Yesterday was one of those days where I start out with a very clear idea of where I am headed, only to find that I am derailed by one thing or the other. I got a lot done … but I didn’t get out of the house to buy groceries, or go to yoga, and, at the end if it, I couldn’t for the life of me come up with something to write about.
Every start led to a dead-end, and I kept circling back to my list of ideas – confident I would find inspiration. But I didn’t. So I poured a g’n’t, lay down on the sofa and flicked on the TV, planning to watch “Ray Donovan”. Nothing like murder, mayhem and threat to get the imagination going. I love the show – it feels like Will Shakespeare writes the script. Ray is Hamlet, Othello, Richard, and Lady Macbeth all rolled into one. The show is real and surprisingly easy to relate to: jealousy, heartbreak, bitterness…all of the ugly things that bring out the worst in all of us. Maybe there was something in that to write about?
But, before I got there, I chanced upon “American Beauty”, a film by Sam Mendes. I like the movie so I watched for a beat: Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening are both great artists in excellently written parts. I suppose in it’s purest sense – Sam Mendes made a story about a modern-day Humbert Humbert relatable. There is plenty of imagery and symbolism, visual play and tricksy stuff – but beneath it all was the message in the movie’s tag line: “….look closer.” The title of the movie refers to a breed of roses that are pretty and appealing – but prone to rot at the root and beneath their branches. And Mendes was reminding us that if we look beyond ‘perfect suburban life’, we’ll find something rancid underneath.
“American Beauty” came out in 1999 and I remember watching it on a tour bus, after a show, driving down a highway somewhere in Europe – whilst drinking a glass of great red wine. Anything but suburban, but the lesson wasn’t lost on me.
But I digress, American Beauty reminded me of a piece I saw on Vanity Fair a while ago and had bookmarked for a day like today. Mendes is also a prolific theatre director – stage is his preferred medium – and in March this year the Roundabout Theatre Company honoured him for his work. During his acceptance speech he offered up 25 steps that, he felt, were indispensable tips towards becoming a happier director.
As I re-read them I remembered why I had saved it. They apply in everyday life as well. So I edited down the list (and some of the descriptions) – taking out those pieces that were completely theatre focused, and settled on a dozen that are relevant to most of us. Here they are:
1. Always choose good collaborators. It seems so obvious, but the best collaborators are the ones who disagree with you. It means they’re passionate, they have opinions, and they’ll only ever say yes if they mean it.
2. Try to learn how to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.
3. Learn to say, “I don’t know the answer.” It could be the beginning of a very good day’s rehearsal.
4. The pursuit of perfection is a mug’s game.
5. Confidence is essential, but ego is not.
6. Buy a good set of blinkers. However strong you are, confidence is essential to what you do, and confidence is a fragile thing. Protect it. As T.S. Eliot says, “teach us to care, and not to care.”
7. You are never too old to learn something new, don’t be scared of feeling like a complete tit. It’s an essential part of the learning process.
8. There is no right and wrong, there is only interesting, and less interesting.
9. Peter Brook said, “The journey is the destination.” Think only of discovery and process.
10. Learn when to shut up.
11. When you have a cast of 20, this means you have 20 other imaginations in the room with you. Use them.
12. Please remember the Oscars are a TV show.
And life is real. Thanks for the reminder Sam.
(The quote is by Mr Shakespeare: Juliet on her Romeo and their family problems:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”)