Will the real critic please stand up? Oh wait that’s me!

big redPhoto by G Rockett Phillips

“You cannot discredit truth. Truth is truth, and it can neither be proven or disproven. It simply is. The wonder and beauty of my message cannot and will not be affected by what people think of you. Indeed, you are one of the best ambassadors, because you have lived your life in a way that you call less than perfect. People can relate to you – even as they judge you. And if they see that you are truly sincere, they can even forgive you your ‘sordid past.’ Yet I tell you this: So long as you are still worried about what others think of you, you are owned by them. Only when you require no approval from outside yourself can you own yourself” – An uncommon dialogue – Conversations with God Book Three by Neale Donald Walsch

This was God’s answer to Neale when he beseeched God to pass the torch to someone else to deliver the message of what God wanted to communicate through him in the form of the written word, because he felt too unworthy, too imperfect and that his history would taint how the message would be received. I related to this, in fact my gut flipped over and my innards cried out in glorious symphony that they knew this internalized self-torture all too well.

There is a song and a prayer I listen to and murmur regularly throughout the day “Break every chain.” Spoken words of others, condemnations, bad energy, darkness – all very really things that can create a virtual prison or holding tank for our souls. We cannot create when we answer to others, we are not free when we answer to others and we are not who we are fully intended to be when we answer to to others.

I kept seeing this quote float around the internet by Johnny Depp over the last several weeks:

“Just keep moving forward and don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks. Do what you have to do, for you.”

At first I thought “Shit yes!” and then I thought “Well how easy is it for HIM to say that? He’s Johnny freaking Depp?” It wasn’t always easy for him though. Like so many of us, he had to make the difficult journey to stardom, struggling with poverty, raising a family, taking risks that most would probably consider unwise or irrational considering his worldly responsibilities … but he did what he said, he kept moving forward and gave not a single shit about what anyone said or thought. Ok, perhaps he gave one shit, I mean the man is human after all,  but not a big enough one to let him stop moving.

Nearly everything I do in life, I do it with the expectations and possible judgements of others in mind. Should I post that picture, people might think it’s too sexy? Should I take that role, people might think less of me? When someone is mad at me or things are in turmoil, it may as well be the end of the world to me. Not being liked or wanted is probably one of the worst things to me – it consumes me. It does not matter if it’s my mother being disappointed in me for spending the night at a boy’s house even though I’m a 27-year-old woman or if it’s a complete stranger who just looked at me oddly for a passing second in an elevator. My moods, my self-worth are completely dependent and determined on outside circumstances and I suffer for this. There lingers a disturbance in the force that disrupts my workflow, my thought-pattern, my emotional responses and my focus.

Most people don’t perceive me this way. Why? Well because of the billion pictures I post of myself on FB and all the talking up I do of my own work, so clearly I must be a confident if not self-righteous diva? Rubbish. The only reason I started an Instagram account was to deal with looking at my own face. True story … when I joined pretty much everyone was posting pictures of their faces or food, not really a whole lot has changed, but I mean that was literally all you’d see. So I thought to myself one day that I would force myself to take a picture every day, post it and look at it. Sure enough it got easier and easier to accept seeing myself. Now I don’t cringe every time there’s not a photoshopped, professional photo of me flying about the highways of the inter webs. One small step toward victory of self-acceptance. But did anyone else perceive it that way? Probably not. Should it matter how they perceived or received it? No, it shouldn’t.

I fear that if people knew just how little self-confidence I had they would be shocked. I took a new age approach the other day and I said that every morning and every night I would stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own reflection and say the words “You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are deserving of love.” I got through that just fine but as soon as I attempted to switch the word ‘you’ to ‘I’, I couldn’t do it. The water works started and I wept as I forced myself to say those words, lips quivering, chin all crumpled up like a tossed love note wadded in an unwanted ball in the trash, eyebrows pinched together with tension … and as soon I did finally finish stumbling through the mantra (it felt like it took 10 minutes to say 11 words) I let my head drop into my hands and I cried for the lie that I told. I just lied to myself. The only thing that brought me out of this Soap Opera drama moment was the fact that I immediately thought of the youngest son on “The Middle” who after he tells a lie he puts his head down in shame and says aloud in a whisper the lie. Ha … oh sweet comedic relief. Brilliant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTflLZcUea8

So many of my issues go back to the way that I was raised. There have been scientific studies done that our brain is trained to interpret love, the acceptance and receiving of it, as well as self-worth and self-image in our first through sixth year of life. We don’t even have to maintain the exact memory of what caused these associations, but your brain literally takes an imprint of the chemical reaction that was released when you originally processed the situation and it stores that away into a file so that every time you are faced with those feelings of love, acceptance, etc; the same chemicals and hormones are released. This creates a pattern, which determines our behaviors and views on love.

What is interesting is that it is often in our areas of weakness that we are able to bring the most strength and healing to others. Many people who suffer from extreme physical and medical conditions are some of the most powerful prayers and healers of illness that I have ever witnessed. The women in my spiritual healing class are an ideal example of this. Karen, our fearless leader, suffers from chronic pain, has had several bouts with cancer, almost died from believe it or not allergies, and the list goes on, but she has had one of the most incredible ministries working with terminally ill cancer and HIV/AIDS patients and has seen countless miraculous healings. Dr. Souki, a former prostitute, drug-addict, alcoholic, criminal; travels the world-changing the lives and hearts of victims of sexual abuse, victims that may have died without her testimony or known worse fates, but I just learned that she herself still deals with depression, health complications and suicidal tendencies.

So why are they chosen to give such messages of strength to the masses? Because they are open. Because they have love and compassion despite what they were exposed to. Because they are and represent the masses. They are no better, no more perfect, they are just empty vessels asking God to replace all of the damaged, broken places with his love so that they may share that love with others.

I worry, always that my past mistakes will come back to haunt me. That one day I’ll awaken to the mob of accusers at my front door and be thrown into a public interrogation of who do you think you are questions before an even more public execution. I worry one day someone will say how crooked my nose is or how short I am and how I have no right to model. I worry one day people will expose my history of adultery and use it against me to say I am not good person. I worry that people will figure out that I’m not really a good actor at all, just somebody totally in love with doing it …

Love – love makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. I’ve been working on a feature lately and I will say this quite honestly. My worst work is when I go in my head and begin to question if I’m doing it right, if I’m remembering my techniques, if I’m acting as good as so-and-so, if people will like it, if I’m being too dramatic or theatrical. It is when I let go and follow my initial gut impulses and act from the heart, that it is pure. It is then that I trust my own work. It is very similar to getting in touch with your inner or lost child. Children have no per-conditions or hesitations about responding. If they are scared they scream, if they are tired they yawn, if they think something is silly they laugh, if they are afraid the cry … It is not until they are told by the world that these actions, these natural responses are not acceptable or appropriate so they learn masking techniques to cover those responses and behave as a mature, cultured adult should.  Such a shame. Acting is in most all cases, responding honestly, so how can we make that delivery if we are not honest with what we feel in that moment and our brain is bombarded with worries or concerns about how we will be perceived?

There have only been 1-2 roles where I felt I was able to be honest 99% of the time and I have to say,  when I heard negative criticisms or not the best of reviews, it did not affect or phase me in the slightest. I was sure of what I did and I understood the core of where it originated from. Mr. Critic doesn’t have to like it, I do. It’s me and it’s honest.

Critics, everyone is a critic. Here is the definition of critic:

Definition of CRITIC

1
a : one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique

b : one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances

2
: one given to harsh or captious judgment

Origin of CRITIC

Latin criticus, from Greek kritikos, from kritikos able to discern or judge, from krinein

First Known Use: 1588

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow actor last week about how nobody prepares you for receiving comments regarding your work, good or bad, it can be an awkward or uncomfortable thing.

When people praise you, you always wonder if they are just saying that because they don’t want to offend you or hurt your feelings or maybe they weren’t even really paying attention. Or even if they do come to you with sincerity, how excited should you be about it? If you go too far you could be labeled full of yourself or proud or cocky, but if you are too modest you can be labeled insecure or unsure of yourself.

When people do come to you, or you hear of negative comments said behind your back or perhaps it is public review, again, how do you respond? How much stock do you take in their criticisms? Usually there are constructive bits and pieces that you can take away and use to better yourself, but there have been reviews that have totally wrecked actors’ careers. A lot of sensitive souls can’t stand all of the backstabbing that takes place because they take everything for face value – clearly if they said it, they meant it. We often don’t take time to consider their possible perspectives or angles coming from jealousy, envy, pettiness, competitiveness or any other such lowly places. How easily and freely too we allow people to act as critics and assign value that they do not possess to our attributes.

It doesn’t get easier, at least not for me. I cringe and get butterflies, no that’s too pretty of a term, I get downright sick to my stomach when reading reviews of my films or when I invite people to come see my work but I have tried to get into the habit of keeping several key pieces in mind.

1.) You cannot please everyone. I used to think that if you are good, I mean really stinking good and phenomenal at what you do, no one can dispute the fact that you’re good. Sort of like the quote about the truth from above. Not true when it comes to acting. I for example can very much respect Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio and acknowledge the fact that he is a talented actor, but I personally am not his biggest fan. There is something about his style that doesn’t quite appeal to me. Clearly that does not mean that he is a bad actor nor that I even think he’s a bad actor, just given the choice between him or Javier Bardem, I’d pick Bardem every time. His acting style appeals to me. This is my opinion which will clearly differ from yours or his or hers.

2.) You are you and no one else acts like you do. So often I’ve had someone come up to me and make comments like “You are a really good actor but I thought you were crazy emotional in that one scene.” or “Why didn’t you cry in that scene?” It used to really bother me because it felt like I did something wrong, but there was this day that I was working on accents with Michael Alvarez and listening to a practice CD and he gave me a really cool word. He said that when he first started practicing accents it used to really bug him because he didn’t sound like the guy on the CD no matter what he did, and then one day he realized he never would because that is just his voice. Nobody else has his voice and nobody else will sound like him. You take the technique and you make it your own. This same philosophy applies to full performances. Just because my friend Sarah would have broken down in full tears on a scene doesn’t mean that I would. I acted honestly for me and that is all I can do. Often times you look at the greats and it is those slices of them that are so uniquely them that shine through in their work and set them apart from all others. I’ve watched so many actors give safe performances and I find myself using the word “generic” to describe their choices or “average”. They weren’t bad, but there was nothing special about what they did. Don’t be afraid to let your you-ness come out in all of its glory. Be bold, be strong, be unapologetic with your work.

3.) Very rarely do people write bad reviews without being specific about what it is they don’t like. I read them a dozen times sometimes looking for things I can use to improve, but the truth is, you have to be honest with yourself about well … yourself. I am my own worst critic, even more precise and exact than the toughest of critics. Nobody knows me better or is closer to my work than me. I can watch a scene and in a matter of seconds pick out 10 things I could have done differently to make it stronger that most people wouldn’t give a second glance to, but it blasts out at me like a rocket catapulting into my brain. This used to torment me because I felt like I failed, but now I am just grateful for these opportunities and I am extremely open to watching my own work, because I can take those things and apply them to future work. For example on indie sets out here we often don’t have a person dedicated to continuity, so that is something I have become particularly aware of now because I’ll watch myself and notice my nails were long there and short there, or I had my hair one way in this shot and slightly different in another, or even my boobs will look bigger depending on what bra I wore under wardrobe that day … little nitpick things that can make subtle but firm difference in the character. Physical acting has never been a strength of mine so when I did a short recently I really dissected it and the choices I made of why it didn’t fully translate the way I had hoped. Most of them were really simple fixes, small movements, but I just wasn’t aware of them until I had to work through them

4.) Which brings me to this point – learn by doing. Never be afraid to take a role and never apologize for your work. Put in the time, the research, the training, the effort to be as good as you want the role to be. After you see the finished product, it is a very useful tool to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, what to prep better next time and so on, but as long as you gave it everything you knew to give, there’s no reason to feel ashamed of your work and you simply have more tools to show up with the next time around. Einstein as well as so many of the other great minds understood that you learn from failures. Even if you fail one hundred times, you just learned 100 ways how not to do something … but DO IT. Classes, training, coaching, that is all really crucial to growth and development, but there is nothing like being thrown into the trenches and fighting for your survival as an actor.

5.) Trust yourself. One thing Kevin Phipps told me once when I was nervous about delivering a desirable performance, is that he cast me because he trusts me completely. You already have the role, someone gave you that gift of trust, so honor it. They didn’t hire you to act like someone else or give a performance similar to another actor, they hired you to do what is that you do.

6.) Be gracious. Be awkward. Be whatever it is you feel, just be sincere. I hate it when people pretend like they are bashful when receiving compliments when you can tell they are just eating it up inside, but I LOVE it when you compliment someone and they are genuine in their response. I have a few friends that are not what I would say “business-oriented” so when you talk to them about their work it’s not all cookie-cutter bullshit – if they are surprised you like their work you see the light in their eyes start to glimmer and they start to bumble up their words out of excitement or if they truly felt like they did bad, they’ll say it “Wow thanks, I didn’t feel too confident about that one, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.” It’s refreshing. Think too about meeting celebrities, how much of a turn-off is it when they act like they know how awesome they are and are dismissive of your adoration? But then you talk to someone like Guillermo del Toro whose heart is probably as big as his tummy, and you are overwhelmed with appreciation for how much he appreciates you – little, nobody you, for no reason at all other than the fact that you took the time to tell him how much you love his work because he understands that if it weren’t for you loving his work, he wouldn’t have any work at all.

7.) Not everybody is a critic. They may think they are. They may act like they are, but they are not. Critics are meant to be a people of fair and equal judgement for a purpose of assigning worth and evaluating; not a furnace of a personality waiting to fire up the BBQ and pick your bones dry. There are such critic, yes, but they do not work toward improvement or the common good, so their assessment is simply not needed. Do not give people that power over you. Trust, listen, reflect and make changes based on only those whose opinions you value.

The more I put these blogs out here, the more I promote myself, the more work I do, the more critics I get. Just last week I found out that some folks apparently had some not very great things to tell a local, well-respected director and it has been parading around in my noggin every since. Who are these mystery murderers of my career? Why would they say those things? What did I do wrong or what did I do to them? Then I started thinking, how am I supposed to survive out in a big, competitive, cut-throat market like L.A. when I let someone in a local scene so easily pull on a thread and unravel my sweater?

I won’t. A shift and a change is needed. I need to stop putting others thoughts, opinions, words and feelings above my own. This goes against so much of what we are taught because it is seen as selfish, but if we always choose our highest self – the self that is in fact selfless, honest, kind, brave, and truthful, then in walking such a path, we will in turn be a positive force of light and love to those around us as well as ourselves because in our highest truth there is no desire to hurt another or ourselves, there is no desire to lie or deceive, there is no desire to cheat or to steal from another, there is no desire to degrade or devalue – it is not a commandment, it is just self-evident.

I want nothing more than to like myself, more than I want you to like me. Because if I can’t like myself, why would I believe for a moment that you would like me? It all starts from within. My acting is always about birthing a character from internalizing and evolving it from the inside out. If I put the same amount of effort of creating a film character into developing my own personal character, it would be an ultimate mastery of the self. No more using social media for validation, no more comparing myself to the beautiful people, no more ripping myself to shreds when a negative word is spoken or glare thrown in my direction, no more underestimating my own abilities or passions. Again, with love, with God, all things are possible. It’s like I have all of these holes in me from where I’ve let people penetrate my spirit with their cruelness, intentional or not, and instead of trying to cover them up with band aids or pretending they don’t exist at all, I want to fill them up with love of self. Let’s let go of our transgressions, let us release the negativity, let us loose ourselves from the bonds of the expectations of the world and let us take a walk on the water.

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One thought on “Will the real critic please stand up? Oh wait that’s me!

  1. A few years ago, my Pastor asked me “How are you?” Since I was going through many struggles, I told her, “Walking on water”. You close reminded me of this and were all Spirits experiencing the human condition. I love your writing Melissa.

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