I want to change. By all accounts, I’ve come to the right place. Former students, current students, even the highly idiosyncratic school website promise that a long stint here will “change you totally” – at least as an artist, if not as a person. But when is it going to happen? I feel like the same old me, except a little less comfortable in my own skin, and a little more impatient to wriggle out of it. But how? Alice, just before she left, said that training here changes you like an artist carves a sculpture: the unnecessary excess is chipped away until you’re left with a tidier and truer version of yourself.
I find Alice’s image deeply appealing, but I struggle to believe such change will happen for me. And the infuriating thing with change is that you fundamentally have to believe in it, in order for it to happen. Having faith in something which hasn’t yet proven itself to exist isn’t a comfortable position for my cynically atheist brain. I want to see the money on the table. And to make things worse, I’m starting to fear that if I write the words ‘change’ and ‘believe’ once more this blog will become cheesier than an inspirational meme. Fuck.
I do think it’s true, though, that change demands a down-payment of blind faith. It’s election year back home – and admittedly, my main engagement with it so far has been asking my mum to print out forms (I like to maintain a healthy tension between responsible organisation and infantile reliance on my parents at all times) – but it seems to be an interesting one so far. Not thanks to anything the main parties have said, but because for once it feels like there might actually be something to play for. British politics has been dominated by a sense of resigned despair for so long – a feeling that nothing really changes, and nothing really can – but the Scottish referendum and the recent spike in Green Party membership suggest that something is different this year. Maybe we don’t need Russell’s revolution after all – party politics could still matter.
George Monbiot recently claimed that ‘change arises from conviction,’ exhorting left-leaning Brits to ‘stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.’ While this hope may be for a rosier future, the ‘conviction’ it needs is rooted in the past: the strongest argument for the possibility of change has to be that it’s happened before. Radical (and positive) socio-political change has happened quite a lot, if you think about it. (It’s just a shame so much human energy has had to be poured into fighting injustice and downright stupidity over the years – imagine what we could have achieved! We could all be living in high-tech energy-generating tree houses…zipping around on hovercrafts…communicating via telepathy by now!) Examples such as women’s suffrage are so often used to guilt-trip the ballot-shy: people died for your privilege! How about a more positive spin: if women won the ‘hardest of all fights’, surely we can win the rest of them too? It’s hard evidence for the doubtful that even the unlikeliest of changes can occur.
Philippe has quipped that it makes his job difficult when students are bad on some days, good on others. And a good performance will often elicit a ‘what happened?’ He jokes, but I wonder if we really do feel obliged to remain consistent for the sake of others? In an acting class some years ago we did an actioning exercise, playing with quick-fire changes of intent. I caress you, I reject you, I beg you. At the end, my partner looked slightly shaken. ‘That was just like talking to my ex-girlfriend,’ he said, ‘terrifying.’ Do we fear that changing too much, too quickly, would baffle and alarm those around us? And so we reign ourselves in, slowing our transformations to a politer pace?
It’s relatively easy to shrug off change in an acquaintance, because you can always reason that your first impression was false, or that you didn’t have the whole story before. But the better you feel you know someone, the harder this reasoning is to use. Most of us, for instance, have experienced the gutting realisation that our parents are not invincible, infallible beings (though great with printers). It’s a thought as thrilling as it is unnerving: we never know another person entirely. And even if you could learn everything about a person, they might always go and change.
So perhaps it’s not the real-or-imagined perceptions of others that restrain us most, but we who do it to ourselves. Because it feels a little dangerous, admitting that you don’t know yourself inside out, that such a thing is impossible. The alternative, while safer, is far more boring. I guess the only option is to resolve to keep chipping away at the sculpture, no matter how much each strike of the chisel hurts.