It happened while I was watching the movie Flowers of War. A scene with Christian Bale, dressed as a Catholic priest, telling a prostitute that he loves her, all of her, even, what might be considered, her shameful history. Apparently, it was what I needed to hear too. My heart filled with tenderness and love for these people – these actors – who I suddenly understood. They might be wearing costumes, have various sets of ideas upon which they acted, but, beneath these affectations, there was a core that was – or at least, could be – REAL. I saw that the actors power lay not in the affectations of personality, in the form of their bodies, or, even in the words they spoke, but in the very LIFE that flowed through them, and in the transmission of universal truth: the greatest unconditional love and acceptance – beyond any of our mere human imagining.
In that moment, I knew that I loved myself in this way, and I remembered that I once was, and could be again, that kind of actor. I just had to give myself permission. Whew! A burden that I barely knew I was carrying, suddenly fell off. I realized that I was holding an idea that, as an actor, I was fake, a liar, and a manipulator that merely used acting to get attention. It may have been true in my past, when I was an actor-beggar: empty within, my hands reaching, folded like a cup, and begging anyone who passed to see me, recognize me… LOVE me! But, like an addiction, no amount of attention was ever enough. Thus my odyssey to depart entirely from the actor’s profession and ‘find myself’.
And so, thirteen years later, but suddenly, in an instant, I knew I was FOUND. No longer empty, I was FULL inside – there WAS something REAL within – and, whatever this ‘energy’ was, it wanted to EXTEND itself. What had changed? I had simply forgiven myself. I had never been fake, or a liar. I had simply been wearing the clothes of illusion, as we all do in this human drama. Yet, even as the clothes change, the ideas of ourselves shift, the conditions of our lives weather, what we truly ARE stays the same. It’s the foundation, the rock, that can be trusted and built upon.
So, I began to gather myself for a comeback. Yes, I could be an actor again, and pursue this creative activity that I had always loved. As much as I had tried, I could never truly deny this part of myself anyway, and it was only painful to suppress. And, yes, I could, and wanted to, share this gift, this inner wealth and joy, with others. I gave myself full permission and began to read plays, learn new monologues, lose weight, exercise, and practice singing. I signed up for an improv class (starting next month). I contacted a few agents. I had a ton of renewed energy. I truly valued myself again. My life had new meaning.
And it still does – it’s not in the past tense – but – I can’t just leave it alone and let it happen, I have to keep questioning it – am I falling into an ego trap? Am I still just trying to use this ‘costume’ to get attention, to be different and special?
Then I started to notice what’s been inspiring me more recently: Russell Brand in various YouTube videos: unscripted words and ideas flowing out of his mouth like grand tapestries, his mind constantly exploding like a nuclear reactor! And he’s much like my friend, Benjamin Smyth, in San Francisco – full on, no holds barred, anyplace and anytime, EXPRESSION! And also like David Bowie in his early years – an alien, a man from Mars – a shifting, diaphanous mystery! And they’re all much like the improvisers that I know and love (and still regularly dream about) in my home town. Ultimately, these people don’t require a script, or a stage, or a film set, or permission from anyone to express themselves – they just DO. And they DO like they couldn’t stop themselves if they tried!
And I’ve been experimenting with these ideas in my own life – wherever I find myself: what if I just opened my mind and my
mouth and just SAID whatever was there? Without editing myself? Without judging it before it even has a chance? And, what I’m learning is that amazing things are coming out – silly things – funny things – shocking things – but they’re all a thrill to witness and, surprise surprise, that others seem to really enjoy them too! They’re not offended. They don’t hate me. They don’t want to kill me. And I’m learning that my ideas aren’t insipid or meaningless, in fact, in the natural flow, they don’t ‘belong’ to ‘me’ at all!
In college, my classmates presented me with the “Story for All Occasions” award. I’m sure they meant well, but I felt ashamed by it, ashamed of my predilection to incessantly talk about myself. And so, I began to hold the idea that my natural expression was wrong, too excessive, or that there was nothing good or important in it. Ultimately, I began to believe that I “had nothing to say.” I began to move further and further away from natural expression: I stopped doing improv and decided that I could only perform with a script; I stopped performing on stage and decided I could only do film; I stopped acting entirely and decided I had nothing creative to offer. See, stepping back and closing off with greater and greater amounts of self editing.
Today I see that I don’t have to edit anymore, and I won’t. That I don’t need a particular place or form, or anyone else’s permission to be and express myself. I don’t even have to call myself an ‘actor’. There’s no difference between a stage, or a grocery store, or a street corner – I can BE what I am, fully, without conceit, and without shame, anywhere and anytime. LIFE lives though me right NOW! And it’s beautiful and magnificent and unfathomable – and rude, and loud, and shocking, and funny, and mischievous, and loving – and anything else that can (or can’t) be imagined! And it’s ALL OK!!! What it isn’t – is boring or predictable!
And that’s, most definitely, what I want, cherish and LOVE most! Full on. All in. AMEN.
Post Script: I notice that this post is almost exactly like the last (Follow the White Rabbit). Strange. Early onset Alzheimers? A manifestation of ‘expression’ anxiety? I don’t know. I’ll just forgive myself for the silly repetition. It begs the question: How can I be truly expressive if I’m merely regurgitating the past?
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