You've thrown your heart off a cliff...
Same heart. Different cliff. It shatters on the rocks far below. You stare at the pieces, spread all across the beachhead. And, after staring, you begin the slow walk down the cliff edge to the shore.
This is how we learn about ourselves. It's where we learn what we are made of. Because when you are smashed apart, when you are picking up the pieces, that's when you see all the things that you are. It's when you see all the things that you had forgotten that you were. It's when you actually stop and notice what is there.
You see your childlike naivete lying under a rock, next to your courage. You walk over and pick them up, you turn them over in your hands and you see them. They have not changed, those parts of you. They were always there, but now as you rub the sand from them, you come to see them differently, your perception changes ever so slightly. You see them for what they are. And you see that whilst hearts are susceptible to breakage, there are some things inside them that can't be broken.
Unsurprisingly, the next thing you find is your curiosity half-buried in the sand. The surf breaks over it, washing it clean. Nearby is your sense of humour, chuckling to itself at the irony of finally ending up on top (literally) of your sobriety.
You walk barefoot in the sand as you pick up each piece. The world is new and dangerous. But you feel fearless. Then you notice that your fear is lying underneath a piece of driftwood. You sigh to yourself... that would explain it. You brush off the sand with your fingers and put it next to your strength and your persistence.
You walk the beach, until the sun goes down, collecting the pieces of your broken heart. You pick up your pride and your ambition. Nearby, you find your generosity and your hope. You stumble across your envy and jealousy beneath a piece of seaweed. Those two are never far away from each other. You consider leaving them behind but your sense of fairness (which you just found underneath some spiral shells) won't allow it. And that's for the best. They are part of who you are for better or for worse.
You find your sense of competition nearby and for some unknown reason you find your vanity, your kindness and your hysteria in extremely quick succession shortly thereafter. You find your clarity around the next corner and the reason becomes clear.
And then, finally, you are done.
You sit on the sand and look at your collection of treasures. You see some things for the first time. Parts of you that you never even realised were there because they had been hidden away for so long. Slowly, almost reluctantly, afraid you will lose a piece or miss something out, you reassemble your heart.
When you are finished, you pry open your ribcage and place it carefully back in your chest. The pieces are the same, but it feels different, because you know more about what's inside it than you did before.
You climb slowly back up the cliff and leave the beach behind. And you know that at some point, perhaps not soon, but someday, you will return to the sea.
And you will stand at the edge of a different cliff. And you will take your heart in your hands and hurl it once again to the rocks below. And it will shatter once more.
But when you go down to the waters edge, and search for all the pieces, you know that you will see them differently once more. And you will find something there that you simply didn't know you had.
That's got to be good news.
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend and found yourself wondering how they can do that to themselves? And then found yourself in a similar situation, having a similar conversation with a similar friend and arguing eloquently and convincingly FOR every single thing that you had ever so recently argued so passionately AGAINST?
Our brains are not simple. True they aren’t as complex as the brain of a dolphin but certainly they are not simple.
And so our stories shouldn’t be simple either.
The narrative of our lives is at once overwhelmingly complex and mind-numbingly simple. As we are experiencing them in real-time they are as complex as the task of a four hundred-sided Rubiks Cube being completed by a creature without opposable thumbs (read: Dolphin). And yet, looking back on them, everything seems so simple, almost as structured as a perfectly formed narrative…
“If this hadn’t happened, then this would never have happened… if this disaster hadn’t occurred then I would never have met the best person in my life…” etc. etc. etc. and so on and so on for ever and ever amen.
So, doesn’t it make sense then that when creating something, when we are inside the middle of it… it is a puzzle, a maze, a beast of almost incomprehensible difficulty. Then when we have finished it, it seems so impossibly inevitable that we could never have imagined it any other way.
Except… that we did.
We imagined every other scenario, every other direction, every scene, decision and choice. And we made only one. We are all murderers. We murder alternate realities with every step we take, every choice we make. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Certainly it means that some things will never be, but when we look back in half a century’s time, we will see that it all seemed inevitable. That the narrative of our lives only makes sense when played backwards.
SO… that show that you got fired from, that meeting that you couldn’t make, that job that you couldn’t take… and yes, that person that you fell in love with in the middle of a maze who couldn’t love you back. All these things will be OK. Maybe not now, maybe not for a long time, but they are all part of a bigger narrative, a larger world and one day you’re going to look back at quite a glorious view…
Thank goodness for the love of good friends.
So here’s a thought that I just thought of whilst sitting on the train. By now, some of you will be familiar with my constant companions, Jasper Mountbatten III (my ego), Derek Bluebottom (my depression) and Colin Shitsmearer (my envy). It turns out that my brain is not ethnically diverse or gender neutral. I took a moment this morning to put these three in a police line up and when looking at them I found some similarities…
Whilst they may represent very different aspects of my personality, one thing was abundantly clear. Jasper, Derek and Colin are all straight, white, male and painfully middle-class (although Jasper clearly has unrealistic aspirations towards the aristocracy).
There is a very obvious reason for this…
That being (for those of you who don’t know me personally) I am also straight, white, male and painfully middle-class. But what I find interesting is that even when taking into account the endless power of my imagination, I somehow restricted myself when thinking of all my alter egos.
Is society’s power over us so immense and unyielding that even our imagination is held under its thrall? Isn’t it supposed to be a place of boundless invention? And if it’s not, why not? And how do we free it from the shackles of cultural norms?
Is this why I feel uncomfortable at the thought of telling a story with a black person or a gay person or a poor person or a woman at the heart of it? Because, even when given the opportunity, EVEN inside my own mind, I am subconsciously marginalising them?
Given that almost all aspects of the society we live in are constructs of a collective imagination, I suppose it’s not surprising. The economy is based on a worldwide agreement that tiny numbers in bank accounts are actually worth something and Southern Rail would continue to exist (unfortunately) as an imaginative entity even if all of their trains exploded. If we live within the boundaries of our collective imagination, then surely our individual imaginations are going to be limited by those same agreements? I wonder if the collective imagination of the world has infected our reality to the point where you can’t see where one begins and the other ends.
I hope I won’t be misunderstood… the pain and horror that racism, sexism and misogyny have caused for countless people are real. Which is why it makes it doubly awful that the base reasons for BEING racist, for BEING sexist and misogynistic are entirely imagined.
And they have gone beyond imagination. Imagination should be flexible, creative and free. But these view points are anything but. It’s like someone has built an incredibly space ship, the most powerful in the world and then chained it to the earth.
I know that minds are notoriously hard things to change. But sometimes our minds aren’t even aware that there is another option, we’ve been programmed to think a certain way.
I suppose the first step is being aware…
So those of you who have been following this blog for a little while are already acquainted with my massive ego Jasper Mountbatten III. He's an extroverted, irrational, volatile personality but he can also be entertaining in party situations. Sometimes he's inspiring (albeit in a rather bullying "Finish the whole keg you frickin' democrat!" kind of way) which can be helpful at those moments when you do actually need to finish the keg. Other times he's like a hurt little child and can sulk in the toilet for days at a go. But whatever the situation, Jasper's reaction is inevitably active. Even the sulking is an active kind of sulking. And his reactions are those of either extreme joy, or extreme injustice and anger. You'll forgive Jasper if he has a rather inflated view of me as a person, that's kind of what his job is.
Today though, I'd like to introduce you to another aspect of my personality. He's related to Jasper, although you would hardly guess it to look at him. When Jasper is the one at the party entertaining everybody with a hilarious story about the time he fell asleep in a river, his cousin Derek Bluebottom is the one that everyone is desperately trying to avoid. He's the guy at the party who looks like he was forced to come by his mum. He's the one in the kitchen standing by the fridge. You know, the one who you need to politely ask to move in order to get another beer. It's not an accident, he's standing in the way deliberately. Just so that someone will be forced to interact with him. Deep down he wants to connect, but instead he just kind of looks at you with nothing in his face. Pretty soon, word has spread through the party that there's a weird sad guy next to the fridge, and people start going to the off-license instead of to the kitchen. Derek has that effect on people.
If I'm perfectly honest though, the last place you would ever find Derek is at a party. He's more likely to be found at home on the sofa, sitting in the dark (having been unable to find the will to turn the light on) scrolling meaninglessly through an endless pit of despair until his phone runs out of battery, gradually sinking lower and lower until he can't feel anything anymore. Not joy, not sadness, just an infinite bog of numbness.
Say hello to Derek Bluebottom, my depression. Or perhaps don't bother, he's not likely to hear you.
You might wonder why I'm introducing you to Derek at all. He's not exciting like Jasper (or arguably normal like me), he's a bit of a pariah...
There are many times in my career so far that Derek has come to visit me. I must say I don't particularly look forward to his visits as I never really know how long he's going to stay. He came to stay after I got fired from Fantastic Mr Fox, actually he was a fairly regular visitor in the weeks leading up to that moment.
He also came for regular holidays during my very early years as a composer/lyricist, whenever I didn't get anywhere in a competition, whenever I didn't get a job, whenever I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life and what the damn point of any of it was anyway. Interestingly enough, although they make fairly strange bedfellows, Derek usually comes to visit with Jasper. But, you don't always know that he's there. He slides in the door behind Jasper and sets up in the spare room before you've even realised. And the most important difference between Jasper and Derek? Jasper always leaves as soon as the cocaine runs out, whereas Derek lingers long past his use by date.
So of the two, who is the more dangerous? Jasper for his outbursts, and volatility? Or Derek with his quiet numbing?
For me, the answer will always be Derek. But why am I talking about Derek now?
Because he's in my spare room... and I'm terrified.
I have recently gotten an amazing commission which I will be able to tell you about as soon as it is announced, basically it's an opportunity that has been one of my secret goals ever since I started off on this crazy theatre journey. So naturally when I found out, Jasper turned up at the door with a bottle of expensive champagne and a pound of heroin. It was great. I was so distracted for the two days of Jasper's hardcore party visit that of course I didn't notice Derek as he slumped through the door behind Jasper and headed straight for the spare room.
And then of course, Jasper left.
And now I'm left with Derek. Occassionally he comes out of the spare room, and pads gently through the hall, sometimes he'll sit next to me on the couch. He has a presence that infuses everything near him with an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness.
But the most difficult thing about Derek is his diet. As much as his presence is disturbing, it's his diet that is really dangerous for me. You see, Derek doesn't bring things to eat with him when he visits. He feeds on what is available to him. And his favourite food?
Derek eats my confidence like there's no tomorrow, for breakfast (when he can be bothered to have it) lunch and dinner. And the really sad thing about Derek is that eating my confidence has absolutely no effect on Derek. He can eat it all and never put on weight, it's like it disappears down his throat into an endless black hole.
And Derek doesn't even need bad reviews to start eating. All he needs is my imagination. My perceived thought that I can't do this job. This is what is happening right now. This commission is a great opportunity and already Derek is thinking about how badly it will turn out.
I have come to realise over the past year, that actually I really need a lot of confidence in order to do my job well. If I am to create good work I need to be able to trust in my ability to create good work. Especially in the theatre I have to be confident enough of my own worth as a composer/lyricist in order to be able to express my opinions and thoughts to my collaborators. I have to believe that my contribution is worth something. And the moment that I stop doing that I can't function effectively as an artist.
I've talked about this before but I hadn't realised what a huge part confidence has to play in the role of a creative in the theatre (as in many industries). When I was starting out I thought that it was talent and who you know that determines whether or not you succeed in this business (whatever your definition of success maybe). But I have come to realise that confidence plays an immense part in the whole process. For without it, any talent you possess is meaningless. If you are unable to express that talent and contribute your thoughts and ideas you might as well be back home in the spare room with Derek.
The good news is, that now I've started realising when Derek is on his way round...
So I start hiding his favourite foods from him. As with many things, I have noticed that simply being aware that Derek is coming over is half the battle. Just knowing that he will be there, and that he will be eating on my confidence somehow makes me feel better, and conversely it also makes me feel more confident that I can handle it.
I can prepare to a certain extent for his visits now and I also know that eventually, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but some day...
I'll wake up...
go to the spare room...
open the door...
and Derek will be gone (at least for now).
I don't think I'll ever get used to his visits, and I don't think we'll ever particularly get on. But at the very least he has made me aware of my own confidence in myself and for that he deserves a bit of thanks.
See you next time Derek.
My name is Jasper Mountbatten III (I’m Darren Clark’s MASSIVE Ego) and I resent the success of his friends and colleagues. It’s been about 17 hours since I last resented one of his friends successes.
No. Down Jasper!
As I write this, as I do with many of my blogs, I’m figuring things out in my head as I write. The question that has been bugging me most recently is WHY? What is the function of my resentment, what is the function of the envious monster that lurks behind my eyes. How do you benefit me monster? Tell me how??!
I’m not writing this as a rebuke to myself. Nor as a rebuke to anyone who feels the dark undertow of envy and resentment pulling them under from time to time. I don’t feel like there is something wrong with me for feeling this way (just add ‘catholic guilt’ to your pot of ‘envy’ for a perfect Sunday ruiner). This is a feeling that comes upon me fairly regularly and from conversations I’ve had with my colleagues and friends, it seems that I am far from alone.
If the person exists out there who can honestly say they have never felt a twinge of resentment at someone else's success then please don’t let me know about your existence. You’ll just make me feel inadequate. If however, you are the colleague who feels these things and has learnt to channel them into something positive and constructive, I want to hear from you.
I shall now say something wise and profound, which someone much wiser and more profound has probably already said:
(cue emotional music and picture of cat hanging on to a tree)
Someone who has only ever lived in daylight will be lost when night eventually falls. But the person who lived in daylight, then fought through the long night to the new dawn is infinitely more precious.
Because they know the way out.
And of course… I resent them for it.
It seems that my resentment of others success bears no relationship to the talent of my colleagues, or indeed even the degree of their success, or the fact that I have experienced much success and good fortune myself, sometimes beyond those that I am envious of. If I was envious only of people who have had higher profile achievements and better reviews then at least that would make some sort of sense.
But that’s just not the case….
It seems that there is a purely internal driver to this monster truck and I can almost guarantee that it’s Jasper Mountbatten III who is at the wheel. He’s shifting gears like a madman, he’s not checking his mirrors and he’s causing havoc on the carriageway. You can almost see the bright toxic-avenger-green glowing in his pupils.
So, back to the question… why do I feel so threatened by the success of my friends and colleagues? Experience has taught me that their success comes at no cost to me. I have not lost out on work because of them (as much as Jasper tells me I will), the quality of my work has not suffered as a result (as Jasper is convinced is the case). In fact the only negative consequence of these feelings are directly the result of my own neurosis.
The truth of the matter (as much as Jasper wishes to deny it) is that the success of my colleagues has only ever resulted in positive outcomes in real life terms. The truth? The success of those around me helps me.
Look here Jasper.
They have gotten me work, they’ve gotten better at their craft and they’ve inspired me to work harder, they’ve shown me a path through the undergrowth, one that I can follow, as their work becomes better known and they have more of an audience reach, they tend to rave about their colleagues (of which I am one) thus bringing my work to the attention of new audiences and producers. And these are only the things I can think of right now, I’m sure the unseen benefits are equivalent to the underwater bit of an iceberg.
Essentially as our communities becomes more successful, the individuals within that community can’t help but have success as a result (if they let it). So this resentment just doesn’t make any sense.
Don’t get me wrong, at the same time as I seethe with envy, I burst with pride. It is one of the great contradictions of my soul. The devil and the angel are shouting at each other from opposite shoulders. But again experience has taught me a very clever old proverb which I shall bastardise here…
There are two wolves in your soul. One is a devil and one is an angel and they are fighting against each other. Which one wins the battle?
The one you choose to feed.
I don’t have the self control (yet) to be able to control my instinctual base emotions. I wish I did. But I don’t. That Devil wolf will always be there, spittle dripping from his fangs, breathing heavily and ominously in the corner. But I am learning that feeding the devil don’t do no one no good. It usually takes a little time (a couple of days or so) but I am learning now to hold my hand out to the Angel wolf. She’s the nurturer, the mother, the one that helps me and others grow. She’s the one who deserves my time and energy.
One of the wonderful things about community (and why I shout about MMD and BML from the rooftops) is that we can share the darkness inside our souls without fear of judgement from people we have come to know and trust.
Our community is there in the darkness with us, some are closer to the dawn than others, and some have yet to step into the night, but there are hands to hold onto all along the way. It behoves us to hold onto them, not to slap them away.
So, to the many of you wondrous folks experiencing the euphoria of success at the moment, know this…
I still resent your success. (Don’t judge me. I can’t help it) But at exactly the same time my heart is bursting with pride at the wonder of all your incredible achievements. And that’s the wolf that I’m choosing to feed.
As with so many of my blogs I clearly haven't answered the question I set out to... but then maybe the why isn't so important after all...