Real Security

For a short time in my early twenties I thought I might want to be an actor. I was performing in a show I’d written with my brother, and I became increasingly interested in how you find and then stay in character. Even though it was a sketch comedy show and my characters were mostly clownish versions of myself, there was still a difference between what I inhabited on stage and what I inhabited offstage. I wanted the character to be as real as I was; I didn’t want the audience to ever see me “acting.”

At this time I discovered James Dean. I was fascinated by how alive he was while in character. Watching him act was like watching something spontaneous occur. I learned that he preferred not knowing his lines cold; that way, he’d have to search for the words the way a person normally would in conversation. I already knew my lines back to front, but it struck me as a clever technique, and I often wondered how I could achieve the same effect.

I never found that technique. The show ended and I understood I was more interested in writing than in acting. But I never forgot James Dean and his willingness to place authenticity over his security. By and by I found myself writing stories about my life. Because I’d sometimes told them before I wrote them, they were often like scenes I’d memorized and was now going to perform. There was security in that. The stories had had a kind of success already in the public square, and I believed I could just transpose them to the page.

I could not. I was bored immediately, and they felt dead from the first sentence. I soon learned that I needed to forget that I’d ever told these stories. The trick was to find one detail I’d not included before. Now, I had to actually see the story again, not just recite it. Now I was interested, now I was discovering, and though I’d just thrown away the roadmap I believed would keep me safe on this journey, I was secure in the knowledge that I’d already found what I was looking for.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.