For Dave's 50th birthday, we went to see Mary Roach, a science writer and humorist who has written such books as Stiff, Bonk, and most recently, Gulp, speak as part of the City Arts & Lecture series at the Nourse Theatre in San Francisco. It was an entertaining evening, and Roach is a great storyteller as she recounted funny anecdotes from her research. The Q & A portion was surprisingly interesting and absent were the typical gooey praise for the speaker. Through Roach's answers of a few different questions, she spoke about her own insecurities, self-criticism and general worry that her writing won't be good enough, clear enough, funny enough. But what struck me is how her insecurities became motivators. What makes one person's low self-esteem productive, and for another person, their low self-esteem creates paralysis? It seems like at the root of both people is fear—fear of being insignificant, fear of failure, fear of being judged. Roach commented that she only shares the drafts of her book with her trusted editor, because anyone else's feedback might cause her to abandon the whole project. That sounds like a lot of self-doubt for a best-selling author, and I don't believe that she was just being self-effacing. So how do her fears manifest in book after book, while for me and others I know, that fear results in not pursuing our goals?
One possibility may be that success could be a defensive posture to counter shame and lack of self-worth. But why does the insecure productive person's desire override their fear? Does their need for attention trump their worry about judgement? For others, those feelings of worthlessness compound on top of each other and create nothing but regret.
What are the qualitative differences between the insecure person who has found success and the insecure person who is stuck?
On television, reality show and celebrity interview after interview, low self-esteem and narcissism rear their ugly heads time and time again. I understand that fame attracts those qualities—the need for attention from your director or your audience offers reassurance and belonging—I realize that this is a gross overstatement, but for argument's sake, is that need for affirmation so great that it suppresses the fear of rejection? Shouldn't that kind of lack of confidence cause these stars to crawl up into a ball and hide, instead of pursuing their goals with such dedication? This is such a mystery to me. It's something that I need to unlock. I want to perform. I want to have the resiliency to go to auditions, to network and to slough off rejection, all the while building skills to help me get cast the next time. But it feels all too much for me, at least at this point in time. My love of performing does not trump these feelings of doubt. And the very fact that they don't, makes me question myself even more.
I've always thought that content people are the individuals who have healthy self-esteem, who feel uncertainty but move through those uncomfortable stages until they travel to the other side and complete their tasks. But listening to Mary Roach last week made me realize that many of these seemingly successful people are filled with more than just a little healthy self-doubt. How does she manage her apprehension to keep working, researching and writing?
Birthday boy with his girls at Smitten in SF.
How does one person's youth filled with lack of stability, financial insecurity and unloving relationships motivate them to become competent and wealthy, while for another, it just reemphasizes scarcity and keeps them down?
How does one person have enough belief in themselves to see their ideas through, while another lets the world pass them by?
How does one person decide they are an authority on a subject and become a professor, a mechanic, a surgeon?
At the heart of the situation, I think that we attempt to raise our children, to teach our students, to help our friends, our family, ourselves, to listen to our feelings (whether they are filled with fear, joy or something in between) and to have the emotional tools to act upon our needs. We try to not judge others and to not judge ourselves. We strive for empathy and to open ourselves to experience. And hopefully that is an easier thing to learn when you are a young person who has not lived through damaging relationships and disappointments. Maybe our children will be more resilient to those harmful situations and will gain strength from them instead of having their spirits crushed. But what of the folks who have been deflated. How do they aspire to their potential?
My real question is: What are the qualitative differences between the insecure person who is productive and the insecure person who is stuck? I feel that this is fertile ground for exploration and some answers could open a new path of inquiry for me to follow in my own efforts to release my uncertainty and embrace my aspirations. I know that not many folks read this blog (as I've been too shy to widely publicize my nascent writing) but if you have thoughts on this subject or know someone who might, please make comments below, pass the question along, or drop me a line!
Last Saturday, our family had the pleasure of seeing Les 7 Doights de la Main
, a nouveau circus performance collaborative from Montreal, perform their piece PSY.
The company name translates to "the seven fingers of the hand" (evoking the French idiom of the five fingers of the hand working together toward a unified goal) and refers to the seven founding members and their unique creative backgrounds that fit together to accomplish a larger artistic collaboration. The result was a thrilling performance of quirky, innovative and high energy talent that combined circus arts, theatre and dance.
The larger narrative of PSY
is therapy, individual neurosis and the psyche as creative juice for life. Each performer engaged in acts of physical feat that represented the torment that their characters felt internally. As I watched awed by each performer's kinesthetic prowess, I meditated on the comfortable predictability of gravity, contrasted with the seemingly outright defiance of its force by the amazing performers. The juggler's pin is tossed and then rhythmically caught over and over, our mind's eye tracing its path through the air. There is a thrill in watching the juggler because we instantly become familiar with the sequential pattern of the tumbling pins, while simultaneously fearing that a pin will not be caught and our fascinated trance broken. The arc that the aerialist makes while pumping her swinging trapeze soothes like a pendulum and makes your heart race as the apex reaches dizzyingly heights. The greatest delight was watching a couple seemingly flout the laws of physics by clinging to an apparatus, the Chinese pole—basically a fireman's pole that stretched skyward two stories above the stage floor. Their feet would scamper up the bar as if it were a notched tree trunk, then at ridiculous heights their limbs would wind and spin around the pole, stopping to elongate their bodies away from this center line. As the couple spoons as if in bed, but stacked one body atop the other, we are lulled into thinking this is easy, when they suddenly loosen their grip and drop from two stories high to inches from the floor. It is spellbinding to see these performers surrender to gravity's pull. How can one be so brave as to let themselves plummet towards the earth? PSY was about psychology and the mind's yield to forces beyond us. As I watched, I wondered about the lure of falling. We, as humans, may fear the descent but ultimately we want to fall, to feel. We seek out thrill rides where we are protected by metal enclosures so we can safely replicate this sensation without any daring. When we dream in our sleep that we are losing our balance, toppling down, our minds awaken to catch us before we hit. We jolt awake stunned by our instinctive muscles contracting. We feel tense, but
initially the fall felt weightless and a little intoxicating. If we didn't think we would crash, would we have become so panicked? We crave falling in love, drawn to another who reciprocates our feelings, and for that brief time we feel so accepted that we can be giddy and silly and uncaring of the outcome, simply drunk with life. I wonder if what we aren't yearning for is that sensation of abandon. These performers embraced this desire, yielding to gravity and confident that their bodies would catch them right side up. We enjoy watching this physical and metaphorical spectacle of arcing ebbs and flows because it tantalizes that wonder in our soul. We want to fall. We want to be that open; we want to no longer care about being judged, by ourselves, by others, or by perceived limitations. We want to skip for joy and to hell with constraints and pessimism. We want to savor whole-heartedness. It is up to us as individuals to perch at the highest heights, leap off believing that we can enjoy the tumult, sometimes cascading, sometimes falling faster than we like, but trusting that our landings will offer enough momentum to arc us back to the summit for another breathless dance.
Congratulations bouquets for my babies!
I love the color orange, and we purchased these creamy orange roses for Franny and Jordan for their post-play gift. Last night was their final performance of their school's production of Beowolf.
This was the girls' fourth production, and it's been wonderful to watch them grow as performers and to witness their confidence bloom.
Sending the girls to an Independent middle school was a difficult decision, and the financial strain has been greater than I could have imagined. But the access they have had to the arts, the opportunity for inquiry instead of teaching to the test, and the chance to develop their ability to self-advocate, have been completely worthwhile for our family.
At school, the play is performed three times before the two evening family performances. Once for the 3rd and 4th graders, once for the 5th and 6th graders, and once for the 7th and 8th graders. What a terrific way for these classic stories to come alive for the students. In the fall, the production is always a Shakespearean play. The language is meant to be heard, and it is amazing exposure for both the kids in the play, as well as for the kids in the audience. And for me, too!
Jordan as Queen Wealhtheow, and Franny as a Shaper (a group of six characters who shaped and narrated the story with text and movement)
There were two quotes from Beowolf that rang so true. The first that Dave pointed out: "Men carve their gods from what is best in them; what is left must define their fears." And Beowolf says: "There is no courage without fear." We all want our own lives, and the experiences for our children, to be smooth and without turmoil. But it is resiliency that is important to learn. There will always be things to worry about, times where we are disappointed or scared, and it is how we acknowledge those feelings and prevail that matter. Truly, it is more valuable to push up against those fears and know that you can come out the other side, stronger and more energized. What a wonderful thing to be reminded of such life lessons while watching your lovely, talented and smart daughters on stage. I am thankful, and filled with love and admiration.
Congratulations, Franny & Jordan, and all the students and teachers involved in Beowolf, for a wonderful evening of theatre!