23 years of dust and imposter syndrome

2013-10-02 13.05.25
(Found amongst the clearout: the 1 year old me, the 17 year old me)

First sentence admission: I find it really hard to write blogs. I am truly the child of a journalist, raised amongst hack-skepticism and dogged ambition, but have always leaned towards big-picture editorials and leaned (far) away from being a columnist. I’d picture myself as more of a seeker, a fact-checker, an idealist ‘speaking truth to power’, rather than a cushty headshot/ “I think, I comment”/pithy self-brand single-voiced megaphone. Or rather, I’ve never been sure that what I have to say is really worth a public airing, especially if it’s just my name in the byline. I worry, like I do whenever I make anything, about exposing too much of myself – of revealing an uglier, dumber, embarrassing part of me, and the reaction that could follow. But, my thin-skinned self is here, ready to jump – so I’m going to go against all my natural instincts and write this personally, in the moment, even if my present moment means that I’m sick in bed and have a vague sense of doom about several upcoming deadlines. Part of my job as a director is rigorously choosing which note to give and when – what words will keep the train on track and what missed articulation could de-rail any member of the cast or crew down a false path. Choosing my words is the main tool I have in making a piece of theatre – and the perfectionist in me dies when those words can be re-written live, in conversation, with an actor answering me back. Here, in black and white, the 25 year old problem, covered in dust but not yet dead, raises her ugly head – a fear of failure, of being caught, an imposter, full-hearted but empty-headed, which means not even trying in the first place.

However, Team Effort has given me permission to fail, monumentally, regularly, in good company and in fact, to stop calling it failure at all.

This self-induced pressure is nothing new. Two days ago I went back to my childhood home, where I lived for 23 of my 25 years and where my mother and brother still live until the end of this month, to begin clearing it out. My room is a dust-sodden tribute to a chubby infant, a 90s child, a leopard printed adolescent and a disappointed early adult. Digging through endless boxes, designating items as either trash or treasure, the clear out became a strange investigation of some other person’s history, some other curly-headed kid’s narrative, and what struck me most was the rise and fall of how much forgotten art this weird little girl made – sometimes there were piles and piles of drawings; long sci-fi stories; a notebook desperately attempting to record every human being I’d ever met up till the age of 12; a collage made out of images of skin; the obsessive documenting of every Manic Street Preachers lyric; print outs of incendiary political texts; scripts for plays in different rooms in a house. How much art –  though not necessarily how good, how successful, how sell-able. Choosing which of these scraps to keep and what to throw away felt like a strange act of oppression. What happened to this unafraid little power-house? When did education systems, professionalism, status anxiety and reality ruin my thinking? I remember telling my mum I wanted to go to art school so I could learn to think like an artist. Instead, I went to university and learned to think like an academic – and the drawings and glorious madness stopped there.

At a certain point, theatre comes sweeping back into my life, and all that remains are boxes of grubby but proud flyers for shows. I’m taking Team Effort as a chance to be unashamedly unfettered, disparate and excited, to think like an artist, to make like a kid, to collaborate like an adult, and to read, think and create, with others, in an attempt to do all of the above better, sharper, more beautifully, more truthfully than before.

“This is a good time for secret ambitions.” Gilly said this at our first meeting, which shook the dust out of all my corners. I’ve never gotten round to business cards, or been able to work out my Unique Selling Point, but I’ve got a box of secret ambitions and questions and stupid ideas and chaotic impossibilities that I’d love to give a go. And it seems like I’ve got permission. I have been incredibly busy for months and months. It means my stress levels are probably tantamount to carcinogenic, though I read recently that stress is only bad for you if you believe stress to be bad, and I never have – truthfully, I enjoy having a full head and a full diary. In fact, I’ve filled the days I’ve had “off” since the end of my last project with cleaning, admin, meetings, and in any down time, a particularly sour-tasting crisis about my purpose in the world… But the space that Team Effort gives me, is a blessing in the disguise of an existential crisis. It is for reflection and articulation – to not just barrel my way through life and work, but to find a stillness amidst all the momentum: to think and learn and approach what truly fascinates me, not just whatever is booked in next. And of course that old spectre of the dusty, terrified imposter comes back – and instead of running, I’m going to meet her, face-to-face, amongst the dust of my childhood. Yes, my ideas might be terrible, but I’ll never know unless I try. Look at the all the mad stuff this ten year old did! You can’t edit a blank page. You can’t make theatre without first putting something in that empty space.

Over the Summer, I attempted to make a piece of work for every IF event with a different collaborator – I wanted to learn how to ask the right questions, to facilitate collaborative work, to be creative frequently and to challenge myself to take bold risks in a public setting. After working with Rose, negotiating my way through a brand new relationship and a brand new art work (as well as becoming her biggest fan), I already know that the highlight of Team Effort will be the other members of the team – the artists, producers and all-stars who’s shared genius will make this thing bigger than the sum of it’s parts. I can’t wait to collaborate with them, steal their genius ideas, have conversations, ask them for help, learn from their art forms, get that buzz of a fresh ideas and new working partners, and gain a whole new set of secret ambitions and sparks. This imposter has both shaken off the dust and is trying to stay still, and can’t wait to start failing.

For now though, normal service resumes: bed, busy head and deadlines.

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