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Posts Tagged ‘acting’

Early Childhood Progress Report

Posted by Amanda Gray on August 9, 2014

Alright… movin’ on…

Here I am, in this paradise city they call Vancouver, British Columbia, surrounded by massive luscious gorgeousness of every kind; a boundless shining city offering more opportunity than I dare fathom with my pretty little head.  And in this new cornucopia of plenty, I’m conducting a serious reassessment (sigh… again???) about who I am, and whittling down what I really want to do with the narrowing years of my life.  I’m carefully weeding out extraneous self concepts and interests where my motivation is limited, or where the realities become severely diminished at my age.  For example: I’m not going to be a Rock Star.  I can’t even play an instrument.  I tried.  I’m terrible.  Please, give it up, Amanda… your time is OVER… please, just… STOP.  And, as much as my intentions have been earnest to relearn some computer programming, after applying myself to a course of study on two separate occasions, and both times experiencing my interest completely vanish shortly along, I have to concede that this activity doesn’t float my boat as much as I might wish it did.  Curses!  Foiled again!

It’s quickly becoming a precarious position, as I attempt to reconcile myself with the genuine motivations of my heart, and yet, secure an actual paying position.  I’ve always been interested in many things.  I’ve amassed a vast wealth of experience in applying myself to many functions and roles.  And, because I’m smart and resourceful, I’m capable of doing exceedingly well at these many things too.  But I’ve been like a canon that fires balls in all directions.  It’s really not the most useful contraption!  And employers don’t like it, because they can’t easily classify me into a tiny, miniscule, microscopic box.  So, I have to learn to fire my canon in ONE direction.   There’s some job ads I look at and think, “Yeah, I could do that, and I’d probably enjoy it too,” and I apply.  No problem.  And there’s other job ads, things I could definitely do, but, my heart recoils into the bitter cage of my chest, and I feel like I’d rather kill myself than apply!  Crap!  I mean, I NEED A JOB!!!  This is getting REAL here, people!!  I can’t continue to be this picky… can I????  Not for long, as my financial condition is fast transforming into a stuttering, stumbling, black-blooded zombie – no pulse, no life, no hope!  ACK, BLECK, &%%$** slobber **&*%^^%$, GLOOT!!!

This morning I came across some report cards from my early childhood.  Hmmm…  what did others say about my young, most natural, being?  Might they reveal some clues as to my most dear personal leanings?  I’ve transcribed the reports completely, for posterity, but I’ll highlight the most positive points in red.  Also, note that I was called ‘Ann’ back then.

Edmonton Public Schools

Early Childhood Progress Report

School – Delton

Grade – 01

Principal – G. E. Eliasson

Teacher – Miss J. Hawkins

First Report Date – Nov 20, 1975 Second Report Date – March 12, 1976 Third Report Date – June 23, 1976
Social and Emotional Development: Ann is a cooperative and capable student.  She behaves responsibly towards school rules and gets along well with others.  Ann puts forth a commendable effort on all her projects.  [Yes, of course.  I still do.  Potential employers: please read.] Social and Emotional Development: Ann continues to show persistence in her work habits.  She participates actively and has made commendable progress.  Ann is developing good work habits. [Potential employers: please read.] Social and Emotional Development:  Ann has been a capable and cooperative student.  She has put forth her best effort throughout the year.  Ann has been an asset to our class.  Good luck to her in her grade two year.
Language Arts – Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing:  Ann is developing good speaking and listening skills.  She has made very good progress in the reading program.  Her printing is neatly done. Language Arts – Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing:  Ann enjoys reading.  She has learned her sounds and basic vocabulary well.  Her oral reading could be more fluent.  Ann continues to work carefully on her written projects. Language Arts – Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing:  Ann has made commendable progress in word attack skills and reading comprehension.  Her oral reading has good expression.  She can use her spelling vocabulary to compose simple stories.  [Expression… yup.  Still true.]
Mathematics:  Ann is learning the numbers to thirty.  She is developing a good problem solving ability.  [All the better to computer program with, my dear!] Mathematics: Ann knows her numbers to 100.  She is learning her basic facts to 8.  We are now practicing the counting of money.  [Yay – money!] Mathematics:  Ann works quickly and accurately with numbers.  She has had no difficulties in the grade one arithmetic program.
Social Studies – Science – Health:  Ann is a very good participant in group activities.  [Collaboration is important to me.] Social Studies – Science – Health:  Ann shows much initiative in her independent projects.  She enjoys group work but could show more maturity when working with others.  [Note that I was an only child.] Social Studies – Science – Health:  [Blank]
Physical Education:  Ann participates willingly.  She is a good sport during these activities. Physical Education:  Satisfactory participation. Physical Education:   Satisfactory progress.
Art – Drama – Music:  Ann has made very good progress.  She enjoys these subjects and puts forth her best work.  [Naturally.] Art – Drama – Music:  Satisfactory work. Art – Drama – Music:  Satisfactory progress.

 

Edmonton Public Schools

Early Childhood Progress Report

School – Delton Elementary

Grade – 02

Principal – G. E. Eliasson

Teacher – Mrs. M. Kaastrup  [I called her Mrs. Ketchup!]

First Report Date – November 26, 1976 Second Report Date – March 11, 1977 Third Report Date – June 30, 1977
Social and Emotional Development: Ann is becoming much more responsive to reason while still maintaining that great sense of individualism she possesses.  She has proven herself capable of producing very neat and presentable work when she so chooses.  Although, Ann accepts the responsibility for completing her assignments, she should concentrate on using her free time more constructively and minimizing the tendency to socialize.  [Haha!  Nothing ever changes!] Social and Emotional Development: Ann’s vivacious and enthusiastic disposition are most refreshing.  She possesses the courage to speak her mind.  Ann is very pleased with her increased effort to respect the rules of the classroom more conscientiously in the past few weeks. Social and Emotional Development:  Lately Ann has taken considerable more pride in the appearance of her work.  She has also displayed better judgement as to which projects should have priority at a given time.  Her greater willingness to co-operate has been much appreciated, not to mention her vitality.
Language Arts – Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing:  Ann is developing an effective speaking vocabulary.  She shows determination in reading a library book.  Her recall of sounds is acceptable but when attacking a word she is not always as conscious of the letters involved causing her to say ‘was’ for ‘has’, or ‘his’ for ‘this’, or ‘cops’ for ‘cop’.  Ann could improve the accuracy of her comprehension by attending to details. Language Arts – Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing:  Ann takes great pleasure in reading expressively.  She has made great strides in distinguishing the long and short vowel sounds.  As well she has become much more accurate in word attack and less inclined to confuse words similar in structure (example – went for want).  Her comprehension skills and ability to follow written directions are maturing very acceptably.  Ann is capable of producing printing of a fine quality when she chooses to exert the effort; however frequently she does not take enough care with slant. Language Arts – Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing:  Since the beginning of the term Ann has made a marked improvement in her accuracy in word attack through the development of very respectable decoding skills as well as greater concentration.  Her ability to make inferences and read critically are up to par.  She can capably interpret literal meaning.  Ann’s effective use expression makes her oral reading pleasant to listen to.  As of late, Ann has improved her printing considerably.  She delights in new words. [YES!]
Mathematics:  Ann capably handles ordering series of numbers, supplying numbers missing in a sequence & counting by fives & tens to 100.  Her rate of recall for addition facts to 10 is acceptable. Mathematics:  Ann has mastered the properties of addition and subtraction studied, the concepts covered in hundreds, tens and ones, as well as the types of problems she has encountered.  She can readily tell time on the hour and the half.  Ann could make an effort to increase her rate of recall for addition facts to 18 (example 5+8=13, 7+9=16 etc.) Mathematics:  Ann has a sound grasp of the concepts covered in grade two mathematics.  Encourage Ann to form the habit of starting in the ones column when adding or subtracting 2 or 3 digit numbers as this will be essential for success in grade three when she will be confronted with ‘borrowing’ and ‘carrying’.  Her accuracy of recall for facts to 18 is good, but she should strive to increase her rate. [I still, most naturally, add & subtract backwards.  And, yes, in grade three I was completely lambasted in math!]
Social Studies – Science – Health:  Ann has developed an acceptable understanding of the concepts of change that result in various forms of life with the advance of fall.  Although she was active in the related projects, her enthusiasm for becoming involved in discussions tended to fluctuate from day to day.  Science: Ann participates well in class activities.  She does, however, find it difficult to remember the task at hand.  She has an excellent knowledge of living/not living, symmetry, names of shapes, measurement and negative numbers. Social Studies – Science – Health:  Ann has done excellent work in our units on information, magnets and balance scales.  She did good work with our weather, volume, measurement, color change and graph units.  In Social Studies Ann has been studying People and Their Feelings. [I imagine I enjoyed that.] As well she has had the opportunity to gain greater experience in co-operating as a group member, still thinking for herself, but at the same time, respecting other people’s opinions. Social Studies – Science – Health:  Ann showed great enthusiasm in our units on shadows, angles, time and area.  She has a good knowledge of those concepts.  Ann gained some experience in written and oral reporting in connection with the unit on Fables.  She enjoyed writing book reports on fables she had studied on her own.  Ann could have accepted more responsibility for bringing in material on the Supermarkets so that she could have participated more effectively in the unit.
Physical Education:  Ann enjoys participating in phys ed.  She has been active in solving tasks in gymnastics as well as refining her skill in handling balls. Physical Education:  Ann has developed reasonably good control in dribbling balls. She has applied herself diligently in solving tasks in gymnastics and obviously has much increased body awareness as is evidenced in the various combination of body parts she uses in travelling and balancing.  Ann should make an effort to develop more sportsmanship with regard to who her partner is. Physical Education:  Ann delighted in communicating ideas through body movements.  [Oh, yes, always love expressing IDEAS!]  She developed considerable skill in the paddle bat activities.  As well Ann has been involved in track and field events.
Art – Drama – Music:  Ann displays a tendency to overlap colors both while painting and crayoning which in many cases makes her work more realistic.  As well she enjoys experimenting with the development of various textural effects in both mediums.  [I still LOVE color and texture!!] Art – Drama – Music: Ann is in her element when she can be involved in art projects.  She is beginning to depict more detail in her work and to use facial features to convey emotion.  In modelling Ann showed an awareness of the great textural possibilities.  In drama, Ann is most expressive and a natural at providing appropriate dialogue.  Music – Ann appears to enjoy music.  She is progressing very well. Art – Drama – Music:  Ann continues to plan her work ever more consciously utilizing more realistic proportions, and introducing more than one baseline where she deems necessary.  Music – Excellent.

 

SUMMARY:

Hasn’t it been said that we learn everything we need to by Grade 2?  Or something like that?  I wonder if this would get me a job if I transcribed these reports word-for-word on my resume?  LOL!

It’s no surprise that I had lots of interest in reading, speaking, art, drama and music.  I enjoyed being independent, studying on my own, and communicating ideas.  I enjoyed working with color, shading and texture.  These qualities are all still applicable for me.  So, it must be true that people rarely change much over a lifetime.  I thought I did, but perhaps I’ve just become more conscious of traits that have always been.

There’s a couple more reports that are relevant to this discussion.  These are from my teenage acting classes:

 

The Citadel Theatre Drama Classes

Final Report

Age Group: 13 – 14 Beginners

General Remarks: An outgoing and exuberant girl.  A natural ‘clown’ but must learn to discipline herself and concentrate.

Attitude: Good – very interested – as she gets older she will I think understand what I have tried to tell her all the season – the importance of discipline in the art.

Ability: A natural performer – if interested enough will develop well.

Recommendation: Advanced class next season.

 

Citadel Theatre School Student Evaluation

Class/Level: 2B

Voice:  You have the ability to achieve great heights Amanda.  Very insightful and moving work was accomplished.  I am so sorry you have decided to side-step an acting career, I know you’d be successful.

Improvisation: A good talent. Watch the trap of being caught impressing the class – work for yourself – develop knowledge and understanding.  Term 1 was unfocused and more work in term 2 would have allowed greater benefits.  Keep up the journey!

Movement:  You actually made some remarkable progress in movement, Amanda!  You move well when you allow yourself to do so, because you seem to have convinced yourself that you can’t do it!!  That makes you undermine your own work with lack of focus & concentration – but you DO have the ability!!  Hope you use it in the future.

 

SUMMARY:

A natural CLOWN – haha – no JOKE!!  It’s true – but humour can also be used as a defense, or to ‘people please’ (impressing the class) – so I have to be conscious when it’s going that way.  It’s also interesting to note that while my participation in phys ed was completely normal in Grades 1 and 2, I installed a block about it by my teen years.  And you’d think that all that good work with balls and dribbling in Grade 2 would have made it easier to learn to juggle – but it didn’t!  So… boo… whatever.

Today, I was considering applying for Cirque du Soleil (they’re auditioning in town soon), but because their shows are so physical, I don’t consider it a realistic path.  As much as I’m happy to stretch myself into more physical expression as much as I can, and while I’m generally relaxed with facial and upper body movement… I’m not likely to roll on the floor, do somersaults, go to an aerobics class, or shovel gravel anytime soon.  And that’s just how it is.  I think I’m more interested in expressing myself with words and ideas.  Or with color and texture!  🙂

I have a fondness for thinking of myself as an ‘actor’.  This is a self concept I’m pretty attached to.  Yet, several times in my life, apparently including my Citadel 2B class, I decided to ‘side-step’ an acting career.  As much as it calls me, it also seems to repel me.  My recent 12 year gap from acting has impacted greatly.  Even while I dip my toes in the possibility by doing some background film work, overall,  it’s not coming easily or naturally.  Ultimately, I feel like I lost my best chance, and now I’m too old and fat, and it’s too late.  And now I’m afraid in ways I never was before.  Like when I do improv – I’m good, and relaxed, and I’m in it — and then, suddenly, a wall comes down in my mind and I get totally shy!  I’m letting go of the limited idea that the only work I’ll be happy with is ‘acting’.  I could happily communicate in many occupations.  In fact, everything I do in this world can accurately be called acting.  We all take on various roles in our lives: parent, teacher, mother, child, etc.  Grocery store clerk, blackjack dealer, blogger, data manager, etc.  And I’m pretty sure my ego is simply attracted to the role of ‘actor’ as a method of ‘specialness’.  Fame as a method of world domination – lol – no, but of being ‘loved’.  It’s the ‘seek but do not find’ routine.  And, this, I have to weed out.

EDITED:  Yet, here’s where I’m most deeply conflicted.  It feels like this is the very thing my heart most wants.  ARGGGGGG!  Again, when I go back to my earliest childhood, I pretended at characters all the time.  Coloring, Barbie’s, and acting out characters.  So what if everyone on the planet wants to be an actor too.  So what if my ego has come in and bastardized an entirely natural drive.  So what if it’s so obviously an attempt at making a body ‘special’.  But I CAN’T STOP MYSELF!!!!  No matter how much I try to surrender the desire, it comes back.  And here’s something I learned about desires that won’t go away – sometimes you just have to LIVE THEM OUT.  Allow them to EXPRESS.  The only way out is THROUGH.

So… maybe I can’t get a job.  Maybe I can just do what I want.  *BOINK*  *blink*  *blink*  I tried doing some of the audition they want for Cirque du Soleil in my mirror last night… and it surprised me.  And inspired me.  Hmmmm….

A few days ago, I was watching Jerry Seinfeld in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  He was interviewing Jon Stewart and he asked, “Do you think actors can play comedians?”  The both agreed that they couldn’t.  And I see their point.  There’s people who can be funny (like me, once in a while, usually by accident) and then there’s FUN-NY PEO-PLE.  They’re a particular breed.  They think in an entirely particular way.  And if you’re not on that level, well, you’re not.  So that’s another one of those things I’m weeding out – I’m, clearly, not going to be a comedian.  Or a clown.  For real – it’s an unnatural stretch.  I’m glad I took the clown class, and there’s lots that I’ll be keeping forefront in my mind (like playing!), but clowning’s not going to be my whole thing.  I always get excited about stuff at the beginning, like it’s finally the thing that’ll save my life, finally DEFINE WHAT I AM, but then it never does.  I have to quit looking for that.  It’s not going to happen.

So, OK.  Weeding out and weeding out.  Eventually, I’ll have a direction to aim my cannon.  Then, look out!

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Giving Myself Permission

Posted by Amanda Gray on October 27, 2013

It happened while I was watching the movie Flowers of War.  A scene with Christian Bale, dressed as a Catholic priest, telling a prostitute that he loves her, all of her, even, what might be considered, her shameful history.  Apparently, it was what I needed to hear too.  My heart filled with tenderness and love for these people – these actors – who I suddenly understood.  They might be wearing costumes, have various sets of ideas upon which they acted, but, beneath these affectations, there was a core that was – or at least, could be – REAL.  I saw that the actors power lay not in the affectations of personality, in the form of their bodies, or, even in the words they spoke, but in the very LIFE that flowed through them, and in the transmission of universal truth: the greatest unconditional love and acceptance – beyond any of our mere human imagining.

In that moment, I knew that I loved myself in this way, and I remembered that I once was, and could be again, that kind of actor.  I just had to give myself permission.  Whew!  A burden that I barely knew I was carrying, suddenly fell off.  I realized that I was holding an idea that, as an actor, I was fake, a liar, and a manipulator that merely used acting to get attention.  It may have been true in my past, when I was an actor-beggar: empty within, my hands reaching, folded like a cup, and begging anyone who passed to see me, recognize me… LOVE me!  But, like an addiction, no amount of attention was ever enough.  Thus my odyssey to depart entirely from the actor’s profession and ‘find myself’.

And so, thirteen years later, but suddenly, in an instant, I knew I was FOUND.  No longer empty, I was FULL inside – there WAS something REAL within – and, whatever this ‘energy’ was, it wanted to EXTEND itself.  What had changed?  I had simply forgiven myself.  I had never been fake, or a liar.  I had simply been wearing the clothes of illusion, as we all do in this human drama.  Yet, even as the clothes change, the ideas of ourselves shift, the conditions of our lives weather, what we truly ARE stays the same.  It’s the foundation, the rock, that can be trusted and built upon.

So, I began to gather myself for a comeback. Yes, I could be an actor again, and pursue this creative activity that I had always loved.  As much as I had tried, I could never truly deny this part of myself anyway, and it was only painful to suppress.  And, yes, I could, and wanted to, share this gift, this inner wealth and joy, with others.  I gave myself full permission and began to read plays, learn new monologues, lose weight, exercise, and practice singing.  I signed up for an improv class (starting next month).  I contacted a few agents.  I had a ton of renewed energy.  I truly valued myself again. My life had new meaning.

And it still does – it’s not in the past tense – but – I can’t just leave it alone and let it happen, I have to keep questioning it – am I falling into an ego trap?  Am I still just trying to use this ‘costume’ to get attention, to be different and special?

Then I started to notice what’s been inspiring me more recently: Russell Brand in various YouTube videos: unscripted words and ideas flowing out of his mouth like grand tapestries, his mind constantly exploding like a nuclear reactor!  And he’s much like my friend, Benjamin Smyth, in San Francisco – full on, no holds barred, anyplace and anytime, EXPRESSION! And also like David Bowie in his early years – an alien, a man from Mars – a shifting, diaphanous mystery! And they’re all much like the improvisers that I know and love (and still regularly dream about) in my home town. Ultimately, these people don’t require a script, or a stage, or a film set, or permission from anyone to express themselves – they just DO.  And they DO like they couldn’t stop themselves if they tried!

And I’ve been experimenting with these ideas in my own life – wherever I find myself: what if I just opened my mind and my

Kabuki Warrior

A creative disguise!

mouth and just SAID whatever was there?  Without editing myself?  Without judging it before it even has a chance?  And, what I’m learning is that amazing things are coming out – silly things – funny things – shocking things – but they’re all a thrill to witness and, surprise surprise, that others seem to really enjoy them too!  They’re not offended.  They don’t hate me.  They don’t want to kill me.  And I’m learning that my ideas aren’t insipid or meaningless, in fact, in the natural flow, they don’t ‘belong’ to ‘me’ at all!

In college, my classmates presented me with the “Story for All Occasions” award.  I’m sure they meant well, but I felt ashamed by it, ashamed of my predilection to incessantly talk about myself.  And so, I began to hold the idea that my natural expression was wrong, too excessive, or that there was nothing good or important in it.  Ultimately, I began to believe that I “had nothing to say.”  I began to move further and further away from natural expression:  I stopped doing improv and decided that I could only perform with a script; I stopped performing on stage and decided I could only do film; I stopped acting entirely and decided I had nothing creative to offer.  See, stepping back and closing off with greater and greater amounts of self editing.

Today I see that I don’t have to edit anymore, and I won’t.  That I don’t need a particular place or form, or anyone else’s permission to be and express myself. I don’t even have to call myself an ‘actor’.  There’s no difference between a stage, or a grocery store, or a street corner – I can BE what I am, fully, without conceit, and without shame, anywhere and anytime.  LIFE lives though me right NOW!  And it’s beautiful and magnificent and unfathomable – and rude, and loud, and shocking, and funny, and mischievous, and loving – and anything else that can (or can’t) be imagined!  And it’s ALL OK!!!  What it isn’t – is boring or predictable!

And that’s, most definitely, what I want, cherish and LOVE most!  Full on.  All in.  AMEN.

________________________________________________________

Post Script:  I notice that this post is almost exactly like the last (Follow the White Rabbit).   Strange.  Early onset Alzheimers?   A manifestation of ‘expression’ anxiety?  I don’t know.  I’ll just forgive myself for the silly repetition.  It begs the question: How can I be truly expressive if I’m merely regurgitating the past?

________________________________________________________

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Posted in Judgement & Acceptance | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Giving Myself Permission

Follow the White Rabbit

Posted by Amanda Gray on August 13, 2013

So I finally have the job situation I always dreamed about – working 3 days a week, at something generally enjoyable (customer service) – and having 4 days off – to do whatever I want.  Yes, I finally have the perfect work/life balance situation… but what have I done with my 4 days off every week for the past 2 months?  Nothing.  All inspiration has completely dried up!

So, my left brain has done what it’s always done: tried to fill the perceived lack.  It frantically sought for an activity to inspire and fill my free time.  First, I thought I’d make another short film, but I couldn’t come up with any interesting ideas.  So then I looked to the past: I bought a book and downloaded some software, hoping to resurrect my computer programming skills from 13 years ago.  Yet, the ambition has been sporadic.  I dug out my cooking books from when I was a professional pastry cook 19 years ago.  I examined the recipes, thinking that I might rent a kitchen and make some cakes to sell.  But that ambition dried up too.

Then I was invited to guest teach a drama class at the local school.  Again I picked a few books from the bookshelf, dusted them off, and resurrected my professional acting skills from 21 years ago.

The day I spent with the kids was amazing.  First, I spent a couple of hours trying, with difficulty, to motivate, a very unmotivated, group of teenagers.  I did my best, and enjoyed the experience with them, for what it was.  Still, at that point, when I might have felt disappointed with the outcome, I was asked to present my acting exercises again with a larger group of, far more motivated and energetic, junior high kids.  Later, when I considered the two, highly contrasting, experiences, I could see how the aperture of life – energy, experimentation, and joy – that the younger group displayed with abundance, can close down in our teen years – just as we start to feel self-conscious and begin to judge ourselves (and everything else).

I can now see how the teenage period of life can magnify a fear of expressing.  For most, it’s a fear of judgement, or rejection by others.  What if I say the wrong thing?  What if I hurt someone’s feelings?  What if they misunderstand me?  And mostly, in my life, I’ve preempted my self expression right off the bat – just blocked it, entirely.  When I look within, I find nothing… just a solid black wall… so I believe that I have nothing important or valuable to express.  As I became habitual in my disregard for my own creative imagination, and established a belief in creative poverty, I spent my life searching for a specific form (i.e. “acting”) that could restore it.  Always regurgitating someone else’s ideas and words, yet desperately wanting to create something unique – and express my true self.  Yet, I felt that I couldn’t: What can I say if I don’t have anything to say?  On the other hand, if I don’t value my own ideas, who will?

– Now I see why I developed a major migraine at the monastery last year when I was helping to paint the tipi.  I became sick as a denial of my creative expression.

– Now I see why I couldn’t stay to participate in the Strawberry Fields Music Festival.  Because I was jealous of the ones who could openly express themselves.

– Now I see why I had to meet Ben when I went to San Francisco.  He’s FULL ON expression, all the time!  And because I could see my greatest desire in him – to express without fear – I loved him and was able to join with him in the spirit of that love.

Furthermore, as I’ve continued to inquire into my desire to express, I’ve used the population at large as an experiment group.  One day, my question was: How honest can I really be with my customers at work?  All day long, I allowed myself to say whatever was on my mind – even if it was, in my opinion, rather rude, and, in the past, I would’ve censored it.  Surprisingly, I learned that people could take all kinds of honesty – and even seemed to appreciate it – as long as it was said with an attitude of humour, a tease, or a wink-wink, nudge-nudge.  Then, it didn’t come across as rude, it was funny instead, and a shared ‘truth-joke’ between us.  My experiment failed only when my statements were fuelled with a sour attitude, a judgement of the other person, or anger used to defend and attack.  Then I was belittling, or patronizing, and it was no fun at all.  I judged myself most harshly when I made the mistake, felt horribly guilty, and expected to be punished.  I wasn’t punished, thank God, but I had to move quickly into forgiveness to restore the situation, and I learned that no one is ever fooled with the underlying intention – particularly myself.  Acting shmackting!

And I started to ask: what does it really mean to express myself?  Does it require a particular form?  If I’m walking, talking, moving, thinking, drawing, singing, working, doing dishes or shovelling shit – am I not always expressing myself???  I listened to an Adyashanti radio show where Mukti (his wife, also a spiritual teacher) said, “We meditate to express ourselves.”  I had never thought of meditation in this way before!  Could I be ‘expressing myself’ in meditation?  Well… not if it’s only FEAR that’s allowed!  That’s the nothing – the black wall – that I’ve experienced within.  I’ve been afraid of myself!!!  I’m blocking myself!!!  From what I really want!!!  ARRRRRGH!!!

– Now I see why I kept manifesting painful pimples around my mouth.  I felt guilty that I wasn’t participating in the ego story: that I be an actor (or artist, or rock star, etc.) – and then I’ll be great and famous – and then people will love me – and then I’ll feel loved and be happy.  I was fixated on a particular and preferred, but also very limited, ‘form’ of expression – and when I participated in activities that haven’t perfectly matched that form, I felt guilty and punished myself with pimples.  I felt envious of the creative expression of others (also in particular forms)… and punished myself with pimples.  The bottom line, of course, is that I’ve been denying expression that could’ve been going on all the time, regardless of form.  Also, I’ve been more interested in ‘getting’ a particular outcome (ultimately, love) than I’ve been in the expression itself.  Which – paradoxically – can only come from a natural extension of our truth – being LOVE.  Haha!  Twisted!

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What if… I open my mind… and remove all limited ideas of a particular form or activity for my life?  What if I allow my burning desire to express, allow it to arise from the depths of my guts, and ask it how IT wants to move?  In THIS moment?

What if I follow the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole?

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Dreaming, Acting, Living

Posted by Amanda Gray on June 5, 2011

The most important point to understand about dreams is that all the characters and symbols are aspects of the dreamer. So when I dream about a boy – it’s me, a teacher – it’s me, a house – it’s me, a bear – it’s me, a jewelled necklace – it’s me, etc. If I cast myself as a jewelled necklace, what does the necklace say about me? Am I a sparkly, diamond necklace, or a dull, unpolished necklace? Did I steal the necklace, or was the necklace given to me as a gift? Every aspect of the necklace may be considered, and what I learn will shine light upon the particular fragment of myself that’s showing up as a jewelled necklace.

Dreams that are most common to me are ones where I’m performing in a theatrical play or in a film, or where I’m participating in an acting class. Sometimes I’m trying on costumes, or I’m auditioning for a part, or I’m observing other actors as they perform. Sometimes, in nightmares, I dream that it’s time to go onstage, and I suddenly realize, in terror, that I haven’t learned my lines and I have no idea what to do!

As I discussed my theatrical dream anxieties with my family this morning, we learned that we all have the same dreams, in slightly different forms. My Aunt dreams that she’s in school, but hasn’t prepared for an exam. My Mom dreams that she’s supposed to cook a meal, but doesn’t have any groceries in the fridge. Does everyone have the same complex? Does everyone harbour fears of the same impending disaster?  What do these dreams say about our lives?

Then I started thinking further about life as a play. Like Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Just as a dream at night is a microcosm of our ‘dream of life,’ so a play on a stage is a microcosm of our ‘play of life.’ I thought about how I’ve often judged the characters in the play of life, including myself, or times when I’ve judged the script, or the playwright (God). Then a number of questions arose in my mind:

  • Do I fear that I don’t know my part or my lines?
  • Am I afraid that it’s my fault that I didn’t study my part in advance?
  • Am I afraid to accept the part that was written for me? Am I afraid I’m unworthy of it?
  • Do I fear that the lead in Hamlet is too much responsibility for me?
  • Am I afraid that I’m unsupported by the other actors?
  • Am I afraid that I’ll make a mistake and ruin the whole play?
  • What if others find out I didn’t study my part? What if I’m a total fool in front of the entire audience?
  • Am I trying to control the play and the other characters?

Two of the most mystical experiences of my life happened when I was performing on stage. The first time, I was performing the lead role of Rose in the play “A Shayna Maidle” in theatre school. It was a short run, only 5 or 6 performances, and I realize now that I made the most mistakes on stage ever during that run. It was my habit to memorize my lines immediately, word for word, and so thoroughly that I rarely, if ever, called for a line during rehearsal. Yet, on the first performance of this show, on preview night in front of an audience of critics, I blanked, and had to call for a line. Since the Stage Manager was no longer ‘on book’ – we all had to wait an extraordinary length of time to get back on track. I was so embarrassed! On another night, I broke a ceramic lamp onstage and neglected to address the problem in the moment, by improvising some other way of turning on the light, or by taking the time to clean up. My acting teacher gave me heck after the show. He said that the audience expected me to ‘live’ in the moment of the play, and that I was cheating them if I ignored the moment, in favour of sticking blindly to the script. The mystical moment was when I had an ‘out of body’ experience – I found myself watching the show from the front row of the audience! I came off stage that night and complained to my teacher, “That was my most horrible performance ever!”

“No,” he said, “It was your BEST performance ever.”

“What? I wasn’t even THERE!”

“Yes, that’s exactly why it was so good.”

The second mystical experience was quite similar to the first. This time I was performing a monologue in a ‘contest’ for actors, models and singers. There was a judging panel and a full audience comprised of performers family members. Now that I think back, I remember that I also performed a song, and that the last note of the song was a horrible disaster. I can’t remember if the song preceded the monologue or vice versa, but never the less, about halfway through my 3-minute monologue, I left my body. I hovered high above myself, to the right side, and I became aware of this amazing energy. The energy was flowing out of ‘me’ toward the audience, and then, I could feel it flowing back to ‘me’ from them. I was fascinated with watching this energy flow back and forth. I remember seeing a lady with glasses sit forward in her seat, listening intently, and I remember looking down at my body, still doing its thing while I sojourned like a balloon in mid-air. Next thing I knew, I was finishing the last line of the monologue. I did as I was taught, to ‘throw and keep throwing,’ and then, I bowed my head and took a small step back. Suddenly, to my unbelieving surprise, the audience exploded with applause, cheers and hoots – more than I’d ever heard in my life! Apparently, when I’m not there – the body is an amazing actor!

Performing allowed complete control and safety. I knew the script, I knew the lines, everyone was going to do exactly what I expected them to do, and we were all going to do it the same way over and over, and over again. Within this perfect bubble of certainty, I didn’t feel afraid and could completely relax. I trusted the time and space inside the bubble, and I think that’s what allowed for those mystical out-of-body experiences.

What would it take for me to trust life in the same way? Must I have the same level of control? Must I have a perfect a script for every word I speak, or every action I perform? Do I have to ensure that everyone else is performing the same script? Must I automatically judge the ‘play of life,’ as it is, as inadequate and in need of my help? Do I have to become the playwright (God) as well as the actor? Yes, that is, exactly, what the ego would try to do.

What would happen if I didn’t judge the production? What if I didn’t have to control the play or the other actors? What if I just TRUSTED the playwright (God)? Even if it seems that I don’t know the play, or the lines, or my role, or every other actor’s role, do I really need to know? What if I could surrender my need to know? What if I allowed myself to drop my idea of the script entirely? What if I drop all the ideas of all the characters I would play? Could I simply improvise? And allow others to improvise? Could I allow the play to be written fresh in each moment?

Just as all the characters and symbols in my nightly dreams are aspects of myself, so all the characters and symbols of the play are aspects of myself. The stage – is me, the audience – is me, the candlestick and the mistletoe – is me, the other actor – is me. Is my fellow actor dressed as a Jesus or as an alcoholic? Do I invite him onto my stage to share the spotlight, or do I banish him off into the darkness of the wings? Could we both play the same part? Could we play the part so well, we stop acting? If we stop acting, could we wake up, entirely, from the play?

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Spiritual Teachers: Marc Baur

Posted by Amanda Gray on May 22, 2011

In the winter of 1999, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was there to ‘get serious’ about my acting career.  It had been nine years since I’d completed a two year Musical Theatre Program and I had done very little performing in that time.  I decided that, in Vancouver, it was possible for an actor to make an actual living at their craft, even if it meant doing a lot of film extra work.  I considered extra work, somewhat, below my talent, but I was tired of taking random jobs to make a living, instead of doing what I really wanted to do, and did best.  So, after nine years of procrastination, I was finally ready to take my shot at the ‘big time’.

At this juncture, it’s important to note that I had almost no religious upbringing.  I went to church a few times as a child, but just enough to learn that I had a strong, innate, resistance to Christianity.  Rote rituals seemed entirely foolish to me.  Even basic Christian language, words like God, Jesus, or saviour, were intensely resisted.  I simply couldn’t trust people who claimed to know something about God because they read a book (the Bible).  Early on, I decided: since I didn’t know, myself, if there was a heaven or a hell, a God or a Devil, I would simply be good, to be on the safe side.  Still, I was never far away from the subject of spirituality in one way or another.  As a teen, I briefly explored Wicca and other occult teachings, but since they were equally focused on rituals, I quickly decided against them.  Spiritually speaking, I was drawn, most, and for a long period of time, to channelled material.  First, during my teen occult phase, to a book (that I – not such a ‘good’ girl at all – stole from a bookstore) about an entity contacted through a Ouija board, called Messages From Michael.  The material was far too esoteric for me at the time, but I eventually read it through, as well as the rest of the series by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro in my early 20’s.  Just previous to my move to Vancouver, I discovered the Kryon channelling.  I read the entire series and met the channel, Lee Carroll, twice in person.

So, there I was, spiritually fortified, and following my dream in heaven-on-Earth gorgeous, Vancouver, B.C.  The world was my oyster and I was the shiny pearl at it’s very heart!  I didn’t think I needed to learn anything further about acting, but a prospective talent agent encouraged me to take some classes.  Since my definitive objective was to work in the film industry, I conceded that some technique would help me shed my overly dramatic theatre style and make me more marketable.  I soon attended my first class in a small, run-down office building near West Broadway and Arbutus Street: the Marc Baur Studio.

On Wednesday, February 9, 2000, I wrote in my diary:

Went to Marc’s class.  It was a super experience. I did an exercise that was an important key for learning not to scatter my energies so much.  I learned that where I think I am is truly where I am, where acting is concerned.

What?  Oh dear.  I think I meant that I could believe that I was, indeed, a talented actor, and ready for a successful film career.

And, yes, I was successful.  I went to many auditions, got some unpaid independent film roles, and hung out frequently in the audience at the Vicki Gabereau show.  I also did a few paid gigs, as an extra, almost immediately, but it wasn’t consistent.  In order to have free day time for auditions, and a job to pay the bills, I worked a few night audit shifts every week at a colourful Granville gay hotel.  Within a few months, I procured fancy new resume shots, signed with a reputable talent agent, and I was thrilled that my career was going along, tickity-boo.

In October, I started a ‘Being Real’ class with Marc Baur.  On Wednesday the 18th, I write about the first class in my diary:

For 4 hours we did vulnerability exercises and, while it was exhausting, it was a terrific learning experience.  Marc had brought pumpkin pie and I had 3 slices!  After class, a bunch of us went out to a pub down the street and had wings, fries and gabbed.  I had a really good night!

Excellent.  Ah, but little did I know that I was headed for a big ‘Being Real’ crash’ola.  On October 25th, I wrote:

Class was ok.  I was too tired though.  I almost fell asleep during the first scene presented and then was way too nervous when I did my monologue.  I had a good ‘therapy’ session though.  I did an ‘I’m afraid that…’ exercise and cried a lot.  It was cathartic and felt really good to release.

November 1st was pivotal.  I wrote:

I really wanted to be lazy, but Marc said I should do a cold read scene with Bob.  Well, that turned out to be a major surprise.  All my life I’ve been missing the boat in my acting – all of the sudden, I got ON the boat!  I learned how to find the emotional backbone of a scene, first, before intellectualizing it.  BRILLIANT!  It was also easy, effortless and real.  I could trust it, moment to moment.

After class, Bob, Marco, Rick and Elizabeth and I went to Subeez for nachos and gabbed.  They helped me see some things about myself.  Cool.

I remember, specifically, at Subeez, Bob pointed out, “You’re looking for recognition.” 

The same night, around 3 am, as I sat down for a break at work, I considered it.  Why was I looking for recognition?  And, why was it, that no matter how much recognition I got, it was never enough?  I was always seeking for more, and more, and more.  Like an addict.  Did it have something to do with my childhood? Yes, I was always an attention hog as a kid, but inside, I felt acutely invisible.  In fact, I could still feel it.  It was like I had a huge hole inside me, and that, for all these years, I had been running around, trying to fill it with attention from others.  In a shocking epiphany that would completely re-direct my life, I realized that, even if I became wildly famous, no amount of attention would ever fill that gaping maw within.  No matter how many people said, “Amanda, you’re awesome and the whole world loves you,” if I couldn’t believe it myself, if I couldn’t love myself, it would be useless.

The ‘Being Real’ therapy exercises effectively pulled a lot of my crap out of hiding.  In an ‘I feel’ exercise, I learned how to be intimate and connect with another human being.  In an ‘I’m afraid’ exercise, I learned that there were deep feelings of unworthiness and rage that I could never entirely stuff behind an actor’s mask.  By interaction with Marc and my classmates, I learned that there were also real qualities within me – under all the shocking and embarrassing qualities that I would rather have ignored – qualities of light and beauty.   

My teacher, Marc Baur, may not have considered himself a ‘spiritual’ teacher.  At the time, I wouldn’t have described him that way.  Yet, Marc was exceptional in his ability to fully accept and embrace the wide variety of personalities in his care.  He saw through to something brighter and more profound in each student, even if the student didn’t recognize it in themselves.  I’m sure that as Marc has witnessed individuals developing greater personal and spiritual depth through his class exercises over the years, he can’t be immune to the greater implications.  Perhaps he now also perceives his role through a broader lens, as I do. 

I touched Grace through those acting exercises, but I wasn’t ready to fully receive Grace.  I was being asked for more than I could, then, have given.  Frankly, it scared me, shitless.  I continued with the class into the new year, but I had less and less energy for it. 

Eventually, I lost all energy for everything.  I was turning and turning, within a box in my mind that was squeezing, smaller and smaller, but I could find no way out.  Unbeknownst to me, a clinical depression was setting in.  I didn’t want to be an actor anymore.  All I wanted… was to disappear.

(See Spiritual Teachers: The Ojibway for Part 2 of this series.)

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I Want to Live in a Wigwam

Posted by Amanda Gray on May 15, 2011

I don’t know what Cat Stevens (a.k.a. Yusuf Islam) was thinking about when he wrote his song about living in a wigwam, but, for me, it’s about chasing fantasies and trying to find a comfortable lifestyle in the world.  Sure, Cat, I’d like to live in a wigwam, or ride in a caravan like a gypsy, or live in a commune like a hippie too.  Just like Cat, I wouldn’t want to live in a barracks or in a jailhouse.  Like the song suggests, there are idealistic, romantic life situations that I’d like to try, and other situations that I would rather reject – some acutely so – like if I was conscripted to the army or sentenced to a prison term.

My life has been very much like this song.  It’s been a continuous sampling of situations and roles.  Some situations I was excited about trying, and some I wasn’t thrilled about, but gave ’em a go anyway.  Since I never knew what I really wanted to do or what would make me happy, I was willing to try anything and everything.  At first, it was exciting to take on diverse challenges and adapt myself to whatever the role required.  I soon learned that I could easily play any part and be anything I wanted to be.  I was a little like the main character in the movie “Catch Me if You Can.”  I never went to the extremes that he did, becoming a forger, a doctor, or a lawyer, but I played at disparate occupations such as pastry cook, PC support technician, and insurance agent.  I’d study my topic, adopt rather stereotypical characteristics, be what everyone would expect, and then, by God, they’d believe me!

I’d believe it too, for a while.  But then, it’d start to fall apart.  Eventually, I would feel the cracks forming under the surface.  Sometimes, the role would slip, and I was sure people would see through me.  Oh no!  I couldn’t let them see through my carefully fabricated lie!  I couldn’t let them know that I wasn’t really this perfectly coiffed concoction of lipstick and hairspray!  I would become so embarrassed by my slip-ups, those little imperfections in the carefully crafted script in my head, that I would, very quickly, transition to something else.  Another situation, a new role, and one more chance to convince others of my worth.

Yet, as time went on, I became more insecure, and more out of control.  Every role I played was like something I was conscripted to, or a prison cell I couldn’t get out of.  My heart was gripped by intense suffering; my gut, by intense anxiety.  I felt like I was loosing my mind, and instead of convincing others that I was perfect, or even reasonably well-adjusted, I was finally just trying to convince them that I wasn’t, underneath it all, certifiably insane!

I was on a hamster wheel.  Run, Hammie, run!  Always in the same place.  With no way to turn, go forward, back, or anywhere.  Eventually, I was exhausted.  No matter how I acted, it was still just acting, and it took a lot of energy.  I didn’t know how to be a real person!  I fell into a deep, clinical depression.  But even that didn’t stop me for long.  I tried again, and again.  Beating the same ol’ dead horse.  Trying to play the same ol’ games.  Stabbing at the same ol’ empty space in the same ol’ dark room.

In the second part of Cat’s song, he sings:

             We gotta get our heads up in the sky
             We gotta get a heaven, get a guide

To me, this is about getting off the hamster wheel.  I learned that I can’t run away from myself and I can’t, satisfactorily, define what I am by playing a role.  Yet, I don’t know what I am or what I’m here to do.  How do I find out?  What happens if I put my head up in the sky, get a heaven, get a guide? 

A Course in Miracles corroborates, saying, in Lesson 135 on page 252:

A healed mind does not plan. It carries out the plans that it receives through listening to wisdom that is not its own. It waits until it has been taught what should be done, and then proceeds to do it.

Well, all my own planning has gotten me nowhere.  Time to stop running, Hammie.  Quit acting like a hamster while you’re at it too.  Just stop, and ask: what am I, really?   What happens if I just look at myself?  What happens if I let others see me?   If I ask, perhaps I’ll find out.

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