Thursday, May 8, 2008
I have been trying to institute a 12:00 a.m. bedtime for myself over the last month. As an actor who usually doesn't have to go to work until about 7:00 p.m., it is sometimes difficult for me to discipline myself about bedtimes, reasonable wake up times, and productive activities that extend beyond eating and working out. Most actors in touring productions go to bed from 3-4am, wake up around 12-1pm, go find food, get some coffee, maybe do a little email etc., maybe go to the gym or a class, and then it is time for work. When I first started working as an actor, I completely denied myself any attachment to what my best friend Don calls, "actor schedule."
My first out of town job was an incredible travel/learning opportunity for me: 42nd Street in Moscow, Russia. Seeing that this was a great opportunity for me to learn a language and to fully experience another culture for more than the usual week or two-week vacation, I fixed myself on a "missionary schedule" more than actor schedule. Usually our show in Moscow would end about 10:30 pm-- I would rush home, not pass go, not collect 200 dollars, and go directly to bed. I would then wake up at approx. 7:30 am, put some tea on the stove and proceed to study Russian language for about 3 hours. Then I would look in a guide book, pick a museum or interesting local spot, and go there. Along the way I would speak as much Russian as I could with anyone who would talk to me. By the end of our 4 months in Russia (which was supposed to be 10 months but the production closed early because of that terrorist attack on a nearby Moscow theater in November 2002-- another story indeed), I was speaking quite a lot of Russian while most of my cast mates were only able to say vodka, hello, goodbye, and some expletives. After this experience I vowed to stay off actor schedule for as long as I was an actor.
Cut to me last year, me living and working in Las Vegas, NV. I was there for nearly all of 2007, and for nearly all of 2007 I was on actor schedule. Oh it just didn't seem as important anymore to study languages, read history books, visit interesting sites, or go to bed at a reasonable hour. Somehow I let go of that structure that had served me so well in my recent past. I thought that productivity and intelligence were mine to enjoy without any rules and structure to support their longevity and continued presence in my life.
All I can say to sum up 2007 is this: I was so tired all the time! Isn't that ironic?
Cut now to last night. It was midnight and I was crawling into bed in strict observance of my newly reinstated bedtime, and I made a tactical error: I turned on the TV. I landed on an hour-long episode of Nanny 911. I was transfixed. The story was about this woman who had 4 children. While their dad was home, the children behaved perfectly, went to timeout when they were told and did not move until they were allowed to. But the minute the father left for work, the household would literally turn upside down. The children would go crazy. They had no respect for anything, not their toys, not their homes, not even the nanny's hat which they threw over the banister and basically "maria von trapp'd" if you get my reference. Worst of all they had absolutely no respect for their mother. When she would put them into timeout they would just walk away. When she would try to get them to listen they would scream and yell. They would spit in her face, hit her, and do anything they could to thwart her power in the home. Eventually she would just take the smaller ones and force them into a timeout by physically restraining them. When she did that, they would go berserk, bite her, spit on her, and head-butt her as hard as they could. I was so perplexed. What could be done? How are such children to be worked on?
As the days went on in the house the Nanny began to see that the children behave this way because there are literally no rules in the house. There is no consistency with time-outs, there are no talks about behavior and accountability, and there is no real cohesive discipline methodology. As nanny tries to create some rules about time-out, buying these timers that manage the time outs so the children have some structure associated with this disciplinary action, she finds that the mother still continues to try to do time-outs without the timers and without the rules in place. The other thing that the Nanny realizes is that the children behave for their father because they are afraid of him. The oldest child confesses to Nanny that the dad sometimes brings a belt into their rooms and slaps the leather against itself. This is why they behave so well for him, and this is why they are angry and insane when dad is gone. At one point the dad takes the mom out into the front yard and won't let cameras follow, and basically rips her a new one about what a bad parent she is. She comes back in crying and Nanny eventually confronts dad about ruling his house with fear. He is very upset, but eventually agrees to back up mom's authority, and help his children fear him less by spending more time with them. Mom starts to follow the rules herself, causing her children to feel more inclined to do so as well. Pretty soon the structure and the rules that have been created allow the home to operate more harmoniously.
I felt so enlightened by this episode. I began to think about structure in my relationship with my boyfriend, and about my life in general. The default setting of the world is entropy. Scientifically things are always proceeding toward disorder. Does this mean we are doomed to a life of chaos? Of course we are not. We get to choose how we want our lives to go. Most of us borrow structure from our upbringing. We borrow the structure of "truth" which presents us with a set of rights and wrongs by which to govern our lives. We borrow the structure of our religious culture which teaches us how to treat others, and in mormonism that structure teaches us that service and selflessness are the apex of human life. We borrow structure from our social world. Some eco-social worlds have more structure in place than others. But what happens to someone like me when the "truth" that I believed so fiercely in is no longer the truth for me. The reasons for respecting and observing that structure are no longer so important to me, because I no longer believe in their absolute truth. Interestingly enough, I have seen many people walk away from the church and have their lives fall apart. Some members of the church might say, well of course. Wickedness never was happiness. He left the church and God punished him. I personally don't think its that simple.
Rules and structure are important on so many levels. So much of structure is imposed on us by government, religion, tradition, families, and other factors that have come into play in our lives. Growing up is difficult because you suddenly realize that 8:00 bedtime is not a law of the universe. You will not burst into flames if you say a swear word. As we grow up we have to either accept that disorder is a fact of life and do our best with the chaos that is real. OR we can choose to continue to make structures in which to reside in more orderly ways. No one is going to give me a bedtime. No one is going to force me to think of others before I think of myself. No one is going to make me treat my body in a respectful and compassionate way. If our only structure in life is based on the laws of the land, then I think we are missing out on some important growth opportunities. Like those kids on Nanny 911, I think we need structure. I think we need rules. Rules we create are flexible and subject to change. Because in making rules, in a way we are playing the role of God in our own life. We are saying this is allowed and this is not allowed. But we are not God. We are however gods of our own lives, and keepers of this great gift called a soul.
I particularly want to address this post to anyone who is in the process of questioning the church they were raised in. Accepting that the church you were raised in is not the only true church on the face of the earth can really throw for a loop the structure you have trusted and used as a safe environment in which to become productive. As you feel that foundation begin to quiver under your feet-- you may suddenly realize that the only person who was ever holding it in place was YOU. Does this mean that all of it was bad for you? I can't answer that for you. Does this mean it was all good for you? I can't answer that for you either. But what I can say is this- life without rules is chaos. Chaos is not a place where a person can safely thrive. That is my opinion. It is my belief that it is our obligation to look ourselves in the very soul and say: who am I? What do I need to grow, thrive, and fulfill my purpose in this life? Then it is our job to structure accordingly. No one else can make rules for you as effectively as you can make rules for yourself, but it takes courage and fortitude. Maybe it's not easy for me to deny myself "actor schedule." But I don't make the rules so they will be easy for me to follow. I make the rules with my own objective happiness in mind. We won't be perfect, even at our own rules. But we will be trying, and our sincere efforts will be sustained. That I know.