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.
When I decided that I wanted to start writing and performing my words on stage, I did not expect the plethora of insecurities that would come up. Sure, I feel all sort of insecurities when I am acting and performing as well but these ones, these felt new and crippling at times, paralysing even. In my previous post, I mentioned how I feared writing and sharing and that fear stemmed from wanting to be accepted into this new world that I suddenly wanted to be a part of. But could I? Did I have the right to do that? Who gave me the right to write and then speak those words on stage and have people listen (or not) to them? I was looking for permission, for acceptance, for words of affirmation, from everywhere and everyone outside.
What I had to learn was that I did not need that permission. I did not need that acceptance letter or that pat on the back or the handshake that invited me into this new world. I simply had to step up and just.do.it. Just be. I have been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and in it she talks of having the birth right to create whatever it was we wanted to, and that we did not need permission to do so. Simple but powerful words; yet, a task that is mammoth when it comes to executing. Because that tiny little voice in our heads will question every motive, every action and ask us, “What gives you the right?”
I mentioned in my previous post about learning that I did not need things to be perfect and that all I needed to do was to speak my truth. In all honesty, I am constantly negotiating and constantly learning how to do this. Some days I wake up and I feel like a bloody brilliant big blue jar filled to the brim with creative juices and on others, I wake up questioning every single damn thing. It is on those days that I have to remember my own words, my own mantra – that I am enough and I can do this and I should keep at it, because it makes me happy. That I should just breathe in the doubts, acknowledge their existence and then breathe them out.
And that is what writing spoken word (alongside acting and performing) is teaching me all the time – how to let go. It is the boot camp training for life.
The start of this 2nd post was conceived while I was on a yoga retreat in Phuket. Sitting on the rooftop patio of a hideaway tucked away on a hill, looking out to the ocean, trying to think of what could be important enough to share with the potential readers of this blog, wondering time and time again, if I should give up. Fear is inevitable – in Big Magic, Gilbert lists down possibly all the fears that I had felt (I swear it felt like she had a looking glass into my life) and still sometimes feel as I try to think of works to create. The word ‘create’ itself carries with it so many implications, responsibilities and expectations – it almost never seems to leave enough space for failure because that is unacceptable. Fear of not having enough talent, fear of not being able to have something substantial enough that people would want to spend time reading, fear of not being creative enough (ah, that word again), fear, fear, fear, FEAR. I have spent my life fearing so many things that time and time again, the Universe has conspired to give me situations that push and test me to my limits. And when you are left with no choice, even Fear cannot stop you from doing what feels right to you. To dip your entire being into the pool of the unknown, sinking into the depths of passion and never caring for what the world might think – for if it was the truth, the right audience will be attracted to it. Even if there were no audience, then the job would still be well done because it came from a place of authenticity, a place that saw the deep need to express and share – because there was no other way. It taught me to have courage, the courage to not fear the hidden treasures within me.
Writing has given me an outlet for expression and made me comfortable with my own demons – well maybe comfortable isn’t the word to use; maybe it has made me aware and able to acknowledge these demons. Demons like ‘Fear’ that will always be there for the ride whether I like it or not. I just needed to learn to find a way to make peace with these demons. Writing has given me hope and given me a place to be when I have nowhere to go.
By taking time out to write, I have become more comfortable with silence, with being alone and in my own company; with being completely devoid of inspiration and sometimes being completely engulfed with too many emotions. Most of the times in that silence, I hear myself better.
Writing has made me truly, slowly but surely, and more every day, see myself and BELIEVE that I am beautiful. Beautifully imperfect, as I stand on stage sharing my soul, speaking my words. Writing made me realise that self-doubt will never disappear but it can inspire; just be careful, be aware and don’t let it eat your insides up leaving you empty with a disease. Let it instead spur you to see the magnificence in the mundane; to turn the mundane into exaggerated realities for entertaining and to turn the elaborately complicated into simpler versions for easier digestion.
Creating my own work allows me to refuel that creative fire within me, especially during times when acting work was scarce – especially during times when acting work leaves you broken. Such is the industry we are in, where stereotypes reign and you are constantly judged based on how you look – a contradiction I try to make peace with all the time as I try to be less judgmental of myself and others, as I try to be less critical and more accepting of myself and others. Rejection also reigns in this industry and writing has helped me to deal with the sometimes ugly emotions that such dealings can bring. It forces you to toughen up, suck it up and move on, to seek out castings and put yourself out there again. I also believe we, as creative individuals (not just actors, but everyone and anyone) need outlets, spaces we can dive into that will allow us to just… Be. Without criticism, without judgement, without hate all of which can stem from within us just as much as it can come from the outside world.
Combining writing with my love for meditation and yoga practice (the tree pose works wonders for me, when I can actually hold it for more than 10 seconds at least), I think I have found a way to be more at peace with rejections and with the pricks to the heart that comes with every “no”. Because I am giving myself every “yes” I can. I create the situations, the creative platforms for myself and in that way, I feed my soul what it needs, craves and treasures to remain nimble, alive and spinning.
Standing in front of an audience speaking someone else’s words after I have breathed my truth into them and made them my own is a scary and nerve-wracking process, but with each passing minute, the nerves turn into excitement as the character takes over on stage. Standing in front of an audience speaking my own words is worse than this, any day. Why? I am not too sure but I believe it has something to do with being naked – nakedly vulnerable with your words. It has made me pick myself apart, tear myself up into pieces and then put myself back together. And then realise I am more whole now than I ever was, and that it can only get better. At least that is what I put my faith in and hope for. Vulnerability – that is where the magic happens. When you take that risk, you show up taller than you are, bigger than you are and your presence will be noticed and appreciated – because you’re taking that risk to show up and be yourself, to be true, free and vulnerable. And once you’re done, let go. It’s done.
At the heart of it all, this work has helped me with being more open, with being more than just ‘ok’ with wearing my heart on my sleeves. And in doing so, I find that I am loving myself more each day and every day. And that is the only and best way to be. The best version of myself.
Sure there are black days. Bad days. But I am able to be more self-aware now. I write. I put those sinister grey thoughts, thoughts I sometimes have no words to describe, down on paper with the words I can come up with and then I leave it be. Once on paper, never forgotten. Once on paper, never kept hidden. Once on paper, life begins.
And when life begins, you just can’t stop it. So go, go with the flow. Explore, Create, Transcend.
Please do remember that you do not need permission to do your creative work – so be wild, be free; create and then let it go. Let go.
Note: It was 1233am by the pool at the hideaway in Phuket. I was trying to get this blog post done, and the cat that roams around the resort decided to jump up onto the table I was seated at and just snuggle there, keeping me company. And then it fell asleep, as if being drifted off by the lullaby of my typing.
What a beautiful moment it was, just as I was writing about fears – it hopped up – like a much needed sign from the Universe saying, it’s ok, everything is ok, you are protected, you are being cared for, you are being watched over. Thank you Universe 🙂 The cat didn’t try to touch my wine or my laptop or anything else. She napped, woke up, and then left, right after I penned down this message, right after I realised what the Universe had sent me. Perhaps it’s the second glass of wine going into me that is making me tear, but it could very well be the immense feeling of comfort that comes with knowing that you’re being watched over, cared for. And just like the cat, moments and situations and people in life will come and go, appreciate them while they’re there.. and when they have to leave, let them go.