I could try pretending to be cool about this – but since no-one who knows me will be remotely convinced, I’m not going to bother. I was childishly, gleefully thrilled that people liked my first post! While it’d be disingenuous to claim I wrote it without expecting anything, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback. But for every kind word that made my heart leap a little, I also started to feel a creeping dread. Fuck, I thought, now I’ve got to do it again.
My first instinct was to run, panicking, back to the first post I’d written and try to figure out why other people had liked it. This is never a good tactic. Aside from all the perils associated with lapsing into that kind of solipsism and trying to second-guess your audience, trying to recreate a past success never works. Even if version 2.0 managed to be technically identical, it would lack a crucial ingredient: spontaneity.
‘Success’ is a big word, but the positive moments I’ve had so far at school have come when I’ve least expected them. There have been days when I’ve felt awful, physically or emotionally or both, and have had to drag myself onstage. Usually, this leads to being rubbish onstage and feeling even worse. But occasionally – very occasionally – something else happens.
I had one such rare moment last week, during a neutral mask exercise that entailed, um, being a tempest. (I’m fairly sure that was the exercise – Philippe seemed reluctant to commit to clear instructions. Some teachers would tell you to ‘be’ water, he’d said, but I am not so idiot.) I certainly felt like a total idiot, wafting my arms around while desperately trying to conjure up images of a raging sea. My entire frame of reference seemed to consist of swimming off the North Norfolk coast, and watching Titanic, and neither felt hugely inspiring. Well, it can’t get much worse than this, I thought: I guess I might as well have some fun. So I did. And when Philippe banged his drum a few minutes later, I fully expected to be dismissed with an Absolutely orrible – adios immediately! But he let me stay, and I carried on having a great time until all my muscles were burning and I could hardly breathe and then I spoiled it all by reciting the Homer like a TGV.
There’s much to learn from this experience. I think I understand a little better what Philippe means by giving something as an actor – not least because, after a week full of tempest and fire exercises, I have spent the weekend moving like the tin man and groaning in agony every time I bend over. And it definitely proved Marina right about the value of taking risks onstage. (Thank you.) BUT. Now I have to do it again! And I don’t know if I can. Is it possible to go onstage free of expectation and willing to give up control, every single time?
I suspect that it’s easier to free yourself from inhibition at physical and emotional extremes. Being a tempest, writing a blog about being rubbish at everything – in different ways, both are acts of abandoning dignity. But what about subtler states of being – playing a bubbling stream, say, or writing about having a moment of being not so rubbish and then being gripped by a terror of never being able to repeat it? Those aren’t acts of total abandon – they require some delicacy, some control – and I don’t know how to marry those qualities with the wilder, freer state I briefly enjoyed. But maybe my central assumption is wrong. Maybe to express those subtler feelings/ characters/ ecological features is still essentially an act of revealing, rather than of restraint. And maybe such expressions simply require a greater trust in ourselves: that those levels of nuance and complexity exist in us too, and all we need to do in order to reveal them is let go a little.
In real life, I often find myself clinging onto especially good experiences. I want to recreate them, and worry that I won’t be able to – that I’ll forget their vital ingredients unless I identify and preserve them. But the same problem arises here: even if you could pickle fun, or fascination, or sexual chemistry, the very process of preservation would rob them of their spontaneity and surprise.
Everyone knows that the best nights out are the ones that begin dully or with few definite plans, and end with you pelting Hoola Hoops at your mates across a church hall at three in the morning. That the best conversations start on doorsteps – mid-goodbyes – and end hours later, awkwardly perched on the pavement, when you’re desperate to pee and crippled by pins and needles. That the best sex happens when it really isn’t supposed to.
We know these things, but still we feel compelled to record, analyse, relive. Maybe it stems from a need to prove it wasn’t just a fluke: if we understand the causes of our favourite experiences, we can take credit for them. Deep down, though, we know that holding onto these moments gets us nowhere, because the best things always happen when you least expect them. In a way, you can have more fun as a sort of recipient or vessel of experience than as a generator of it. As soon as I’ve had this thought, I realise it’s one of the least helpful conclusions I’ve ever reached. It’s totally paradoxical. How do you nurture an attitude of passivity, aspire to be a vessel? How do you make yourself give up control? I’m not sure you can. Maybe the key is to stop trying to nurture anything and just let go.