“to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings
As 2011 became 2012 loads of ‘end of the year’ and ‘new year’ writings materialized — evaluations, reflections, resolutions… I was swept away in reading everything that landed in my inbox… I went from inspired to overwhelmed. I was swimming in what was and what can be… Kind of numbing. (No judgment, quite the opposite, but flooded nonetheless.)
I did find myself, however, getting more emotional as the year rang-in. I had a really good evening with my family – a little Dragon Tattoo and dinner out close to home. Then we watched the New Year land with Dick Clark (who thankfully didn’t stay on camera too long) and Ryan Seacrest. (Is there nobody else?)
When the ball dropped (even though it had happened 3 hours earlier in NY), I was unexpectedly deeply moved. I was filled with a big love… And for the first time I figured out gratitude. I totally got that this journey we’re on, each of us individually, and all of us together, is profound. It’s often challenging, it’s sometimes surprising, it’s intense, it’s powerful… It’s big screen stuff. And it’s communal.
I had the privilege of working with a so many actors this year, teaching, guiding, coaching, and learning more than I ever imagined. In LA, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Memphis, Baton Rouge… with the aid of technology and in small studios, theatres and churches, where we all sweated through shedding and rebirthing our self-expression. Then tried to figure out how to package it, put it in a bottle, label it, and then atomize it into the hearts and minds of the gatekeepers, those who seem to have the key to something we seem to want… badly. Do they? Of course not. They’re looking for it themselves.
I had the absolute joy of creating 99 Actors Day a couple of months ago. (Not sure how the title will evolve but the day will certainly carry on.) It was a kind of happening – experienced by at least 150 actors and other players, individually and collectively. It was transcendent, sort of paranormal. (And I don’t offer that up easily; those of you who know me well know how hard I am on myself and everything I do.) But it was a rare occurrence for me and in this town, a kind of secret meeting of souls. (99 Actors Day)
And that’s what I think our work has to be. It has to enter the realm of the unknown. It’s mysterious. It shouldn’t be explained or analyzed. It certainly shouldn’t be evaluated before it’s even born. Our creations are in us. They’re distinctive, extraordinary, unique, waiting to be coaxed out of us, even exorcized. Not to be expelled, but to be freed. And looked after. We’re in this life because we have no choice. Because we believe we have both brilliant creations in us as well as indescribable demons. That’s the power of our inner lives and our imaginations. And it’s our work to undo whatever inhibits them. It’s our work to reach in. Deep. And dance wildly in our imperfections. Every chance we get. That is where the great beauty of our creative forces lives. (“Has she been watching too much of this past season’s Dexter,” you wonder? Yes, but that’s another story.) The rest is the music of our souls.
I recently watched the lecture Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine….) delivered to BAFTA Screenwriters this past September. (Thanks Steve B. for sharing.)
If you have a little time, watch it. It’s pretty fabulous. Even though he’s talking about screenwriting it pertains to any of our creative endeavors. Here are a few things he says that reverberate in me… and I hope they do the same for you.
“… I’m just telling you off the bat that I don’t know anything. And if there’s one thing that characterizes my writing it’s that I always start from that realization and I do what I can to keep reminding myself of that during the process. I think we try to be experts because we’re scared, we don’t want to feel foolish or worthless, we want power because power is a great disguise…”
“… What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time, it can’t help but be. But more importantly if you’re honest about who you are you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognize him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me, and I have to keep rediscovering it, its profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world, don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work…”
“…The obvious solution was not to throw my hands up but try to find myself in a situation where I was doing me, not someone else. Do you. It isn’t easy but it’s essential. It’s not easy because there’s a lot in the way, in many cases a major obstacle is your deeply seated belief that you is not interesting.
“And since convincing yourself that you are interesting is probably not going to happen, take it off the table. Agree, ‘Perhaps I’m not interesting but I am the only thing I have to offer, and I want to offer something. And by offering myself in a true way I am doing a great service to the world, because it is rare and it will help’.”
“…I now step into this area blindly. I do not know what the wound is, I do know that it is old, I do know that it is a hole in my being. I do know it is tender. I do believe that it is unknowable, or at least inarticuable.
“I do believe you have a wound too, I do believe it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I do believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected, it is the thing that must be tap danced over five shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to other people if revealed. It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic, it is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible. It is your secret, even from yourself. But it is the thing that wants to live. It is the thing from which your art, your painting, your dance, your composition, your philosophical treatise, your screenplay is born…”
“… Movies share so much with dreams which, of course, only deal with interior lives. Your brain is wired to turn emotional states into movies. Your dreams are very well written. I know this, without knowing any of you. People turn anxieties, crises and longing, love, regret and guilt into beautiful rich stories in their dreams. What is it that allows us the creative freedoms in our dreams that we don’t have in our waking lives? I don’t know, but I suspect part of it is that in our dreams we are not constricted by worry about how we will appear to others. It’s a private conversation with ourselves, and if we’re worried about it, this becomes part of the dream. I think if we were better able to approach our work this way the results would be different.”
Isn’t that true? I love that.
There’s a great thing in having our craft, our skill. It’s useful. But we can’t allow it to get in the way. It mustn’t complicate our fundamental humanness. It mustn’t scar the wounds. It needs to be of service to what we came here to do. We have to be “willing to be naked,” as Charlie Kaufman says. We have to dream aloud. To be brave enough to expose ourselves and to honor that we are each who we are. Nobody is like each of us. That’s our truth. Our authenticity. And that’s our legitimacy. It’s the key to that secret place we’ve been trying to penetrate; it’s our most vulnerable self. It’s right here. It’s all that matters.
Wherever you are in these early days of 2012… Remember that we’re on this peculiar quest together – we humans, creators, storytellers – a journey that’s often solitary and hopefully sometimes in good company. I thank you for sharing your stunningly wounded selves with me, for getting naked, and for providing me with outstanding company along the way…