist to give you options. Not merely as hey-don't-stub-your-toe-because-that-hurts teachable moments, but for the entirety of human existence, and probably before, pain and feeling bad are attempts to keep us from dying. Put your hand in flame, it hurts, you stop, and the inflections and death burning your hand off could lead to are avoided. Emotionally commit to an imagined booking that hasn't yet presented a contract or actually shot, and the disappointment is there as a cautionary reminder of the caveat of becoming attached to outcomes. Hang all your dreams in moving to Moscow at some theoretical time in the future and suffer the anguish of confining oneself with ones own fears and be a character that entertains and possibly inspires generations in Chekhov's Three Sisters.
Pain is a gift, a cruel gift that being alive gives us. Feeling bad is too, whether it is depression, anxiety, fear, they are all a gift. Kinda mean gifts but gifts nonetheless. In too high a dose, or too chronically, they should be tended to with professional help because they can and will kill. So hone the skill of experiencing them, all of them, well. Feel pain well. Be depressed well. If you are depressed, hone the ability to address and manage the situation/s that brought it about, and your ability to chose good actions to take in response. Using drugs and alcohol, not good actions in response. Writing a script or talking with a professional therapist, are good actions to take in response.
Feeling bad is designed to serve you well. It is perverse, cruel, deeply unpleasant, and part of your job as a person and an actor to feel bad just as it is to feel good. It is not fair to feel bad. It is not how things "should" be if we were in control of things and they were as we'd have them be. But it is our role, in life and work, to feel bad from time to time. If it is too much of the time in your life that you feel bad, then please take that seriously and seek assistance.
Feeling something, anything, even bad, is a gift. And yes, feeling good is a much preferable gift to feeling bad, but in both cases, they are feelings, not facts. And while feelings are powerful, they are not all you are. At least these are my thoughts on a post holiday Friday. Have a great weekend!
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