Reflection on Familiar Skies

Lake_PanoramaThere are times when the familiar cold hand reaches out to me, accompanied by a darkness in the skies of my mind. Like the disruptive friend who just doesn’t seem to get the hint, no matter how blunt you make it, or maybe it is more like the uncomfortable yet obligatory visit of your parents that you have to endure at least every now and then.

These days, when I feel the presence of darkness, I find myself reflecting. I have been here before, many times. Sometimes I have been alone, and in those times I came close to succumbing. Other times, I had help, and it is to these that I focus.

There have been a number of people who have come into my life at a time that I needed some acknowledgement, some acceptance, some love. They did not do much. They showed they cared. They showed I was acceptable. They gave me hope.

Sadly, many of these people have little to do with me now, having either moved away in search of their own happiness, or worn weary of me as time so often wears us down. Some I may have inadvertently slighted, for which I will always regret. Others have simply vanished.

Still, these people did something special for me. They opened their hearts, and shared it with me for a while, and it is a treasure that no amount of money can buy. These are cherished memories, gifts of immense wealth.

For each of these gifts, I hold a special place in my heart, regardless of our current standing. These people will always be welcome if ever our paths cross again. I cannot value their kindness enough. They are special to me.

So as the cold hand of darkness reaches for me again, I find some strength from those gifts, those treasures, those memories. I draw on them so as to weather the storm, alone if I have to. I will not flinch or cry out, because I am stronger for it.

And yet a voice inside says “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone was there for you again….”

Wistful thinking.holding-hands

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Strange Occurances

closerposterv2-350This week, the stage play I am in opened for its first three shows. Closer at the Old Mill Theatre in Western Australia. The show itself has been a real test of some of my personal inhibitions, and prudish ideas. It has been a real awakening for me as an actor, and as a person.

In my last post, I revealed that I am, and have always been, and have no problems with being, a non-religious person, otherwise known an atheist. Yet I have  “belief” that there is something more, as yet unexplained. There are messages to be found in the world, and I have had a sequence of interesting coincidences that have occurred in conjunction with this show.

With only three nights currently done out of 11 in total, for each night there has been a connection to my past.

On opening night (Friday) I was shaking hands with an enthusiastic individual who offered some great feedback. In an email later, they revealed to me that they went to the same high school as me, and had observed and felt bad with regards the bullying I endured. They also revealed undisclosed feelings for me at the time. Those feelings have passed now, and I would not have been able to respond in kind, but I was flattered and encouraged all the same.

I too had my own crushes during school. Due to my lowly status, and general reserved, shy nature, I never acted upon them in anyway. Well, apart from one or two rather embarrassing, hesitant attempts. I have in recent years been able to express these now old, and dimmed feelings, and have been met with coy appreciation. The ability to reveal these feelings, even many years after the fact, is a very relieving experience, so I can appreciate what it may have meant for this person.

The regret they held, and may still hold, that they were unwilling to intervene for me when being bullied, I feel is unfortunate. Those years are years which I admit to having blocked to some degree, but I would never hold accountable anyone else for what happened. Neither the protagonists, nor the spectators. First I can’t hold the fire that anger or vengeance would require. It’s corrosive. Nor can I hold resentment for being unprotected, or supported. Sticking your nose into a troubled situation is frightening. I have done it myself, and also walked away. I am guilty as the next guy.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

On the second night, the person that I consider to be my first ever friend came and saw the show with his wife. I have not seen him in many many years, and to reconnected was wonderful. I did once have a crush on his sister, who was closer to my age, but moving from the small town of my birth, to the world of the most isolated capital city in the world changed me too much. It brought back memories many years lost. It is incredible the storage capacity of the human mind.

Then our third performance was an afternoon matinee, and another fellow student from high-school. Now I knew of this person, but didn’t really have a lot to do with them, but we were able to chat about various things, along with her mother, and both were very complimentary with my show, but there was a sense of equality in that I felt a creative aspiration.

In later communications, I found (or was re-affirmed) that they had an interest in theatre, but were daunted by the effort and time required. Now this is something that I know holds many people back. It did once hold me back.

If this is a passion, then effort and time has less meaning. Passion is a nutritional commodity of its own. Unrealised, it stagnates and can be corruptive. Given regular exercise, it finds its own niche, and finding the time and energy becomes secondary concern.

With all that, I find it intriguing that these connections have come at the time they have, and in the confined clustering of one a day. I can’t help but feel there is a message here. Then I realise the name of the play. Closer. Closer to friends. Closer to my past. Closer to myself.

Coincidence is one thing. Clustering coincidences, while possible, seems a little to surreal.

The Hard Road Part 8 – Perspectives

I was changing my view of the world. What I began to realise, and not just superficially, but innately, was just how much our world view is dependent on our individual perspectives. We aren’t just all different, we see the world differently. Yet the evidence is all around us.

I began to appreciate how much I lived my life with platitudes without meaning. I would say I believed in certain ideas and concepts, but my actions and choices often contradicted what I felt. More often I was acting in the way I thought I was expected to, which was in direct conflict with my desires. I was disconnected.

Suddenly certain phrases and bits of advice took on new and deeper meanings.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”

This deceptively simple statement holds a lot more truth that I ever gave it credit for. The things we get worried about, when one looks at them from a distance, how much meaning do they really have? It is so easy being the observer in another person’s life to see them issues that often get the most stress, anxiety, or attention, are often the most meaningless.

That may sound a little harsh, and honestly, it is. The thing was, I could see that in other people, but I didn’t apply the same scrutiny to my own life. I had developed a reactive tendency to find the worst in any situation, and usually at my own expense. So a situation that I would see as trivial in another’s life, I would see as another testament to my own failures.

I began forcefully apply the same observations I made on others to myself, and discovered something; there is at least two sides to any situation. One is always “better” than the other, and I was CHOOSING the worst of the options.

I think that realisation itself was the biggest shock. I was actually choosing depression over any alternatives. That may need a bit more explaining.

I gave up control of my decisions by letting in the voices and expectations of others, and allowing them to influence my choices and decisions. I may not have known better. I may have been naive. I still allowed it, but accepting this fact was hard… and I wanted to know why.

It took stepping out of my emotional perspective, which was a lot harder than one might imagine, but once done, I could see what my actual flaws were, which were to actually believe that I was flawed. This belief fuelled my drive to not trust in myself, and rely on the advice of others. Even those who didn’t have much to do with my life any more. I had allowed my life to be driven mainly by emotions, guided by well-meaning yet misguided advice.

Balance Equals Harmony

When viewed rationally, things are usually far more trivial than they seem emotionally. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a very rational piece of advice, because it is with a analytical approach that facts can be assessed. This is what we need to be telling our emotional sides, and I wasn’t.

Looking back over my life, my rational side had been rather beaten into submission by various circumstances and people, and I hadn’t done much to take it back. Now I had the opportunity to do just that. My experiences, both bad and good, now found a new use in reconstructing the spirit of myself. There was good to come from everything I had been through, I choose to see the good in every situation, and as I have described a few times already, when I made the choose, things got better.

In the end, my only real mistake was in not accepting responsibility for my own choices. I needed to find a balance between rationality and emotionality. I need to find the calm. I need to take back control over the only thing I had any right, or ability to control: me.


 

I am nearly finished with the series, and I invite you to read my other posts on my journey. The first series: A Darker Path. Series 2 – The Hard Road.

The Hard Road Part 1 – Acceptance

WrongWell, here we go again. It wasn’t long ago that I was inspired to write about my youth and struggles with depression. Now I find I am again surrounded by reasons to continue. In the first part of my journey, I really didn’t know what was going on, and certainly didn’t accept that I was suffering depression. I knew something was wrong, but the attitude of the time was to pretend you didn’t. The implication was that everyone else was OK, so admitting there was something wrong with you would only expose you as a fraud.

Taking up from where I had left off, realising that my mind was acting out dangerous thoughts subconsciously was a serious wake-up call. (See Darker Path Part 9.) Up until then, it was something that I could stuff down, ignore. To find myself acting out meant that I could no longer ignore it, but what could I do about it?

I admit, I was rather green, and somewhat simple-minded with regards many things. Maybe ignorant is a better term. I did realise one thing however. Trying to find fault with myself was simply leading me in circles. I had to change my perspective. I started by trying to find reasons for the actions of other people from their point of view.

Now I knew that I may not ever know the truth as to why someone had done the things that they had done, but I was convinced in myself that very few people ever did something simply out of spite. If I could come up with convincing reasons that would satisfy me, then I would have to be content with that. It was an interesting exploration for me, and had its advantages in my slowly developing me acting skills. Stepping into another’s metaphoric shoes, and trying to uncover the reasons one may have, was cathartic in the extreme, and an awakening one.

It was an interesting period of self-reflection, reviewing my actions, and the actions of others, as if I were someone else.

Something about being Unique

I used to have a serious problem with the word, or the association with being unique. I was frequently called unique, or some derivative of. Back then, it sounded akin to odd, or inexplicable. To me, it was a bad thing to be considered outside the norm, to be “special”, and I use the double quotations very specifically.

Even during my high-school years, I often had opinions that ran rather contrary to my peers, which earned my considerable scorn and ridicule. I recall a meeting at a Youth Group that I attended where a guest presenter impressed upon us the need to be happy ALL THE TIME. That was the goal. To avoid sadness, anger, and so forth. To me this sounded like all the years of being fake which even then I questioned.

I stood and asked what was wrong with being angry? While anger and aggressive were often expressed as had things, were their not good, and “happy” was to express anger? Can not someone be happily angry? Happily sad? I think one other person rose to my support as I was yelled at by others for being so stupid. While my wording may not have been clear, the intention I still believe in. To shut yourself of from all aspects of yourself, is just as, if not more, harmful than letting them run in the driver’s seat without supervision.

I wanted to say that you need to acknowledge all of what makes you a person, the dark and the light. We are not perfect, and to strive to be so is a road to depression. I just didn’t have the experience and vocabulary to express it. I was unique in my opinions, beliefs and self, which made me an outsider to those who could not understand.

Then new perspective came, in the form of a good friend formed during my years at uni. After several years of knowing each other, she had formed a relationship with another fellow student who was a part of our combined circle of friends. Near the end of her degree, she confessed a deep affection for me, which surprised me admittedly, but had been unable to express said affection. I felt the dread of life repeating itself as they continued, and I waiting for the word… but it never came.

OOYLInstead, she told me that she had felt I was Untouchable. The first time someone had used such a term; Untouchable. She continued to say that she hadn’t felt good enough for me, that I was above her league, which was an alien concept to me. Me, be better than anyone else? Surely not. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it, yet it felt a lot better to believe that I was untouchable than unique.

A simple conversation changed my perspective about a long time dislike. Mind you, it took me a few more years to get over my dislike of the word unique, mainly due to the memories and connotations it drew, but it was a start. I began to think about all those times someone called me unique, special, or different. I began to think that maybe they didn’t have the experience and vocab to express what they really wanted to say. Maybe they meant it as a compliment, but found it hard to compliment something which made them uncomfortable.

Even the dreaded “You’re nice, but…” which I got a lot, began to look a little different.

In the end, I had to accept that I was a little different. I had different thoughts and ways of dealing with things. I spoke differently to most of my friends, and found enjoyment in language and complex words. My mind worked more visually than logically. I was different, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

We’re all a little different.

Find the entire Hard Road series here.

So many things

This weekend has been a rather interesting weekend. First I bump into a friend who tells me they struggle with their Vlog. Please check it out. Something I am very familiar with with regards my blog, having struggled for a long while to find anything interesting in myself to blog about, I can understand the frustration with putting something out there and not seeing anything for it. Letting go of caring was a big step in that regards. Letting go of some dark demons was another, more important one.

Writing about my experiences with depression has really changed my own self-perception. Back in University, I used to write little nonsense stories and poetry, but at some point, that just became too hard. Then it became too hard to write about anything. I told myself I wasn’t interesting, and that nothing I could write about would ever inspire, entertain, or even touch another person, so why should I bother. I stayed like that for a number of years, something I will touch upon sometime in the future.

Then I become aware of a number of happenings (and almost happenings), in my immediate circle, and in the world in general. Several people’s experiences set me down a path of personal revelations, and honesty. The final key in the lock was that of Jared Padalecki and his campaign to raise awareness for suffers of depression. His “Always Keep Fighting” movement motivated me to write, and boy, did I write.

And I haven’t really stopped. While I have reached a turning point in my story, it is not the end. There is more, yet out of respect for those closest to me, I am holding back for now.

The second thing to happen was to hear that Jared had suddenly excused himself from a convention under questionable circumstances, with some equally concerning tweets. Then today, I read an interview of less than a week old, where he opens up about his clinical depression. The man who ultimately inspired me to open up did not only relate to people suffering depression, he was a suffer also.

Depression comes in all forms. Unlike Jared, mine is not clinical. It has been brought on by environmental factors. What is does show is that no-one is immune to depression. It can affect us all in various ways, and in different degrees. For me, opening up and admitting, first to myself, then to others, was the biggest step for me. It has freed up so much in myself that had previously been locked.

I cannot imagine the struggle others feel as they battle with their own self-identity, or their own private demons. I have had, and continue to have, my own, and depression is a very personal experience.

The difference for me between where I was to where I am, is I no longer write for others. I write for myself because it serves a process of healing and strength for my soul. For others, it may, and will, take on other forms. Yet I believe that the pursuit of PERSONAL satisfaction in whatever you do is a most important tool in managing the darker aspects of human nature.

In order to change the world, start with your own perception of it. Start with yourself.

As a side note, in addition to this weekend having some interesting stories about identity and depression, it has also been a weekend of achievement. Three commercials rough-cut for review, and show reel for a talented young presenter, and a near disaster for the last episode for a web-series which was plagued with mishap after mishap, yet all achieved by Sunday morning, leaving me the rest of the weekend to rest, watch Supernatural, and eat copious amounts of junk food.

An interesting weekend indeed.

A Darker Path: Part 7 – Backbone

In the continuing saga, from Part 6.

Inspirational Examples

Of all the teachers I had through primary and high school, none do I remember more fondly than Mr Beer, and Mr Tozer, my Maths III and II teachers respectively.

Mr Beer was simply cool. His approach to teaching complex maths was always with inspirational games and events. He often gave little challenges to test out puzzle solving skills, and one that I remember all too well goes like this;

There is a young lady at an airport somewhere in the world. She has missed her flight, and there isn’t another until the next day, but she is clearly desperate. However, the is nothing to be done. She will have to wait. This is all observed by a gentleman who approaches her as she leaves the check-in counter.

“I couldn’t help noticing that you missed your flight. Can I help?”

“My mother has fallen ill and I really need to get home.” She has clearly been crying.

“Well, I have my own private jet and about to leave. I would be happy to take you wherever you wish to go.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you out of your way. You don’t even know where I am going.”

“It wouldn’t matter. I am heading to Perth in Australia, and I can assure you, wherever you are going, it’ll be on my way.”

The question is, where are they?

I’ll just leave that one for you to ponder. There was also the time he was teaching about using angles to calculate the length, or height, of an object. His approach was to use two navigational angled finders, sextants, to measure the angle of a kite flying above the sporting event on the school oval. We could also measure the distance between the to sextants. Back in class, we used these figures to work out how high the kite flew. Then we went back a tried to get it higher. Maths was fun, when creative solutions are a part of the deal.

Mr Tozer struggled through year 11 with a very slight speech impediment. He was clearly uncomfortable, and classes were somewhat tedious. Between year 11 and 12, something changed. He had learned to overcome his condition, and he was a different man. Suddenly, classes were more interesting, and enjoyable. He was more relaxed and confident. It was rather enlightening to watch, and I think I learnt more in his transition, then in class. For someone who struggled with confidence and image, this was a significant lesson.

Protection in Confusion

A development from my experiments in saying hello to those would did not expect it, was outlandish humour. Having observed people for many years, I knew I didn’t want to be a bully, and use violence as a way to “control” others, but being meek and mild was not working for me either. So I needed something else. Witty repartee was out because I never could think of anything until hours, even days after the event.

So I used to say completely random things. I couldn’t tell you now what I did say. It was just bizarre things. It had the effect of making someone stop, look at you strangely, forget their train of thought, and diminished the effect of anything they might have said. I didn’t mind if people though I was a bit weird. It was better than the alternative.

I used it great effect when in Sydney. I had joined up with a nationally based Saturday morning group, who got together and motivated each other. Quite a few of my school friends were a part of it, I rather enjoyed it all. We had a convention and most of us hopped on over to Sydney for a few weeks. I believe this was during Year 12, although my memory is a little vague.

Walking around Circular Quay, I became aware of the large number of non-english speaking tourists, because every time we walked past a group, they would all start laughing. I admit, I was a little self-conscious, and I couldn’t figure out any reason why they would be laughing at us. So I turned to my friend and said, “I’m going to do something here, and I want you to go with it.” He nodded.

Now, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I know I wanted to do something. So as the next group of tourists approach, and on cue they started babbling to each other, I turned and uttered a stream of utter garbage and gibberish. He, to his immense credit, returned with something equally out there. We were both rather stunned and amused by this that we burst into fits of laughter, much to the wonder and bewilderment of the group we were passing.

It was my ultimate weapon.

Finding a Backbone

To this day, I do not know what motivated a strange turning in someone I had thought as a friend. Climbing a flight of stairs to my , I was startled by the sudden appearance of said friend, who came running around the corner down the stairs. On the way, he punched me in the stomach. Startling in itself, I was blind-sided, winded, and rather bewildered.

Much much later, he apologised. Mind you, he did so with the obvious assistance of others, and he stood there with his cheeky grin, his slightly in-genuine apology, and I, already feeling animosity toward him since the attack, was offended. He held out his hand for a hand shake, and I thought that this was not enough. I stepped forward and punched him in return.

I am not usually one to get involved in fights, and I certainly was not one to initiate them, and I would not encourage anyone to do so. In this moment, it felt right, and it felt good. I never shook his hand, and our friendship was slender from that time on, but to his credit, he took it as a fair cop, if a little unexpected. Someone said to me later, “Nice to see you have a back bone.”

It wasn’t the last time it showed either. In the final days of year 12, I had found a certain degree of freedom from the bullies, taunts, and such. Most had found that I no longer cared what they said to me, or that my confusion tactic was simply too weird for them to hand, or they had found other, better interests. Which ever way, the top order bullies generally left me alone, and that made way for the mid-range wannabes.

It is interesting that there is a clear ranking system when it comes to bullies, and I only realised when I was able to stop worrying about it so much. So it was that on the last day, or near last day, of high school, the one such wannabe bully decided to have a go at the infamous victim. I had just slung my bag over my shoulder when it was knocked of. I turned and saw who it was, and told them to leave me alone as I slung my bag up again. He knocked my bag off a second time, so I told him to get lost. After a third time, I turned, dropped my bag, and told him to F* off.

I didn’t and don’t swear much. When I do, it is usually unexpected, and it certainly was here. For a split second, he was a little stunned, but quickly recovered.

“Oooo, I’m gonna kill you for that.”

I snapped. “Really? You wanna kill me? Right then. Come on. Do it. F*g kill. COME ON. PUT YOUR HANDS AROUND MY THROAT AND KILL ME!” and I dared him to kill me. I got up in his face (he was slightly taller than me) and demanded that he kill me. Old feelings came flooding back. Feelings I had not felt in a very long time, and for a brief moment, I wanted him to do it. I wanted him to try. I wanted to see if he could.

I remember thinking that I had seen death. It was a long dark tunnel with nothing at the end of it, taunting you. If you wanted to talk death and killing, then you better have the balls to follow through with it.

He didn’t. I fact, I think he got more than he bargained for. He didn’t know what to do. That was when on of his mates called to him. He turned, clearly relieved of the distraction. After all, no one wants to fight a mad dog, and told his mate, “Jeff beat me up.”

I almost could hear the click as he realised what he had said, and his mate was rather amused at this also.

“Oh please.” I said. “You really need to grow a pair.” I collected my bag, and left without further incident.

But I was troubled. Old memories had been stirred, and I would have to find a way to bury them back down again.

Social Media Hypocrisy

I am not a good blogger. I struggle with things to write about, thinking some things trivial, and others a little too hot to handle. I consider my own life to be mildly interesting at best, and I am one who prefers to not publicly complain about too much, while I don’t want to appear like I am bragging about anything either.

Doesn’t leave too much room for conversational topics.

So here’s an update. After striking out for five months without a steady job, I am returning to full-time work. A near disaster experience yet with some positives, which takes the sour edge off. More on that later.

On the topic that has motivated me to write a blog today, a case of humble self-reflection, and self-hypocrisy.

I like to consider myself a devoted supporter of equal rights and free speech. I am a feminist. I am not religious as such and support the rights of others to choose their own religion. I believe in personal choice. I do not support bullying, trolling or victimising in the sense that one side is trying to enforce choice onto another side. All people have the right to choose for themselves, without the need to feel guilt, fear, or persecution for their choice, and with the awareness that they can only affect their choices, and not those of others.

Accept that people are different, will see life in different ways, and that these different views are just as valid as yours. You do not have to agree with them, and if you don’t, it won’t stop the world from turning.

Or so I would like to believe of myself. Continue reading

If I Were 22…

I have seen a recent blogging trend where certain high profile industry people (all industries) ask themselves the question, “What would I tell my 22 year old self?” I have read a few and it is interesting that so many say essentially the same things that I would love to be able to tell myself.

This sounds like it has very little to do with the reflections of an ageing ham, but let me assure you, it has everything to do with those reflections.

When I was 22, I was taking my time studying Computing Science at Curtin University. I think it was that same year when a senior lecturer, and a very good friend, advised me to consider switching courses to one that would enable me to take on more creative and humanitarian subjects. It might have been the year before. Regardless, I took his advice and started taking on units like Theatre Arts, Creative Writing, Philosophy and Theology and so forth.

However, I was still plagued by thoughts from other people that I had let swim within my own. Thoughts that were counter-productive to my aspirations and dreams. Thoughts that asked me to be more practical, conservative and cautious. Thoughts that I allowed to influence my decisions.

The thing with Dreams is if they are fuelled by a deep passion, they never really die. You can fight, squash, put aside, and reprogram yourself as much as you like. They will never truly leave because a dream is about what you, as a person, really want. The rest is what you, and others, tell you you should want. So while I chose to listen to these foreign ideas, something raged inside.

It was many years later, when one of the biggest voices that I had retained in my mind, suddenly changed his mind… in real life. Talking with one of my biggest influences (for better and worse) they said that they ‘regretted not helping me with my dreams when I was younger. Who knows where I might be had they supported me, rather than caution me.’

This had an immense effect on me. It released something inside that I knew I had been struggling with for years. My passion. Something I had tried hard to “contain”, which had been slowly gathering strength and leaking through the gaps, burst forth in an emotional wave. Ever since, I have felt years younger and energised, and somewhat more frustrated as well.

I’m not sure if the person I talk about above knows the effect his simple words had on me. Maybe not, but I have since imagined what might have come about had those words been expressed years before, or even if the intention behind the words had been acted upon in my youth.

While the original concepts had the effect to smother my aspirations, it was my personal choice to let them. I do not, and cannot blame another for what I chose to take on board. I did it to appease someone else, not because I wanted to. That was the choice I made, and the problem I faced. Had I know that one day…

So what would I say to my 22 year old self? I would tell him to let go, follow your heart, take risks big and small, listen to your dreams, and that one day, one day, he changes his mind.20131225-160524.jpg

The capacity of a grudge

I recall a TV show (Forgiving Dr. Mengele) about an elderly Jewish lady (Eva Mozes Kor) who went on a journey through her own childhood and her time in Nazi concentration camps. As a child, she witnessed the horrors of the genocide of her people, and the death of her parents. She returned to the camps where brutal and sickening experiments had been carried out by sadistic Nazi doctors. She heard to tales of so many other survivors. She even met with ex-Nazi officers who had been stationed at the camp she had been held. An incredible tale of survival, chance and death.

Two things about this show stood out to me. Firstly, she forgave the officers she met. She even forgave the officers that had long since died. She even forgave those that had been responsible. Her reasoning was simple; she didn’t need the pain any more. She explained that in forgiving these men, she was not letting them off the hook. Those that were dead would feel nothing regardless, and the ones she met already had more than enough grief of their own. She saw her act of forgiveness as giving herself permission to let go of the grief she had and to open to door to find happiness again.

The second thing that stood out for me was the reaction of many of her Jewish peers. They were outraged that she would do such a thing. They would not be forgiving any German, alive or dead, for what had been done to their ancestors. I am not sure if any of these indignants interviewed in the show were actual survivors, just descendants. Such was their shock that this sweet and unassuming lady could forgive was rather surprising. Both these points got me thinking of holding a grudge and the act of forgiveness.

I have played a few characters that hold a bias, or grudge. One in particular was the psychopathic German swordsman, Zastrozzi. While the play is a comedy, coming to grips with a character that has basically accepted the fact that he is an agent of evil, and the incredible grudge he has for his day-dreaming, delusional nemesis, was challenging.Zastrozzi

I like being the nice guy. Even when playing computers games where you can choose actions that are good, neutral or nasty, I feel compelled to play the good guy every time. Playing nasty just doesn’t feel right. So playing a nasty guy was a rather enlightening process. There is a saying that everyone has a dark side. After Zastrozzi, I would rephrase this as everyone has the potential to do bad things.

In coming up with a character, I try to conceive a life story that would give foundation for their current beliefs and goals. In the case of Zastrozzi, how does one acknowledge that they are evil, and that this is ok? His grudge was less challenging, but more on that later.

I envisioned a number of various scenarios ranging through his life where he was basically left to fend for himself. A serious of unfortunate experiences which taught him that quick and violent action was they way to avoid unnecessary emotional pain, and interesting contradiction as violent action is in itself emotional pain. A case of fighting fire with fire. He lost important people in his life at the hands of cruel and merciless people. From these experiences, he developed a growing hatred for people in general and took it upon himself to rid the world of evil, but the more he looked, the more he saw it in everyone he met.

He learnt to use the sword and mastered it. He became notorious and others sought him out to challenge or kill him. His reputation grew. Then the father and brother of a man he killed went to seek revenge. They found only his mother, the only good person left in Zastrozzi’s life. In a rage or out of frustration, they killed her. Upon hearing this, Zastrozzi began a singular quest to find and kill them both.

Many years later, the son is still on the run in the charge of his carer, after the father had died naturally. Zastrozzi is close behind and has become obsessed with finding to one man left to kill. This is where the play takes up from. All this has been the story I built to help me fill to role. My character has a rapidly deteriorating sanity as his extreme intellect is gradually being eroded by his overwhelming need for vengeance. Basically another case of emotions over powering reason.

I have said before, there is drama in conflict, and conflict is frequently driven by emotional persuasions. In this posting, I have reviewed a lovely lady overcoming deep pain by applying rational when in contrast, her peers are still feeling the emotional trauma. I have also played a man who’s mind has become twisted and unstable through extreme emotional trauma. The character of Zastrozzi is certainly more dramatic than the lady, but who is happier?

In life we seek peace and happiness. In fiction we seek drama. Bit of a contrast. Occasionally we seek happiness in the drama of others, which I feel my to be a healthy approach. I think I have found a path to peace and contentment at the very least through my experiences playing these emotional parts. The lesson would seem to be that allowing emotions to govern your actions, is harmful.

Yet allowing your intellect to govern instead seems equally unhealthy. No compassion. No empathy. We have all known someone like this, and is the spirit of not making this blog too long, I may save the emotionally dead intellectual for another day. After all, this one is about grudges right?

To wrap this one up, I have learnt that a grudge can actually do more harm to the beholder rather then the beholden. Most of the time, the subject is completely unaware of any animosity until something brings it to light. Seems to be an awful waste of energy.

A question of beliefs

IMG_6967One challenge in playing a variety of characters is the taking on of different beliefs, and by beliefs, I am not referring to just religious ones. Any beliefs. Beliefs about the world, love, right and wrong, how to treat others, and so on. Trying to find a way to co exist with ideas and beliefs that often ran contrary to my own opened my eyes to where beliefs come from and their value to a person.

An individual’s beliefs are a large part of what defines that person. They give us our motivations for the things we do, say and think. They can be developed through experience, education and social interactions. They can be affected by significant events in a persons life, even completely turned around. Understanding a character’s beliefs, and the reasons they may have those beliefs, goes a long way in my process of developing a character.

I have to find a way to appreciate or relate to my character. In the early days, it was a matter of pretending, which these days I would call obvious acting. Pretending to play a character I can’t connect with often resulted in a “stiff” performance. My character was flat and rather boring. When I played a character I enjoyed, well that was a different story, and this I largely put down to more natural reactions rather than feigned and choreographed movements.

So I learned that I needed to enjoy any character I played. I had to put aside my differences somehow and find something that gave me reason to like the character. I tried many different approaches with varying degrees of success. My process developed organically taking bits from here and there. Ultimately, I decided I need to understand the human need to believe. This took me down an interesting path of psychology, philosophy, pseudo-religion and even science fiction. Some of the best advice I personally found was in the texts of Zen Budism, and Greek philosophy, and there is a lot to go through.

In addition to what I have previously mentioned regarding beliefs, this conceptual structure of morals, codes, ethics and purpose, is also a mechanism for dealing with uncertainty and the unknown. In saying this, I do mean to diminish the importance of any one’s beliefs, nor to say that certain beliefs are right or wrong. A person’s beliefs, right or wrong, are the core motivation behind most, if not all, of their actions. From an acting point of view, this wraps everything up in a nice little parcel. Understand the source of a character’s beliefs and you get an understanding of the character’s motivations.

There have been two characters in particular that have presented a significant challenge to me as a person. One was an all round nasty guy dedicated to the destruction of anything that was good. The other was a mean and dirty mob boss. In developing these two characters, I asked myself one very important question, and it is a question I now ask myself for any and every character I play;JackRing

What would it take for me to do or say what this person does?

By this, I mean going right back in to a character’s life story; childhood, family life, significant events, relationships, successes, failures, gains, losses, etc. What I found when I asked this question of myself is that given the right history, I could have been these characters. It was entirely possible for me to think, feel and believe the same things. Once I could perceive that possibility, I could relate and understand my characters so much that I could react as them. I was no longer acting, or obvious acting, I was reacting.

The offshoot to all this is that I changed my beliefs. Understanding the processes of belief as it applied to developing my characters lead to an appreciation for the variety of beliefs that exist in the modern world, and to respect the reasons why a person may believe what they believe, and that they have the right to make that choice to believe. Most importantly, I have found that I can no longer judge another person by their beliefs. Even if I question the structure of a certain belief, I can appreciate the need to have a belief.

You might say, I now believe in a person’s right to have beliefs. Put it another way, I believe in a person’s right to be different.