Ever get annoyed? Ever feel like someone needs to be told where the dog died? Or handed a crowbar and a tub of Elbow Grease to help them pry their head out of their arse? Congratulations--you've come to the right place.

And when I'm not commenting on the latest thing to piss me off, I'm trying to figure out my own twisted life. Because, hey, I'm like that.

On a gentler note: for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, and other assorted bullshit: You are NOT alone.

And if you're looking for a laugh, search on the key word "fuckery." It's just my little thing (as the bishop said to the actress).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Embrace the Dark Side…

I have a habit of remarking on a regular basis that I am an old broad, and I have several people in my life who refute this, bless them. And while it’s true that I do not dress like a middle-aged frump—I like artistically stressed jeans, Woot shirts, my ratty black leather jacket, and (weather permitting) pink Chuck’s—I do need to remind myself that I’m not 25. I AM 43, like it or lump it, and I need to keep that in mind, especially considering that the majority of my friends are at least ten years younger.

Age is NOT just a number, sadly—it’s a measure of time and experience, how long you’ve been on the planet and what you’ve gleaned from the experience. I tend to forget that I’m not in my twenties most days because unlike a lot of folks I went to high school with, I am not married, I don’t have kids, a mortgage, bills for braces and soccer equipment, and a minivan. Instead, I have two grumpy little old ladies in my house—one with two legs, one with four and a perpetual fur coat—with kidney disease. One of them is heading for elder housing in six months or so; the other will stay with me wherever I go because she pines without me. Stupid cat. Love her to death.

However, where it gets me into trouble—and the reason I need to remind myself of that numerical milestone—is with guys. Now, when I was younger, I dated older men. Seriously—until about ten years ago, I had never dated anyone younger. The closest I ever came to dating someone my own age was my first boyfriend, and even he was four months older than me. In the past ten years, I’ve been seriously involved with two men younger than me; close enough in age that I didn’t really think about it, but still… And since passing forty, I really do consider the age difference. I don’t have a problem dating a younger man, but I really think I’d prefer him north of 30. I’d like him to have some living under his belt. Note, I said “living” rather than “sexual experience”—I have had a couple of real eye openers from the under 30’s I know of late, to the point where they’ve made me feel (slightly) inexperienced. I blame the internet, honestly—who the fuck needs to sneak a peek at a porn mag when you’ve got the internet and know how to erase the browsing history?

However, the other place where age comes into play is in writing. I’ve been writing for more than three-quarters of my life. I still have some stories upstairs I wrote when I was eight. I’m afraid to read them because, honestly, I think I’d find them painful, but they’re up there. Ditto the novel I worked on all through high school, my grand fantasy epic. I know it’s a piece of shit, but I also know there is some great imagery in there and some ideas I can still use at some point if I ever go back to the idea of writing epic fantasy. It’s doubtful; I’ve kinda grown beyond that stuff. Can’t really even read it anymore, which makes me sad, but there it is… you live, learn and grow. I’m even having trouble reading Pratchett these days. Loved I Shall Wear Midnight, but still haven’t been able to get through Unseen Academicals. I don’t think I’d even want to read the stuff I wrote from 1991-2001—the TV series, movie script and play script. I mean, there was some good stuff in there, but most of it was melodramatic crap, fueled by an incredibly unequal and dysfunctional writing partnership. The stuff worth saving, I have.
I didn’t really start to find my voice until 1999; I wrote a pretty amazing essay (would probably be another blog post today) after being raped. My voice in that was so damn strong… sometimes, it takes tragedy to break the fetters and free the artist. Whatever.

My outlook on life is that I’m going to find some meaning and MAKE A PROFIT! off of all of the shit I’ve been through. It would be nice if some of that profit was monetary rather than just gobs and gobs of character development. I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised when I reread Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, Hang On, my one-woman show, that despite some of the dated political material, the work is still DAMN good—there’s a lot in there that’s salvageable and usable (yeah, most of it about sex). The short story Rise of the Morningstar still amazes me; I wrote that late in 2001. I still hope to find an artist and turn it into a graphic novel series. Then came Richardson’s War; and now, the Kinsale Chronicles.

My work over the years has gotten darker and darker; ironically, it’s also gotten considerably funnier. It’s also gotten far more honest and personal. I really don’t shy away from talking about anything, whether it’s sex, emotions, experience, opinion, whatever. I do try not to hurt people who don’t deserve it, but at the same time… well, the truth only hurts when it should. That statement is a double-edged sword, and I’ve cut myself enough times with it to know.

What prompted this blog was a Twit exchange during Snowmageddon. A WriMo I exchange Twits with commented that his work in progress had taken a dark turn, and I was really excited for him. For me, that’s the best moment in a new story—the point where you leave the safe, well-trod path and strike off into the dark woods of the unknown. There’s a real joy in that part of the writer’s journey—it’s scary as fucking hell (writing the flashback scenes in Broom Closet were hell, pure fucking hell, but by the Gods, the writing is SOLID and BLOODY AMAZING. I am so damn proud of it, and I managed to catch the reality of PTSD and that moment when the real world disappears and the past becomes real, and yet, you’re in the present, but your mind isn’t… Damn, it’s so good), but the results… Dear Gods, the results are incredible if you let yourself just tumble down the rabbit hole into terra incognito and just WRITE.

What pulled me up short—to the point where I had no response—was that the other writer was utterly noncommittal about it. It freaked me. I mean, I live for that moment when the story goes off the rails and plunges into the dark because that’s when it starts to come alive. And then I found out how old the WriMo is, and I was like WHOA! OK, no wonder.

His age? Twenty-six. I had taken him for about 32. But, no, 26. At 26, there was no way I could go willingly into the dark in my writing. I know that. I was writing the crap TV scripts at that time—the sitcom set in the Chinatown loft with its cast of zany neighbors and the two working theatre pros and profs, Bridget and Vickie. (Note, this was long before BF Vicki came into my life.) The sitcom was the stuff of fantasy—a projection of what we wanted our lives to be, and while there are a lot of great one-liners in there and probably some great ideas, as writing… CRAPtacular, at least from my point of view because we were both too afraid to go into the darkness.

And I’m not slagging the guy for his age, nor am I denigrating his talent (I haven’t read his stuff, so I have no clue, but I have read one of his blog posts which was excellent, so I am assuming there is some talent and skill there), but it really brought me up short in considering how age affects the journey.

Back when I was at Emerson, the basis for the acting training was the Linklater method. Now, Kristin Linklater is an amazing voice teacher—she’s an imperious old bitch (and I say that with INCREDIBLE respect and affection, as another imperious old bitch—her Shakespearean Acting class was amazing, and she is not only an incredibly dedicated and committed teacher, but a genuinely compassionate and lovely human being and an AWESOME storyteller) whose method is an incredible tool for the actor. There’s only one little problem: it’s not designed to be taught to traditional aged students. Emerson lured Kristin there with the promise of a masters program to train Linklater teachers (she never got it; it’s why she went to Columbia). She spent five or six (maybe more) years training traditional aged undergrad actors in a voice method that freed the natural voice (her original text is Freeing the Natural Voice—highly recommended) through a yoga-based physical training, deep breathing, and vocal progression that trained the entire range. The Linklater-trained vocal instrument, when fully warmed up, could go from a deep bass to a soprano trill in the space of ten seconds. I’ve seen it done; I’ve done it.

HOWEVER, the other part of the process, and probably the most important part, is the psychological side. The text makes a point that Western civilization and modern acting techniques have all been about suppression—the minuteness of gesture, of sound—and modern parenting is about learning to use the inside voice and keep quiet. The price of this necessary socialization is the loss of sound and the freedom to make sound. As the actor works through the progression, from the deepest sound to the highest, there is a process of letting go, of releasing the personal shit that clogs each place and prevents you from achieving the pure release of sound.

As amazing as the progression is, I wasn’t ready for it. I was 25 and dealing with a lot of shit; what the progression and the experience of letting go—which I was not ready for—did to my psyche, I really can’t assess. I know I was close to suicide for most of the three years I was there (to be fair, I also lost a baby in my second year, and was in an abusive relationship; dealt with Mum going through a double bout of cancer, reconciled briefly with my father… yeah. Not easy times). This method is the basis for the training at Shakespeare and Company; when you apply to be an actor/student there for the summer, there are a range of questions you have to answer before they’ll accept you, and it’s all about you personal readiness and openness to the experience.

I know what I went through; I hate to think what the traditional age kids—the ones fresh out of high school and still trying to figure out who the fuck they were—went through.

The point of all of this is that acting—like writing—is not a young person’s game. The movies are—the movies are all about youth and appearance (well, the popular ones, at least). There is a big difference between being a movie star and being an actor. Movie stars fade with their looks (or their PR disasters); actors only get better. Harvey Keitel is a good example of this; Mean Streets is an interesting performance, but nothing, nothing compared to Reservoir Dogs or The Piano. The nuances of both of those performances are not the kind deliverable by a 20-year-old kid. At 20, most of us haven’t seen the kind of shit that you’ve seen by the time you hit 40 or 50, or at least haven’t processed it. Something happens between 30 and 35 (for artists, at least)—there’s a deepening, a reckoning… a decision is made in your soul that you’re either going to go forward and really BE what you are, really go for it; or, you get scared and play it safe and keep doing the same old schtick.

I can’t judge either decision. I know which one I made, but I didn’t have a choice because of who I am. I haven’t always lived up to that choice; I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to be 100% committed, 100% of the time.

Either way, I know that I’ve gotten here by embracing the dark and loving it. There is no dark without light—remember that. Neither can exist without the other. There is no truth without lies, no victory without defeat. Embrace your darkness, accept it as a part of you, as necessary as everything that is good within you. It’s easy to live in the light; the dark… the greatest artists I’ve ever known, either personally or through their work, learned to love their darkness, cherish it, care for it, love it.

It’s the only way to find the light.

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