Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 103: Good enough

I feel like I "should" write a blog post, but I'm not really sure what to write about.  And if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know how I feel about the word "should"

But I also feel like there is a really important transformation happening in my life, which is part of the reason I haven't been blogging as often.  It is an intentional transformation, yet the specifics of how it is manifesting were not necessarily what I thought would happen.

I have been striving for more ease in my life: a better balance between my personal, creative, and financial needs.  I didn't know how to achieve that, and in many ways thought it would be impossible without some kind of deus ex machina from a patron or winning the lottery.

And yet... I seem to have found it.  It's not perfect, and I wish I could do more (and certainly hope to be able to as I continue to grow my voice teaching studio and eventually work less at the office).  But I suddenly don't feel myself frustrated and exhausted every day, and almost always find myself responding "I'm great!" when people ask how I am.  And meaning it.

How have I done this?  For one, cutting down from 3 jobs to 2 has most certainly made a difference.  Spending more and more time doing something I love, that I'm really good at, and that helps other people (my teaching) has made an even bigger difference.  But the most important thing, I think, has been letting go of some of the expectations I had on myself.

I was expecting myself to do so much: write 4 to 5 blog posts a week, write at least an hour 6 days a week (and many more hours on several of those days), exercise 4 to 5 times a week, do my morning pages every day, see my friends a lot, and spend time with my boyfriend as often as possible (and of course this doesn't include all the more mundane tasks like going to work, cleaning my apartment, grocery shopping, etc etc etc).  I was operating under such a huge weight of guilt at not being able to get all these things done, that I was being even less productive.  Worse, I wasn't able to enjoy the time I was spending doing any of those things -- my time writing I was frustrated because it wasn't longer, my time with my boyfriend wasn't as joyful as it could be because I was feeling guilty for not working.  I was living from a place of scarcity instead of a place of abundance.

I've decided to let go of some of those expectations.  As much as I would love my blog to become an international internet sensation, I don't have the time required to continually promote it to get it to that stature.  That being the case, does it really matter if I write 2-3 posts a week instead of 4-5?  Verily, it doth not.  The world will continue to turn.  Deciding to dedicate one full day a week to writing instead of an hour each day has also released me from a huge amount of pressure and stress -- I squeeze in all the little things I need to do during the week so I can keep my Sundays clear to write, and thus have very productive days all around.  This has also meant letting go of spending some time with my boyfriend, as Sundays are the only day we could potentially have an entire day free to spend together.  But he understands and is supportive.  Plus, as he pointed out, the time we do spend together is better this way because I'm not cranky and frustrated and feeling guilty for not writing.  I'm still trying to figure out how to fit more exercise in, but it's not like I'm sitting around on my butt all the time.  In addition to the gym a couple of times a week, I'm working in a lot more walking now that it's warming up. 

I guess I'm learning to be content with "good enough" and to stop demanding "perfection" of myself.  Some - including myself not too long ago - might call this complacency, and a sure road to not becoming famous or making a living as an artist.  Maybe so.  (Though me at "complacent" is still far more driven than most people I know).  But you know what?  I don't care.  I'm happy.  And that's worth more than anything.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 100: Meditation attempt #2

By George, I think I've got it!

I organized my week again to have the full day on Sunday to focus on writing.  I squeezed other things (like website updating, email sending, and blog writing) into those little one hour blocks during the week, instead of trying to squeeze my playwriting into those blocks.  The rewards I am reaping from this new approach are tremendous.

I got started around 1pm, after - for the first time in ages - managing to sleep in and spend a leisurely morning with my boyfriend.  I then cleared my writing environment, lit a candle, put a pillow on the floor, and set my timer for 20 minutes of meditation.  I began my meditation with an image my therapist had helped me find: a "protector" persona on my left shoulder, holding the cable with which my "emotional depth explorer" persona could repel down into my core, searching for whatever emotions she might find without the fear of getting lost there. 

I sank so deep so fast, it startled me.  Almost instantly images of the characters in my play were flooding my mind, and a scene started to play itself out for me like a movie.  I broke into sobs at several points as the emotions flowed through me like waves.  I realize that normally one strives for a quiet mind while meditating, but the work my subconscious was doing for me was not to be dismissed.  The 20 minutes were gone in a flash, without the customary crick in my back or numb and tingling foot.  I went instantly to my computer and began writing down everything I had just seen.

The scene itself completely took me by surprise.  Suddenly Frank is in the kitchen, contemplating a palm full of pain pills and talking to the ghost of his dead wife.  Where did that come from?  It feels very deep and very real to me, as if it were something I had experienced, even though it is not at all inspired by real events in my life.

I am excited (and a little nervous) to hear my class' reaction to the scene tonight.  But mostly, I am just delighted that I have found a way to approach my writing that brings me so much satisfaction.  I seem to be finding a much better balance in my life right now, and everything from my work to my personal life to my creative life is benefiting. 

I want to remember this feeling the next time my life falls out of whack, as I'm sure it will.  But these tools I'm acquiring will help me get back in balance all that much faster.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 97: Playwriting as Therapy

I doubt it would make for a best-selling self-help book -- since writing a play would be highly impractical for and of no interest to most people -- but I have to say playwriting is proving to be really great therapy for me.  I learn something new about myself most every day.

When I realized last week that I wasn't going deep enough with my characters -- that I wasn't letting enough of their emotions come through -- I stopped to ask myself why this might be.  Was there something about me as a person that made it difficult for me to do that?  The most emotional moments I had written so far in my play scared me when I first wrote them.  That's always a sign, isn't it?  When something scares you, there's usually something going on.

I think I may have held myself at a distance from a lot of my emotions in the past.   I never wanted to be anyone else's "problem" -- I felt I had to be strong, that I couldn't need or ask for anything.  It wasn't that I didn't feel anything - I certainly felt my fear and anxiety incredibly deeply - but I tried to suppress my feelings a lot.  Any feeling other than happiness was a problem to be solved, something to overcome or control. 

I can be a great actress and hide those feelings I'm suppressing from much of the world.  While there have always been people in my life who could see through the scrim I put up, many could not (including my ex-husband, who had no idea I spent our entire honeymoon in a panic attack until I told him years later).  My best-boyfriend-ever, on the other hand, sometimes can tell I am feeling something before even I have recognized it.  It's a whole different universe, not being able to get away with pulling the wool over someone's eyes.

I wonder now if I was drawn to the performing arts because it was a safe place I could express myself, because they were other people's emotions.  It was a way for me to release those feelings without being vulnerable or fearing that someone would react negatively.  Or, perhaps even scarier, that I would express an emotional need and the other person wouldn't be able to fill it.

So where am I now?  I've spent a lot of years working on bringing my walls down, on making the Natalie-behind-the-mask more closely match the Natalie-the-world-sees.  I appear to have succeeded - sometimes to my chagrin - as I can't seem to get away with anything around the people closest to me now.  Either that or I've chosen more perceptive friends.  Certainly the turmoil of the last couple of years has put me in touch with my emotions on a level I rarely - if ever - have previously experienced.  They sometimes come upon me now whether I want them to or not (see Day 84: Cry Baby).  My deeper feelings have begun to speak, and they will not be ignored.

Exploring the deeper emotional lives of my characters will inevitably, I believe, involve me more deeply exploring my own emotional life.   I am trying to retrain myself to simply experience my feelings as they come and move through them, rather than trying to suppress, control or "fix" them - as if they were a sign of something wrong with me. 

I clearly am not only "giving birth" to just a play anymore.  It's is ever clearer to me that a different Natalie is going to emerge at the end of these 9 months as well.  I look forward to meeting her.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 96: Exciting News!

File this under "what have I gotten myself into"....

I have been selected to be a playwright for Left Hip Productions' "From the Hip" Festival!  This is a 48-hour play festival in which actors, directors and playwrights are randomly cast into groups to collaborate on the creation of a short play. The actors will first improvise a scene, which I will then use as inspiration to write a ten-minute play -- in only 24 hours!  (gulp!) The actors and directors then have 24 hours to memorize and rehearse the play before performing it before an audience, which will vote for their favorite play.  The winners move on to the finals to compete for a place in Left Hip Productions' play development program, so please mark your calendars to come out on Sunday May 16th and support me!

8pm, Sunday May 16th
Wings Theater
154 Christopher Street, NYC

More details (and reminders) as it gets closer, but I had to share the exciting news!!! 

p.s. You can read an article about this tremendous organization here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 93: Observer Effect

It is so very interesting how often in life as soon as we observe a phenomenon, that phenomenon changes.  It is as if the act of observing actually changes that which is being observed (sometimes called the "observer effect"). 

The day after I observed that my excitement and motivation for writing my play had waned, I had the best writing day I can remember having.  Regardless of how others may respond to the material, my experience writing yesterday was the least frustrating and most rewarding I have had in a long time.  Today I feel satisfied, rested, and calmly excited (as opposed to nervously excited) to bring the fruits of my labor to class tonight.

What made the difference, you ask?

First of all, I set aside the entire day.  I woke up alone, went to bed alone, and didn't contact or speak to anyone other than my boyfriend all day.  From 10:30am to 11:30pm, my top priority was writing.  I did accomplish a few other tasks, like laundry and cooking myself a nice dinner, but I asked myself continually -- am I just doing this to procrastinate or because I need to move away from the computer and breathe a little? By doing so, I struck a good balance. 

I unplugged my wireless router.  I don't mean turned off my Airport on my computer, I mean I actually disconnected the ethernet cable from the box, so I couldn't wither away time while I was trying to come up with an idea by alt-tabbing over to Firefox. 

I asked for help.  There was an evening event I was possibly going to attend with my boyfriend, but when at 6pm I was not at all frustrated but rather still feeling the creative juices flowing, I told him I was going to take him at his word that it was ok for me to stay home and write.  Not only was he not upset, he was actually glad that I was taking time for myself, to be with myself and to nurture my creative self.  (This may be the top reason why he is the best-boyfriend-ever.)

I filtered less. Lines would pop into my head and I would just type them, even if they didn't fit where I was in the scene at the moment. I ended up essentially writing emotional high points or pivot points, and then filling in the connective tissue after to string them together. 

I meditated.  I think this may have been the most important thing I did.  While certain things are active meditations for me, like Reiki and yoga, I haven't really meditated for years -- I mean actually sat my butt on a pillow, legs crossed, before a lighted candle with a timer running.  I spent much of the 20 minutes thinking thoughts like "gee, I'm not very good at this anymore" and "I wonder how many minutes it's been now", but I continually turned back to watching myself breathe.  Just before the twenty minutes were up, I did find a bit of a deeper, quieter place, where it actually occurred to me to use my Reiki to help open up my creativity.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can read a little about it on my very-outdated reiki website).

The ideas to set aside an entire day to write and to try meditating first were both inspired by my playwriting classmates.

It had become very clear to me last week that I was only skimming the surface of the intense emotions that the characters in my play are feeling.  The emotions are there, under the surface -- people have actually commented on how much is there, even though it is unstated -- but I didn't feel like enough was breaking through.  I knew I needed to dive deeper, but I wasn't sure how.  There are a number of reasons I think this may be the case - that I have trouble allowing my characters to really express the full depth of their emotion - which I want to expound upon in another blog post.  But one very simple reason was pointed out to me by one of my classmates when she asked me after class if I wrote every day. I said no, but sometimes I tried to do an hour a day. She said "it's hard to get deep in an hour".   Hence, the full day to write.

With another classmate, I had been discussing a scene he had written that was incredibly emotionally powerful.  I asked him how he managed to do that.  He said it was very hard to write, to go that deep -- that he would end up curled up in a ball on the floor from the depth of the character's pain he felt.   One of the ways he was able to get that deep was by meditating.  While I didn't end up in a ball on the floor, I did find myself crying on at least two occasions.  I felt like my filter was down, that the emotions were bubbling up to the surface in a way they don't often do.

So I've learned some important lessons this week about my relationship to my writing.  Like all long-term relationships, it will not always be roses and happiness and excitement, but there are tools you can use to help you get back to that place.  I found a few new tools yesterday.  I'm not naive enough to expect that if I did exactly those things again I would be guaranteed to have another day as satisfying as yesterday. But certainly I will try.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 91: Second Trimester

I am now 91 days into this birthing project, which I guess officially puts me in my second trimester.  I hadn't realized that until I went to title this post today, but it explains a lot about how I've been feeling lately.

The "bloom is off the rose" as people say.  The initial excitement of beginning this project -- both the play and the blog -- has waned.  I am at the toughest point in the journey in many ways: no longer at the beginning, all fresh and motivated and excited, but also not close enough to the end to feel that added momentum you feel when the finish line is in sight.  I'm at mile 9 of a marathon, and I feel the temptation to stop and walk sometimes.

I'm finding it harder to prioritize writing, both the play and the blog (as you have no doubt noticed the last couple of weeks).  Sleep needs and relationship needs are pulling at my already heavily divided time.  I have to admit though, I'm mostly ok with that.  My life is going remarkably well these days.  My voice studio has gone from 1 student to 17 in the last 6 months.  I am absolutely loving helping these talented people become better versions of themselves, and can't wait to see them perform at the recital I am planning for them in May.  While I still want to double that number over the next 6 months so I can be entirely self-employed (ping me if you are looking for a teacher!), it is an immense relief to be able to breathe financially.  On top of that, I have incredible friends, am more in love with my best-boyfriend-ever every day, and keep meeting more amazing artistic people to collaborate (or just connect) with all the time. 

There are times I am not ok with it, when the BEAST I wrote about on Day 83 gnaws at my insides and tells me I'm not doing enough and I'm wasting time (and therefore my life).  But I think I'm getting better at accepting the fact that my beast will always want more, will always make me feel like I'm not doing enough, and to actually be glad of that.  My performing/writing partner Kat sent me an article  called Welcoming Desire that really helped bring this home for me:

"What if we could welcome desire?  We could view it just as an invitation to move in a certain direction, an invitation we are free to accept or to decline.  Isn't it nice to receive an invitation for something you want to do, even if you can't make it?"

So while I had hoped by my second trimester I would be further along in my play than I am, I am so grateful that I have had the desire to do this.  I have known people in my life who never really knew what they wanted, who had no strong pulls in any particular direction, but yet who also weren't happy with where they were.  As I have witnessed, that makes for a miserable person.  I would so much rather be troubled by too much desire than not enough.

Maybe I will get my play done by October.  Maybe I won't.  Fortunately this isn't a real baby so it's ok if it stays in the incubation chamber a little longer.  And who knows, I still have another 175 days to go.  A lot of writing can happen between now and then. 

Thank you for being a witness to this process.   I look forward to sharing the fruits of my labor  -- whatever they may be -- with you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 87: Lessons no one could teach me

I found myself advising the mother of one of my teenage students today, in regards to her daughter's struggles with deciding how/if to pursue acting as a career.  A few days ago I was consoling and advising another young student -- this one college age -- as to how to explain to her parents that the fact that she isn't working on Broadway after auditioning for 8 whole months doesn't mean she should give up.  What to tell someone at the beginning of this long arduous journey?  How do you prepare/advise someone for a path completely unpredictable except for the fact that it will include heartache and frustration and financial insecurity and self-doubt and loneliness, along with the far-too-brief moments of transcendent artistic, spiritual joy?

The truth is, you can't.  There is no advice, no formula, no words one can say to the young one consumed by the beast of artistic ambition to spare her suffering.  I often hear myself say "I wish someone had told me [blah] when I was young", but of course they probably did, and I just didn't hear it.

Nonetheless, here is some of the hard-earned wisdom I try to pass on to those who seek such advice from me, in an attempt to at least clear a few brambles from their path and steer them away from a cliff edge or two:

  • Don't go to school for the performing arts.  No one truly cares where (or whether) you went to school; they just want to see what you can do.  You will get far far better training studying privately with teachers and coaches and designing your own curriculum than you will get in pretty much any program.  With few exceptions, the best teachers don't teach in universities, because they can make far far more money teaching privately in a city like New York (while also side-stepping the politics and hoop-jumping of academia).
  • Do go to school and study something that interests you.  Study philosophy, psychology, art history, political science, biology, whatever.  Broaden your world.  Make yourself a more complex, well-rounded person.  This will all serve you as an artist, and help prepare you for my next piece of advice:
  • Prepare for a parallel career.  I was always told I would need a "fall-back" career, something to do if I didn't make it.  Well, of course, I was going to make it, so I didn't need one.  In fact, I didn't want a "fall-back" career, because then I knew I would end up falling back on it.  If I gave myself no option except to make it, then I'd have to make it right?  (wrong)  Here's the reality: except for the most miniscule percentage of people, even highly successful performers -- those who have had national tours, performed on Broadway or at the Met, have made blockbuster movies or been on Law & Order -- have times when they are not making money as performers.*  Even if you "make it", you will have to support yourself by other means at times.  If you don't want to spend the largest chunks of your life temping or waiting tables, figure out something you would like to do that allows you some flexibility for your artistic pursuits and train yourself for that.  I have found that for myself with my teaching - the only reason I'm glad I have a master's degree in voice performance (even though nothing of what I learned in grad school gets passed on to my students).
  • Make time for friends and family.  It is so easy to say "I can't, I have rehearsal" (my mom actually bought me a t-shirt with this on it once, and I wore it with pride), and then wake up years later when your career is stalled to realize you have no friends and your marriage is on the rocks.  There is no one audition, no one show, no one opportunity that will be the deciding factor in your career.  You can't always sacrifice your career dreams for your friends and family, but you also can't always sacrifice your friends and family for your career dreams.  In the end, your relationships are what sustain you, what nourish you, what make you a whole person, and are what you can count on when the dream eludes you.  Besides, who are you going to thank when you win your Tony?
  • Lastly, if there is anything else in life that will make you happy, do that.  It is rare that the moments of joy outnumber the moments of pain and frustration in this business, so it is only worth doing if you are miserable not doing it.
*A statistic for you: According to Actors’ Equity Association, just 18,000 of its 47,000 members were working in 2006–07, with the average number of work weeks at 17 weeks per actor in a year. Nearly 70 percent of these working actors earned $15,000 or less from work on stage; just 6 percent earned more than $75,000. 

There is assuredly more advice I  could wax on and on about, but I need to follow the advice of my best-boyfriend-ever and get myself some sleep now.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Day 84: Cry baby

I found myself sobbing uncontrollably this afternoon.  I have no idea why.  This is not a common occurrence for me.

This was supposed to be a blissful weekend of relaxation, nurturing company, and creative output in the form of 20-30 new pages on my play (because I always set my expectation so very low).  This was not supposed to be a weekend where I would feel frustrated and sad.  My friend/mentor/former-teacher/surrogate mother even asked me if I was ok; she said I seem sad this weekend.  But there is nothing wrong.  I have nothing in my life right now to feel sad about.  So many things are going so wonderfully well! And yet, sad I am.  I don't understand this.

I always assume there must be a reason for every emotion -- a thought pattern I have been working to deprogram.  This was a big problem for me with my anxiety disorder -- I would sometimes get what my therapist called "free-floating anxiety", where I would feel the physical symptoms of anxiety (accelerated pulse, numbness/tingling, upset stomach, obsessive thoughts -- imagine a really bad overdose of caffeine) without knowing why.  I would assume there must be a good reason for it, so then my brain would search around for a something worthy of being anxious about and BAM: within moments I would have discovered the disease of the month to be convinced I was dying of.   I cannot express how glad I am that I no longer experience this.

I felt myself start down a similar path today with my sadness.  Why am I sad?  What's wrong in my life that is making me sad?  Is it something connected to my divorce?  What would be stirring that up?  Or is it my frustration over not getting as much writing done as I wanted?  Does that mean I really don't want to do this?  Should I quit the blog, stop trying to write the play?  Is this project making me sad?  How do I fix this?

But perhaps there is nothing to fix.  Perhaps the moon is in the seventh house of the purple dragon and I'm just sad.  Or maybe I just needed to let go of some of the stress that had built up over my crazy month of March with hardly a day off.   Or maybe, maybe I was just tired.

I took a walk outside and at one point just collapsed onto the grass and sobbed.  After about five minutes of this, I suddenly felt lighter and more open.  I spent another half hour or so walking, and then took my laptop and coat outside to start writing again.  Things started flowing.  Not Amazon-river flowing, but a nice gentle stream.

Perhaps I need more downtime without pressuring myself to write.  Perhaps I need to tame my beast a little better.  Perhaps I need to stop expecting myself to be superwoman. 

On that note, I'm going to go take a bath.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Day 83: Beast-Feeding

Sometimes I feel like I have a beast living inside of me with a voracious appetite all its own.  There is the "normal" Natalie, the "getting through life" version of me that needs food, shelter, sleep, relaxation, time with loved ones, exercise, sex, a good book and maybe a movie every now and then. Then there is the BEAST.

The beast has its own hunger: an endless, insatiable need to sing, to write, to perform, to create.  To be immersed in the creative process on some level at all times.  To be surrounded by other artists.   To bear witness to great art.  To express.  To make itself known to the world. To create. To create. To create.

The endless aching need of the beast can wreak all sorts of havoc in normal-Natalie's life: sleeplessness, depression, crankiness, the piling on of too many self-imposed projects and deadlines which leads to more sleeplessness, depression and crankiness.  Its need gets confused sometimes with other hungers, and I'll end up eating giant bowls of popcorn or entire pints of ice cream while sitting frustrated at the computer, unable to write. Sometimes I try to sedate my beast with multiple martinis, distract it with empty entertainment or placate it with promises of projects to be done tomorrow.  But the need, oh the need never ends. 

For even when the beast is fed, even when I've written a successful piece, or had a fantastic performance, the beast is not satisfied.  Unlike my stomach which will tell me after a good meal, "ah, now I'm satisfied, thank you very much", the beast instead says "yes, that's what I'm talking about!  Now give me MORE!"  It is the cookie monster.  It has never had enough. 

It seems the best I can do is to give it a lot of snacks.  To not let it go too long between meals.  To always give it something to chew on.  And, to gently tell it that sometimes it is going to have to go to bed hungry.  But I promise that I won't ever let it starve. 

I fed my singing beast a delightful snack by singing at Opera on Tap this week.  Of course, it immediately said "MORE", and another singer and I spent 20 minutes after the show brainstorming about duets we can do together at future performances.  This weekend, I've planned to give my writing beast a substantial supper.  I'm in the country with some dear friends, away from all the distractions of work and home, with three days to devote to writing my play.  My beast is fairly chomping at the bit.

But normal-Natalie and Natalie's Beast are already in conflict, as normal-Natalie desperately wants to take a nap before I start writing.  I think in this case, normal-Natalie is going to win.  After all, I house my beast and have to be functional to actually be able to create the beast's supper.  So, off-line I go.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Day 81: Plans Change - or How to Write a Play

Remember that roadmap I was so excited about on Monday?  Well, guess what.

Out the window.

Plans change.  My current playwriting teacher (Stuart Spencer) said that could be the title of a book about playwriting: Plans Change (or How to Write a Play).  It seems to be kind of the number one rule, nothing you start out with hardly ever stays the same. 

It's a good thing, though.  Spence was pointing out that the scene I brought in on Monday night might be more dramatically effective if I set it six months further down the road -- that if instead of being the first time Angie had to bring Frank to the doctor from a fall, it was the tenth time.  If this was the final straw, the day everyone had to face the fact that Frank had to go to the nursing home.  Everything Spence said made so much sense, and I saw how that would increase the dramatic tension of the scene, how it would "raise the stakes" as we like to say in playwright land.  But there was one little problem in my mind: if this is the moment they decide he has to go to the nursing home, and my first act was going to end with that, then my first act is only 39 pages.  That's too short.

Ah, but is it?  Spence went on to challenge the notion of acts and structure and expected length altogether.  He said acts are totally arbitrary, they are just a place where the audience goes to the bathroom.  Tennessee Williams didn't indicate an act break in either Streetcar Named Desire or Glass Menagerie - productions generally add an intermission but the drama doesn't need one.  Fortunately, these days there is a lot of leeway in what audiences will accept for a length of a play -- from an 80-minute one-act with no intermission to a 3+ hour three-act with two.  Spence said to just write to the end of the story -- the play will be as long as it needs to be.  I may end up with 72 pages and decide to flesh parts out to something longer, or I may end up with 150 pages and have to trim it way down.  But those are all problems and decisions for further down the line.  Maybe in my third trimester, but certainly not my first. 

I am actually very relieved by this.  I have been unfettered from the chains of "should" that were restraining my creativity -- the play should be so long, it should do this or that.  I feel like I can start writing in earnest now, and just let it flow.  I can hardly wait to dive in.  But first, I am going to feed my singing beast tonight by performing a couple of numbers with Opera on Tap at the Parkside Lounge (check out the link or my website for details if you're interested in coming!). 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Day 79: Road map

Forgive my less-frequent posting this last week.  The time I had to write I used for actually writing my play more than for this blog.  I have a nine-page scene for class tonight to show for it, though!  So I'm happy about that.  Hopefully this week I can manage more of both.

This week, I stumbled upon a road map for my play.  I still don't know the final destination, but I know one place where I'm stopping for the night, and the direction I'm driving off in the next morning.  I'm also going to be picking up another passenger along the way, which could make the trip more interesting. 

It's funny how these things come to you.  The first big lightbulb happened while I was journaling about my doubts about even continuing with this project .  It went like this: "Why am I writing a play?  Just to say I did?  Because I like it?  Do I have a story to tell?  Frank has a story to tell.  An end-of life story.  Maybe it's about Frank and Vivian.  Can a ---"

And then it happened.  I got a chill.  Which told me I was onto something.

"Can an estranged father and daughter heal after the death of the mother?"

Suddenly I was inspired again, excited about writing again.  I don't know where exactly that question will lead me, or whether it will remain the main question of my play in the end, but at least I know what highway I'm driving on for awhile.

The second flash of inspiration came after a passing comment made by Robert, the actor for whom I am writing the role of Frank.  I was telling him about some of my struggles trying to figure out where I was going with this, particularly not being sure at what point in the play Frank will end up in the nursing home.  We know he's ending up there (since it's starts there, and then does a flash back), but how much play do I have to tell before he's there?  Or is most of the play about him being there?  Robert said, off the cuff, "maybe act II is in the nursing home".  "Good idea", I thought, and just kind of filed it away.

Then a couple of days ago I was walking along the river, thinking about my play when -- boom, lightening bolt.   I had to stop and make a note in my palm pilot to make sure I wouldn't forget.  Act I ends with Billy (Angie's brother) returning home from his own hospital stay and Frank entering the nursing home.  Act II opens with the very first scene I ever wrote for Frank: a few months later on New Year's Eve, Frank is in the rec room with a fellow nursing home resident, Vera, grappling over the TV remote.  This way both acts open with Frank asleep in front of the TV in the nursing home.  I love this -- I'm a big fan of parallel structure.

Who knows if any of these decisions will end up in the final product, but it feels so much better to have a shape, to have a few turns and stopping-points marked on the map.  Now if only I could figure out where I want to end this thing....

Friday, April 2, 2010

Day 76: Synchronicity (or Philosophical musings on a Friday night)

I was at a networking event for actors last night: Act Outside the Box (it was great -- check it out if you're in the biz and in NYC!).  I was invited as an "industry" guest, which made for a very interesting experience: all these actors approaching me as someone important.  I'm used to being the one trying to do the schmoozing, not to being the one being schmoozed! 

I met a very interesting fellow there, and we got into a deep discussion about the life of an artist: the endless struggle for balance; how to relax and give yourself space to be able to open up to fuller, more vulnerable artistic expression; when it is worth it to work for free because of what else a project gives you.  He said several times "this is an important conversation we are having."  Indeed it was.  It was wonderful to meet a kindred spirit.  We both had kind of dragged ourselves there and ended up with a delightful new friend.  At some point I said "this is clearly what this evening is about tonight." 

I always kind of wonder at myself when I say things like that: "the universe is clearly trying to tell me something", "I was meant to be here tonight",  etc.  As an atheist, I don't believe in an invisible sentient hand that is trying to direct me down some kind of divine path.  But sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if I did, if there were some way to make sense of everything, if there were one right answer out there for me to find.

The Artist's WayIn the Artist's Way (I swear I'm not getting a commission from her, I just love the book!), Julie Cameron talks at length about synchronicity.  Some people chalk it up to coincidence, others call it fate or the universe's master plan; some people call it God.  She gives several examples, like:  "a woman admits to a buried dream of acting.  At dinner the next night, she sits beside a man who teaches beginning actors."  That sort of thing.

Ms. Cameron calls this synchronicity God.  She goes to great lengths to explain that it doesn't have to be the Christian god, just some kind of all-powerful, all-knowing force.  She feels that belief in such a force is empowering: "If we do, in fact, have to deal with a force beyond ourselves that involves itself in our lives, then we may have to move into action on those previously impossible dreams."   She says that not believing in such a power is a way of disempowering ourselves: "If there is no God, ... we can feel quite justified in declaring certain things impossible."

I feel quite the opposite.  Despite my temptation to believe in it, belief in a divine force with some kind of master plan is quite anxiety-producing for me.  Perhaps that is because I am not a person of limiting beliefs: I have always believed the sky was the limit and the world was my oyster (by age 16 I had written my campaign slogans for when I would be running for election as the first woman president of the US).   Even if I don't call it god, but instead something like "the universe", it leads me to thinking there is a master plan, one right thing I'm supposed to be doing, one path that will lead me to greatness -- if only I could find the damn road map. It makes me doubt my choices, makes me second-guess, makes me afraid of doing the wrong thing.  Or rather of not doing the right thing. Which leads to the paralysis of trying to push through too many doors at once (and not being able to open any of them) instead of just putting all my energy behind opening one door and actually opening it.  'Cause what if it's the wrong door?

However, I do believe in the power of positive thinking.  I do believe in "putting things out there" -- that if I state out loud to the world something I want to happen, it is far more likely to happen.  But I don't think it is because some external force hears me utter those words.  I think it is more likely that by stating a goal or intention, all of the inner workings of my brain are primed to help make that thing happen.  Having a clear intention helps the brain to pick out the relevant opportunities amongst the infinite data bits it takes in everyday.  We process things on a level more complex and deep than anything we can break down consciously, the way a baseball player doesn't need to know calculus to figure out the speed and trajectory of the ball hurtling towards him in order to be able to hit it out of the park.  If I tell "the universe" what I want, I'm more likely to make the infinite little choices that might take me down the path that actually has the metaphorical pot of gold at the end.

Of course, even this thinking can be a little dangerous sometimes, because if I don't end up getting what I want, does that mean i just didn't believe hard enough?  I didn't say it loud enough?  I somehow screwed up?  I wrote "I am a famous opera singer" in an affirmation journal every day for 5 years or more.  I definitely put what I wanted out to the universe, but it didn't happen.  Is that because it wasn't supposed to happen?  Which would mean I was doing the wrong thing all that time?  Which means I wasted all those years?  I don't think it would do me a damn bit of good to think that.

I choose instead to just believe in the power of me.  That is something I can (almost) always be sure of.