Category Archives: life lessons
“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin
Solipsism – at least in its most extreme metaphysical interpretation – holds that the world and other minds don’t exist.
Only the mind, the consciousness and the creations of the Solipsist are real.
Not only does nothing else matter, it’s simply not there.
So, If I were a Solipsist, you would not be reading this.
You wouldn’t exist.
Or if you did, it would only be at the whimsical discretion of my mind, which created you.
I would be part God.
And a lot Devil.
It’s a lonely position.
But my goodness it’s straightforward.
While I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with that amount of power, in my worst moments I long for that sort of clarity.
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are” ― Anaïs Nin
I’m not a Solipsist as far as I know – think about that; how would you? – in fact, I am riddled with Self Doubt.
It’s just as destructive a position but I haven’t ever been able to shake it.
Where the Solipsist sees only what he or she has created, the Self Doubter sees only what he or she has not.
Or what they are incapable of.
The glass is not only half empty but I’ve always had the feeling I’m about to drop it.
Like Solipsism, Self Doubt is a self-created, self-replicating, self-fulfilling world.
Self Doubt is life’s mould; it grows well in the dark.
But unlike mould, you have to feed it.
“And I confess that, like a child, I cry. Ah, self-pity; I think we are at our most honest and sincere when we feel sorry for ourselves.” ― Iain Banks
Self Pity is Solipsism and Self Doubt’s illegitimate child.
It couldn’t exist without this aberrant genetic heritage.
And I’m ashamed of how often I fall prey to it.
Even that last sentence is a cop out.
If I’m so “ashamed” why does it keep happening?
(I’ve been making excuses for decades.)
And “fall prey” makes it sound – conveniently – like I don’t have any choice.
The fact is my life has changed radically and in ways I find difficult to navigate.
Almost three years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic disease that is as mercurial as it is destructive.
It’s incurable but won’t kill me.
It’s episodic but there’s no way of telling when it will strike.
It’s debilitating until it’s not. And vice versa.
I’m “well” so much of the time.
But which time?
I can leave the house.
Unless I can’t.
So many people live with far, far greater challenges.
They battle pain, confinement, loss of function and the reality of eventual death from their enemy.
Meniere’s spares me all of those.
“People are actually dying, Bid,” I challenge myself in my braver moments, “for quokk’s sake get over yourself.”
But this illness has all but robbed me of pursuing my absolute passion – acting – and I can’t seem to make peace with that.
I know I must.
Courage is, after all, what you do when no-one’s looking.
My favourite comedian Steven Wright says;
“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.”
I figure that’s where my existence is at right now.
But one thing I’ve learned about the three horrors of Solipsism, Self Doubt and Self Pity; surrender to them and your life’s a shadow.
I have friends who are beyond price. Real. True. Friends. Some I catch up with regularly. Some I rarely see. Some I seem only ever to connect with online. But God bless ’em, every single one of them, because I am so frequently such an inadequate friend in return. All too often I greet warmth and generosity with an awkwardness that must feel awfully like indifference. Many times my silence is all I have to give. So this is both a short essay in praise of friends and an apology.
“A friend in need is a pest” — Groucho Marx
I love Groucho and I know he was, – as always it seems about serious things – joking. But he was wrong about this. Knowing that hasn’t stopped me hiding behind this quip. I have treated friends in cavalier fashion for no better reason than their needs were “inconvenient.” Like me – and I make no other comparisons; Groucho was a genius – he was difficult. He was, despite his very public job, notoriously private. He was generous to a fault…. until he wasn’t. He was opinionated, yet fragile, smart as a whip, yet dumb as a box of rocks. He could be a dreadful friend and a trying partner. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ad Infinitum.
“God gave you your family. Thank God you can choose your friends.”
— Oscar Wilde
I love Oscar too. But again – even though I know it was one of his trademark bittersweet epigrams – this misses the mark in my experience. For the most part, my family have lifted me up, just as much as my friends. They’ve so often deserved better from me. I recognize the truth of what Oscar says about choice, though. There’s something wonderful about people who’ve chosen to be in your life.
“I thought I was flying like a bird So far above my sorrow But when I looked down I was standing on my knees Now I need someone to help me Someone to help me please ”
— Jackson Browne
I can’t possibly express the number and breadth of gifts I owe to my friends; this is a blog, after all, not War And Peace. And I’d be sure to miss someone – or something – that helped shape my life. But I can tell you about a week, one single incredible week, that prompted me to write this. During just the past seven days, I have:
- Met with a friend who lives impossibly far away and yet has doggedly, lovingly, preserved our emotional connection. I cried when we parted.
- Had breakfast with a friend who – despite profound difficulties in her own life – cared only about making mine better. She has never failed to do so.
- Sat down with a friend who shared her personal story, painful though it was, because she believed it would help me. Experience, offered selflessly, can be among the greatest gifts.
- Received a heartfelt message from a friend who reached out with medical help. We share a challenging disease. But it must be said he has suffered far more severely. He just wanted to help.
- And on and on it went. And goes on.
To all my friends. Thank you.
Get out of your own way.
They’re the three key precepts I always stress as an acting teacher.
Of course there is so much more to the craft of acting but I passionately believe these form the core.
My students – I teach acting for the screen – are invariably sceptical.
Almost without exception their initial reaction is; “can it really be that simple?”
The answer – surprisingly – is yes.
If you absolutely commit to the rules – particularly the third – acting for film is simple.
You’ll notice I said simple, not easy.
There’s nothing easy about acting for the camera.
The ability to give a credible, affecting, emotionally-charged, often laboriously repeated performance, hour after hour, take after take, in a highly technical environment, is high art indeed.
The moment to moment demands on a screen actor are phenomenal.
And even if he or she masters them, the camera is watching the moments between the moments for any flicker of falsity.
Just as a loving lens can be your friend, it can also be your harshest critic.
The camera actually hates acting – it can spot a “performance” a mile away – so actors can’t get caught being themselves while trying to be someone else.
In one of the profound paradoxes of the profession, screen acting demands that actors be – simultaneously – completely open, spontaneous and authentic, while at the same time having already created their character, learned their lines and “blocked” most of their movements!
How is this possible?
To paraphrase one of the giants of acting training Sanford Meisner, they do it by a staggering amount of preparation beforehand, then completely letting go during performance.
They must Trust that emotion is being conveyed without forcing it.
They must Allow whatever arises to do so organically.
And they must Get out of their own way so as not to block, censor or manufacture the process.
Only recently have I fully appreciated those same rules don’t just apply to acting; they’re a powerful template for a satisfying life.