Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Follow your own path

It's easy to think you're not living your life the "right" way. It's a very simple thing to get down on yourself about not making enough money, or you aren't where you want to be in your career, in love, with your family, etc. I think it's a common thought as human beings to look around and ask yourself, "Is that what I want?" "Am I doing something wrong?" "Why does everyone else seem to have their shit together but me?"

But if we're all looking around and seeing what everyone else is doing, we're going to get a major case of whiplash. We're so focused on everyone else that we can't see all the good in our own lives.  Comparing yourself to other people is a sure way to feel bad about yourself. Guaranteed.

 It's so strange the amount of time we can spend believing that everyone else has found the golden ticket to life. That somehow we were never invited to the party. We must have made the wrong choice somewhere.

I've done it, you've done, maybe even Oprah's done it. I'm not sure if Oprah is a actually mortal but the sake of this article, let's say she feels this way sometimes. Oprah, am-I-right?

Comparing yourself to other people is a game you're never going to win. It has you constantly weighing how much better or worse you are than other people. Let's be honest, this competitive and self-doubting behaviour rarely brings out the best in people.

We all have different reactions to feeling of insecurity about our lives. Some better than others.

Some of us decide to give up. It's no use. What's the point? All the good jobs are taken, I'm not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, the economy, blah, blah, blah. And fair enough. We're all able to make the choice to give-up if it feels like the right one. But usually these unfair expectations of ourselves and others cause needless suffering. Usually that's just your fear talking.

Then there is the other and equally damaging reaction. This is what I like to call "Life-stompers" where certain people get incredibly competitive and "stomp" on other people. Bad-mouthing, criticizing, and down-right shaming a person for their success. This "If I can't, no one can" mentality is a charming result of insecurity.

 This response to life is frankly embarrassing to watch. Similar to a child breaking a toy so no one else can play with it, life-stompers like these are like adult-babies. Except try giving an adult-baby a time out. You're going to get punched.

 Then there is a third category. One where people chip away at what they want. Step by step. When they hit a road block, they may stop, contemplate giving up (or setting a fire to the path behind them) but they inevitably decide that problems are meant to faced. Head on. These people figure out what's the best course of action for them and then move forward. These are the people I want to be around. The people that I admire.

The ones who realise that they are overwhelmed and then they take a break. And when they figure out that maybe they are pausing out of fear, they start again. It seems to me everyone feels crappy about their life at one time or another. We can act like victims and moan about it (there is something delightful in wallowing for a bit) but then we just need to pick ourselves back up again and figure out what it is we want out of life.

Are you unhappy? There are a lot of people who you can talk to. Therapists, friends, parents, that random man on the bus (there's always one, you know) or journal the crap out of that problem. You don't need to feel alone. Heck, I totally had a 20 minute life chat with my taxi-driver the other night. And can I just say, I gave him some wonderful advice.

YES. That's correct. The taxi driver was asking me about his problems. WINNING.

Do you hate your job? Why not look for something new. You've got a job already so presumably you're employable. If you know for sure you "can't" get a new job for whatever reason then ask yourself what are some ways that you can enhance your day-to-day life so you're happy with it. Can you join a club after work, take a cooking class, or get some exercise with friends? What are some ways to feel social and good? You deserve to feel happy. Little changes can make a big difference.

You want to travel? Why not? Start looking up new and exciting vacations or other ways to travel abroad through volunteer positions or internships.  Even if you don't go, there's still something exciting in the possibility of a new adventure. Looking at airline prices or travel destinations is one of my guilty pleasures.

It's like the quote by the incredible Maya Angelou, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."

I know, I know. Life can be hard. And sometimes, it's easy to see the crap in it and that's it. I've totally been there. But you can make your life better. A little bit at a time.

The Internet, for all its strange purposes, gives you some incredible information that can lead to life changing events. You are the captain of your own ship. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot out of our control. But there is also a lot we can change to make our lives the best they can be. You owe that to yourself.

So STOP comparing yourself to other people. You're lovely just the way you are. You go your own way. Do your own thing. You've totally got this!


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

One of the greatest performance experiences I've ever had.

I've found that, as a performer, it can be quite hard to say what your top theatre experience was. There are so many wonderful shows and wicked people to work with. Is it the first show that made you realize acting was what you wanted to do? The first show that challenged and pushed you? Or was it something else entirely?

 I have to say that one of my greatest artist experiences is not what you'd imagine. It actually took place at a retirement home in London, Ontario last June 2014.

My first play "Early Retirement" was being remounted at the London, Ontario Fringe Festival. With the help of my wonderful producer, we had the opportunity to perform "Early Retirement" at a local retirement home.

I had written the show, was acting in it, and was also balancing some of the production elements so it wasn't the most peaceful experience of my life. I felt a little like the ring leader of my own theatrical circus. Plus, we were in a different city without a built-in friend and family base to be our audience. I was very focused on showcasing "Early Retirement" in the best possible light.

"Early Retirement" centred around a young girl named Abigail who checked herself into a retirement home to deal with her broken heart. She was self-centred and broken and naively expected her older sister Penny (who worked as a nurse at Millside Retirement home) to take care of her. Her "vacation" at Millside Retirement Home was not what she expected. During her first few days, Abigail encountered Henry, a cranky and stubborn resident who didn't allow Abigail to sit around and feel sorry for herself. He pushed her buttons and she, in return, retaliated, leading them both to eventually deal with their troubles and inevitably open up to each other.

Performing this piece at the retirement home was a nerve-wracking thing for me. I was nervous because the show had a ironic tone about youth and ageing that I wasn't sure would read at the retirement home. I didn't want the residents to think I was making fun of them or that I didn't respect their life experience. If anything, part of what I was trying to get at was how often both age groups were misunderstood.

The truth is, I've always had a connection with people older than me. I lived on a small island from the age of 11 to 18 where I was taught the value of community. There weren't a lot of people on the island so you had to get used to spending time with different age groups. I've always found  it comforting to be around older people. It seemed like such a relief to know that older people had experienced similar events to me and that they had made it through alive (I.e puberty, loss, heartbreak, etc).

The thing about the retirement home showing was that it didn't have lighting or the right sound system- basically most of the technical aspects were missing. It didn't feel like it could be very good without these element because it didn't seem like the world could be created without the production side of things. Another aspect of my initial scepticism was that some of the residents kept falling asleep before the show began. At first, I felt like they didn't like it but then it made me feel sort of nice to know they were comfortable enough to be lulled to sleep by the play I had written.

As I started performing something beautiful happened. All my worry and terror about people not enjoying it or being offended disappeared. My heart felt so full as I noticed their expressive faces watching the action so intently. I loved their audible conversations about parts they liked or questions they had. I loved that they were talking loudly and engaging despite the social norm of staying quiet during a performance. In short, I LOVED every minute of it. I was surprised how connected they were to the story I wrote. I was surprised at how much fun I was having.

It was such an incredible experience. I had written an older character and he reflected people they knew or were. The older character, Henry, highlighted their fears over ageing, the loss of a partner, the need to be listened to, and the guilt over mistakes made in a person's life. The residents lit up and laughed hysterically over the miscommunication between Abigail and Henry. It was as the audience was having their own arguments or conversations with a younger generation reflected back at them. They laughed at the dialogue and nodded at parts that they resonated with.

Afterwards, I felt quite hesitant to talk to them. My wonderful elation that came from performing started to dissipate.  I felt my fears from earlier rising to the surface. I sort of hoped they would all just leave without talking to me. I had so much anxiety that they wouldn't like it. More so than any other fringe audience. But then, one by one, the residents thanked me and told me they really enjoyed it.

A couple of women remained in their chairs and told me the parts they liked. Then one sweet woman grabbed my hand and started asking me really specific questions.The best one was the following:

"How did you know to write about all that at your age?"

I felt nervous, not wanting to sound condescending or false so I replied as truthfully as I could. I looked into her pale blue eyes which seemed to be filled with so much warmth and experience and tried to articulate why I wrote what I did.

I told her that I had always been observant of people. I had always felt a strong connection with my grandmother and older people. I told her I wrote "Early Retirement" a couple years before to deal with my own broken heart.  I confessed that, at the time, I wished for an escape. I wanted a Millside of my own. I wished for a comforting voice like Henry. I admitted that, in a way, I wrote Henry's voice to console myself and give myself guidance.

I told her I felt sort of strange writing an older character. Although I simply imagined what it would be like not to be listened to or respected at an old age because people think you don't matter or you don't know what you're talking about. I had had that experience as a young person so it wasn't too difficult to imagine. I told her I thought it was ironic that elderly people and young people were so often at odds with each other when, in the end, we were all just trying to be understood and heard.

After going on and on about my play and my life, I felt like maybe I had revealed too much to this unsuspecting woman. Maybe I had overcomplicated her question. Maybe she just asked to be nice?

 But then she smiled and told me she understood. I felt like she truly did. She seemed really happy that I didn't simplify my answer. Her parting words to me were "Good for you" and to be honest I've never been so happy with post-show feedback.

I don't know what to say other than I am still very grateful to have had that experience. It was a quiet moment but something that really touched me as an artist and as a person. My producer and I never intended it to be a big thing but rather an extra performance that made sense thematically since the play was set in a retirement home so why not showcase at one? It turned out to be an experience that was so heart-warming and unexpectedly wonderful that almost a year later, I still think about.  And so I thought I'd s share it with you.

Have you ever had an unexpected meaningful experience? I'd love to hear about it.


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