Summer Stripes and Lake Sunsets

2 Jan 2018

This year has been a really big one for me, but most of what has happened was put in motion before the clock striking midnight the morning on January 1, 2017.
A couple of years ago I remember laying in bed finding it hard to sleep with the weight of my life on me. I was in a relationship I felt suffocated by, in a job that didn’t make me happy feeling like I had just woken up to discover I had been living someone else’s life and I was trapped. Previously when I had found myself feeling that way, my reaction was to ‘lean into it’. I’d try and give more of myself or change more of myself. I thought if I was unhappy all I had to do was commit more. At that moment though, I realised I was moving in entirely the wrong direction. I should have been running away this whole time, not digging a deeper grave for myself. It felt like a grave. I’m sure for someone else it would have been a perfect life. I was dating a highly educated, skilled guy. We were probably going to get married. I was in a secure job with great career prospects. My education gave me great career prospects. There was this bright future and the thought of it made me want to throw up. I fantasised about walking out the door and never coming back.

So I made the very difficult decision to be accountable to my own life, my own future and I decided to begin letting opportunities go in order to find a life I wanted to be in. The first and most difficult step was ending a relationship that I wasn’t meant to be in. It was a horrible process but I knew it was necessary. Then I began looking for what really made me happy. What frightened me? What was going to make me feel alive?

The spark I was looking for turned out to be acting and after running into my high school drama teacher in a cafe, I started dabbling with being back on stage. The more I explored the more I realised just how much different my life felt when I was acting. I auditioned for a couple of acting schools and shows and I got into plays and at the beginning of 2017 I was rehearsing to play Lady Macbeth with a local theatre company. All the rehearsals and the shows were hard work with little reward aside from growing my skills and meeting new people. Fear still overwhelmed me before every performance. That wasn’t the only part of my life that took commitment and courage.

I had to bring the momentum of one life to a near halt, whilst trying to force inertia into another. It has been a couple of years of sacrifice, of compromise, of being unhappy now because I know I’m working to a future where I can be happy more days than I’m not. I navigated guys wanting relationships with me that I didn’t want. I struggled with a toxic work environment which involved completely destroyed communication lines. But because of the choice I’d made that I wanted more from life, I worked really hard for something better. Slowly, beautiful diamonds began to surface from the shitty dark place I was working through. At first, those diamonds were people. One of my workmates that I had had a broken down relationship with gradually became someone I could communicate with during a meeting using only stoic eye contact. She went from being an enigma to being someone I was constantly keen to learn more about, someone that was complex and passionate and fierce incredibly beautiful. Someone I trusted completely. She is one of those rare people that I would say I would have work for me, that I would work beside, or that I would work for, so deep is my respect for her. That connection and understanding came from hard work and I really appreciated every moment with her that worked because we had built that and we had built it together. So with her, I began 2017.

At that opening of the year, I was also offered a scholarship to undertake the LBWR 2017 program. It was something I never thought I would be able to take part in, and something that took a lot of diplomatic negotiations on my part with work to have the privilege to do. I was so fortunate that I did get to that point. At our opening retreat, we set the foundations for the year in the program by focusing on ourselves and our personal development with an assessment tool that looked at our leadership skills. I can still remember the silence inside me when I read the words ‘deemphasises feelings of self and others’. For the first time in a long time, probably because of the journey I had put myself on, I was ready to hear that truth.

Because I feel deeply. I always have. Feelings felt like mud to me when I was trying desperately to move forward. So I would naturally cut through the emotion of a situation and process it with logic. If I couldn’t solve a problem, hey, at least I could label and bottle and alphabetise the things I was feeling so that they could make sense. If it made sense I thought I could then let it go and I would be ok. That’s fine for little things, but if I wanted to be more or to get more out of life, what did that mean for feelings that were…a lot more? So I had one small catalsytic thought; what if I don’t deemphasise those feelings?

So why do I try desperately to have my mind override my heart? Often, I feel like I’m carrying a whole ocean inside of me. That by opening anything up to someone else may drown them or may show how vulnerable I am by the weight of that dark water within. It’s heavy. It really is. And the dark water accumulates. It’s the bitter grief from the loss of my sister. The inevitable death of my much loved grandmother. It’s the aching of the love I have for the people that are still in my life, wanting so much to reduce their burdens that I could never add my own. What I needed to find was the vulnerability to let that ocean be visible.To be open to being hurt. To be open. The thing is, to be a good actor, you have to let that ocean be seen. It’s not about showing people a part of yourself, but making yourself a mirror so that they can see a truth in themselves. I knew I already struggled opening up like that on stage. To get the vulnerability I needed, I first needed courage. Luckily for me, I had spent the last year operating almost entirely on courage. 

So with a quest for a new life underway, seeking vulnerability and armed with courage I began 2017. It was not easy. It went against my nature. When every part of my mind was roaring to close down the barriers and bring back my still, calm exterior, I would have courage and stay vulnerable anyway. When people I trusted and lowered my guard with manipulated me and preyed on the weaknesses I opened to them, I let it be the measurement of them. And I had courage, and I stayed open anyway. When I had to step outside the theatre because I was scared and I wanted to run away from everything I was building because being open feels so raw, I had courage and let it feel raw. When I was forced to look back at the choices I made when I was young, I looked at younger self with empathy, I didn’t try to name what I felt. I had courage, and I let it be. It was hard.

But at the beginning of this, I met someone unexpected. One of my employees lost a family member and as her boss, I made sure she was supported. When she was struggling with it, I had the courage to let her sit by my desk, not needing to talk, but just needing the peace of my company. I would work while she was silent beside me. Sometimes she would cry. And I didn’t try and label it. My head made a conscious decision to give the reigns to my heart and my heart wanted to just let her be. So I did. Over the many months that followed, a workplace respect grew to a respectful acquaintance. From there, we became curious, thoughtful friends. One day, sitting in a local cafe together a few months into the year, I looked at her and realised that we had become friends. Well aware that aside from martial arts fights, acting or physio, as a single person I received no physical contact with other people, she would force hugs on me. My mind would cringe, but my heart said, let it be. So I had courage, and I did. Eventually I stopped awkward laughing when she did it. Then, eventually, I would hug her back.

As I got to know her, I learned from her how to be raw and still move through the world anyway. I went from a stoic person, knowing only how to show my empathy for her through actions, to say without the need for courage, ‘I love you’, as she got out of my car. It was an incredible honour to have met someone I would previously have kept at arm's length and to have shared the journey with her of me trying to let the light into that dark water. I’m so lucky to have had the privilege of her consistent and unwavering friendship and humanity. To have grown with her witnessing. To have been able to give her back so much when she is such a giving person herself. 

So what did finding the vulnerability I needed do for my acting? Well in 2018, I’ll be taking up a place at an acting school in Melbourne in the audition and interview we talked about vulnerability and how important it was to acting and helping the audience connect with themselves. It’s been a hard year with challenges I couldn’t talk about publicly, but I have done all that I can so that in 2018, I can finally begin.

- L

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