I gave over a chunk of yesterday to exploring my blurts and filling my 'monster hall of fame'. If you haven't come across the term blurts in this context before, it refers to the little voice that likes to silence your positivity or optimism just when things start going well and making progress. It might hit out at a compliment you've received from a friend by blurting 'what do they know?', or when you settle down to write or paint or learn a monologue, it may blurt 'you'll never be good enough, what's the point, you'll never make it'. It is your inner self-critic, your own worst enemy. These blurts have a past. They can usually be traced back to person who first said it or implied it to you, and will be a direct reflection of that person's negativity — something that you have taken on board and still carry around with you. These people are your monsters. They are the doubters who didn't believe in you, were envious of your ambition or were afraid you'd get hurt if you failed. The are the people who unwittingly (or perhaps quite deliberately) sabotaged your dreams of being an artist.
Yesterday's task required me to focus on three of my blurts and to time travel back to discover the monsters who helped create them. I started to feel quite anxious as I listed not three, but eight in total. Even I have to admit that is excessive. To think that I've gone through my training as a counselling skills practitioner, a personal development trainer and a life coach and still carry baggage belonging to eight other people seems ridiculous. But, as I started to review the list and look at some of them in more detail, I began to understand why. When I've worked through my negative self-beliefs and perceptions in the past, I've done so with a focus on my career, or my relationship, or my health — I've never turned the spotlight on myself as an artist and questioned why I still 'haven't made it'. And now, on paper, I have a list of the reasons why. My blurts, and the monsters who installed them.
A few of them are quite personal and will take time for me to work through by seeking positive affirmations to turn them around. One in particular stood out. Just over ten years ago, when I first moved to Glasgow with ambitions of pursuing acting as a career, I joined an amateur theatre company and soon made friends with a group of the long-standing members and some of the production team. At that time the roost was ruled by a guy who played the leading role in practically every production the company staged, and he did not take kindly to 'young pretenders' turning up on the scene. He seemed to dislike me, engaging in underhand behaviour during rehearsals that were nothing short of an attempt to force me out.
I stuck it out until the end of the run. At the after-show party, he was making quite a spectacle of himself when he drunkenly started to proclaim "I am a story teller and my story must be told". No one had a clue what was going on or who he was aiming it at. But then he directed his venom quite firmly at me: "Aye, you... you like telling stories, don't you? You like exaggerating to make folk like you. You like being the centre of attention". It was aggressive. It was a personal attack. It was far from the truth, but it hurt, and I felt threatened. I didn't know how to respond, how to defend myself. I was young, I was naïve, and I let him win. I left the party, and I never went back. I didn't tell my friends or the director the real reason I left. I had been toying with the idea of visiting Australia by then anyway, so rather than go back for the next production, I simply used it as a convenient excuse to leave and instead brought forward my gap year.
The part of the incident that most sticks with me is the maliciousness of his words: "I am a story teller and my story must be told" in that camp yet venomous tone. For years when I prepared for auditions, my inner self-critic would first of all say "you're going to make a fool of yourself" (a blurt from quite a difference monster), before falling back on a vision of my first monster's sneering face as he humiliated me in front of the crowd. This took place over a decade ago, but has shamed me ever since.
Working on the task yesterday, I finally found a way to turn this blurt on its head. It was obvious: I AM a story teller. Quite a different meaning from the intended slur, but throw a new emphasis on it and it is in fact a compliment! He was right: my story MUST be told! He was doing me a favour. I didn't want to be an amateur theatre performer: I was a young actor and writer in development, looking for experience. I had joined the company in good faith, in an open, honest and genuine fashion that clearly unsettled him. It was nothing to do with talent (he was a more confident performer than I was at that stage). It was entirely to do with the bubble of self-importance he had created for himself; a superficial world built on bitchiness, backstabbing and drama, where he was top of the tree and anyone who dared encroach was a threat to his dominance. His weapon of defence was belittlement, and he was unsparing in his attack.
A huge chunk of my self-belief dissipated dissipated that night. I felt stupid. I felt small. I gave up on any thoughts of applying to drama school now that I had seen what actors were really like — I didn't want to be around people like that. I cut myself off from a pool of friends by convinced myself that they'd believe his vitriol, the King of Queens.
I reclaim belief in myself today. I can act, I can write, and I am not ashamed of my desire to share it with people. I consign you, King of Queens, to the Monster Hall of Fame. My new positive affirmation is that same old blurt with its new emphasis:
I am a story teller, and my story must be told.