Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Anxiety, Art, and Security'

San Francisco is now a memory, I'm back in Utah and getting ready to tackle Austin, Texas at the end of next month. I'm currently in St. George, (Utah), going to see the doctor tomorrow to see if I can get my anxiety under control. Anxiety is never a problem with me if I'm in the midst of chaos and work, its when things are calm and good that it rises. I won't go into particulars of what it does to my behavior, but I'm realizing I have always been this way. As I get older, creating the 'big sweep' of action gets harder to maintain, and therefore more difficult for me to control. I have always worked in a manic state, which begins to wear on the body and spirit as you age. I do know artists that also work under this influence, and even though I believe I have a rational understanding of it, I still have trouble controlling it at times. I believe years of doing theatre is part of the manic structure for me, it takes a delusion of grandeur to believe that you can write a play and then put it on, followed by weeks and weeks of rehearsal, mania, and chaos. Finally, the rise to euphoria, and then that awful drop into despair. Still, I am hopeful that I can at least take this play to a place that has been difficult to take some of my other plays, as there is always a closing day with the others. This play has been an open ended run for me, but with long states of calm in between. I think once I get settled into another long run of this play, I will be alright.

For now, its 'stop the bleeding', and focus on the next part of the journey. Its a very difficult pattern to explain to people, especially if you have not experienced a certain level of anxiety. I think humans are always ladened with some anxiety, and its why most people create a sense of security in their lives, to quell the anxious nature of being human. From my own living experiences, I have come to believe that complete security is not possible, and I think most of us know that, but for me, I can't create a vision unless I have a certain 'edge' to my life. And so people worry about me. And truth be told, sometimes I worry too, but living this kind of life enables me to see certain things that one would not be able to see unless they were doing the same thing, in the same way that I can't see the point of view of working to maintain complete security. I'm not condoning 'risky' behavior that is self-destructive, but I do get that most people are not going to understand what I'm doing and why. Its also important that we work to 'understand each other', and let their be some liberation in 'making the choices' that we each make. Translation for my detractors: This is what I've done for the last twenty-five years, and I try to respect and understand the choices you have made with your life. I think being an artist can sometimes be as offensive to some people as being any kind of zealot. And I am a zealot in my art and craft. I have noticed at times while I'm performing, that its difficult for people to even watch or listen to what I am saying. It is the nature of confessional theatre, its not for everyone, but I believe it is important. I confess to strangers, family, friends, and foes alike, and its what keeps me living. Being on stage is the one place I don't have anxiety attacks, ironic, but necessary for me. Art is necessary for my deep need to understand what happens around me and through me. I can't help, nor will I be ashamed about what I do. Please don't try to urge me to get a 'real job' or come in from what you percieve as 'the cold'. This is as real a job as there can be, and trust me, its really hard work.

However, if my behavior becomes self-destructive, I do understand your critisism, and I'm working every day to arrest any kind of self destruction that effects you or me. It may not appear to you that I am making progress in this regard, but I am, but it may be difficult for you to understand or see. I am never without HOPE. That is part of my character, I am like the little league coach whose team comes in last place, who knows exactly what to do to win next year. The next year the team comes in fourth place, etc... and the years press on.

For my students that read this blog, even though I taught for many years that art was the way, the truth, and the life, make no mistake, you must endure or don't do it. Many years ago, a college teacher and one time mentor taught me a valuable lesson. He was also the same one who told me that he thought I had a talent to be a theatre artist, but I would have to work very hard. The first full length play that I wrote and directed, 'Under the Desert', opened to a small audience in Phoenix, Arizona. I was ecstatic. Two days later, a review came out in The Arizona Republic, (the primary paper in Phoenix) and the headline of the article said, 'Actors Give Play More Than Playwright Did'. Needless to say, I was crushed, devastated, really... The critic called it a 'pretentious' play, at the time, I didn't even know what pretentious even meant, (I looked it up in the dictionary). I went to this mentor and angrily complained, close to crying. He looked at me and said, "If you can't take it, get out now, it won't be the first or the last time this will happen in a very public way..." I felt embarrassed and misunderstood, but I got the message. He was right. It was many years before 'my public criticism' started to get more favorable, but he taught me that I must persevere. That same play, 'Under The Desert' is scheduled to be produced some time within the next year in Los Angeles, (after many rewrites) and I don't have any idea how it will be received, but I know I worked harder on that play than any of the others, because I believed in 'the kernel' of what I had written.

I know and understand that many people don't have any idea what I have endured to arrive in this place I'm in, and I can't say its any easier, (in some ways its more difficult). The reviews I got in LA for this show, (as hard as it is for me to believe) were notices that I worked for years to achieve. I tell people that 'I got lucky' and yes, there was some luck involved, but trust me, I have put in my 10,000 hours, (Outliers). Still, it is the life and the process that are the most important. In the art world, (I suppose like other worlds) process and result may be simbiotic, but I'll always take 'process' over result. For me, result will get me drunk every time, but process keeps me sober. So, I press on to Austin, and continue to work on my anxiety, but really, its always been with me...


Gerry said...

This is hard analysis of many different factors someone striving to write a new piece of work must juggle. This is the riskiest theater to do, so is therefore the hardest work to sell to theater audiences, supporters, and well wishers. However I have seen you immerse yourself in doing new work, not only your own but many other people's plays, so that many have known the kind of euphoria connected to your efforts to give them a chance to see their work up. So having lived in this atmosphere many years, you are naturally inclined to scale new heights. This is how new plays are born that replenish the storehouse. I can see that the effort to explain was work, and more work will follow before the next theater date, the next opening, the next big challenge. So the work is being done is many ways that leads to the next summit, pioneering is what it is. The idea of anyone doing it is always an inspiration. said...

Self analysis is no small feat.
I discover I often submerge myself in all kinds of ways in order just to keep doing what I want to do. I don't care what anyone says as long as they don't stop me. I write cowboy poetry or other dumb poems. I write letters. I talk history. I don't tell what I'm doing, then I tell everyone what I'm doing. I am looking forward to your workshop and the magic you have with kids. I am thinking about laughing. You allow laughter. You create it by allowing people to be what they are.

Anonymous said...

i love the zealot in you!

..and only pink high heels can come undone, not you!

austin it is.

Chuckh said...

Anxiety has been dogging me for years. I have been fine, I have been fearful and I have been overwhelmed to the point of near breakdown. As we get older it is harder for the body to produce serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel good. Sometimes we need help. The roller coaster of doing a show does nothing to help this. I am taking meds now to help me. Nothing wrong, millions of people do it all over the world. Meditation and relaxation help. I use a relaxation tape made for me, it calms me right down and sometimes puts me to sleep at night. Proper diet and nutrition is important, too.
I remember the first play I wrote, my teacher would laugh and respond when we read it out loud, then the main dude(Big director) read it and he had nothing good to say about it...needless to say I was hurt, puzzled and angry. It takes balls to read a play out loud to a group of writers and actors and even more balls to go forward, to believe that you have something worthy to say. I'm may not believe in your all or nothing attitude, but I made that choice a long time be a part time artist. That's the best I can do.

DB said...

Anxiety, Raymond, unless you are truly suicidal, is not life threatening. It's a bitter state to be in, but one can control it's influence. And working, for an artist, is the best way to live with it. When my feet are in the fire, I grow a mustache so I can chew on it instead of grinding my teeth.

Gerry writes about replensishing the storehouse. I guess that's what we do. In that sense it's an obligation, not a punishment, or rather it's a right and a reward.

To hell with the critics. If I got a good review I made copies, attached it to my resume and sent it around. If I got a bad one I tossed it. Maybe your play was pretentious. But so is almost every TV script that makes it into production. The mountaintop reason why we work on things is not because somebody didn't like it but because it can always be better.

A real, honest-with-himself artist lives and works in a rarified, dangerous, electricity filled, atmosphere of risk taking and dream building that most of the human race could not bear to be in for more than a few seconds. Is it comfortable? No. Do we get confortable in it? Yes, eventually. If people don't like it, don't like you in it, or don't like you in general, let them frown and shake thir fingers. The best way to get approval is not to need it.

You have the authority to do what you do and no one can deprive you of that, not even you.

I ramble, only because I recognize so much of what you write about. I wish I could address all of it, for you and for myself.


Alice said...

I don't know what, exactly, to say in a comment, I just know that I need to make one. It's kinda strange to me, reading your words about anxiety and the lack of complete security in life, about risky behavior and the mania of creating something worthwhile, 'cos I understand it. Better than maybe I'd like to. There's something frightening in knowing that for me, personally, I'll never be happy unless I live that way, forever. That scares the hell out of me. I have a choice now, to either settle into a sure-thing type career, take the track I know will lead to success and security, and I know I have no intention of doing that whatsoever. And the anxiety of that alternates between crippling and invigorating me.

I dunno. I can't think of anything else to say. It's just that what you wrote touched off a lot of things in my head, the big things in my life at the moment. The big things in most people's lives, probably.

-Alice B. (no last name for me, it's the Interwebs)

vooman's voice said...

As Boy Dylan says in his song..
Come reviewers and critic who critize with your pen...dont... (be too harsh..?) the chance might not come again, the loser and I will be later to win...for the times they are a changing.
Not too many could pull off a sole show like you do.

Lainey said...

Known you a LONG time, but not in the last 10 years or so. I am glad you are still demanding to be who you are!:) What bothers us the most in other people is usually what WE are. Make sure you give the same freedom to everyone else to be who THEY are, if that is what you want to receive. I'm sure you do, (even if you think they joined a "cult"-BLBM Big laugh by myself).

Blackout Blues is still some of the best acting & writing that I ever experienced in my life. I'll never forget it. It should be a movie too, but I don't think anyone else could act it so well.

What I think is that Depression is a lack of personal expression, and you certainly don't seem to lack there. But is it totally honest? I mean, you tell the truth of course, but your characters always come out as "lovable" in the end. Which makes it good. We are all loveable for the most part but, is that really how you feel? Where is the true darkness? Of course you ARE loveable, but do YOU really think so?

Hey, YOU made a Blog.... What did you think your weird ex's might do? lol :)

Endeard always,


"What is Fear? Something you think will destroy you."

"You have to feel unfulfilled so you can be driven to be filled"


Josh said...

The path of least resistance for some is an impossible feat for others. I could theoretically be sitting in a cubicle all day making good money, my official "path of least resistance"...except that I can't actually do it.
Yes my friend, you do indeed live a self-tortured kind of existence. But if you didn't, what the hell would you write about? Buying 400 thread count sheets at Bed, Bath & Beyond?
The ultimate irony of critics, and by extension all of picture-perfect America, is that they don't have the grit to maintain life in a constant state of creativity--not only artistically creative, but creative in the sense that you're constantly making up new forms of self-employment (while being artistically creative!).
The important thing to remember is that the only difference between Hemmingway and any standard run-of-the-mill asshole drunk was simply a pen...but that makes all the difference, doesn't it?

Lainey said...

Gahhh.... it was "Blue Baby" that was my fav. play, not Blackout Blues! Although I heard that was good too- never got to see it. For goodness sakes.... Sorry! Had some wine that night as you can tell from the pretentiousness :)