Detaching the shadow: letting go of anorexia

“I wasn’t crying about mothers,” he said rather indignantly. “I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick on. Besides, I wasn’t crying.” 

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

The old demon is back. Actually, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure it went anywhere. And if I was honest … No, if I could be honest, about this thing which they call anorexia (a word I find difficult to verbalise and even more difficult to write without feeling stupid and apologetic) that would probably be a good start. But I’m kidding myself. Maybe.

It is always lurking. No matter how often you declare look I ate all my dinner and feel happy and not guilty at all about it. No matter how often you remind yourself that when someone says you look healthy they don’t mean chubby or fat or obese. It’s a good thing. Healthy equals good. No matter how often you run and refuel body. Because you know that. You’re not stupid. Refuelling. Like a car. Think of your body as a car she told me. That will help. And it does. Sometimes. But it is lurking. Still. That big, grey shadow lurks, waits, eavesdrops, niggles and niggles, somewhere between the bottom of my ribs (which probably aren’t as obvious as they used to be which, if I was honest, makes me anxious from time to time) and the pit of my stomach.

Today the shadow bounded from its hiding place full of bad energy and cruel words. It bounded like a pretentious child from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head, filling every part of me on its frighteningly quick journey. Cement. It’s quick-drying cement.

To be honest, which can be hard with this grey shadow, the journey probably wasn’t as quick as I’d like to think. I’d like to think; wow, where did that come from? That took me by surprise. But it hasn’t. Not really. I know it has been meandering on its well-trodden path for sometime. I was just able to slow it down. For a bit. But now it has taken the front seat. Shotgun! it must have shouted, leaving common-sense and you-know-better and grow-the-hell-up to squabble over who had to sit in the middle. No one likes that middle seat.

But why today? Today I got a call-back and an audition. For tomorrow. Both of them. It’s not like I ever get a lot of warning about these auditions and things but something about getting these two opportunities, in close succession, just made me feel so ….under-prepared. Not from lack of research, reading the script, practising, rehearsing, training. No. None of that. Under-prepared because I haven’t been suffering from anorexia for nearly a year now. Because when I was thin anorexic I felt I was the perfect size for film and TV work. I felt good. People said I looked thin and good – god, you look great, look how thin you are, they would say. The camera adds ten pounds, right? Right? I mean, it must be true if the Daily Mail says so. Plus, those actors always look so much smaller in real life …

I think I am fairly intelligent woman and I know the damage an eating disorder causes and I know that I’m not fat. I know it. But I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that the film and TV industry wants someone who isn’t an Australian size 4. Emma Thompson recently spoke of the pressure on female actors to be like models. And it is true. I get casting briefs that provide me with “character references” that are descriptions of models, not characters. I sit in casting waiting rooms with women whose legs are as tall as me. I have listened as the casting director bemoans the fact that the models can’t act but that’s what the producer / the director / the production company wants. Because anyone can act, of course, but not everyone can be a perfect size 4. Now, I am not saying models cannot act, or vice versa, but, well, sometimes …

I am not blaming the industry for my problems. I mean, it all started long ago – I link a lot of it to watching Ariel’s waist in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. How is she so skinny and beautiful? thought 10-year-old me who now wishes 33-year-old could go back in time, smack myself in the face and shout IT’S A DAMN CARTOON IDIOT – IT’S NOT REAL! EAT THE FRICKIN’ POPCORN!

No, I am not blaming the industry but I know what it wants. I worry I don’t live up to those expectations, those thin, tiny bodies it so adores. As soon as that worry sets in, well, the grey shadow can sneak up and grab the front seat. I’ve left it wide open.

This grey shadow. It’s boring. It’s predictable. It’s the most selfish thing in the world; there are people dying of starvation, dying of obesity, living in poverty, living in fear, not living at all …

But this grey shadow isn’t so great and letting me see things with honesty.

It used to make me run in heavy sweatpants – even when it was warm. It used to make me do a lot of math – but never count over 1000 but, better still, 800 on a “successful” day. It used to make me obsess over jeans and brush my teeth at weird times and stare in the mirror and not leave the house. It used to make me tired. It used to give me dry skin and rings under my eyes. It used to make me believe you could never be too thin and thin was everything. It used to make me think I was happy – that was its second biggest lie. It used make me think it could define me – that was its biggest.

Honestly I will try honesty – I will call it now that I’ve seen it. I will take notice. I will do those things I have been taught to do and I won’t let it define me. I will eat. I will drink. I will be merry. And I’ll keep reattaching my true shadow and not this dishonest, unhealthy version of me. I’ve already made a start here … honestly.

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Thoughts from the waiting room, again …

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

George Burns

My audition was scheduled for 1.40pm. At 2pm I still had not gone in and there were three other blondes waiting with me, looking nervous and eager and far better suited for the role than I did. At 2.10pm the casting director asked if any of us were in a hurry. I had seen them checking their watches and tapping their feet and drumming their fingers. Of course they were in a hurry. Of course they had somewhere else they had to be. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room to audition for a non-speaking role in a local television commercial pays the rent.

“No. I’m fine,” they all giggled through plastered smiles.

“Actually, I do have to get back to work soon.” As I said it I could feel the other blondes settle into the uncomfortable plastic chairs triumphantly thinking one less person to compete with; one step closer to nailing the gig. I suddenly felt like I was a strategically-challenged character from The Hunger Games. I felt sure that if that casting director had asked them to tear me from limb to limb they would have done it without hesitation.

“Always say yes. A casting director likes a can-do attitude,” an over-paid, washed up film and TV “acting tutor” once preached to a class of young, wannabe actors. I was one of the wannabes – sitting there, soaking it all in because, well, this tutor had been a star on some now defunct Australian television series so they would know, right?

“They ask if you can ride a horse, you say yes. You just say yes,” he declared between name-dropping and performing excerpts from the show. The class scribbled down his wise-words.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked and all the wannabes stared at me, wide-eyed, not understanding how I could question the oracle who had once been nominated for a Most Popular New Talent TV Week Logie Award. “I mean, if you don’t know how to ride a horse and pretend you can, you could break your neck -”

“It’s not pretending – it’s acting,” one of the wannabes informed me. (I am sure she is probably huge in L.A. now.)

The washed-up tutor looked at me sadly and shook his head of wonderful hair. “You just say yes. OK? To everything. Just say yes. They can work out the logistics later.”

I am always reminded of this brilliant class as I wait for castings and watch the actors respond to any request with this amazing level of enthusiasm that I, personally, would think better suited to winning the lottery or being given a puppy or meeting your long-lost sister for the first time: Can you fill out this form? Can I take your photo now? Are you available for the shoot dates? Have you done a commercial for a similar brand? Can you smack your head against this wall?

There are so many people out there who think they want to be actors (I propose that many of them don’t actually want to be actors; they want to be famous, which is a completely different career choice) that the competition for even a non-speaking role in a pretty ordinary television commercial is fierce and brutal. Because, as all actors are told, “you never know” … that pretty ordinary television commercial could be the Turning Point, the Moment of Discovery, your one chance like Meg Ryan in a Burger King commercial. You just don’t know where this seemingly crappy commercial could lead you. So, we are told, you can’t give the casting director any reason not to consider you for the role.

“So, what’s the latest you could stay around for?” The casting director asked me. “Like five minutes? Ten? Honestly, tell me honestly.”

Honestly? Honestly? Honestly my audition was scheduled for 1.40pm it is now 2.10pm. 2.10pm. Honestly I should have finished the audition and been about to sit back at my desk, back at my boring, soul-destroying, monotonous job any minute now …

I could feel the competition waiting for the casting director to lecture me about the importance of an actor being flexible and available and willing. Waiting for me to leave. Waiting for their moment. Waiting for their big break.

“I can wait. I’ll let my boss know. It’ll be fine,” I smiled through a plastered smile.

It wasn’t like I was lying about my ability to ride a horse or something could actually be dangerous.

“You sure?” Could this casting director see through me? Was my acting this bad?

“Yeah, yeah. I’m happy to be away from my desk to be honest,” and I meant it. That bit was true.

She smiled. I smiled. The competition pretended to smile.

And I waited.

I didn’t get the gig.

My beautiful actor friend or; rethinking this whole acting business (a short reflection on a bad audition)

It’s a business you go into because your an egocentric. It’s a very embarrassing profession.

Katharine Hepburn

My friend is an actor. She is beautiful in that unorthodox way. She wears a big hat and no bra and smokes cigarettes with the grace of Bette Davis. She gets calls from her agent whom she calls “darling”. She never apologises. She never orders lunch but eats most of mine. She is always on her way to something, usually an audition. She knows she is good. She doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t let you think she cares what you think. And you believe she doesn’t. She can wear red lipstick. She can get outrageously drunk. She can be the centre of the attention. She is The Actor.

I’m not like that.

I wish I was.

I think it would help me, you know, as an actor or at the very least it would help me feel like one.

I hate meeting new people because I know that question is coming; “What do you do?” My actor friend answers that question beautifully. By the end of the conversation they’ll have her autograph and will have posed for a selfie with her to pop up on their Instagram account (she, of course, has her own, fabulous Instagram account you’d be very fortunate to appear upon – all grainy and 1970’s chic) so they can show their friends who they knew before she was famous. Because she is going to be famous. I answer the dreaded question with a mumble (oh, yeah, I’m trying to be an actor … and a writer) and this apologetic upward inflection which makes me sound desperate and unsure. These are not the attributes one associates with an actor … or a writer. OK. Maybe a writer but definitely not an actor. Basically, I am the wrong cliché. I wouldn’t mind being like the incredible cliché which is my actor friend, that I could handle … No, instead I fall into the kinda-artistic-loser cliché played by Woody Allen – I want to be Annie Hall not Alvy Singer goddammit!

My beautiful actor friend smiles apologetically when I try to tell her about my sporadic auditions. She says she understands but it seems more like sympathy than empathy. She eats most of the salad I ordered (she couldn’t possibly eat lunch) between taking long drags on her cigarette as we talk about the auditions we’ve lucked out on. At this point, I am still happy just to get an audition. I know she thinks that is naïve. Her auditions are for the major producers of major production houses for major prime-time dramas. My auditions are for television commercials. Sometimes I even get lines to prepare.

I know Mum would say, “you’re an actor – just play that part, the part of your actor friend”. Oh Mum, you just don’t get it. My time at drama school was all about finding my “authentic self” and losing the ego and learning important skills like how to somersault. (I am not ashamed to admit I couldn’t do this before drama school and since drama school I have used it once – not for an audition or a part. Nope. I just kinda did it because I could. And I was drunk. Yay for drama school!) I left my training before the end of the degree and missed out on all the narcissistic, vanity building, self-confidence stuff which seems to make up a lot of the final year (and they need that, they really do for the go-sees and the showcases and the meet and greets and all that).

Instead of finishing my actor training I started writing.

I think I can see where all this went wrong.

But it hit me, you know, how stupid this acting thing is as I was packing an imaginary bag for an imaginary camping trip with my imaginary children for a very real audition for a very real television commercial. The camping bag was floating in mid-air because that’s what the casting director wanted 1. for eye-lines and 2. to make the audition as awkward as possible. It was lucky we were using an imaginary bag. As I packed this bag full of all the things you need for the perfect camping trip (I chucked in all sorts of goodies – fishing rods and mountain bikes and croquet set and boxes and boxes of wine … I was summoning my inner Mary Poppins) the casting director took a phone-call. Right there. Not an imaginary call – a real, live phone-call on his real, live iPhone. Strangely this is not considered a good sign. In that moment I thought – what would my actor friend do right now? How would she handle this situation which has, unbelievably, grown even more awkward. I considered doing a somersault. Nope. She would not do that. I know what she would do – she would keep on going. So I did. I packed that bag beautifully. I didn’t wait for him to get off the phone. I packed and packed and smiled at my kids and ad-libbed something about sleeping-bags and finally he called “Cut” … Well, no he didn’t actually call “cut”. He was still on the phone. Calling “cut” in the middle of the phone-call would just be rude. No, instead of breaking phone etiquette he did this weird, silent little hand movement in front of the camera. It reminded me of Joey from Full House: “Cut, It. Out” – I nearly said that but remembered my actor friend and refrained.

While I waited for him to finish his phone-call so I could resume packing (the kids were getting really restless too – they just wanted to go camping, is it that difficult?) I thought about this acting thing. It dawned on me, I could never be like my actor friend because I know what she would have done. She would have stormed out of there and called her agent and told the darling that she would never be humiliated like that again and if they couldn’t send her to real auditions then she would seek representation elsewhere, and she would get it too.

The casting director resumed the audition (minus phone-call) and changed up the scene (goodbye imaginary floating suitcase; hello imaginary steering-wheel) and I continued. I didn’t storm out. I didn’t call my agent. I didn’t get the part.

I don’t really know if my actor friend would have stormed out. We are all so conditioned to take this thing so seriously, to see everything as some sort of ‘opportunity’ (you just don’t know what this will lead to / who will see this / what this director will do next) and to understand that there are many, many actors out there (all of whom are willing to stab your eyes out with a chop-stick if it means getting a line on a crappy television commercial) that we are too scared of making the wrong impression so put up with the awkward and the humiliating and the downright rude.

And you know what?

Being beautiful in that unorthodox way and wearing a big hat and no bra and smoking cigarettes and calling your agent  “darling” and never apologising and not eating lunch and always being on your way somewhere and knowing you’re good and making them believe you don’t care what they think and wearing red lipstick and getting outrageously drunk and being the centre of the attention … maybe all that actually does help deal with the crazy of being The Actor.

Or  if that fails, maybe just doing somersaults. For no reason.

Or giving it all up to write.

Maybe it all helps.

Maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

Because, in the end, it is only acting – it is only make-believe.

 

Thoughts from the waiting room; or, Acting is Weird

Acting is the perfect idiot’s profession.

Katharine Hepburn

Nothing like a last-minute casting to brighten your day. And this one was really last minute: a call from the agent at 1.30pm for an audition at 3.30pm. Fortunately, I could take a late, long lunch-break for this audition for a non-speaking role in an ever-so-slightly-but-not-too-much-to-cause-outrage sexist television commercial.

I made it the casting waiting room, got the obligatory up-and-down from another woman possibly auditioning for the same, highly coveted role and waited and filled in the form that wants all my measurements in centimetres and thought (hopefully not out loud):

Acting is weird.

Although I’m not even sure this could be classified as acting. My success in getting this role seemed entirely based upon my ability to smile. Last week, it was based on my ability to look like a model but not too much like a model, like an approachable model, the girl-next-door-meets-Bond-Girl-type (if that’s even a type), and to keep it natural but not so natural that you lose those elements of looking like a model … I didn’t get that gig. Obviously.

But this gig … I can smile. I do it everyday.

I wasn’t nervous, just intrigued to see how on earth the casting director could actually direct a casting for this role.

There were a few auditions for different productions on in the casting offices that day. I watched nervous actors try desperately not to look nervous as they studied scripts and mouthed their lines and checked their watches. I watched mothers whispering encouragement or instructions or threats (or all three)  at their 3-year-old daughters as they fixed their piggy-tails and kept an eye on the casting director’s door. Your audition starts as soon as you enter the waiting room – another tip from another acting class.

I went to an audition for a ‘young mum’ role and was partnered up with a child for the casting. The casting director told me that she looked more like my sister than my daughter which I thought was pretty cool considering this kid was like 9. And a boy. No, no, she was definitely a girl. Now, I am absolutely old enough to have a 9-year-old daughter so I took it as a compliment that I didn’t get that gig – too young to be cast as a ‘young mum’ … Or, possibly, the 9-year old looked more like she was 17 and in that case … No, I’m sticking with my version of the story. Anyway, maybe when called on to audition for ‘young mum’ roles it is safer to ‘bring your own baby’ as I could see was happening in this waiting room.

But, for this audition it didn’t matter.

No children necessary.

I just had to smile.

And that’s exactly what I did about fifteen minutes later as I headed into the audition room.

Smiling and some miming.

They don’t really cover that at Drama School.

The casting director was very positive and said I was in with a very good chance for this one …

I didn’t get the gig.

I think I need to work on my smiling and miming.

Acting is weird.

Why I love being a morning person and other lies I tell myself

One must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can’t do anything about them.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I lie to myself everyday.

I don’t think it’s such a bad thing really. I mean, of course, “Honesty is the best Policy” and “Liar-Liar-Pants-On-Fire” and all that. I know. I’m not natural liar. When I was in Grade 2 I told my classmates that I had been for a ride in a helicopter. I can’t remember the full story but it got their attention. And it was detailed. I remember I was pretty thorough in my storytelling. It was so detailed that I got anxious I wouldn’t remember the full story correctly (I was sure I’d be asked to retell it to the whole school) and be caught out as a helicopter-faker. I didn’t get caught out, probably because I never got to the retelling stage – another little girl said she and her dad met Michael Jackson (or maybe it was Michael J Fox –I can’t quite remember now), who just so happened to fly over to see them in a, yep, you guessed it, helicopter. My once-ace-now-really-lame helicopter story was topped by a far more confident liar and that was the end of my foray into extraordinary stories for my classmates. The pressure was just too much for a seven year old.

Anyway, those aren’t the sort of lies I’m talking about.

I’m also not talking about those lies which lead to complete delusion about ones talents and skills, thus resulting in awful wannabe singers auditioning for X-Factor and being genuinely shocked when they’re told they will never be the next Beyonce … No, not those sort of lies.

I’m talking about lies that can make getting through life just that little easier to manage. They are what I like to think of as the “grey-zone” of lies …

Here’s my lie list –

 1. I love getting up early.

No, I don’t.

But I do it.

And if anyone asks I will say “I am a morning person” and I can hear the little 7-year-old me whispering liar-liar … I’m not really lying. I’m not saying what sort of morning person I am, just that I am one – and I am … trying.

2. I love running.

No, I don’t.

But I do it.

Running is the most pointless thing I do. I just run. Around. And there are all these other people running around too but we can’t really make eye contact or say good-morning because we’re all out of breath or trying desperately not to look out of breath.

But I do like early morning runs (see point 1 above) when you feel like you get the chance to see the sky in a way that many others will miss for that day.

I do like the feeling during the run when you manage to get to the top of the hill without stopping or after a good sprint or when you realise you’ve managed to go further than you thought you could.

But there is plenty I don’t love about it – at times it’s a little boring and a little pointless and sometimes it’s just plain horrible. Your toes bleed and your legs ache and you get a runny nose. I try not to think about it and just go with the lie; I love running!

3. Just getting the chance to audition is wonderful.

No it isn’t.

But I say it.

Just give me the god-damn role. It’s a non-speaking, 10-second moment in a television commercial for a car. Do I really need to audition? In reality, no-one probably needs to audition for something like that. But in order to simply turn up to some of these castings you have to lie to yourself otherwise … well, you just wouldn’t do it would you?

Those people who run acting for film and TV workshops and master-classes, they all have these stories of [insert actors name here] who auditioned for something minor, didn’t get the role but did such an amazing job in the audition that the casting director got them in for [insert name of popular TV series here] and now they are this in-demand, always-working, award-winning, Hollywood-bound actor … Maybe the teachers of these classes are using the same lie that I’m using …

Anyway, this is a very useful lie for keeping sane and not getting overly disheartened when you don’t book the gig. There will always be another audition. And auditions are just wonderful experiences (see point 3).

 4. Porridge – it’s the perfect breakfast.

No it isn’t.

But I eat it pretty much every-single-day.

The perfect breakfast is ricotta hotcakes with berry compote or smashed avocado with poached eggs or coco-pops. I always thought being a grown-up meant having cupboards filled with a whole variety of breakfast cereals like Seinfeld. My cupboard has oats. It’s cheap and it’s healthy. That’s the reality of being a grown-up I suppose. So every morning I cut up a banana and put it in some decorative arrangement on top of the porridge and think about how this is, really, honestly, completely the perfect breakfast. It’s a lie that stops me buying coco-pops and that’s okay, isn’t it?

 5. Admin is just what I do to pay the bills; my real-job is acting / writing.

No it isn’t.

But I say it.

A lot.

Particularly when I’m using Excel.

I also, shamefully, use terms like “my creative practice” – I never wanted to be that person. But here I am. Saying it. Loudly. Particularly when I’m using Excel.

My admin job is my real job. I turn up 4 days a week, for 7.6 hours a day, have a work email address and phone number and desk and Outlook Express calendar that has meetings in it I have to attend and I get pay-slips and superannuation and sick-leave and accumulate holidays and all that “real job” stuff. I haven’t made money through “my creative practice” for about a year – so this makes it a hobby, right? No. That’s not the point. That’s not what it’s about. And I will continue to tell myself this lie because without it … Well … I don’t even want to imagine …

6. No. I don’t want the biscuit / slice of cake / chocolate / wonderful-sugar-filled-treat

Yes I do.

But I don’t take it.

Of course I want the sugary treat. It’s 3pm and I’ve been doing paperwork all day and the tuna salad wrap I ate at 1pm just didn’t cut it and I’ve consider the vending machine options multiple times and then – bam! There they are, standing at my desk, offering me a plate of cookies that were left over from some meeting or a slice of Mandy-From-Marketing’s birthday cake or some other incredible home-made treat drizzled in caramel and chocolate … And I lie to myself. I don’t want it. No, of course I don’t want it … The amount of cake that is served up in the office is really quite something; I need this lie.

 

 

I am hoping, I suppose, that eventually the lies will become the truth: that I will be able to say, and genuinely believe in, all those points with complete honesty. I hope to get to the same point, in a way, as those horribly untalented X-Factor contestants … but in this case use the lie for good rather than evil.

(And I did eventually go for a helicopter ride – about twenty years after the fake-helicopter tale. That’s the truth. However, my original version of the story of the helicopter ride as a 7-year-old was far more exciting …)

The Woman who asked Why or: How I l Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Critic

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

Aristotle

In my current day-job I work with really lovely people who always thank me for my work or say how great my Excel spreadsheets are or how happy they are with my contribution to the team or present me with two cinema tickets as a reward for all my efforts (yes, this actually happened. I saw Gatsby. That’s another story). Our department is not always this disneyfied-wonderland of positivity and appreciation, however I have never been nor felt criticized for my work.

It’s weird.

Because the work that I do that doesn’t-pay-the-bills-as-frequently-as-this-current-admin-job, as an actor and writer, is full of criticism. In fact, criticism and the Arts really go hand-in-hand; it’s part of the deal. Mum would always tell me I would need to “grow a thicker skin” if I wanted to be an actor … That sounded particularly terrifying and awful, especially to the fifteen year-old me who was sobbing into her pillow because she didn’t get the part in some god-awful amateur theatre production of Les liaisons dangereuses.

Actors, writers, theatre-makers, artists, designers, film-makers, creatives … We are all subject to criticism in our chosen fields. As an actor, simply not getting the gig can be taken as a criticism; that director thought she was better / prettier / thinner / more talented than me

To be honest, I am confident there are plenty of careers out there that must deal with fierce criticism everyday but there is something different about the criticism you receive for your creative work. Maybe because a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of yourself goes into creative work. Maybe because it is so exposing. Maybe because inside most people there is that creative urge, that sense that they too could have been doing something creative if only they’d had the break / money / parental support / reality television programs like The Voice, so that makes them some sort of expert who can dish-out criticism. Maybe because there really aren’t any “experts”. Maybe because the arts are so damn subjective (if you’re a crap doctor, you’re a crap doctor – there’s no question about it. Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, divides audiences).

There is also something different about the very public way in which that criticism is often given – reviews, particularly on the internet, are there for the world to see if they ever wanted to.

The growing of a thicker skin has been a very, very long process for me.

I once took part in a playwriting course – just a little bi-monthly meeting of wannabe playwrights, facilitated by one actual playwright. You would read your work aloud and get feedback. It was always a good day but never all that challenging. I was the youngest there and the only participant not attempting to write some sort of drawing-room drama. Needless to say the play I was working on, Dropped, was a little different from what the others found aesthetically pleasing.

After reading a section of my play (a section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course) one of my fellow class-mates got quite irate:

“Why?” she asked.
“Why?” I didn’t know what she was really asking me here.
“Why?” she repeated.
“Why what?” I needed more information.
“Why?”
I just looked at her.
After a pause she continued, “I just don’t know why … I don’t understand. Why? Why these words? Why am I hearing this? Why?”

I didn’t have an answer for her.

That was criticism.

That was the first time the class had really challenged me.

And that was the moment I realised; as much as I hated it I also needed it – criticism.

It made me stop and think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It also made me want to punch her in the face, but once I worked through that (no punches were thrown) I could actually start to look at my work objectively … Well, as objectively as you can.

Of course I won’t always like it, or agree with it, but I think I realised in that moment that it is a necessity for creative practice. Not a spiteful review or a mean-spirited comment but criticism that makes you think, question and challenge your work. Unfortunately there isn’t much of that around …

Learning to listen to criticism in whichever form it takes, to pick out the useful bits and brush off the crap, is difficult but you get to practice it a lot when you work in the arts.

It’s the only way I can keep turning up to castings. And not get the role.

It’s the only way I can keep writing. And not get the grant / commission / award.

In order to simply survive this crazy “industry” it is so very important separate the work from the person – to not look at a bad review or the fact you didn’t get a role as a personal attack … Keep it separate. Take from it what you can and make a choice: act on it or let it go. Otherwise, well, we would all go a little madder than we already are. Otherwise we would all just give up.

That woman with her incessant “whys” really did help me a hell of a lot.

(And Dropped is going to be performed soon complete with the aforementioned section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course)