I’m addicted to watching The Hollywood Reporter roundtables (www.thr.com). These are videos of Actors, Directors, Writers, Composers and Showrunners- even Agents- who are sitting around a table (see what they did there?) and talking about their work. There is one discussion where Amy Adams is one of the actresses aROUND the table (still not bored of that). She succinctly describes the qualities one needs to live the life of an actor:
“It’s hard to have a tough skin and a vulnerable heart…it’s kind of…it’s a delicate balance…”
I would say this is true for anyone attempting to navigate a creative career. Without the vulnerable open heart forget being a good creative. Without the tough skin forget surviving in the creative industries.
My final year at Drama School was a cacophony of jealousy, self-doubt, FOMO and crying out “why though?!” about everything…oh and sympathy cheesy chips. This was the late 90s, when grown women were still allowed to have pubic hair and we openly ate pasta.
Even though we were a close-knit year, we lost our footing. Our world got very small and in the midst of our fierce loyalties to each other, there crept in a kind of cold reductive scrutiny. We’d become aware that’s how The World was considering us; we were at the very start of becoming Products. It felt necessary and wrong at the same time.
I’ve noticed it’s what happens at the tension point when a process is subjugated to the product it generates. The end work becomes more of a focus than how you got there and qualitative and quantitative measures clash. It’s an intriguing and deeply challenging development phase that creative business ventures go through- but they must go through it because no professional creative can avoid addressing the marketplace-‘bums on seats’. At some point, you’re saying “this hand-crafted artisan 3 malt Heritage outdoor-reared organic actor is incredible, but how can we maximize her net worth?”
Suddenly, game change. We all fall down. We have a crisis of confidence, of identity. For a time confusion reigns and we lose ourselves- doing crazy shit like watching ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’ and eating actual crisps made of Kale. In my experience, when we lose our sense of balance, it means the centre has shifted and we don’t know where zero is anymore. To have some concept of equilibrium, there has to be a pivot point, a fulcrum. In short, you have to hold on to your values. If you don’t know what your values are, I’d like to gently but firmly suggest you think about getting some. Knowing your values =knowing your worth.
At Drama School, for 3 years we’d been artists and that alone. We were judged by artistic criteria, not bankability. Like it or not, the growth in influence of marketing departments within creative organisations like publishing houses has got to be the weirdest development in the already obstacle-strewn route to being a creative professional. It doesn’t matter how riveting your story is, if they don’t think they can sell it, they won’t make it, they’ll make ‘Terminator12: What Happened Before The Last Stuff Happened The Time Before That Before Time Itself’ instead.
That’s the thing now, you can’t just be good at what you do, you have to be good at selling the thing you’re good at. If you don’t have some values, you’ll make the terrible mistake of doing what I did, which is let other people tell you what kind of artist you should be. The balancing act in this respect is to keep the kernel, the heart of what you hold to be excellence in your field whilst making it float happily in a sea of mediocrity.
By the way, people WILL get jealous. They just will. The more dismal end of the press will tell you that most of the jealousy will come from other women, but actually it could be anyone. I think jealousy is fine, by the way. Like Anger, it’s part of the human emotional spectrum and it serves an important purpose: it’s an alarm. Julia Cameron in her wonderful book ‘The Artist’s Way’ explains it like this when she writes about Anger:
“Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand…Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. Anger is not the action itself. It is action’s invitation.”
I feel jealousy is similar. It’s the part of ourselves that we at some point allowed to be cowed. The bit we didn’t let out to play. When we’ve spent a lot of time and energy denying ourselves, or being people pleasers, seeing somebody who is free and who has the audacity to be themselves without shame is almost unbearable. They remind us of everything we could have done and had if we just let ourselves. Jealousy is a heart’s cry from something inside that needs to be addressed in a mature and gentle way or it festers into bitterness and aggression. Trying to find balance (and peace) of mind whilst leaving feelings of jealousy unexplored? Then it’s you on one side of the see-saw and you with all your demons at the other.