Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity
This week I have been ill, having been surrounded by the intensive-germ-incubation-and-distribution-units you Earthlings call ‘Children.’ Still it’s given me time to focus on Artists Waying. So here are my thoughts at the end of week 2.
1) How many days this week did you do your morning pages?
What? I was ill.
2) Artist Date
See the Inspirational Items posts!
3) Anything else significant come up?
Funny you should ask:
‘Going sane feels just like going crazy.’ P. 41
Making deep changes are scary; we might not like our pain, fears and doubts, but they are ours; they are familiar. Changing is scary and unfamiliar. But I’ve changed big things before, albeit with great effort, so here goes. . .
This section deals with the inner negative voice, the inner critic. I’ve spent a fair amount of time wrestling mine over the years. For a long time he would tell me I was a failure every time I was less than perfect. Unsurprisingly, I was never perfect, so I heard from him every day, and often that led to me not trying at all, and crawling back under the duvet.
‘Just as a recovering alcoholic must avoid the first drink, the recovering artist must avoid taking the first think.’ P.42
When I was younger people used to say to me, ‘You know your problem, Tom? You think too much.’ And, yes, I did. But that’s constructive criticism. You don’t just go, ‘Oh yes, well, I will start thinking less, then. I’ll start right now. Here goes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Oh. That was easy.’
So I looked for ways to nudge my thoughts in a more productive direction (through things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or to dial them down (through meditation or Mindfulness training.) I settled on my Buddhist practice because by chanting to achieve my goals and desires each morning, I was freed up to focus on each of the day’s activities without fretting about the end result. It takes a lot of effort to live like that, as if each thing you are doing is important enough to deserve your full attention, and the chanting certainly helps me bring forth that energy.
I also found therapy to be very useful, in that it enabled me to unpick how the Critic got to be so strong, and why I was so inclined to listen to him. I’m learning to focus on improving myself, rather than perfecting myself. Any day I take a step forward (rather than being perfect) is a win now, and so he’s quieter these days.
But he is still there. So I look forward to seeing how morning pages and the exercises might pipe him down further. Even in week 2, a thought pops up during the day and I think to myself, ‘I wrote this thought down this morning; I don’t have to think it again.’ And off it slides. Early days, but interesting.
Poisonous Playmates and Crazymakers
Reading this section it occurred to me that maybe blogging this process was not a great idea, as it’s a very personal process. Fortunately, so far it feels like a slightly patchy Artist’s Way Group. I’ve received a lot of supportive messages, and also discovered lots of people who’ve already done the course and had great benefits, which has been great. And a big thank you to everyone who’s doing the course in tandem with me!
At various points in my life I’ve had people in my environment who would count as Poisonous Playmates; people who are creatively blocked and would oppose my attempts to free my creativity up. At the moment, however, I am fortunate to be surrounded by support and encouragement.
‘Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centres. They are often charismati,c frequently charming, highly inventive, and powerfully persuasive. And, for the creative person in their vicinity, they are enormously destructive.’ P. 44
I’ve known people like this, personally and professionally, all my life, but let’s focus on the work front. Now, I’ve only lived one life (that I can remember) and I’ve lived it in theatre. As a result I cannot say that theatre attracts crazymakers any more than any other industry. Before I go further I should be really clear that I know a lot of very sane and lovely theatre makers! But I have met dozens of crazymakers in the industry so it’s worth raising the question.
There’s an annual, and very brilliant, self-organising theatre conference hosted by Improbable Theatre called Devoted and Disgruntled. At it anyone call a session on any burning issues they have. This year someone convened a session called Working With Dickheads and it was hugely popular, so I’m evidently not alone in being effected by this.
I convened a session on the psychological impact of acting, and someone suggested that some people may become actors through a need to feel love, fulfilling some childhood absence. Equally some have suggested that directing might attracts people with a pathological need to control. Certainly, directing in theatre is a great job for someone who gets off on power, as the status difference between actors and directors breeds the potential for extraordinary abuse. I have seen some of this abuse first hand, while I have heard many more horror stories from actor friends. And of course, it’s not just actors and directors; I’ve met troubled (and troubling) people in ever department (although, again, they are always in the minority.)
Through my own psyche-delving I have discovered that one factor behind choosing directing was that I wanted to be responsible for bringing together and maintaining a happy, nurturing family. (Some of the actors I’ve worked with will be sniggering now at quite how badly I’ve failed to do that at times, but that was the intention!)
There is an old theatre joke: ‘There’s a wanker in every company. If you can’t figure out who it is, it’s probably you.’ But again, how do I know that I’m not a crazymaker?
I was once on my first production. Aged 18, the wonderful Jill Adamson, now head of National Association of Youth Theatres (link), then head of Youth Theatre Yorkshire, let me direct a show. I behaved fine until the first night, when sitting amongst an audience watching my work proved too much for me. One of the cast misremembered a line and I took it as a personal slur and blew up at him after the show in front of the rest of the cast. Jill took me off till I calmed down, then I went back and apologised to everyone. I promised myself that I would never behave that like that again.
Through my Buddhist practice I started consciously putting effort into supporting the people around me. I quickly discovered that when I put supporting the emotional needs of the cast first, the productions got better. In the very early days of the Young Vic Young Directors Forum someone posted a question asking directors to suggest the qualities of a good theatre director. I included Empathy and Compassion in my list. I got an amazingly irate response; including one director who said that my list might describe a good person, ‘but has nothing to do with directing.’ He then declared that, ‘Tom represents everything which is wrong with British theatre.’ A few months later I worked with a group of students who had worked with this particular director. I asked them how they had found it. They described their experiences as bullying and, for some of them, as sexual harassment.
I knew another director who deliberately bullied his cast and then said, ‘The work only really starts when the actors are really suffering.’ This was on a children’s Christmas show.
What makes this sort of behaviour so sad is that theatre is, by definition, a collaborative art form, and everyone has come on board with such high hopes. Every actor, designer and director is opening up their work to a paying public. It could be a remarkable team effort, a group of people putting aside personal ego to create something remarkable in an environment of mutual support. But the vulnerability required from communal art making leaves us vulnerable to those who, for whatever inner psychological need, seek to manipulate or dominate.
Seldom, if ever, does anyone speak out. Actors can spend months in soul-destroying jobs waiting for an audition, then when it comes up Spotlight has over a thousand actors who also fit the bill. If, miraculously, they get the job, they want it to be more than just a six-week contract; you want this one to lead to more work. Even with the director who has behaved appallingly. It takes a lot to speak out in the face of an imbalance of power like that. Similarly, directors, pushed for time, might like someone in audition (remember, auditionees are acting the moment they enter the room) and their CVs show they’ve worked with some good people so they hire them, unaware that from the moment the actor steps in the room, they will be driven to manipulate and undermine every other actor. (And again, we are talking a minority of actors who will behave like this, albeit a significant minority.)
I have let people down, failed to protect them from crazymakers, which I deeply regret, but I hope that I have avoided being one myself. I also hope that this process will give me the strength to deal with them in the future, or the wisdom to avoid them!
A few people who have started on this journey with me have expressed a problem with the God-language. Julia seems to be clear that this isn’t necessarily a God who expects you to turn up to a particular Church every Sunday. I think she’s talking about trusting to a force that’s greater than ourselves. Maybe if it makes the process easier for you, you should go through and tippex out every instance of God and replace it with ‘my own higher wisdom,’ ‘my own unconscious creativity,’ ‘life-itself,’ or whatever you feel comfortable with. Special props to Mr Alex Soulsby for suggesting ‘The Creative Energy that Will Eventually be Explained through Neuroscience’ or ‘A certain, beautiful sensation that will never be explained properly, as the human mind simply isn’t designed to understand the human mind.’ On the other hand, God is shorter. . .
Cameron’s argument seems to be that if you get your self-critical voice out of the way, creativity will naturally emerge and, as creativity emerges from within, so will opportunities from without. I like this (not least because I could do with some conspicuous lucky breaks). If it’s not literally true, it seems to chime with the subjective experience of many great artists. So for those of you alienated by the God language, suspecting it’s some sort of spiritual placebo, I say, let’s take the pill. Then in another ten weeks we can debate if and how it worked.