It’s as if a collective will is at work to keep you a nobody and prevent you from penetrating the force field of mass unconsciousness.
People want no part in launching a nobody. It’s as if a collective will is at work to keep you a nobody and prevent you from penetrating the force field of mass unconsciousness. By that I mean the unconsciousness of the masses regarding one’s existence. But as soon as you break through that barrier, you can blow your nose and someone will take an interest. It is your job to persist in offering what you have, no matter how many times it’s thrown back in your face, or worse, ignored.
Of course, first it would be helpful to realistically assess what you offer.
If I know I’m a mediocre ice-sculptor, I probably shouldn’t push my ice swans that resemble stumpy geese on people in the hopes that they won’t know the difference — certainly not for money. I should however, research, observe, study and practice until I’m personally satisfied that my skill is equal to my passion for ice-sculpting. If I come up with an array of legitimate-sounding excuses instead, such as, I don’t have a car to get to ice-sculpting class or I’m allergic to water so I have to limit my exposure to it, it might be time to consider that I’m confusing a glamorized idea of ice-sculpting with passion.
It’s similar to asking if we appear too thin/fat/washed-out/gaudy in certain clothes — we wouldn’t ask if we didn’t have an inkling that we look slightly cadaverous in necrotic green. We really ask because we’re hoping others don’t see what we see. Of course they do, and at times, more accurately than we do ourselves. If you even suspect you don’t paint or sing or dance exceptionally, you can be sure others have an idea too. It doesn’t mean you can’t inch closer to exceptional, but it does mean you have a lot of work ahead.
I hovered in that very realm when it came to acting.
As an actor, I often lacked consistency. I had some exceptional moments, but moments here and there don’t make a career. One memorable moment took place many years ago — think decade-plus, but think fleetingly so we don’t drag uncomfortable age math into it. I still lived in New York, A and I were a couple, and I performed Agnes in a scene from Agnes of God in front of Columbia University directing students. I had invited A to come and watch.
My acting coach, who was also the directing instructor at Columbia, had asked to direct me in the scene as demonstration for her students. She was a great fan of my acting — not because I was so skilled or brilliant, but because she was a proponent of organic, truthful acting. I fit the bill because I was incapable of making something happen in myself that I didn’t actually feel. That means, I didn’t know how to fake anything.
A non-actor might believe that “faking” is the very definition of acting, but with proper training, you learn to arrive authentically at the requisite emotions of a scene. If your scene calls for tears because your lover is dying from a poisoned dart, you shed genuine tears. Not because you put yourself in a loony state of delusion where you believe the over-the-top circumstance of poison darts. Instead, you access parts in yourself — be they memories or scenarios — to which you intrinsically relate, and apply them to the scene. Basically, you work yourself over emotionally, which is as challenging as it sounds.
As with every skill, through regimented training and practice, that mystical inner automaton we call second-nature takes over. And when your scene calls for heartfelt sobbing, you produce true emotion and actual tears.
The joke about eye-drops in lieu of tears, while not a myth, is a last resort to which no self-respecting actor would stoop without justification (such as shortage of time when an over-zealous assistant director barks into a bullhorn that they have the location for only six more minutes and they’re rolling NOW).
Before Agnes of God, my acting coach and I worked on my audition scenes. My talent was all over the place because I had no control over my own on/off switch. I would go from powerhouse moments of authenticity to dead monotone due to my subconscious refusal to force an inflection on lines I did not feel. To be successful at auditioning, actors are equipped with fall-back techniques during dry times at the emotion well, but I relied solely on tapping emotional honesty. It was precisely for this reason that my acting coach chose me for Agnes.
In the scene, Agnes, a young nun and passionate naïf, confronts a journalist who’s there to dig up dirt on the convent. In front of the class at Columbia, the words poured out of my mouth and my cheeks burnt hot. I knew what it was not to trust this journalist woman who threatened what I held precious. More and more of Agnes’s panic came over me; I was Agnes. My chest tightened, my breath shortened, and from my depths, out came a wail about how the journalist was there to take god away from me. Loss gripped my heart; tears flooded my eyes. And it didn’t have to be about a nun fearful of losing her god.
It was as if the entire class collectively dropped their jaw. My scene partner stared at me with reverence. In the front, A wiped a tear from his eye. Flushed and proud, my acting coach mime-squeezed me from her desk. I was still slightly trembling because I didn’t have an off switch and the emotions had to fade down on their own.
Immediately I was offered multiple parts in Columbia thesis films, and from that day forth, A referred to me as a “great actress.” In the next few years, I was a participant in many duds and misses on stage and in film. After each project, A and I sat and dissected my performance. One day, I turned to him:
“Do you realize you’ve considered me a ‘great actress’ for years, even though we both agree most of my performances have been flawed?” He thought about it, then with surprise, nodded slowly. Until he shook it off.
“But! When you played Agnes…!” The old admiration glinted back in his eyes.
Soon after, I moved to Los Angeles. The pursuit of acting is a living Shoots and Ladders game with unpredictable rises and falls — although the falls are more prevalent — determined by whether you book, what you book, and how often you book. The falls also tend to drop lower than the rises stretch high. Whenever I landed low, a dread came over me: What if I ride that Agnes of God moment my entire acting life without ever living up to it again?
Today, ages have passed. I’ve booked leads in independent films (satisfying to my ego) and commercials (satisfying to my bank account). Because I’m by nature hard on myself, only in the last year have I begun to taste the confidence of a professional in myself. No remarkable career breakthrough has taken place, but after years of roles and auditions and practice, it’s become easier to tap true emotions at will, and be more consistently taken over by the mystical inner automaton for a character.
Throughout the ups and downs, I’ve had occasion to hear both “have you considered a career change?” and “never give up.”
The latter was delivered by people who didn’t know me, the former by people who cared about me and watched me struggle for years in a field in which few advance.
Neither stance was particularly effective or supportive in my eyes.
Encouragement and support from those who surround us is lovely and necessary. But unless one means to say “never stop training and practicing,” it’s not up to others to tell us not to give up, no more than it’s up to them to tell us to quit.
I’m not talking about the notion behind “never give up,” that of perseverance, strength and courage while chipping away at the force field of mass unconsciousness. Perseverance in fact, is the motor to get us through the thicket of setbacks during our pursuit.
However, the nature of “never give up” demands for it to be innate in the pursuer, not some words to randomly throw around. It’s like love, or faith. They’re either inside of you, or they aren’t. Telling others to “never give up” is at best an empty platitude, at worst, fostering false hope. It’s like telling the person wearing necrotic green that it’s flattering even as they stand in front of a mirror.
If the true notion of “never give up” naturally exists in you, then you know there’s no way around the necessity of ongoing training and practice, whether you’re a cellist, a gymnast, an ice-sculptor, or an actor. Performance is unscientific and can vary in quality, but once no longer a novice, you don’t ever go back to feeling (unripe-tomato) green.
Confidence in your skill makes you feel immersed in a benevolent mist. At that point, other people’s opinions can’t derail you, nor can they give you false hope. If perseverance is a motor, confidence is its fuel. It’s the essence with which we keep going and continue to offer what we have — until someone takes notice. (continue)
- No one could or should decide for others if they ought to quit their pursuits.
- On the other hand, “never give up” is a message that ought to be doled out sparingly, because fostering potential false hope is no less damaging than discouraging someone from pursuing their passion.
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