Thoughts on an actor's education in the suppressive national dream life.
I write around 4 or 5 in the morning because it is the only time I know I won't have anything else to do. When I lived in the Bay Area, this was also the time I used to wake up to drive people to places for money. The thing about driving people in a car is you aren't really taking them anywhere. You're stuck in the machine. Stuck in one place. When you walk out, you're supposedly in a different place but you haven't actually traveled anywhere. You haven't grown.
Though, you know, there's nothing like a view of the sunrise from the San Francisco Bay Bridge through the passenger seat of a car.
With writing there are more possibilities for actual travel because neither of us are stuck here. We are attempting to grow towards our genius by sparking each other's genius. I spark your genius by writing as honestly as possible, and you spark mine by being the imagined person I'm writing for. Though if I can imagine you I'm sure that you're real. Here you are reader, waiting to be comforted and disturbed, enlightened and enraged in a roller coaster of complex and unique reactions to what I am about to say. All in service of pulling you out of a moment of feeling lost. For we only look for things to read when we ourselves are waiting to be found.
Though, whatever you're going through reader, I can't help you. I can't save you. You know this. I'm doing this for myself. All I think about is you, of course. But I do it for me.
"This is why I write
to be amazed by my own fire.
This is why I read
to crawl briefly into yours."--Vilma Ginzberg
The problem with storytellers and actors in America is that we still interpret their role through the function of the grand savior myth. Our lord sends a son to live among us to die for our sins so we don't have to. The storyteller gives anecdotes or narratives that an actor performs in order to induce laughter or tears, but either way they are meant to relinquish their audience (temporarily) from the necessity of wrestling with their own demons. One could say that an actor that writes and performs their own work is a microcosm for the Trinity (the actor, their story, and their audience/inspiration), but it is more the case that we are taught to make this connection because of our conditioning toward the idea of the trinity than it is that this microcosm represents anything other than an imposing construct. For every believer there is a different idea of god, but every person has the same understanding of salvation. Or non-salvation, which is really only seeking salvation through its denial; the manifestation of which in the storytelling realm being the so-called anti-hero. We're all hoping to be saved but we're all looking for something different to save us. And we all want different kinds of stories but we all want our actors to fulfill the same purpose within those stories. We want them to free us from our sins. We want them to experience life in a way that we ourselves are too afraid to experience it so that we don't have to have the courage to live that life ourselves. It is a purpose that can never be fulfilled. Because actors can only reflect those whom they are telling the story to. Actors cannot be courageous in a cowardly society. They cannot be redemptive in a society where salvation is supposedly vicarious and no one seeks their own redemption.
Depression is not wanting to be saved. It is not even the denial of salvation. It is a defection from the game of salvation all together. Depression is not wanting stories. Or actually it is not wanting them in the manner that we, whether we know it or not, have been conditioned to tell them. Depression is our bodies' form of protest against the national dream life.
We train our actors to achieve a certain standard of performance, instead of educating them to understand that they function within an infinitude of joyous inspirations.
"To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a final self-definition. Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future."--James P. Carse in Finite and Infinite Games
When we train, we limit. When we educate, we expand.
Our society trains its public school students to adopt the national foundation myths it is built on and our actors who by virtue of having the will and disposition to act are gifted and cursed with a striking ambivalence towards the indoctrination of these foundation myths. But by some forced and reluctant impulse, they go on to further train in a manner which limits them to being the mere spokespersons for these foundation myths which they are born with the keenness to despise.
We tell our students these are the real historians, these are the true leaders, and that our property is our original concoction and the concept of "people" is abstract rather than the visceral function of a society. Our efforts to mask this by pretending to give an open-minded, liberal education which aids students to achieve individual career success are astonishingly naive at best and grossly insidious at worst. We tell our actors these are the plays you must read, this is how you must stand and speak, this is the best use of your time in an extraordinarily uncertain life. Our efforts to mask this with platitudes like "there is no right way there are only a million wrong ways" and "we want you to free your imagination" ignores the fact that we are conditioned to perceive our ways as inherently wrong and that we are only granted the opportunity to bounce our imaginations off material that is connected to the same standard of established mythology.
This double-fold training coupled with the acute nature of our innate reluctance to it is why actors are especially prone to depression and why a disdain for actors and the stories they act (which is really a disdain for oneself and the life they lead) is one of the earliest signs of a depressed mindset.
That isn't to say that this training and this predilection to a depressed mindset doesn't produce remarkable work. The work can be exceptional. But it is work that is extremely limited within the scope of the established national dream life (as defined by the foundational myths). So once the ecstatic thrill is over, many of us are lost as to what it was all for and what it may have cost our souls. This is not dissimilar to the urgent, drug-induced, sexual escapade that grants one exploding pleasure but leaves them to ponder later as to how much the decision was actually theirs to begin with.
The question, "This godless, immoral government says I am inherently corrupt but thankfully god has already died for my sins, so how do I spend the rest of my life?" And, "Oh, that actor's voice was amazing and that set was fire! What was the play called again?" And, "Was I just raped?" are not at all disparate.
There are of course times, such as now, when it seems that our actors (and in conjunction, the rest of our collective people) seem to awaken from the state induced national dream life and begin to tear down their walls in order to demand being relinquished from the burden of training and be granted the right to an education, though they always return to sleep.
And like the dreamer who forgets their waking life and the awakened who forgets their dream life, we will all get back in line. And we will forget that we had for a brief and wondrous time forgotten the national dream life that had been forced unto us without our consent. We will return to sleep, and back to the notion that this is all that ever was. Back to safety and to slavery. Only a few of us will remain awake. And those few, much to our annoyance, will continue the work of shaking us out of our overwhelmingly deep REM cycles. And they will perhaps add a few more of us to the group that is continually free of the training and enslaving dream life and finally open to their actual education.
Rest assured, one of the first signs that our people as a collective have returned to accepting the established dream life will be when our actors begin consenting to work that, no matter how one looks at it, only has the capacity to imagine them as slaves within the dream life. In fact, that has already begun. And it is being touted as the forefront of reform within the depraved carnival of theatrical institutions as "demanding a seat at the table." Or to use the obnoxious paralegal term, "equity and inclusion."
Let's stop taking ourselves so seriously and remember that as poets (for that is all an actor or a writer or painter really is), as poets our entire purpose is to reign outside the function of serious society. This does not mean that we are frivolous or that our work has no consequence. On the contrary, by virtue of remaining playful and avoiding seriousness we embrace the potential for the consequence of consequences--disrupting the national dream life. If we're not disrupting the national dream life, we're not artists. If we're trying to remold the dream life to suit our demands, we are still playing at a game which devours our potential and continues to aid in the manipulation of those whom we're supposed to show how to be free. For it is only by being free that one can help anyone else be free. And seeking to be "included" is the opposite of freedom.
Harriet Tubman did not seek to be free, she decided she was.
"Equity and inclusion" for actors in the theatre and, by extension, all who are disenfranchised in society, is a false game. We are lying to ourselves and securing the egos of those who inevitably despise us by pandering to the idea that they have something to give us. This is the inherent function of racism and oppression, to say that there are those who are standing behind a door who must have the will to let those behind the door in.
Stop knocking on the door.
Don't even try to break it down.
There is no door.
They made it up. Whoever is behind that door--that is their myth, not ours. And we've convinced ourselves of their myth so perniciously that we've forgotten that even by attempting to alter it for our own benefit we are forgoing the dignity of remembering our much older and much more sound myths. Do not misunderstand me--these established myths have indeed been forced upon us, but so many of us seek to change them rather than discover the ones we already know are our own.
There are those among us, and there always have been, who fulfill the necessary function of the artist as disruptor of the national dream life. Not through any pretensions of an obligation to do so, or even a conception of it, but by the mere act of abandoning the deadly serious and frivolously finite political games of "representation" and "diversity" and instead enjoying the joyfully infinite and vibrantly playful game of poetic dissent.
In other words:
They. Make. Their. Own. Work. And. They. Put. It. On. Themselves. And. They. Don't. Care. Who. Wants. To. "Produce." It. Or. Who. Is. Going. To. "See." It. Because. They. Enjoy. The. Mystery. Of. It. All.
And that's the biggest crime these production companies and congress and nuclear weapons factories have committed against those of us who seek their comforts. They've taken away the joy of the mystery.
They've turned storytellers into ideologues (There is a right. And there is a left. And if you're story doesn't pander and/or dismantle one of these two prescribed political realities you are dismissed).
They've taken representatives and turned them into celebrity killers (she/he was so chic back in the day, let's give them the power to indiscriminately slaughter and/or incarcerate millions at the stroke of a pen).
They've taken scientists and the great thinkers of our age and turned them into sheep minds for weaponry (make this bomb, we'll give you a house. And remind us of looming environmental threats while we continue to ignore you).
They have turned our analysts into tools of the state (your expert opinion matters only in so much as it contributes to the current drama of the established national dream life. We're fighting terrorism now. Now our president is letting our own people die. Let's forget everything empirically worse that has preceded and created the context for this current tragi-comedy. Never mind that there are literally thousands of variables that can lead to nuclear destruction in an instant. Never mind our country is a psychotic, suppressive global terror machine. Never mind our society spawns and sustains predators).
Our anti-racist/anti-sexist movements are not going nearly far enough, because they are fueled by a need to explain and cancel rather than the deeper need to unite and grow. Celebrating the metaphysical guillotining of celebrities most of us are far removed from and posting about problematic text messages and creating invisible google docs and exclusive social media groups to voice our grievances gives the impression that we are a depraved carnival of children and monsters with self-appointed crusaders who can rarely tell the difference between the two. This is the case especially in the entertainment world, but the principles I'm about to stipulate apply widely.
First off, be an adult:
1) Respect boundaries that have been asserted.
2) Assert your own boundaries explicitly and directly to the other person and do not assume each individual shares your personal and/or cultural assumptions. They are not obligated to. You are responsible for how others treat you.
3)Take responsibility for your own education. We've all been lied to by the state. Cry about it. But hit the books when you're done. Carter G. Woodson's take on the subject has been in print for eighty-seven years now and is still relevant; that should tell you that no one but yourself can be in charge of your education.
4) If you are offended, ask yourself why before assuming it is an attack. We cannot live genuinely if we do not leave ourselves open to surprise. Sometimes that surprise will delight us and sometimes it will make us uncomfortable. Sometimes we will confuse that discomfort with a lack of safety, because the myths of our national dream life have convinced some of us that we are so entitled to safety we have forgotten what it actually means to lose it. If the surprise discomforts you, make an explicit choice about how to proceed in asserting your boundaries. Discomfort is not an excuse for cowardice.
No one is coming to save you. Change your own mindset about the world around you and meet your new ideals accordingly.
5) Seek enjoyment and avoid excessive obligation and pleasure. You are not obligated to do anything that degrades you because "the show must go on." And if you're in it to get laid, get out. Enjoy the work. Obligation is at times a fact of life, discern what it will cost you and make your choice. Pleasure is a necessity as well, but discern whether opening yourself up to it will be limiting or if it will allow for growth.
Choice is the essence of the craft.
6) Other people are not your responsibility.
I want to talk about the crusaders again. These well-meaning people run on one of two impulses. The impulse to protect and the impulse to correct.
---The impulse to protect assumes someone is a victim mostly because you deem them so and that they are a person unable to assert themselves. In other words, it assumes that person is a child. Do not make a child out of a grown person. This is the same patriarchal, racist impulse that triggered your need to "protect" in the first place. Protection implies ownership. You own no one.
And to those who play at a learned helplessness that implies a need for protection, I only have a question: how much longer will you seduce and consent to your own subversion?
---The impulse to correct assumes that someone inherently abides by your own personal and cultural assumptions which you have deemed superior and that they are a person who behaves in a vacuum and without context. In other words, it assumes they are a monster. Do not make a monster out of a (flawed) human being. Again, this is the same patriarchal, racist impulse that triggered your desire to correct in the first place. Correction implies supremacy. You are above no one.
Is this abstract and reductive? Yes. But I trust you can think of your own examples. And until we understand the basics (and it is not controversial to say that we have not understood them) we cannot address complexity. Is this ignoring the fact that we have to deal with and will continue to deal with very real monsters in our industry and society as a whole? Yes. But the moment we start treating everyone like a child is the moment we lose our discernment towards monsters. And that is exactly how monsters flourish.
Does this emphasis on individual autonomy ignore the systemic inequities which make the assertion of self more difficult for some individuals than it is for others? Yes. And my answer to that valid and necessary argument is this:
a) The narrative of these systemic inequities is not the general narrative of the entire six thousand years of human civilization. It is a narrative currently imposed on us by the foundation myths that support the national dream life.
I've been watching an anime called Attack on Titan which is one of the most original works not only of animation but in television and story as a whole. It is a show with intense action and brutal violence (which is almost never to my taste) but the most astonishing part of the show is how it builds on a narrative of complex characters who slowly unravel their learned foundational myths to reveal a grossly depraved and literally monstrous secret about the origin of their nation. Sound familiar? It is the truth. Watch that show and tell me that your entire worldview hasn't shifted and you'll convince me you are a passive lamb.
Anyone who assumes to know the comprehensive narrative of any gender or any community politically divided by color, language, or religion is neither a historian or a storyteller. They are an ideologue. The history you think you know is based on the history books you've chosen to read. I am going to recommend one for you just for the hell of it. Saga America by Barry Fell. It chronicles evidence that Indigenous Americans were continuously and intensively in contact with Africans and Europeans from as early as the fourth century B.C. I offer no other description besides that it flipped my idea of history upside its head.
All of this is to say that if you want to adopt a suppressed mindset based on your assumed narrative, you are correct. And if you want to adopt an empowered mindset based on your assumed narrative, you are also correct.
b) The second answer I offer to these very real concerns is the same implicit answer we as a nation give to the world's terrorized, impoverished, incarcerated, abandoned, and cleansed when we choose to to take this (valid) theatre of microaggressions seriously either through gossip (i.e. "can you believe what she said?" and "Oh, careful around him.") and disingenuous smears and cancellations on social media among other trivial methods (they've become a normalized form of pornography, really. I pray that future alien archaeologists remember us for college graffiti inscriptions like Black Lives Matter or E = MC2. Which might give a better impression of our age than the sadly isolated, self-righteous navel-gazing of the social media cataclysm).
The answer we give to the rest of the world when we choose to engage in this frivolous way is "tough shit."
The woman or man of color or not of color in the theatre is not a child and has a responsibility to assert their own boundaries. The room that does not respect those boundaries does not deserve to be changed or even burned, but ignored all together. It is not worth a single discussion at the pub or secret google doc or social media group. None of us belong in a room to begin with. We do not belong inside a realm which banishes play. We do not belong in a room that makes intimacy serious and hurtful.
Most of us who are well-meaning and on the right side of history are moral crusaders against evil within and without our ranks when instead we ought to be shepherds for our people. I am not talking about the difference between violence and non violence in the realm of street protest, that is outside the scope of this post. My one word on that is this; I will never forget the response my aunt gave me when I was expressing my aggravation about the racist demonizing of protesters by certain social media collections:
"It reminds me of people's attitudes during the revolution in 2011."
In the Egyptian revolution of 2011, people kept complaining about the so called looting of the museums. As if the actual human beings were not as important. What have those artifacts done for the actual Egyptians? And are those artifacts the only thing that makes Egyptians of any value to the rest of the world? The people have been robbed of their dignity and oppressed for so long, and we're complaining about that?
When the Egyptians overthrew their military dictatorship and held the first democratic election in their so called "post-colonial" history, people complained about the new (elected) president. Media platforms across the world touted him as just another dictator. As if the actual people of Egypt, who elected their own representative for the very first time, could not make the decision for themselves through their elections.
Then a more powerful general came and took over and reestablished a dictatorship. They enacted the role of savior (against a democratically elected government). They were a crusader. I'm not invoking a religious connotation here, because the military dictatorship in Egypt is secular. By a crusader I mean someone who saw the need and opportunity to cancel.
They then imposed something worse.
The Egyptian people are now under the worst dictatorship in their modern history, and it is the United States empire's second most funded government in the world (take a wild guess as to the first). And that has been and will be true no matter who is our president. And nobody cares anymore. They only cared when the Arab Spring disrupted the national and global suppressive dream life, and they cared briefly when that disruptence was eventually silenced. Now that the dream life has been re-established and is even more secure than it previously was, there is no longer a need to pay attention to Egypt.
The same thing happens to revolutions in the United States. Occupy Wall Street happened at the exact same time as the Arab Spring. Donald Trump then became our next president.
It will happen here again.
It seems the more vigorously we awaken ourselves, the more vigorously our overlords constrain us and teach us to forget.
And let's not fool ourselves. We want to be constrained. We want to forget. We are living a national rape fantasy. We embellish a trauma narrative by abandoning discernment of the flaws within our own communities in order that we may further justify our prurient submission to the powers that be.
Liberals (BIPOC and white) add and analyze extraneous details to tragic events for the sole purpose of exploiting a narrative of suffering to garner the maximum amount of pleasure from their performative outrage. And the more they do this the less they realize that they in fact allow these tragedies to perpetuate in order to continue deriving pleasure from their own outrage.
Whether or not one is on the right side of history, the ecstatic temptation to cling to invention as opposed to facts in order to perfectly corroborate ones' hates or fears is a failure of all humans indiscriminately. And in that sense, the oppressed and the oppressor both have a common enemy.
Compared to the theatre and even our actual political landscape, this is a hyperbolic analogy. But my point is that the more we give "strong men" the power to determine the fate of weak institutions--Regardless of how morally right they seem to be and regardless if they seem to come to the aid of the weak and helpless--remember that the means which they employ will always determine who they actually are.
If the means is control and suppression, or the precedence of invention over fact, even if they seem to be on the right (or in our case, the left) side of the moral spectrum, that tells you all you need to know. They are after power.
I am talking mainly about the interpersonal dealings within institutions. And in my personal case, the institution of American Theatre. Which is a remarkable case study given the intimate nature of the work. It is a realm perniciously haunted by rape, whether it be the literal rape of the artist or rape by virtue of recrimination of the artist in order to maintain deference to those who have (financial) power over her/him. And because of this and the now widely public exposure of it, it has understandably given rise to a number of self-appointed crusaders (for more in depth thoughts/context see my blog posts titled Thoughts On Coming Up In The Theatre By A Young Man Of Color Part One and Part Two at
The crusader is the established and approved role within the superimposed national dream life. Their impulses are disguised as righteous but their ends conform with the oppression that spawned them. The shepherd is the role with a genuine sense of consequence. The shepherd seeks not to protect, but to heal. Not to correct, but to understand. So they help someone who is helpless grow into someone autonomous. And they help someone who is imposing grow into someone who is genuinely effusive.
The shepherd understands that all of us at one point or another lean towards helplessness and to monstrosity. The shepherd helps us find balance. We are educated as opposed to trained. We travel instead of transport. Grow instead of merely move. Shepherding is both the means and the end. Indeed, there is no end at all. For the shepherd helps free us from our prescribed roles as children and monsters and guides us to an infinitude of joyous possibilities.
The crusader divides by assuming a role which entraps whom they wish to coddle as children and whom they wish to capture as monsters. The shepherd unites by abandoning protection and guiding by example, thereby shepherding and allowing others to shepherd.
The shepherd is indiscriminately useful. The crusader is only useful when it comes to dealing with monsters. And if a crusader is wrongfully employed, they will cause as much damage as the monster itself. It is very easy to unleash a misguided, and, more often in fact an insidious crusade.
The crusader is full of meaning, ideological, and destructive. The shepherd is free of meaning, pragmatic, and unifying.
A shepherd creates room for other shepherds to grow. A crusader slaughters all that is around them.
The ideological battle between the right and the left ignores the pragmatic necessity of understanding the monstrosity of the system we are in and healing those who have been harmed irredeemably by it.
When it comes to the theatre or any industry, the idealistic thought cleansing and behavior monitoring-- which has occurred only as a visceral response to the now consistently public but never new depravity of our darkest impulses--ignores the pragmatism of understanding the destructiveness of allowing money and pedigree to determine an institution's worth, and healing those who have invited that destruction into their lives by beaming gratitude onto the utterly unacceptable.
I turned 26 this past May. I spent the better part of my twenties sleeping in a car pursuing work in theaters that were paying rent on some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, with some of the most affluent audience bases and support networks in the world. I told myself I wanted to be an actor so I had to pursue work relentlessly. But I was not pursuing work, I was pursuing a resume. I distanced myself from those I could have built something original and rewarding with and sought the good opinion of those who would sooner see me starved and mutilated than pay me a living wage.
My employers were, however, always incredibly "lovely people."
There were clear instances where I ought to have left a production and clear instances where I ought to have been fired.
The theatre, astonishingly, operates on a platform which makes its own human ideals abstract by trying to apply the far more practical principles of humiliation. And "practical" is merely a word used to describe that which benefits none but those who seek to profit off of our bodies and minds. Dramatists have forgotten their actual profession, which exists to remind people of the inherent concreteness of our highest ideals.
And believe me, I got my resume all right. It's a damn good one. But at what cost? I have been a member of the Actor's Equity Association for over four years now and have qualified for health insurance for all four. Now that I actually need it, it has expired. I denied myself of my deepest convictions for the approval of servants to the established national dream life by doing plays I knew willfully misunderstood cultures and ways of life. I denied my body its most basic comforts in order to convince my masters I was worthy of a cause which only degraded me. Of course my body sought those comforts vigorously and extraneously via begging, mooching, and stealing and at the expense of many a relationship. I allowed my maltreatment to go unnoticed because I thought it wasn't a man's right or place to assert against being casually sexualized or deemed and shunned as an obnoxious hack. I played for reviews that inevitably muddied my reputation. I have had to defend myself against accusations that seemed to come after me from the deepest pockets of hell and I have talked myself out of more than I will ever have the courage to admit.
Artists. If you are artists, then where is your discernment?
Actors. Who are you if you cannot actually see?
Our willful blindness is the first sign of blindness in society. Can we not escape the myth of Oedipus?
With that, I have had the privilege and utter exhilaration of playing with giants on the american stage. I have played some of the widest variety of roles out of any actor I know. I have developed my own perspective on how to bounce my imagination off a piece of work. I learned that people can be just as exemplary as they are depraved. And often both qualities exist in the same person. I learned that what is said about me does not matter so long as I keep my head down in the work, which is the most rewarding thing in my life. I have encountered colleagues, mentors, and teachers who's combination of wisdom, attention, and grace have turned me towards directions within myself I never thought possible. These people are indeed rare, but they exist, and they are perhaps most profound in a realm dealing with storytelling. For these people are the reason stories exist.
I have learned to lose and to love and to hurt and to forgive and to play.
I've learned that if I do not keep my darkest needs in check, I may very well create disaster.
And that, just as every American has to contend with the effects of our suppressive dream life and its implications on a vast global scale, is a deep personal closet full of bones.
I must starve the monster to death.
And I've learned that no one will stand up for me if I don't know how to speak up for myself first and foremost.
I must nurture the child so that it may grow into an adult. An adult who is no longer paranoid about the monster under the bed and a monster who is relinquished of the need to reach for the child that has its head on the pillows.
I will grow without destroying myself.
I have to tell the truth and I have to keep learning how to tell it better no matter what the cost.
"Any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at himself, for the greatest achievements must begin somewhere, and they always begin with the person. If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations."--James Baldwin.
My harshness towards the very real efforts towards "equity and inclusion" come less from a need to condemn (for I am in no position to condemn) and more from a fear that our work and talk around improving a system that is only doing what it was designed to do--degrade us--is self immolating at worst and a tiresome intellectual exercise at best.
It is an intellectual exercise because so few of us have deeply, viscerally contemplated the fact that we live in the confines of a suppressive machine that has legalized mass murder and incarceration. If we relinquish ourselves from the foundational myth that represents the second world war as the benchmark for human atrocity we start to realize just how sick our world has been since. Because we live in a country that has normalized holocausts around the globe. In fact, our country directly perpetuates them. And even efforts to disrupt that system is a performance within a theater in which the tiniest of misunderstandings could lead to nuclear destruction at any moment.
The trouble is, you think you have time.
Get on with all the things that make you who you are.
Make your own work. Be weird about it. Normal has failed us. Normal enslaves and slaughters us. Normal riddles us with regret about lost love and time wasted away from family. Be effusive and act on inclinations immediately because what is the point of hedging, especially now?
All of us can be gone and will be gone at any second.
The greatest gift in life is the opportunity to be who you are. That is the harder and more complicated path but the one that contains true meaning and victory.
In college I went to study acting for a month in England on scholarship. At the end of the month, my two main instructors there gave me conflicting advice.
One said, "Mohammad, this is for you. Now go and train."
The other said, "Mohammad, go out there and work. Find someone to write you a play or do it yourself, then put it up."
My fear of doing the latter has informed every decision of my life up until this point.
In high school, which I nearly failed, I filled out applications for drama school and never submitted them. I was afraid to admit to myself what I really wanted out of life. I went to community college and later transferred and eventually graduated with a Bachelor's degree after three years of study. And today I don't remember a single damn thing I was supposed to "learn" from that.
When someone finally told me to go off and train to be an actor, I decided to go for it.
I auditioned for top drama schools several times and was successively called back and/or wait listed for each. And never received an acceptance letter.
I can't say if I am better off. I do see many people directly challenging the racism within these institutions. The racism of the whole concept of training itself.
Then I remember that the son of a Jamaican carpenter, Lloyd Richards, was the dean at one of these institutions and was the one who taught Meryl Streep what acting was.
Our world is full of complex and joyous infinitudes.
What I know, and what I hope you reading this have understood is that we are all at the mercy of machines and unseen cosmic systems.
So all we have control over is our mentality. Think. Have sense. Keep learning. Apply it.
Perhaps one day you will become that teacher, leader, or spiritual guide you have been searching for all your life.
No amount of training will get you there and it may even convince you to stop looking.
True learning happens outside of school. It happens in life. And just because you are in school, does not mean you are not in your life. You can still learn despite being in school. Just don't let school get in the way.
Perhaps if I had stayed in school and had been "fully" trained, I may have had a less volatile outlook on theatre and the world. And a much better resume.
But at least now I am beginning to be truly educated.
Photo: Edmund in Lear, by Young Jean Lee at UC San Diego. Photo Credit: Jim Carmody.