True Grit

All week, I’ve been considering Bonnie’s response to my previous entry: “Writers are conduits. Now that you’ve opened yourself, you’re feeling the flow from all directions. The next trick, if you desire, is to hone your filter.”

For the sake of self-preservation she recommended that I take a cue from Shakespeare and view all the world as live entertainment. “Sometimes I put myself on stage, sometimes I prefer to stay in the audience. The choice usually depends on finding a balance between energy expended and gained.”

Those last few notes very accurately describe the shift between how I made my way in Civita and what my experience elsewhere in the world has been. In Civita, the act of pausing, absorbing, and chronicling allowed me to remove myself from the stage as an actor.

Instead, I found a place in the audience from which I instinctively channeled my gifts as an empath. Until then, I hadn’t discovered the right application for those skills, which I found permitted me to feel my way through everything from stones to gardens to people without the application of ego. In tapping into that role, I also discovered a mainline of energy heretofore hidden, which replenished everything I had spent in the months and years before my journey.

In the “real world,” much focus—and energy—goes toward creating one’s own narrative. Finding time to pause, and the creative distance afforded by doing so, is a challenge, especially when we prioritize the broadcasting of our every emotion, meal, or rant across Facebook and Twitter. An overly examined (and shared) life quickly devolves into an ongoing monologue—a plot-driven play that never pauses long enough for the actor to absorb anything beyond the improvisation of her own lines and self-affected quirks.

Those of us who play ourselves well cannot help but dive deeper and deeper into character, until finally, there is no option of leaving the stage for the audience. For a few I know, who have truly embraced, perfected, and expanded the boundaries of their roles, I can only applaud their mastery. Perhaps those artists tap into a different kind of energy, which is replenished rather than drained by ongoing performance.

In that, I cannot help but think of Jeff Bridges’ personification of Rooster Cogburn under the direction of the Coen Brothers. Rarely do a role and an actor so perfectly deserve one another, as if he had been practicing toward this moment his entire life. After seeing the film this week, I’ve also been asking myself about the nature of true grit, wondering how rare indeed it is.

Perhaps the test of a person’s character is less about her concerted mettle to achieve, which can easily become a merciless quest—even if what (or whom) she surmounts seems commendable. Instead, maybe true grit is measured in a different kind of resilience: the ability to resist losing oneself either to the ruthless perfection of a single role or in the narrow perspective that results from consistently observing rather than acting.

To me, grit is proven in a person’s ability to maintain her character as she moves back and forth between the stage and the audience, thus mastering the ability to shift and change, to expand her own sense of self and her understanding of her fellow castmates—and their combined effect on the audience and each other. A person of veritable grit remains constant even when faced with performances that evoke fear, anger, or sadness—or upon finding that someone else has taken her familiar seat.

As I read through the proof of my book yesterday, I realized that my first experience with maintaining a solid sense of self while shifting from the stage to the audience is what transformed me into a creator. My ability to write that book was much less about finding the appropriate topic and much more about having faith that my own voice would guide me to the right row. The perspective afforded to me there was like watching a performance through the eyes of several off-screen characters, in addition to my own.

Returning home in October, I found that my role on Seattle’s stage had changed dramatically. I now realize how much of my energy—and my grit—from the last three months has been devoted to fleshing out the character who belongs with that role. I’ve likewise concluded that it’s important to take intermissions from rehearsing this new script in order to let dialogue and plot twists develop on their own.

After all that’s happened, I’m still enchanted by both the depth required to create a riveting show, and the insight a reviewer must possess in order to translate that story’s significance to others.

Thankfully, amidst the hubbub of production, there are opportunities to recharge one’s energy by canoodling on velvet couches with fellow actors in between scenes. Until the dimming lights call us back to the stage, we can take a break from plot direction and timed cues, letting the grit of acting fade into the glow of the paparazzi’s flashbulbs.

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