Many of us aren’t just actors. We explore artistically as writers, directors, painters, photographers…the list is endless. In this series of guest posts, we’ve invited librarian, actor, spoken word writer and performer, Varshini, to pen her thoughts on her writing journey.
As an actor, Varshini has numerous stage and film credits to her name, including True Love, a feature film directed by S Viknesh which was selected for the Queens World Film Festival in 2013, Neil Simon’s play The Star Spangled Girl, Tan Suet Lee’s play A Second Life, Hum Theatre’s Nagamandala and Seventy Shades of Play by the Stageclub Singapore. Her commercial credits include Julie’s Biscuits’ “The Best of You” advertorial campaign across TV, cinema and billboard. She is currently performing in Phenix Arts’ The Immortal Bard, a showcase of Shakespeare’s famous works being shown across the libraries in Singapore. She will also be presenting her poems as part of Gnossem Nights in end April. One of her poems will be published by Coffee Stained Press in their first poetry anthology, Words: Lost and Found.
I have been asked many times by different people if I were ever going to choose between being a librarian and an actor. Or if being an actor was just a hobby. I have also been queried about my commitments between writing and acting.
When the questions sank deeper into my soul, I admit, I felt like a lesser actor. I questioned myself, my motives behind acting and whether the value of what I brought to the stage was somehow diminished because I was not doing it full-time. Were the emotions I brought to my writing and poetry performance somehow diminished as well because I was not a full-time performer?
But then it dawned on me. The value, standard and level of performance I create is only diminished when A) I do not work hard at it with the time I have, and B) when I do not love what I am doing. Given a different set of circumstances, I would absolutely be a full-time actor, writer and performer. However, currently, my day job is needed.
I am lucky though. I love my day job – it gives me a great sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, and I am able to extend my performance skills into my job and add value to it. It actively stimulates me and gives me great pleasure.
Lady Luck does not always shine on us and even if she does, she can disappear in an instant. I know some others who haven’t been struck by Lady Luck’s gifts. The jobs they are in are necessary for their and their families’ survival, but it may be one that they do not entirely enjoy. At the same time, they desire to be actors. Should we discourage then them and tell them that their passions are not as serious? Or that they should not pursue their passions because they are not committing a 100%, since, you know, they have a JOB. Who are we to make that decision for them, about them?
Let’s face it, Lady Luck is fickle. Success is fickle. In any job that you do, there is no absolute security. There is no promise. There is however, discipline and devotion to your craft. You can have talent, but that is something you cannot control. You need luck from time to time – also something you cannot tailor. The one thing you can wield and make work for you is your determination to do the hard work. Having a day job is not embarrassing or dishonourable, as Gilbert says in Big Magic (come on, I could not have not quoted her in my last post right?! :P)
We each have our own paths to find and follow. We each owe it ourselves to find a vocation that makes our spine tingle, makes our hearts race and makes our blood run through our veins. We owe it to ourselves to find what makes us complete. And when we find it, if the circumstances are not right, we find ways to pursue it. And therein lies the beauty of the human determination and compulsion. The sheer need to feel complete pushing us to carve out ways, either to make our passions fit our lives or to make our lives fit our passion.
And here’s the best part. You don’t have to choose. You can do both!
Meryl Streep, an actor I greatly admire, had this to say to a young journalist and playwright who told Streep that he felt deeply conflicted because he loved both professions. She said:
“You don’t have to choose. You can do both. You should do what you love. They’re merely different forms of storytelling, and at the end of the day, that’s what connects us all.”
Yes. Merely different forms and we are all united though the same art. So don’t beat yourself up over it. If you need to work a day job to feed yourself, do it. Then return to your passions as and when you can. If you are a full-time actor, there will be seasons where there is no work. Unless we have a trust fund, chances are we all need some other type of work from time to time.
I used to battle this inner conflict as well until I found a way around it. Sure, I lose out on getting parts because I am unable to commit to afternoon rehearsals but I find other plays that I can commit to, given the lifestyle and schedule I have. That usually involves full days at work and evenings at rehearsals. And when I am not rehearsing, I am quite possibly taking some workshop. Keep fuelling your creative desires one way or another. Wake up at 6.30am instead of 7am to write a short piece of fiction or paint a little bit more of your masterpiece, before you have to head off into your job.
I am not saying it is easy. It is absolutely horrendous on days where you are literally dragging yourself home because you are just so exhausted. Assess the situation. Is it temporary because you are rehearsing for a play? If so, then you just have to deal with it. Remember why you are doing it. Because after the show is done, you will feel like a ghost wandering the streets with nowhere to belong. Assess the situation. Sometimes, you just need a break.
Kamil Haque once gave me a wonderful piece of advice when I was telling him how I was not doing any (acting) work and how I was also swarmed with work from my day job. He said, “Why don’t you just take a break?” And it was the truth. I needed it. But I had been ashamed to allow myself to take a break because I had allowed myself to believe that I will be a lesser actor or creative person if I did that.
I took that break. Nothing happened. The sun still rose in the East, the morning birds still squawked everyone awake, my neighbour continued pruning her plants incessantly and I hadn’t grown any taller. The hard truth is, no one is thinking about me or you. We are all too busy thinking about ourselves. They might like my art today and shun it tomorrow; they might like my performance today and hate it next month. You’d never know.
“I’m gonna tell you the most liberating thing you’ll hear in your life.
No one is thinking of you.
Which should be a relief!
Because it is your life,
Do whatever the fuck you want,
Enjoy a moment, have real reactions to things.
Look at a tree.”
You may seen this video of Sandra Oh’s character in Shitty Boyfriends, giving advice to Amanda. How true.
At the end of the day, as selfish as it seems, you really have to figure out why you are doing this for yourself. What do you get out of it?
When you get into the thick of the action, the real drama of life begins.
A couple of days ago, I was at HCAC and I bumped into two people who told me they had read my posts. My initial reaction was to curl up into some ball and roll away. Instead, I smiled and said thank you for taking the time. Then one of them said, “I was really inspired by what you wrote.” The other said, “I never knew you felt that way too.” I had just told them that when I wrote those blogs, it really felt like the advice I was constantly giving to myself. All I did was to put it out there, share it, and let it go. I told myself that even if only one person connected with the things I wrote about, it would be icing on the cake. When I got two doses of this icing that night, it was both thrilling and humbling. Our words have power, our stories have power, our lives have power. Never forget.
Everything I have written about in the last 4 posts – about trusting your instincts, letting go, unmasking yourself and giving yourself permission to be human – are all just different roads to finding your true self, your inner voice, your freedom.
For now, I am choosing to do both; to do whatever I want, however I want. I will do so without guilt. I will do so knowing that someday, I might be able to have my art feed me. But I will not burden it with that responsibility now.
So please, remember: Have compassion for yourself. Give yourself the permission to feel complete by doing whatever it is you want to do, however you want to do it. You will not be any lesser, as long as you believe and trust your heart. Fill yourself up with that energy, that energy of feeling complete and whole, within yourself. Be generous with yourself because no one else will do it for you.
We have already chosen this path to explore ourselves and the world around us artistically. Now let us choose our own unique ways in which to do it, to give ourselves the very permission we seek. Let our wandering feet take us to places we never dreamed of, let our passionate hearts seek the light that will engulf us and let us be Free.
I thank you for taking this journey with me; I am filled with gratitude that somewhere, someone is reading this and thinking, I get it. Thank you.
Now go look at a tree.