Sometimes I joke about how my life would be so much better if I just had a more skillful screen writer -- I mean, snappier dialogue, PLEASE! And a really good sound track -- maybe something like John Williams’ “Star Wars” -- would be such a help. Once I told a counselor that I often imagined suitable music behind what I was doing and in short order found myself being questioned closely about the symptoms of schizophrenia. Anne Shirley of Green Gables would have thought this counselor had no scope of imagination.
The truth is that the kind of serious troubles a person generally goes to a highly trained shrink for (not just a garden-variety counselor, though those CAN be helpful if they have any imagination) is not a matter of cinema craft but rather at one’s deepest levels of assumptions about life. These are not in the actor but in the original factory-installed playwright.
Change of metaphor: the deepest framework of assumptions in a human being are the Operating System codes. Not the gestational dyads like hot/cold, supported/dropped, moving/still, hungry/fed, and so on that guide the thalwag (see previous post) of the survival stream (so I mix metaphors -- it’s one of my OS kinks) but the ones formed soon after birth and originating in the first three years or so. Things like: “It’s a great world! I cry and am comforted!” or “I am just miserable. I cry a lot but it does no good.” (Genetics appear to have some bearing on this.)
The disciplines (disciple-ships?) of theatre, religion, and clinical psychology are all focused on trying to discover the so-deep-they’re-unconscious operating rules of an individual and then, if they turn out to be at odds with the life of the person, trying to change them or at least design a “work around.” Where the three disciplines can collaborate is in trying to change the big cultural patterns -- whether macro-economic or the result of a popular books on child-raising -- that produce bad results for individuals.
Here’s a religious example. In a fundamentalist context the deep conviction is that one chosen man, Jesus, was the intermediary between God and human. (This seems rather transparently drawn from the practical arrangement of an early city run by a king who purported to be a god.) A person raised with this basic presumption but later betrayed by a father-king or husband-king is going to have a hard time understanding that just getting a better king/father/husband might not solve the problem. It will be a major challenge to get her to accept the notion that there is no king, that she must take responsibility for her own life. (Of course, some directors, ministers, and therapists will be delighted to simply step into the role of king.)
Seeing one’s own OS assumptions is not easy. It’s the old problem of the fish trying to understand the concept of water. Bringing something of the sort up to consciousness can result in being unable to swim for a while. That’s when a “holding community” becomes important. (Friends, family, congregation) There are many dangers, like trying to be one’s own king but instead becoming that fallen angel, Lucifer, focused on reversal, resistance and evil. (Yeah, I confess. I’ve been rewatching “Star Wars.”)
Not that there ought to be a taboo on such an event as falling out of heaven, just that the three disciplines may respond in quite different ways. The theatre welcomes both angels and devils. Most religions will urge resistance to evil ones and their ways. Psychoanalysts will only take notes in the belief that a pattern will emerge.
In America today the world has gone theatrical, full of costumes and sets, wildly dramatic in its sequence of unresolved crises, without moderation except possibly the fact that most of us watch through a small proscenium of glass. Those who are actually being shot at, shot up, deported, beaten, locked up, tortured, starved, fucked and so on have no time nor energy to use theatre, religion or psychoanalysis. But we love cultural scripts that say everyone can have access to better OS’s and the capacity to install them -- that those three forces -- theatre, religion and psychoanalysis -- are effective change-agents even for serial killers. (Not for their victims unless you are Jesus. Or Lazarus.)
In the conversation about Alvina Krause that is proceeding at www.thesilvercomb.blogspot.com, I am surprised at how vehement my cohort of acting teachers are about the kind of student our culture is producing. I’m hearing that they are unprepared for serious work, resistant, and unrealistic. There seem to be Operating System issues. We ourselves learned a way of teaching that included idealism about the relationship between actor and society, the body as an instrument of meaning, and the potential for a dedicated career in spite of a tumbling, morphing, undefined world. Corporate institutions these days are told by the larger civilization that arts are not important, that only success counts and success means only dominance over competition which is measured by money. The morning paper does NOT include reviews of movies but only the amount of box office receipts and then only those at the top.
In the ministry this is also true: what is valued is growth in terms of numbers and endowment. I don’t know enough about psychoanalysis to judge, but the systems that sell books are again based on numbers, as are the books themselves. Metaphorically, they’re usually “apps” rather than system rewrites, “silos” rather than horizons.
What goes with this is an abrupt drop in status, defined as respect. A few years ago I attended a funeral in Browning for a Blackfeet student I taught fifty years ago. His brother, who was also my student, recognized me. “Teacher!” he cried, his face alight. It wouldn’t happen with today’s students.
A recent report on developments in the UU ministry remarked that congregations today consider their ministers to be employees who are supposed to do what their employers (congregations) ask. Both ministers and politicians have brought this on themselves by separating their private lives from their professional roles, insisting on their right to have vices. Or maybe it was the idea that church wars could be averted by writing contracts of expectations. Ministry and teaching and even acting used to be vocations for the whole professing person.
Tim tells about stopping for supplies on a road trip and the clerk quizzing him about what he did. Since he was far from home, he risked saying, “I’m a poet.” The clerk was impressed. His next question was “And are you published?” Tim said no. (Not true.) The clerk was no longer impressed or even interested. His next question might have been “how many copies have you sold?” But now he didn’t even ask to hear a poem.
In such a cultural environment it’s pretty tough to sell a big science-dominated university the idea that more money should be budgeted for theatre, theology, and psychology. But these are STILL the fields that know how to change the deep framing Operating Systems. We need to hop to it. It takes a little time. Cue the John Williams sound track.