Defining a man

Originally posted on www.fearlessinc.com.au

Question: What is a Man?

The definition of a man is an evolving concept. It is influenced by changing understandings of our physiology and psychology. There is also fashionable trends that can influence what it means to be a man. For a young man, this can be very confusing. Add into this mix, strong parental figures.

Toughen up boy. Be a man.

For me, my definition of a man was strongly influenced by my father, and observing the boys at school. I was born in a small community and began schooling in a small class environment. Part way through this, we moved to the city and I was “thrown” into large classroom environments. I wasn’t ready for it. The “culture” shock was rather overwhelming. The hierarchy, rivalries, power-games, bullying, and macho-ism was utterly unfamiliar. I withdrew becoming the outcast, or no-mates character that always form in such groupings.

I began observing, and not liking very much, my own gender. They were posers, acting “tough” which actually meant being mean, and often violent. There was a clear structure where the boys did not pick on the “tougher” boys, but in order to be a part of the pack, they had to show they were “tough”, so they picked on those that they saw as weaker. People like me, and girls in general.

My father’s solution to this was to encourage me to fight back. To be “tough” like them. After all, my dad was “tough”. Yet, I had watched these displays of toughness, and I knew that people got hurt. Even the ones being tough. I couldn’t understand why anyone had to be hurt in order to be to be a man.

My mother got me into self-defence and I think the intention was to teach me some fighting moves. I don’t think they realised that the classes they had set up for me were less about attack, and more about defence. I often wonder if, had my father known what Ju-Jitsu actually was, if he might have insisted I do Karate instead. So I learnt things like evasion, deflection, pain control, and most importantly, not getting angry or aggressive. The best form of self-defence is to avoid conflict if you can. If you can’t, find a way to end it quickly without getting aggressive. Disarm, restrain, and avoid. For me, it was a match to my evolving philosophies.

I endured the teasing, the bullying, and unreasonable hatred for 12 to 13 years, and I came out stronger for it. I still recall meeting ex-students from my schooling years, ones who had been so very cruel, and many seemed to be more emotionally uncertain of their lives then I was.

Getting it right, the first time.

My father was an impatient man. Trying to help him with anything was usually a path to humiliation and distress. If I couldn’t grasp a concept, or didn’t seem to be quick enough on an activity, he would often become frustrated, take over, all the while claiming I was “bloody useless.”

Men, it seemed, must enjoy pulling apart cars, being mechanical, doing laborious tasks, putting themselves in high-risk situations… basically tangible things. He would take me on site with him when he was working his own installation business, send me into the grid-work of exposed roofing supports of large work-sheds, drilling holes through concrete walls, working in extreme conditions like within the roof of someone’s home in the height of an Australian summer. He wanted me to take over his business.

I began to believe that I was never going to be good enough. I could never seem to get any sense of satisfaction from this. I felt like I was a failure, and that something must be wrong with me. I just wasn’t interested in doing the things we wanted me to do.

On the other hand, my mother was artistic. A potter, and painter. Her work inspired me, and I often tried to find my own ways of creating similar art. I tried my hand at drawing, and while I was only so good at it, I loved doing it. I loved taking pictures, and while opportunities were rare for me as a child, when they were there, I relished it.

However these pursuits would never make me a man. I’d never be able to make a career out of them. They were great as a hobby, but I needed to find a real job.

Ending the pain

Age 12, end of Primary School. The move to High School loomed liked a shadowy demon. The thought of high school, with the same punishment, the same kids, frightened me almost to death. I tried to take my life. I was deadly serious about it. I have my father’s rifle. I knew what a hollow-tip round could do. I couldn’t reach the trigger. My arms were too short. I became scared that my parents would be home soon. I quickly hide any evidence. Resolved to try again later, but fear of my father ever finding out stayed my hand from further attempts, and I endured.

I had even failed in that.

Creativity is not manly

I discovered theatre in my final year of high-school, or should I say, rediscovered. After a disenchanting experience at Primary School, theatre was never a thing I considered until it was re-introduced to me in my final year of high-school. I loved it. I wanted to do more. I wanted to study it.

I was told that I would never make a career out of it. I needed to find a real job. A man’s job. Look son, computing is the way of the future. You should do something in computing. This theatre stuff was a great hobby, but you need a real job.

Still very much under the sway of my parents, too scared to go against my father, I did just that. This would be beginning of a change in my perspective. I met new people who could see me for what I couldn’t see in myself, or was told not to see. I was shown that I had other choices. I slowly began to break the walls that I believed should define me. I began to define myself.

Redefining a life

I did as electives, theatre, philosophy, and creative writing. I was employed as a student tutor, and found that I loved teaching. Slowly, the social creature that had laid dormant for so many years, the being I had been in that small town so far away, was slowly revealed, under the layers of encrusting, hardening, and toughening up. Under the layers of false man-hood.

I continue to chip away the bits today, such is the legacy of my youth. My father has long since lamented the choices he made for me all those years ago, and likes to remind me that he was wrong, and that he he had encouraged me in my theatre, I could be something different than I am. Late comfort, but comfort all the same.

Everyday I learn more about myself for me, not to any standard or expectation of what I should be. I have my own definition of what it means to be Jeff. I am a man in physiology, but a person in psychology.

So if you were to ask me now what defines a man, I will tell you that lies define a man, because you’re asking the wrong question.

You should be asking what defines you.

Abuse in Casting

badauditionAn interesting question was raised by a fellow director recently. Apparently, he has received rather nasty comments from actors who were not offered a part in a Community Theatre production. I would like to point out that I use Community Theatre in order to differentiate the scenario from paid/professional theatre, not to denigrate the community.

My personal experiences having cast for both Community and Professional theatre has, on the whole, been usually acceptable. There has been the odd occasion where an audtionee has gotten a little bent about not getting a role. I have even lost a friendship over such a casting decision.

While I have yet to get the racist, sexist, type slurs that some other directors I know have had, dealing with an aggressively defensive applicant is not fun. The process is not unlike a job application, of which I also supervised as a manager in a Government capacity.

The main difference between a job interview and a casting for theatre/film, is that a job interview is all about skill and personality. Actors will also be judged on looks, and charisma. Not only should you have the required skill, you will also be completing with people who may look more the part than you do.

So in the casting process, when you are presented with a number of strong set of candidates, you have little choice but to get picky about what you want. After all, there can only be one for each role. I agonise over choices like this because I hate letting people down, but this is going to be a given, and someone is going to get let down.

So to have someone turn around and slander you for your choice is a slap in the face. In a way, it reveals something about the person you may have not learnt before, how they handle rejection. This may say more about the person than allowing them to perform in person.

So, to all the casting directors, I have a suggestion. As a final test for your chosen cast members, you should reject them first and see how they respond. If they are humble, thankful, or general mature about it, then flip it one them and say “Congratulations. That was the final test. When can you start?”

For those that reject your rejection, well, you know where they can go; a list that then gets shared with agents and casting directors alike.

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 4 – Strange Games

Not my actual cat, but very like him. I may upload a proper photo later.

Upon my return home, somewhat relieved, but bitterly disappointed in myself, some interesting stories unravelled over the course of a few weeks. First I need to explain one thing before getting to the meat.

While I was in the UK, my cat had passed away. He was a gorgeous Russian Blue, and incredibly intelligent. When he passed, my parents told my grandmother, with whom I was staying at the time. They did not want me to know as they thought it would upset me. My grandmother didn’t agree, and eventually told me. Thing is, I already knew.

I had been strolling across Cornish fields with some of my extended family, when I suddenly saw Smokey (my cat). He ran up to me and rubbed himself on my legs. He then looked up at me before running and fading away.

I had to step away from my desk for a moment. The emotion got to me, which in itself is interesting, considering that at the time, I felt an incredible sense of calm. I knew then that he had passed. Just a note, this wasn’t my first contact with “spiritual” experiences, but that is another story entirely.

So my parents were understandably concerned that I may upset about that, which I wasn’t, but they were hesitant about telling me about other things, so news came in dribbles for a while.

JealousAs I recall today, the first thing I remember being told was that my grandmother had thought my decision to go to London had been my own decision, and that my uncle had been surprised by it, and had apparently tried to talk me out of it. Then I heard that he had been concerned for my well-being, and thought that I was acting autistic. With each revelation, I recounted my version of events, and soon a picture formed of a man who saw this young lad (me) as a rival in some obscure family relations game. Driven by a fearful jealousy, he seemed to have played both sides, or at least, that was/is how it appeared to me, in order to “get me out of the way”.

When all knew the story, there was much anger and upset from the family, except from me. I instead saw it all as having been done, and in the past. There was nothing to anyone could do to change time. It was a fateful series of events telling me that I was not ready, or destined for a different path. Partly self-depreciating, and partly couldn’t be bothered dealing with it. Much later, I learned that the uncle in question was himself a sufferer of depression, and his own actions had caused more suffering for himself, including the loss of his partner, and loss of trust from his family. I just felt pity for him, and moved on.

It was a half-way point for me. I was not getting overly upset by the turn of events, but I was not yet above blaming myself for much of what happened. After all, I had allowed myself to be duped, convinced, and talked into making the decisions I had made. I began to realise that this was a common trend in me; allowing other people to make decisions for me. Giving my self-control over to others, and it had started at home.

For a while, I had taken control over my decisions and my life, and it had been great, and uplifting. I made the choice to go to the UK, to apply for RADA. They were my choices, and it felt good to make them. Then old habits, which really are hard to kick, took up their familiar mantle and things quickly turned sour.

It was the hindsight realisation that when I made the decision to return home, I really learnt the value in taking control over your choices, and the effects it could have. There were so many things that were beyond my control, and there was very little I could do about them, except consider how I truly felt about them. Me. My feelings. When I had my doubts about the plan to go to London, rather than question those doubts, I allowed another to make the decision for me.

Side Note – Food for thought

Now why do we do that? And don’t say you don’t because we all have done, or continue to do. I would hazard a guess that it would be because responsibility is frightening. And why is that? Because we don’t want to be blamed for anything? And why would we be blamed for anything? Because it might go wrong? Might?

ControlOne of the most liberating things I have done to date is to acknowledge those things I am actually responsible for; my actions, my beliefs, my decisions, and my reactions. The good and the bad combined. I’ve stopped worrying about things I can’t control; other people’s actions, beliefs, decisions, and reactions, or even things that simple are.

And don’t get confused between consider and worry. I still consider those things that are beyond my control. I don’t want to become an arrogant snob after all, and I like the feeling being considerate gives me. I just choose not to get anxious, or fretful over things that I can’t do anything about. It is a surprisingly distinct line, and simplifies life choices.

We are complex beings. We have light-sides and dark-sides, and a variety of shades between. Denying a part of yourself is akin to stopping the flow of a river by blocking only half of it, you just make the water work harder to get out, and you increase the pressure. Eventually, the wall will fall.

The question is, would you rather control the flow, or let it explode?

Find the entire Hard Road series here.

The Hard Road Part 3 – Side Track

I had been staying with my grandmother in Mousehole, just outside of Penzance. A small fishing village, but the Penzance city centre was a short walk away, and I went there often.

Life was good. I was seeing a lot of the Cornish landscape, and getting familiar with the lifestyle. I was invited to stay with various family members , and eventually went to stay with one of my uncles near Plymouth. He lived with his partner in a lovely little cottage some distance from the city centre. He was rather encouraging and introduced me to a theatrical group in the city, and took me to see some productions.

Then he confided in me that my grandmother was feeling a little stressed about my staying with her. I felt bad about this and debated what I could do. My uncle convinced me that I should go to London, find a place to reside, while I followed through with my application to RADA. It made a sort of sense, but I was uncertain of something, and couldn’t put my finger on it. Next thing I know, I’m packed and heading off to London, even before I had a chance to see anyone else. Even now, it seemed all a little rushed.

I was alone, and in the belief that I shouldn’t call on anyone for help. I can’t recall if I or my uncle had arranged for a hotel for the night, but after that, I had to find a place to reside. I was fortunate enough to find a place at a boarding house in the Aussie section of London. Yet I was out of my depth. I was confused, and felt incredible alone, regardless of the new friends I was making, and I was running out of money. Finding a job in London was more daunting than Penzance, where I had had a possible opportunity on the horizon.

LondonDarkMaybe my situation tainted my experiences somewhat, but I found London dark, and unfriendly. I didn’t seem to notice the grand architecture and monuments that dotted the city. I was consumed by my own dark thoughts of failure, fear, loss, and isolation. I became constantly panicked. I felt frustrated and constantly blamed myself for expecting to much, dreaming to high, and so on

It didn’t take long for me to make the decision to return home, tail between my legs. Even with some of my new-found friends giving me encouragement to stay, my resolve was total.

Now here is the interesting thing. As soon as I made that decision, I began to see London in a different light. I noticed the grandeur of the place, and for a day or two, I enjoyed being a tourist in London. I hadn’t even bought my ticket home, but my outlook was different. I still felt sad and disappointed that things had not worked out. I wrote to RADA and apologised for possibly wasting their time, and asked to be withdrawn. I later got a very nice letter, and offer of encouragement later.

I managed to get an incredibly cheap flight home (I think the travel agent liked me) and was soon home in Perth.

I then learnt the truth, which was stranger than fiction.

Find the entire Hard Road series here.

Expectations vs Reality

When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.

Stephen Hawking

I have said before that I personally believe Expectations to be a measure of failure, not success. They establish a virtual line-in-the-sand where one side is disappointment, the other enjoyment. Another way to look at it is as rigid, immovable goal markers, a little like most sporting events, and maths. You can work your guts out, make some really clever moves, but if you don’t get the right answer, or kick that goal, you still lose. Our world feels like it is driven by expectations.

It wasn’t always like this. I am sure that there was a time where the term “expectations” had a more general, and non-specific feel, but this has been passed on to the socially less appealing terms, ambitions and dreams. I say socially less appealing because generally speaking, these terms are considered too vague and idealistic to be useful. They are great to have, but they need to come with a schedule, a plan, or so I often hear.

Hey, that may work for some people, and I applaud them. I am not saying that this concept is wrong. I am saying it isn’t the only one, and that it may not be right for everyone.

We are living in a world that seems to be slowly waking up to itself, and its potential. People are looking past the expectations that society place on us, and they are discovering new potentials, new possibilities. I see it happening all around me everyday. Possibly because I am doing so myself.

I believe that hopes and dreams are things you can strive for, but they don’t need the extra baggage of a conditional clause. You don’t need the planned schedule, or any plan as such, yet you can still strive and make it up as you go along.

Life has a way of changing. New opportunities, new obstacles, new understandings. Life is evolving. Structured plans are often frustrated by day-to-day events, so plans are often changed. The corporate world, so dependant on Project Management principles, incorporate slippage to account for changes, delays, and the unexpected. Having a plan is useful. Expecting to be able to keep to it may not be as helpful.

Let’s put it another way. In your hands, you have a bow and arrow. Just one arrow. In the distance is a target.

  • Expectations of society: Society stands to one side and tells you to hit the bulls-eye. They also tell you that you aren’t allowed to get any closer than the line at your feet, and you have to do it now.
  • Expectations of the self: If you accept the rules and feel obliged to comply, then you are placing the same expectations on yourself. You are giving yourself the real risk of not hitting the mark, and you only have on arrow.
  • Achieve your dreams: Or you could choose to ignore society, do a little exercise, and walk, run, skip, meander, take your time, soak in the atmosphere, see the sights, have a drink with friends, make some more arrows, build a better bow… Your dreams will always be there, and you can find what ever pathway you want, until you are close enough that firing your arrow will always hit the mark.

It’s your choice.

A Darker Path: Part 4 – After the Storm

The ever growing continuation of Part 3.

I was asked a curious question today, which I will post without edit.

I’ve never really wanted to kill myself, I just didn’t think there was any way out of the current situation other to end my life. Is that how you saw it? To escape the environment you were in or did you actually want to kill yourself?

This was my reply: “I truly believed that I was a blight on existence. That things would be better if I were not around. That I was in everyone else’s way. I saw it as a kindness to myself and everyone.” I truly did not see the point in my existence. That hits hard to the rapidly-approaching-senior-years person that I am today. It hurts, and it has taken a long time for me to be to look at it this way.

Delayed Reaction

I had every intention of making a second attempt, but the sense of failure from my first try, and the fear of my parents finding out, meant that I hesitated. For years. At the time, I was not even thinking about what effect it might have on anyone else, I was just scared of failing again, and getting caught.

The move to high school had its positives and negatives. Many of the student body from my primary school came with me, and this was blended with other schools. The effect was to dilute some of the problems I had had in previous years, and presented a rare opportunity to meet new people. I became a bit of a floater, in that I really didn’t fit in with any specific group. I tended to drift.

Occasionally I would be cornered by bullies, both old and new, who took there pound of flesh, both metaphorically and physically, but it wasn’t so constant. In a larger school, there were more places to hide, and more people to “be with.” I became good at blending. Good training for becoming an assassin now I think about it.

My worsening hay-fever didn’t help matters. We tried all manner of drugs and therapy. Acupuncture, desensitisation injections, nasal sprays… It became a costly venture for my parents, but my mother refused to give in. Regardless, my condition deteriorated. The weekly shop usually consisted of several boxes of Kleenex Man-Sized tissues.

Gradually, the thoughts of self harm faded, and I pushed the memories into the darker recesses of my mind. Despite my hay-fever, the slightly easier lifestyle that high school offered meant my grades started to go up. Positive re-enforcement. Then there were classes that really got my interest, like art, technical drawing, French (which I was rather bad at in the end), and I continued with my clarinet in music.

English was interesting as well, as delved into creative writing, except for that one time where we were asked to create a story by adding a line and passing on. I did not find this very appealing. Why would I want to write someone’s story? So when one arrived at my desk that was started by a guy who clearly liked surfing, I floundered. I had no idea what to say. I wrote “I received a wave.” and got rid of it quick. My strong values in the English language, thanks to my mother’s influence, served me well, or so I thought. Apparently, according to my classmates, this wasn’t the lingo at all, and more fool me for not knowing. Well, that’s what happens when you ask someone else to write your story.

When I was left to write my own material, I found it hard to stop. While I never handed in a completed story, because there was just so much to write, I always scored high marks, and had comments like, “Well formed characters.” “Great story.” and so on. To this day, apart from some short fiction, I have not yet written anything with a definitive ending, which is why I don’t write much any more.

I was also introduced to the concept of a Nerd. I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently, I was one, minus the thick-rimmed glasses… Oh yes. The glasses. Late in my first year of high school, I was diagnosed with a visual problems, and I would need to wear glasses. So by the end of the year, I did indeed fit the standard image of a nerd, apart from the overly blonde hair colour, but this was an image I fought against. I went back for a follow up appointment, and the optometrist told me that my eyes had gotten worse. At the rate they were going, I would need bi-focals before I was 30! He then taught me rather simple eye exercises and stressed that I practice these as often as I could. This I did, and within 6 months, before I was half-way through my second year, my vision was almost perfect, and I never needed glasses again.

TRAMPOLINES!

All the students underwent a physical coordination test. I was one of a small group found to have coordination problems, which meant I had to attend special classes. At first, this felt like yet another failure, or thing I wasn’t good, but it turned into something wonderful. We got to use trampolines! GORDON FREAKING BENNETT! TRAMPOLINES!!!! For a could of hours each week, I got to practices throwing, walking with coordination, and other similar activities, and the BOUNCE ON TRAMPOLINES!!!!!!! Damn did we get good a this. Flips, turns, acrobatics, playing dodge-ball on  TRAMPOLINES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Some of the best hours of my high school years. I think it was this alone that made life just that little more bearable.

And this was pretty much school life for the next few years. I had a few good friends, still had some problems with other kids, and was doing alright at school. I got involved in, or should I say was dragged into, a few fights here and there, but generally speaking, I was left alone.

The attacks at home didn’t stop, only now my brother and father were preferred targets of choice. Mind you, taking on either of them usually had immediate effect. I tended to retreat and escape where I could.

On the Nose

Then came year 10. For some reason, my hay-fever exploded. Every single day, without fail, I suffered. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, it didn’t matter. Runny nose, sneezing, red eyes, dry throat, everything. I was constantly being asked “Do you have a cold?” It was embarrassing, depressing, and occasionally painful. I made a personal record that year with a sneezing fit of 15 without breath. I was basically convulsing due to lack of air by the end. I hid away in the air-conditioned library where the cool air helped a little.

Buried thoughts bubbled to the surface. I never did anything about them. I was too tired and mentally clouded to bother, but they were there, and I started visualising how I could do it. It was different now however. There were things I looked forward to. Certain school subjects, my Ju-Jitsu (training which had gotten very interesting), Scouts, friends. The desire for an end was no longer a dominating force. It had to compete with more positive thoughts.

Through all this, I was restless. I felt that, apart from the sense of general loneliness and isolation I always felt, I was missing something, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I was starting to get asked the proverbial question, “what do you want to do after school?” I honestly didn’t know, and I started to worry.

Continues…

Sanity Check

I am not sure how to begin. This week has been… Traumatic? No, that’s too dramatic. Eye opening! That sounds misleading. Extreme. Probably about the closest I guess. Extreme excitement. Extreme fear. Extreme determination. Extreme self-undermining.

I knew things were going to be hard, or at least harder, as I change direction in my career. Not a simple change of direction, but a full 90 degree sharp turn with full twist and double pike!

My mind is all over the place, overwhelmed, daunted, and in conflict with itself, which is rather frustrating let me tell you. I have been somewhat more emotional than my usual self, and considering that some people consider me to already be quite emotional, that must mean…

Despite all the signs that I have had, something inside keeps trying to hold me back. The same thing that has been holding me back for years.

So I want to list some of the reasons I am doing this big thing, and some of the signs that are screaming at me that it is the right choice.

  1. Acting and Performance is something that has always been a part of me. My parents have recordings of me as a toddler performing. I had no grasp of words, but I certainly had an understanding of comedy.
  2. Even after continual contrary advice, and even a few bad experiences, acting has always found me. Rarely have I had to actually go looking for it. Opportunities have always been there, offering me candy, or some other treat.
  3. It has always been easy for me. That’s not to say that I started off brilliant. I wasn’t, but learning, developing, trying new things, has always felt so natural and right somehow.
  4. Shakespeare never confused me… for long. Neither did other, much earlier forms of theatre. I just got it.
  5. I auditioned for my agent, and she agreed to sign me up on the spot. I was not expecting that, and neither were a few other people who helped me get the audition in the first place.
  6. I am currently waiting for a Feature to be released, which, I have been secretly informed, has some big news this month (no, not a release). I am in a short film being filmed currently. I an AD on another short film. I am consulting on a script. All this happening within weeks of each other! Sudden wave of stuff.
  7. I am not alone. There appears to be a wealth of people all making big life changing decisions around me. The time is right for change.
  8. Most importantly are the people who have lined up behind me, congratulated my “bravery”, and believe in me.

The optimist in me points and says “SEE?!? It’s meant to be!”

The pessimist in me says “That’s a lot of pressure.”Thinking_Troll

I recognise him now. He’s my own personal Troll. Well, back under the bridge with you, where you belong. You know, you’ll turn to stone in the sun.

Much better.

Confidence

I question I have been asked, and I am sure has been asked of many an actor, or even public speaker, is “How can you do that?” Usually quickly followed with “I’d be too scared.” Usually some derivative of this discussion follows when you introduce yourself as an actor to “non-actors”, and I use that term loosely.

I have thought about this for a long time. initially I just passed it off as nonsense saying “Oh it’s easy. Once you get up there blah blah blah.” It’s easy to forget your first attempt. For me, it was in the early 1980’s when I was in primary school. I remember auditioning for Oliver and how excited I was at the thought of it. I thought about all the plays I had seen in my previous years and that I wanted to be a part of that. I rehearsed Oliver’s beautiful song “Where is Love” and my teacher was very supportive.

ConfidenceActually, you don’t see this any more, proper theatrical values at primary school. My daughter’s school has skit based theatre, and from what I hear, that is about the standard. Yet in my day, we did shows like “Paint You Wagon” and “Oliver!”, and I remember loving all the fan-fair that went with it.

So up I went to audition, in front of my classmates (and do this day it surprises me that I didn’t freeze from the beginning) and I sang rather well I thought, until the end, when I noticed the audience, and the smirks of the bullies, or the hidden giggles of the girls. I lost it and cracked on the final note. I also realised something in that moment; being on stage meant being in the spot-light.

I didn’t get the lead role and ended up filling odd extra and supernumerary parts. I hated it. I was ruthlessly teased after my breaking at the audition, and my enjoyment of theatre was somewhat drowned away, for many years to follow.

It was not until my first year of university in 1990 when I discovered Theatre Sports, or improvisational theatre, before I again felt that spark of joy and wonder. Yet I was tentative about joining in. My embarrassment was almost worn like armour in a (in hindsight) foolish attempt to protect myself from further shame.

However, from there I became involved in a theatre workshop group. I became involved with like minded theatre lovers and over the course of a year and a bit, I slowly develop enough confidence to take to the stage in a play written, cast and directed by the members of the workshop. It was easy to walk on the stage that time, as we were all about to jump together.

Then there was no stopping me. I had tasted something long forbidden to myself, and it was good. I auditioned for a play, got it, and then another, and so on. I was doing between four to five shows a year just because I could and loved it.

I look back on this and I find that fear was my biggest opponent. Fear of shame. More importantly, a fear of making mistakes. I made one mistake in Oliver! and it was an easy one to make, but the impact of that mistake became the focus of my excuses for not following what was in my heart.

Now look at Improvisational Theatre. These guys were utterly incredible to me, to perform without a script. Without knowing what was going to happen next. They still are incredible. I am not talking about the Improvisational Comedy here, but Improvised Theatre. Live Theatre. If you think stepping on stage with an awareness of the script and the plot is hard, try walking out knowing that you have nothing but your wits about you, to create drama. Now there is confidence.

Failure, Expectations are

Following on from my previous posts about selfishness and control, I toyed with a few follow up ideas to talk about. One of these is about expectations. I have formed my own opinions about expectations and I don’t see such opinions being echoed much elsewhere, so this may be in conflict with mainstream dialogue, and that rather excites me.

Expectation is a condition of failure.

Some may disagree with this so let me give you my reasons. You can reject them after if that makes you feel better. Seriously. It’s your choice, which incidentally will be the topic for a future post.

By expectations, I am talking about both those imposed on us by others (social standards, peers, family, law) and those we impose on ourselves (personal morals, ethics, measures of success.) by proposing an expected level of performance, you are in fact establishing a lower limit of success, or the point of failure. If you fail to achieve the measure or expectation, you fail the task. So let us, for the purpose of this blog, keep that in mind; expectation equates to failure.

So if expectation is a measure of failure, then the goal or dream must be the extreme measure of success; the ideal if you like. Then we have an extreme of failure which is to not try at all, or zero. What we have here is a rather interesting scale of achievement. Ranging from zero for didn’t even compete, through and past acceptable performance and on up to spectacular success, and let’s call this 100.

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And you thought you’d finished with anything mathematical when you left school right?

20140104-142422.jpgGoing up the chart, let’s say that this is the number of ways to achieve the level of success. So if we’re we’re to measure something like maths or physics, in which the answer is either right or wrong, but we will include factors such as speed, method and approximation of answer, we would still see that there is a very “bottom-heavy” chart as there are many ways to get the answer wrong as compared to getting it right. With these specific sciences, there is very little difference between correct and spectacularly correct.

20140104-142430.jpgOn the other hand, subjects such as creative writing, theatre and other artistic practices, where the measure of a successful outcome is more subjective, we will find that there are more ways to a good solution then there are bad. Having done several courses in creative writing myself, both within and without university level, there is a common belief that scores of over 80% are very rare and to those that can get these scores, well done to you.

20140104-142435.jpgOn average, if we were to consider all topics at once, I think it would be fair to say that we would see something more like a “Bell Curve”, and this I will use as we go along. This basically states that most people will fall within the middle between 0 and 100 with smaller numbers of people as you get closer to eithere end.

20140104-142443.jpgOne other point I think I should make before we apply expectations to these concepts is the level of difficulty. As I am trying to average out all possible topics, I think it would be fair to say that generally speaking, the closer to stunning success a task is, the more difficult it was to achieve. Keep this in mind as we go along.

It seems to me that we perceive achievement, or set our expectations, very high along the scale of success. We want things now, not tomorrow. It needs to be done just so. Second place is not good enough. I need to be better than the Jones. In other words, we equate success with rather high standards and not always standards appropriate to who we are. Setting such high expectations also means that we are asking a lot of ourselves because the higher the expectation, the harder the task.

20140110-195230.jpgWhy do we do this? As our expectations rise, that is moves closer to 100, the amount of opportunity for failure increases. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Why? I can’t comment for you or anyone else. I know I did it because I believed it was expected of me by others, not because it satisfied a personal drive or need, but out of fear of letting someone else down. Out of fear. I find it rather incredible how most of my poor decisions have been driven by fear, but in most cases it is true.

At this point, I find myself thinking about the academic scoring system used at my daughter’s primary school. 20140110-195238.jpgThey utilise the rather familiar A B C D F grading system. All students are expected to be able to achieve a C level. This is what the education curriculum anticipates the average student to be. Students achieving above this are considered to be above acceptable where B is exceeds expectations (there’s that word) and A is pretty damn awesome. D is for students performing below expectations, and F is for those that basically didn’t really try. Now this seems to me to be a rather reasonable measure where the average student is actually considered as a successful student.

Yet what I see most people doing is equating a C and a B as also a fail. Nothing less than an A will do. Heck, I knew fellow students at high school and university who put themselves through enormous stress trying to get the top 5% of their class and even the state.

20140110-195243.jpgGive yourselves a break people. Seriously, when you first start something, you are learning, trying things out and your lack of experience will give you a chart that looks somewhat like the maths chart above, bottom heavy. Expecting to get something near perfect straight up is pretty unrealistic. Keep your expectations low and give yourself the freedom to make a mistake or two. Then, as you gain experience, your chart will change in to the more familiar bell shape and you can raise your levels to match. Keep up this gradual development, and soon your chart will look more like the english one above because you have gained experience and practice improving your chances for success. Then you could possibly consider raising your expectations.

20140110-195248.jpgFor my own sake, as I see expectations and goals as different things, I prefer to keep my expectations low even though I am aiming high. It gives me room to move and I’m not in any particular hurry. I have found that when I placed high expectations on myself, I became more concerned with those expectations and not what I was doing. It actually reduced my range for success. This may not be true for everyone as some people like to claim they work well under stress. Well my hat is off to those fortunate individuals. I don’t so I’ll keep things a little easier for me.

I may not get there as quickly as others, or in the same way, but I’ll get there all the same.