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.
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