When I first sat myself down and committed myself to writing something for this coming issue of the magazine, I asked myself: ‘What knowledge or priceless piece of insight would I be able to share with the world?’.
Until this moment I wasn’t aware that it was possible to experience an uncomfortable silence during your own interior monologue, but there it was as I had my first disturbing realisation:
I have no idea what to talk about.
It’s a feeling I’m sure many people know well, generally reserved for essays prescribed during an A-Level English course, it was a feeling I know and recognise but had never really given any more than a passing thought. But now I was thinking about it.
My initial reaction was something along the lines of ‘I’m a twenty one year old Welsh Actor-in-training, who says he lives in London because it sounds more Actor-y than Essex’, what on Earth could I have to talk about?
But then I stopped.
And I thought, no, that’s ridiculous. How can I, as someone entering a career that asks people to turn up somewhere and listen to me speak for a prolonged period of time (and sometimes pay for the privilege), have nothing to say?
Surely there’s some burning cause or issue that I’m dying to tackle head on?
And it was from this point onwards that I abandoned all hope of writing an article about one of the legitimate original topics I had aspired to, and decided to write an article brought on by the fact that I couldn’t write one.
‘How interesting!’ – I hear someone say.
‘That’s stupid and pointless.’ – I hear from someone else.
Well, honestly, it’s probably a combination of the lot. Enjoy.
I think the most succinct way of putting what I’m about to try and articulate, came from the ever astute Joanna Lumley in an interview I remember from a couple of years back:
“I need time in my own head. People need time to cruise. Time to just be vacant. Time to just sit on a train not doing anything but just staring out of the window. But if everyone’s listening to stuff or writing stuff or seeing stuff you become a reactive person not a proactive person because you don’t have time to think of your own thoughts.”
Now, I know how it sounds, and I’m not saying that I think mobile phones and social media are the work of the devil or anything remotely of the sort, we all know the myriad of functions they perform that make our lives SO much easier every single day.
But something about what she said really hit home with me.
I think it’s the idea of being a ‘reactive’ person instead of a ‘proactive’ person; that phrasing gave me so much clarity on what I was experiencing.
It made me consider everything: the occasions I get twitchy and bored on a five minute walk without listening to music, the nights I have stayed up an hour or more scrolling through Facebook and not remembering a single thing I saw, the harrowing truth that my owning a phone is almost killing my ability to sit down and read a novel, or the fact that social media allows us to feel as though we can stay in our rooms and not waste our lives.
It seems to me that currently, I am fitting many of the criteria of being ‘reactive’ instead of ‘proactive’, and for any young actor who will almost certainly be hurled into an overcrowded industry, where often the only available opportunities will be the ones you create for yourself, this is a dangerous quality to possess.
Not that being ‘reactive’ is necessarily a negative trait at all, far from it, exposure to a piece of art/a song/something you see online can bring on a wave of creativity that leads to something fantastic, and I don’t think that’s what Joanna is implying.
I think it’s becoming exclusively a ‘reactive’ person and almost voiding yourself of the ability to create without prompting, and it’s easy to see how it can happen with the maelstrom of stimulus that bombards our senses through every waking hour (and often through many non waking hours too).
Now, I’m going to get to the point here because I’m at serious risk of becoming preachy, and trust me the irony of writing about these things in an article that will inevitably find its audience through social media, is not lost on me. But it did make me think, if I try and allow myself more “time to cruise” or “time to be vacant” on a daily basis, will it make any noticeable changes to my mental acuity and ability to create/contribute ideas?
Now, a few days have passed since I first started drafting this article and I’ve made a reasonably active attempt to allow myself these moments of silence whenever possible (walks home from school, whilst I’m cooking dinner, etc.), and I haven’t found it exactly easy.
I almost feel like I’m experiencing withdrawal when I can’t plug my headphones in and tune my own mind out.
But what I will say is, past itching for my phone, having this regular time left exclusively to my own thoughts, and allowing those thoughts to run on a free track unguided, has meant that I am a lot more active in exploring my own opinions and establishing an internal order in my mind. And that’s after only two days.
Even as far as simple things like consolidating what I’ve done that day, and having a clear mental image of what I need to get done by the end of the night, have been much clearer having taken this regular down time to do it.
As a start, I have actually begun to write an article, a task I was previously struggling with, so I guess that could be seen as a proactive victory. But obviously the real challenge is in maintaining the discipline to keep up daily down time and see where that leads.
So I have tasked myself with the following:
Spend the time between now and the next issue of the magazine allowing time every day to just think – no interruptions.
Thinking. A terrifying prospect.
Will I be able to stick to it? Will it have any obvious effects whatsoever? Will I go mental?
So there we are, my small challenge – it’s hardly Everest. But let’s see, a month down the line and I just might have something to say.