Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What Will My Future Be? I Wonder.

Diverting slightly(?) from the topic of backyard makeovers (and God knows my back could do with some diversion... and not THAT kind of diversion thanks!!!) I had a weird and nostalgic moment at dinner tonight.

The Baby Angel has, for a long time now, struggled with the idea of her future.

It starts when you are a tiny tot and someone notices you playing hospitals: "Oh, he/she's going to be a doctor" (the looney parents quip). The child who shows an interest in the recorder...."virtuoso symphonic performer"...the poor soul who wins a race at infants sports day.... "Olympic hopeful!!!"

Through all of this, I always found it very difficult to imagine what the BA would be. She wanted to be a policewoman. Whatever.

As the years passed, the BA's strongest suit was always her ability to understand people. Friends would tell me of it and I would be semi surprised....
"She knows what to say to bring people together."
"She can defuse a situation."
(She could also be a manipulating little toad; I guess that's the other side of the same coin.)

But I really hadn't twigged it myself, not really, until we were living in Australia. At 10 she would accompany me to netball  matches with my team of 15 year olds. Once, after watching me interact with one of my more difficult pupils she said, "Mum, Anne is the kind of person who needs a LOT of encouragement isn't she?" Perceptive indeed for one so young. And shortly afterwards, in a blinding flash, it hit me; the BA was going to work with people. It might be HR, psychology, counselling, marketing;  there were any number of careers which would call upon her talents. Of course there was always teaching......(hush ma mouth). It was several years later however, before she announced that she might be interested in being an aid worker in developing countries, although this definitely came in behind being a TV presenter for a travel program like 'Getaway'.

With this broad spectrum of careers in her headlights, the BA approached that process at the end of year 12 where you list a bunch of nebulous courses, the content of which is a minor mystery and the focus of which is the university with the best campus and the best bar, and try and give them a priority. It's called 'listing your preferences'. Now I remember this process myself. I don't think my Alma Mater, in those days, had much in the way of career counselling. I think we filled in a survey/ questionnaire thing which came back with a list of 'suggested' careers for us, but I have no recollection of what it suggested for me. I do recall what my father said however;
"Do something that makes money, Medicine or Law."
I didn't fancy blood much, so I put down Law. I also vaguely remember putting down Architecture because I quite liked houses.

Of course, I knew what I really wanted to be. I wanted to be an actress. This was no ill informed celebrity-news fed fantasy. I really did want to be an actress. Or at least a performer of some kind. I have talked before about my involvement with theatre in my youth. These productions were professional performances, two shows a day for two weeks through my school holidays, not to mention the months of rehearsal leading up to it. I knew what I was letting myself in for. Needless to say, to my academic father, the idea of 'acting' as a career was nonsense. My previous career choices from nurse (aged 7...I liked the uniform and bossing people around), fighter pilot (I read a lot of Biggles), air hostess (after they told me I couldn't be a pilot), secret agent (except I couldn't keep a secret) and finally astronomer (since I probably wouldn't be allowed to go to space either....>:-(...)  were pretty close to nonsense too. And so I applied for Law.

Himself on the other hand, knew exactly what he wanted to be from an early age.
"I want to design record covers," he told his mother. "What is that job called?"
"That would be a commercial artist dear," she informed him.
And so he knew his future. Right then and there aged about 10. And blow me down if his first job wasn't....yup, designing record covers. Of course he went on to many bigger and better things including producing the branding for a famous South Australian beer and working with the Sydney Olympic Committee to design posters for the Olympic Arts Festivals. It wasn't a picnic for him to get there, after all his 1970s private boys' school didn't even offer Art as a subject, and his father wanted him to be a rocket scientist (like him), but at least he knew what he wanted to do.

I did try to follow my dream. After two years at Law, during which I performed in: two productions with my children's theatre employers; a Footlights' show; a production of The Crucible with a local semi-professional company and a 6 week country tour of a cabaret style show with the Arts Council; I deferred my third year and never went back. I moved to the eastern states and began work in a theatre restaurant two nights a week. Encouraged by this I applied for the Acting Course at the Victorian College of the Arts and after a rigorous audition process, was accepted. I was ecstatic.

But it was the 80s, money was tight and the publicly funded college had already experienced cuts. The previous year they had run an Entertainer's Course alongside their Acting Course; this had a broader focus including, dance, music, singing and circus skills, but this had been axed in the wake of the tight budget. Now, part way through my first year, further cuts threatened the very existence of the college. The College Director, founding Dean of the school, resigned his position under the condition that his salary would go towards making up the shortfall. He was called vainglorious and it was made clear to us that the cuts would come anyway.....but that was in the future. We admired him fiercely and vowed to soldier on. (Interestingly, the problem with funding continues to this day!)

So it was with a completely open heart and unsuspecting mind that I attended my Review Meeting at the end of the term. Unlike academic courses, we had no exams and assignments, but our work was being constantly assessed and instead of a report card, we fronted a table of our tutors and lecturers for a face-to-face review.

I should have heard alarm bells when I was asked to wait an extra 15 minutes before coming into the conference room, but I was so excited about my progress, the positive feedback I had recently received and my future in the theatre. Once they called me into the room, I sat at the end of the large rectangular table and the Dean delivered the blow.
"Arizaphale, this has been a very difficult decision but after some discussion we have decided to terminate your course. Essentially, we can not guarantee that at the end of the course we will turn you out as an actress."
I remember turning the words over in my mind and trying to make sense of them.
I made sense of them. They didn't think I was going to be an actress.
I revisited their sense. they don't think I'm going to be an actress.
I suddenly saw the consequence.
It was over.
I was out.
I had to completely re-adjust my reality. I was not going to be attending college for three years. I would not make a show reel, find an agent, go on to work in the industry......
I started to cry. I tried to hold it in.
"Don't worry," someone, said, "Let it out..."
For a control freak who had spent most of her life holding it in, this was the permission I needed. I sobbed. I howled. I cried my guts out. The grief was overwhelming. To have got this far and have it taken away.......
Many years later I met one of the teachers who had been present that day. "Oh yes, I remember you!" he exclaimed."Do you know what I remember above everything? I remember you crying. I remember your grief."

There was more discussion and feedback. Each teacher had their say. It was pretty evident from their feedback, who had advocated for me and who hadn't. The room was equally divided. At the end of the day it had come down to the Dean, the deciding vote. The man whom I had so admired had not seen a future for me as an actress. He mitigated it somewhat. He said that, had they still been running an Entertainers course, I would have been a perfect fit. He explained that he felt I was unable to let go of 'me' enough to become someone else in a role. He was probably right.
After a while I had calmed down enough and received sufficient warm, fuzzies from my supporters to emerge from that room and face my peers.

A group of us sat on the lawn and as they all fed back their experiences. When it came to my turn I had to admit that I was finished. There was shock, there was sympathy and there was a strange bemused smile from one other young man.
"The same thing happened to me,"  he said. I sat back in amazement, my own situation receding. I had thought he had it all together. I had thought he was ahead of the game.
It became evident that around four of us had been axed and several put 'on warning'. It was strange. It felt like a cull and many people would say to me later that it was a 'numbers game' and we had been sacrificed, but knowing what I know now about tertiary funding, I can't see how that was the case.

My dear, dear friend The Honourable Husband, a fellow Footlights alumni came down to see me the week after the axe fell. I was out in the garden, forlornly digging my petunias.
"WELL!," he announced in his distinctive Pennsylvania accent as he appeared at the proverbial garden gate:
"YOU didn't s*** the right c***s did you?"
I think I bust my garters laughing.

I embraced him for the dear, dear friend he was and for saying what I needed to hear at precisely the right moment in my life. For even if the reality wasn't as crass as failing to provide fellatio, it was indeed an acknowledgement of the fact that I had failed to fulfill their desires, which didn't necessarily mean I was a total failure. And how beautifully he delivered it. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Interestingly, Himself was horrified when I recounted this tale. He thought the HH was being completely insensitive. The BA cracked up! "No," she protested, "that kind of humour can lift you out of it when you're at rock bottom (or words to that effect)."
I was so glad that she 'got it'.

So what am I getting at here, with this rant about futures and disappointments? Well, I have to admit that re-telling that story, which I don't think of often, and which I generally think I have 'got over', opened an old wound. I got quite teary and felt the old tug of 'what if'..... but then I thought about this:

a little girl with severe dyslexia and language disorder; a girl whose spelling score I have managed to advance 2 years in 12 months, who has learned cursive (a great boon for spelling btw) and now wants to read books......

God has a place for you in the world. It may not necessarily be the place you thought would suit you and it may not come with the trappings that may have appealed to you when you were a shallow youth, but you can be sure that the rewards are there. Small, smudged...but right there.

Footnote: The young man who was kicked out of VCA at the same time as me went on to be a well known face on Australian (and UK) TV screens!
Stefan Dennis


Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

Oh that's a great story!!!! And so sweet the note. Good luck to BA as she muddles her way through figuring it all out herself.

Anonymous said...

Wow.. I was reminded of some of my own journey and how our experiences shape us, mold us, grow us and ARE never wasted even though at the time they are very painful and hurt like mad!
Have a great year.

The Honourable Husband said...

For the record, I stand by my assessment of the situation.

More important was the point which I made in the next sentence at your garden gate, and of which you remind us. The only two students they fired were the ones who, in whatever capacity, had already made a living as professional actors.

How obvious was that?

Was it a coincidence? Surely not.

Were they telling you both that you didn't need them? That they felt you could make it on your own? Did they need to couch it in terms of poor academic assessment in order to make it stick? They couldn't flunk you for excess competence, could they? Did they want the place for someone who had not yet developed the skills you already possessed?

Did you interpret this as a failure, when you could have interpreted it as an endorsement?

(Neither of us were wise enough, in those days, to see it that light.)

God has a place for us all? You know my beliefs, but I'll meet you half-way, for the sake of the discussion.

I think about your talent, the pleasure you brought to so many audiences, the satisfaction you got from being a working actress, and the sheer comfort you felt on stage. Do you really believe God didn't want you to enjoy that?

Was the Review Panel giving you a message from God? Was God saying you didn't deserve your dream? Or was the review panel stacked with agents of the devil—after all, God does permit evil to work in the world, and for good people to suffer. Was that an example of it?

I, for one, refuse to believe and just, loving and merciful God would not want you to be an actress.

If you'll forgive the programme speak, were you making others in positions of temporal authority into your Higher Power?

You have succeeded handsomely in your second-choice profession—as have I, arguably. But on behalf of both of us, it still disappoints me.

We knew what was true of ourselves, in our hearts. But when we met with met with messages from the world around us—and mixed, sometimes false messages to boot—we both chose to believe others rather than our gut.

I'm not a believer, but if I were, surely I'd believe what God said to me in my heart, as opposed to what God said to me through mouthpieces with suspect motives.

But we hadn't learned that lesson at the time. It's a lesson one can learn only through having experienced the the full force of the pain and regret. And maybe that hasn't happened 'til now. Lesson learned.

pptiger tiger said...
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pptiger tiger said...
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Stacy said...

Life is full of twists and turns, isn't it? I am sure it was very hard on you to see your dream turn to dust, but you have excelled as a teacher. that note and story about the girl is a wonderful testament to that.

I was a more pragmatic sort as a youngster. I was like your dad...I chose a career where I could make money. I already grew up poor and wasn't overly fond of it. Would I have loved to have been a fashion designer? Yep! I just have a fulfilling hobby now.

elieasa marriea said...

Life has lots of twists. It is very enjoyable. Your story is remarkable. I enjoyed it.
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