Jordan and I got back from a quick weekend trip to Orlando which included playing at the House of Blues with Zach Williams and Mat Kearney. (It also may have included going to Epcot and dancing in the streets at Magic Kingdom for 12 hours, but no matter.)
Regardless, we returned to a delightful dinner engagement on Monday night with some new friends and surprise guests we didn’t know. We took the train to Westchester and tried not to freeze in our tracks as we navigated the Jerz.
After some delicious lasagna and talk of forensic science and such, the conversation turned to a lawyer’s perceptions of what an actor’s life is like. Our digression started with, “So is it true that actors are more insecure than other people?”
I checked to make sure Jordan wasn’t nodding his head behind my back, and then we launched into a thoroughly engaging (for me anyway) debate that had me pulling for some hair-brained explanations, as I forget the innermost nuances of living the artist’s life isn’t common knowledge.
You see, it seems like people think actors actually choose this life. I would disagree. I would argue that the art, the bend, the inclination toward artistry is a God-given wiring, just as a biologist has a hardwired understanding, almost sixth sense about what creation is saying to them. They hear music in their science and I doubt they simply decided, as one chooses to buy a new neck tie, to cultivate that sense. It’s there.
So, with that said, why does it seem actors / artists are so ‘insecure.’
“Ok, “ I think “Perhaps I should approach this explanation as if nothing is a given.”
I launch in with something like, “My body, emotions and soul are my commodity. There is nothing hidden when I’m on stage. Or…even if there is and your channeling it into the character, you’re still aware that your pathos is exposed to some extent, like paint being spread on a blank wall, the color remains there.”
The lawyer breaks in with, “But the actor is still trying to get the approval of the audience for his whole life. This is what makes them insecure, I bet.”
“Not entirely true. I would say that the actor is attempting to share an idea, a story, a life. Sharing is the goal, not begging for approval. (or if that is the case, you don’t last long. Perhaps this is even the type you speak of, but no matter…) Honestly, I have to say that I don’t care if you liked me in a certain performance. (I try to forget my freak out reaction to my first, less than flattering NY Times review.) It’s not for the audience that I do my craft. Yes, we are in a symbiotic relationship, but if I don’t maintain my role as ‘interpreter,’ ‘craftsman,’ ‘revealer of ideas, Truth,’ and I morph into a mere people pleaser, then I’m not keeping the balance of the relationship. I lose my ability to move you to thought and change. So, yeah, I care but I don’t. (I said this with utmost idealism, mind you, realizng a smidge of hypocracy.) Of course, words still hurt, yes, but the act of pushing back with valiant vulnerability is courage-builidng. You learn how scared other people really are.”
[And then I added the major, blaring exception of my husband: OF COURSE he has to think I’m brilliant or I’m devastated. (And perhaps this is where more of the artist’s vulnerability comes from more than anything: feeling rejected by those closest to them who don’t understand their craft.)]
“I disagree,” says the lawyer in the most collaborative manner possible. “Actors still choose to put themselves up on a stage and then become pathologically vulnerable and insecure because of it. Most people just don’t need that like artists seem to.”
This is when I went digging for a metaphor. Only metaphors work for me in instances like this.
“Imagine you have ten people in a line. All of these ten people are severely sunburned from the neck down; however, 9 of these people are wearing clothing. Some have on scrubs, one has on business attire, another has NYPD garb on, and still another has, say…forensic scientist attire on?! Now imagine the last person has on only a speedo (or bikini on) or…perhaps they’re naked. They are an artist. Now, and this is of course a whole other debate, but imagine Someone decided who was to get the clothing and what kind. Then they are sent on their way into their field of interest.
Now, is everyone still sunburned? Or only the person that you can tell is sunburned? Everyone is sunburned! It becomes easy, though, to point at the visibly sunburned person and cry, “You’re sunburned! You should do something about that. That’s an issue. Get it together. You are such a mess.”
“The other nine can internally react in several ways: pretend they aren’t sunburned and lie to themselves, know they are, but not share it with others and lie to everyone else, OR accept the fact that EVERYONE is 'sunburned,' but time, place, and situation make that fact more obvious in some cases than in others.”
I wait with the very anticipatory vulnerability he speaks of to see how he’ll respond:
“Ahhhhh.” (long pause) “But that would just make me feel so vulnerable to be the one with no clothes on.”
To which I half-way screamed back, “EXACTLY!”
Now my argument isn’t perfect. It’s rife with folding back on itself and perhaps exaggerated idealism, but we had a moment of satisfying understanding for a bit. We agreed we don’t have to understand to believe, to be moved. Then we launched into evidence / no evidence of Intelligent Design in the universe.
As we rode the train back home, I started thinking about how I’m really not the one standing there naked like I pretend to be. I have so many things I hide behind.
Then I started thinking about the woman with a severe burn on her body who walks through the train on a Thursday evening and asks for food. She feels naked. Or the people just made homeless and childless by the earthqake in Haiti. They’re naked.
I think of yes, Joe who stands there naked sweating on the street corner even though his defenses seem impenetrable.
I just hope I give them the same freedom to be naked as I asked Ivan, the forensic scientist lawyer to give me tonight.