As is usually the case…
The idea for this joint/collaborative blog came to me in a moment of frustration. I wanted to try something new. I wanted to explore the topic of personal growth. Through personal stories, I wanted to look at personal growth in the most isolated and discouraging of professions: the profession of an artist.
We already know that the overnight success is a flawed concept, but we never talk about the journey toward success. Who someone is (Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o) when they first delve into acting (or whatever), versus who they are when they get their first success is a different person. If we never do the work on ourselves we will continue to repeat the exact same patterns in our lives. Over and over again. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
There’s a definite and somewhat ethereal journey toward “success” and “fulfillment” that has nothing to do with odds or luck. There are people out there that I can’t imagine as being anything but successful. Why? What’s the mindset that these people have in common? What was the journey the led them toward that change in mindset? On this blog I’ve brought together eight remarkable and brave artists who have elected to share their stories. It is my hope that this blog will help artists everywhere to feel less afraid of going after what they want. Ambition is not a bad word, and bad odds is not a real obstacle.
Why do I want to be an artist?
I don’t mean to be dramatic, but many of my memories from when I was young are of isolation. Partially by choice, but mostly because of fear (fear controlled me then even more than it does now). I felt alone. I felt trapped inside of myself. I started writing poetry when I was in grade four. I’d sit in the library and write stream of conscious rhythms. Some were nonsensical, like about how much I hated bugs, and others hit closer to home. “I’m in there” was a poem about the facade that (as a 13 year old girl) I put up in public.
Like all of my writing, I ended the poem with a bold assertion that things were going to be different moving forward. I make those sorts of wild resolutions a lot. My favourite thing to say is “fuck fear,” but then of course I wake up the next morning still afraid and still drenched in insecurity and doubt. I like to use metaphors. Here’s one: I imagine myself standing in front of a pool of freezing cold water, counting down from five. I know that the change in temperature is going to suck after first becoming submerged, but I also know that if I suck it up and breathe through the discomfort, eventually the water won’t feel so cold. Eventually I’ll be able to swim and maybe even have fun.
As I write this, I’m realizing that this is a story that I tell way too often, and maybe it’s time to give this old story a rewrite.
In her book of short stories (Memoirs of a Novelist), Virgina Woolf’s unapologetic presence is intense. I actually felt overwhelmed by her voice as I sat wrapped up in blankets in my bedroom. As is always the case, the more specific you are, the more people you end up reaching. She spoke about the way we cover up who we are with disguises that represent what we think others want us to be. But a disguise can never be as specific as a person (even though in acting we try to get as close as possible). There’s nothing exciting or memorable about being a generic person who is generally “good” and “honest.” We’re all so much more than our occasionally virtuous behaviour.
I think a lot of “art” falls short today because too many people are afraid to share those nasty parts of themselves. We all have them. The judgemental, cynical and jealous parts of our personalities. The parts of who we are that might make others gasp. Perfection is the enemy of art. Perfection is alienating. Art is personal (ie. imperfect). I can’t think of anything more fulfilling as an artist than having someone reach out to you with relief. “I thought I was alone.”
But most of the times I feel incredibly discouraged by art. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t yearn for that role or that novel that others would associate with me and my identity. When I think of Stephen King, I think of Carrie or IT or The Stand. When I think of Ian McEwan I think of Atonement. When I think of Natalie Portman I think of V for Vendetta and Black Swan. Maybe this is wrong, but I desperately want to have ownership over a piece of art. I want to feel proud of (and recognized for) something that I created.
There are many reasons why I want to be an artist. Some are maybe more “socially acceptable” than others, but I know I can’t be the only person who ever had the secret wish that they might someday create something that would stand up against time… something that they would be remembered for.
A couple of days ago I sat down and put some real thought into some one, three and five year goals. As is natural in the life of an actor, I have been faced with a lot of rejection lately. It hurts and it sucks. Since starting my personal blog two and a half years ago, I’ve also been surprised by the amount of people who tell me that the person that I portray in public is very different than the person that comes through in the writing in my blog. Which is the real Christine? I’d prefer to think it’s the one that writes the blog posts. She seems smarter than the girl with the furrowed brow, the fidgety hands and the shaky voice. On the day that this blog will be published, I have a commercial audition. I want to challenge myself. With my long term goals front of mind, can I enter that room firmly rooted in me? I just felt my stomach clench and my breath suddenly become shallow. That’s encouraging. Still I know that the rejection will continue until I can start to allow my public and private selves to meet. That’s it. That’s the goal that will fuel me today
Further down the road I have dreams of accolades, broadway, incredible collaborations and best sellers… but today I’m going to start small. Although I’m tempted, I won’t end this post in a flourish. Instead I’ll say this: I’m going to try my best today, and I will continue to try my best tomorrow.
Latest posts by Christine Bissonnette (see all)
- A conversation about belonging at the Vancouver Writer’s Fest - October 28, 2015
- Creativity is our common language – it is how we communicate what we are afraid to say as ourselves - September 10, 2015
- “I left something important at home during week 1 at the National Voice Intensive” – entry by Christine Bissonnette - May 22, 2015