“What do you want?”
There was a point in my life when I would get physically ill and emotionally unhinged just by being asked that question. Yeah. I know.
Acting training will tell you that knowing what your character wants, exactly what they want, in every scene is critical. Finding their unique and immediate want. Better, if it is a need. But their verb. You must know why they are saying and doing and why. To make this make-believe person step into reality, you have to know. Do you want to provoke anger by touching an intimate weakness so as to elicit violence that you can hold over someone’s head? Do you want to seduce your fellow character to initiate a sexual relationship to fill a personal void or exact revenge? Do you just want to steal the money from the bank to keep your wife from finding out about your gambling debt?
Same thing for the characters you write. To make them full and dimensional, they have to make choices. And there need to be reasons, thought and consideration to those choices. You can’t just put someone on a plane. Has to be a reason. They are trying to get to someone or something. Or trying to get away from the same. If you let your darlings ramble for no reason, your fiction will get out from under your control and that much desired last page will keep getting farther and farther away from your grasp.
Four simple words. What. Do. You. Want.
It’s why my portrayals on stage or on page fail sometimes. Because I haven’t found distinctly what there people want.
It’s also why I fail myself. Especially when I am dealing with other people. And why eventual relationships stall and fail.
I have the most difficult time with the simplest of tasks. Just opening my big mouth and telling someone what I want. I’ve been called on it. On different occasions, and by different people close to me. And those conversation have gone about as well as you might suspect. I can handle writing or performance critique with calm distance. Really wanting to learn how I’m missing the mark and truly wanting to know how I can better craft these people and worlds. But, when that same light is shined on me, not my work, me, it is terrifying. I shrink, then curl, then fall.
Why is it so god damn difficult to simply say what I want? Big stuff, sure. No, I don’t want to quit my job and join the circus. No, I don’t want to adopt five sheep dogs. No, I don’t want an olive in my martini. Sorry. Wish I could on that last one, but I just can’t.
It’s mortifying. I look up in awe at the women I see. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Filmmaker Miranda July. My inspiring best friend who owns and directs her life and career every day with fearless momentum. And I fail them and myself and the people in my life miserably sometimes with my frozen, anxious ambivalence.
I don’t think it’s fair to blame what’s come before. Childhood and first marriages and wobbly brain confidence. Because that just seems weak. Everyone has their challenges and struggles. Doesn’t excuse abstaining from your life and putting the responsibility to anyone around you. Which I don’t think I do. Which I don’t want to do. But, according to resource and report, it’s exactly what I do. It’s how those who have to deal with me are made to feel. That they are held accountable for me. And I truly, madly, abhor that I do it.
Sometimes, it is your job to pick the restaurant for dinner. To choose the hotel and make the reservations. So,for the love of Artemis, say you don’t want to go, when you really don’t want to go. It will be okay, self. Pinky Promise.
(Side bar: I don’t dig holidays. Halloween, absolutely. The others, not really. So, no seasonally appropriate diatribe on being grateful. I am, moving on. But, there have been those lately who have encouraged. Who have reminded me that things will be well if I can name my needs and plan and follow them. From calling me out on my needy, choice-less bullshit, to encouraging me to writing about it all, I have heard the notes on the current draft of me. It’s awesome and thank you for daring to be involved in the odd, screwed-up to hell project that is me. I’ll definitely hook you up with a notice in the credits.)
Maybe my move is to change my own narration. Approach my days as my own writer and director. Look deep into the depths and ask, and then own, good or bad, what I want. And then take the steps to fill my days with following the steps that will get me those wants.
Is that pathetic? Is it naively simplistic? Will it work for even half an hour? Probably not. But, it’s a start of looking and digging. Of being braver? Maybe happier? Maybe stronger? Maybe. Worth a try if it’s what I really want.