Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 77: Thinking it over

My parents died in 1992, within a very short space of time of each other, just as they were closing up the business that they’d been running for the best part of twenty years. They were relatively young, in their sixties, and about to enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned labours.

The sometimes searing vicissitudes of life that we all face, that none of us are immune from, can in time, become gifts borne in the most shocking of wrapping papers. I was 35 in 1992 and, if ever I needed reminding about the impermanence of life, it was made manifest to me that year.

Twelve months later, I made the decision that there was no time left to spend on daily work that was more a means to and end than anything else; not that I wasn’t enjoy myself at Virgin (where I then worked), I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t sell myself short in life.

The long and the short of my story from that point on, was that I joined up the dots dating back to my first career choice - abandoned at the age of sixteen - of working in the performing arts. I’d been left just enough money to either invest in a property or re-educate myself in the vocation of my choice. A no-brainer for me, I did the latter and studied for a Diploma in Directing.

Directing wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind all those years ago when I left school but it was an attractive proposition to me now and let me explain why. Aside from some of the actual elements of doing what a director (stage and/or film) does, I thought that being able to tell people “I’m a director” was impressive. I know, I know, I know, how shallow, how facile, how superficial, how ego-driven......I know that now. But, I was a different me, seventeen years ago. Fear not, the universe soon sorted me out.

About six or seven years ago, I was invited my a group of female friends to joing them in working through Julia Cameron’s inspiring book on “how to pursue your creative dreams”: 'The Artist’s Way'. If you’re not familiar with this book, I can’t recommend it enough, whoever you are and whatever you do. Over twelve weeks and, my memory tells me, many more, we worked through each chapter, checking in on a weekly group conference call, me, the token bloke/fella/chap.

The next year, we started on Julia’s follow-up book,' The Vein Of Gold', “a powerful book that provides the innovative and practical tools for mining the vein of gold within us all”. At the time of working through 'The Vein Of Gold', with my lady-friends, I was happily abroad in the community, now referring to myself as a writer-director, even though I hadn’t directed anything for over five years. My “impressive” introduction was wearing thin, even on me, let alone anyone else, but my ego would not let me jettison the “director” part of my job description; I literally thought that I would be a lesser human being were I not able to brag/boast/fib and deceive about the directing that I wasn’t doing?!

The inner turmoil that my lie of a life was causing me could not go on like this for too long, and it didn’t. I knew that I wasn’t able to just drop the “directing” title I’d given myself until I was happy and comfortable about that, I had to get myself to a place where I was actually wanting to let that go. I think 'The Vein Of Gold' took us the best part of a year to work through together, at the end of which, we gathered for a celebratory dinner and to talk about our outcomes and insights or whatever else we had garnered from the journey. My peronal “vein of gold” was as clear as clarity itself, to me: what I love is writing and telling stories. What brings me the greatest joy is coming up with and creating tales to tell.....I’d never really enjoyed one moment of my short-lived directing “career” , it’d had been agony, agony, agony and more agony. The truth of it was that I didn’t know what I was doing and nor did I care for it.

Thanks to Julia Cameron and my friends up on “the Peninsular”, the battle in the seven and a half inches between my ears, was over.

Day #77 Tip: Inner Conflict (it’s all in the character’s mind)
In the movie, The Doctor, William Hurt plays a cardiologist with a lousy bedside manner (a heart surgeon with no heart). He, the doctor of the title, is diagnosed with throat cancer - I saw the film just after I’d learnt of my mother’s cancer diagnosis - and suddenly he is forced to walk in the shoes of the patients that he has been so unfeeling towards.

It really is a generous film.

Jack (Bill Hurt’s character) eventually has an operation to remove the tumour and must wait, convalescing at home, in silence, to see if the operation has taken his vocal chords along with the mass in his larynx. His marriage is on the rocks, he having been unable to reach out to his wife for succor and support during his battle with the illness (instead he turned to a fellow sufferer, a young woman, played so gracefully by Joan Cusack). A human being with no voice, a ton of fears and a relationship in trouble has one, great, big head full of inner conflict.

In fact Jack has inner conflicts all the way through this story: whether to lie in court in support of his best friend an colleague Murray, charged with a malpractice suit, or whether to tell the truth, that Murray had been negligent? Whether to let his own hospital’s cold-hearted female throat specialist operate on him or whether to turn to the Jewish surgeon that he’s made a career out of mocking? And, whether to admit to June (my mother’s name and that of Joan Cusack’s character) that he has lied to her about the possible success-rate of recovery for her type of tumour (in order to bolster her spirits) or whether to say nothing as the chemotherapy fails her?

Jack has a lot on his mind.

Jack, Hamlet, me, all of us; the war within rages, it shows no sign of abating any day soon in humankind; so, best we writers get it out on the page and up onto the screen so we can all see that we’re not alone and that peace of mind is available.

Tomorrow, the conflict without.

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