Solipsism, Self Doubt & Self Pity
“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.
Trust. Allow. Get Out Of Your Own Way.
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.