It used to be that auditions were my job. They came in every week. I’d spend my time, learning lines, preparing, traveling in to the centre of London, meeting the casting people or directors and coming home to wait for the call as to whether I was successful or not.
It was a roller coaster of emotions that my mother found very difficult because inevitably I’d call her with excitement about an upcoming role that I would be auditioning for. Then a couple of days later, I’d call her to share my anxiety about it. Then I’d call her on the day of the audition in the hopes that she’d have some soothing words. Then I’d do the audition and call her for a debrief. Then there’d be the inevitable wait for news, and I’d call her every day moaning about the lack of news. And then there was the euphoria of getting the job which I’d have to share down the phone with her, and the subsequent highs and lows leading up to the job and during it. Or there were the tearful calls when it didn’t go my way.
Eventually, my mother had to tell me to scale back on the calls because apart from the fact that most of the time she was at work and it was hard to be on the reception of an organisation and have to take a long distance call from your tearful daughter, it was just too emotionally exhausting for her to be on the ride with me.
Ah the good old days of my 20s when there was a ton of work for an eager ingenue! Nowadays, an auditions are more infrequent. In fact, when they come up out of the blue, they are like a curve ball thrown at my week because they needs must take priority over everything else that is planned. I’m more pragmatic about auditions these days as well and it’s a pity my Mum isn’t around to see me deal with them with more equanimity. But when a call comes from my agent about a meeting, the table needs to get swept clear and everything else takes a back seat out of necessity.
Another thing my mother often took me to task over, was my lack of domestic pride. My mother was nothing if not house proud and I did not inherit her gifts in this area. But I suddenly find myself transformed into her likeness when I have something pressing to create, be it lines to learn or a blog post to write. I become exceptionally good at cleaning. My bathroom shines. My floors are pristine. My dishes are washed, dried and put away. I find myself incapable of ignoring the plethora of lego all over the floor. That pile of clothes that I have allowed get piled up on the back of my bedroom chair must immediately be folded neatly and put away. Because, let’s face it, when you are procrastinating and putting off doing the work, when the kitchen surfaces being pristine takes priority over the work, then you know you’re in the grip of fear.
When in the creative flow of my twenties, there was a neat rhythm to my preparation for auditions and for work that I took for granted. There was a turn over which was rapid enough to prevent any fear really getting a foothold. I also had the confidence and chutz pah of youth, that fake it till you make it quality that kept me moving forward.
But when you’ve taken any time away from the hurly burly of creative work whether to care for children or elderly relatives, or when you’ve had to make the choice to do a job that isn’t in your creative sphere simply to pay the rent, it can be shocking to discover that your confidence has taken a knock. To step back into the arena, while thrilling on the one hand can induce butterflies in the stomach that are more like pterodactyl wings (bear with me, my 4 year old is going through the dinosaur phase right now.)
The thing that felt like second nature before can now feel so unfamiliar and difficult that it is tempting to back away from that thing your heart is drawn to. The cycle is pretty toxic.
You crave getting back to your creative work.
You put it off and put it off.
You start a thousand times only to find an excuse not to continue.
You finally create something but it falls short of your expectations and you put it away.
You find every excuse in the book why you shouldn’t be doing the creative thing you crave.
You crave getting back to your creative work….
The fear that we faced down like a mighty warrior in our youth, or which didn’t seem so intimidating grows to Tyrannasauros Rex proportions as we grow older, or are coming back to creative work after a break.
But it is just that; fear. And for my money, Elizabeth Gilbert has the right idea about how to deal with it. She writes brilliantly about just this subject in her book Big Magic.
She recognises that fear is something to be acknowledged. Fear only shows up when risk is involved. Fear is what lets our bodies know that we are potentially in danger. Fear is important. Gilbert recognises that fear is a necessary if irritating part of the creative journey but she suggests dealing with fear by saying something like this:
(credit: artist April Hadley)
Fear might feel like the Tyrannasauros Rex that is chasing the car down a bumpy, wet road at night but let’s remember that T-Rexs are, in fact, extinct.
So once you have kindly and gently acknowledged your fear and firmly put it in its place, what do you do next?
You leave the dishes and you get on with it. You leave the ironing, you close the door on the lego, you light a nice smelly candle to overpower the stink of the greasy dish in the sink and you get to work.
Now that’s not to say that clutter is good for the creative soul. I have found as I’ve got older that clutter and mess irritates me to the point of not being able to concentrate on my creative work. I try to get a bit more organised around my creative work time but there are times when I just have to apologise to my dead mother and close the door on the domestic chaos beyond.
If your creative work is what makes your soul sing, then no amount of dust-free skirting boards are going to give you that joy and peace. If your creative work is what fills your heart, then having a colour coordinated closet is going to leave you feeling empty.
Leave the dishes. Buckle Fear in the back seat of the car outside. And do the work.
This is part of a series I’m writing for the blog called Keeping Creative which is inspired by my conversation with award winning writer and actress Noni Stapleton. You can hear our conversation on the podcast which you can subscribe to on iTunes. If you sign up for my monthly newsletter, you will receive all of the posts as an ebook at the end of the series. I’ve some exciting news to share as well and newsletter subscribers will be the first to hear it!