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July 29, 2013 / Amy Bradney-George

On Life and Living

In the last two weeks I’ve had several inspiring conversations about life and how to live. Almost all of these discussions have explored the idea of having things other than work and/or passions in everyday life, and I think that is a really important lesson for me to learn.

Both actors and writers draw on experiences for their work. As an actor, knowing how I behave in certain situations when I am my authentic self means I can make choices about what parts of me I use and find out how that affects my behaviour. As a writer, well I think Stephen King put it best when he said you write what you know (to paraphrase). I also think that in both fields you also get to explore imagined circumstances, but what you know is always an influencing factor.

This idea of life experience, of “needing” it for my craft, had a huge impact on me from a very early age.

When I was in my teens I used to do certain things for the sake of getting life experience as an actor. I knew that as a young person (especially as someone younger than the majority of my peers) that I needed to get as much life experience as possible to enrich my acting life.

I was reminded of this fact at the recent Howard Fine Master Class in Melbourne, where Fine himself joked that “sometimes we live so we can act” (I may be paraphrasing). I also realised that sometimes I still do that. Definitely not as much as I did, but it’s like one of those habits you get so used to that you barely even notice it. I’ll stay out all night and do a walk of shame because I feel I “should experience it”, or go on dates with someone I’m not sure about because so many scenes involve an awkward date…these examples are pretty tame but I think it’s clear to see where I’m heading with this (and maybe by extension where I’ve been).

While I could chalk any of these acts up to “living” or “trying something new”, there is usually this small part of me recording each experience and filing it away for future use in my acting or even my writing. It’s really hard to switch that part of me off and just be.

So there is this risk that I will spend too much time focused on my acting life and not on my actual life. But the problem then is that it is really easy to become disconnected from reality, to find that the only time a connection is strong is in acting work or training or writing (to some extent). And that is not a way to live.

What I’ve realised over the last few years is that it is just as important to make time for my actual life as it is for my work/creative life. I remember talking to a friend about this very thing last year. After returning from a lengthy work trip, my friend was feeling adrift and somehow lacking. I knew the feeling well. I suggested finding things outside of work because, like me a few years before, work and work-related activities (including research, reading, meetings, training etc) took up the majority of time. And it makes a difference to “live a full life”, as Howard Fine also said during his most recent time in Melbourne.

Finding perspective and balance

My good friend, acting coach and actor Clare Elizabeth Dea told me earlier this year that if you spend all your time doing acting stuff, that you lose perspective and get so caught up wanting to be given every opportunity that you forget to enjoy the moment, the smaller successes and the process itself. How true that is, not just for actors but for anyone who spends a lot of time on one thing.

It’s like focusing too much on one thing means that you lose focus. You lose perspective. It doesn’t even have to be work.

Several years ago at the Brisbane Writers Festival I went to a talk with three successful photographers. One of them said that he had recently started making a point of leaving his camera behind when he did things with his family, because “when you are taking photos you’re viewing things from the outside, not experiencing them.”

This sentiment seems to be everywhere at the moment. Sophia Ford Coppola expressed it during the release of her latest filmThe Bling Ring. Writer and deputy editor at Mamamia, Lucy Ormonde, noted how much smartphones and social media have changed the way we experience things (or don’t).

Research has found over-use of technology to sleep problems, stress and depression and, while the explanations of these links vary, one theory from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, suggested that it is because people are reaching out to their friends and family primarily through technology instead of face-to-face, or IRL.

All of these things suggest that we are getting caught up in doing certain things, for whatever reasons, rather than being and experiencing.

I don’t know that there is a right or a wrong way to live but I think it’s important to have a full life in every way. And yesterday I came across some words from actor Ralph Fiennes that sum it up perfectly:

“The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people, how they approach the future, people who have a full sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it. I call people successful not because they have money or their business is doing well but because, as human beings, they have a fully developed sense of being alive and engaged in a lifetime task of collaboration with other human beings — their mothers and fathers, their family, their friends, their loved ones, the friends who are dying, the friends who are being born. Success.. is all about being able to extend love to people… not in a big, capital letter sense but in the everyday. Little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word.”

So here’s to success!

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2 Comments

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  1. theapostrophe / Jul 29 2013 6:21 am

    Awesome Amy! I think the fact that we abbreviate in real life to IRL says loads about us as a society! I read an interesting thing yesterday in a book about Einstein, cycling and mindfulness about how so many of us put up constant barriers to the world around us and live in a bubble that we forget just how thrilling a cycle (or a walk) through a park can be.

    Time out to smell the roses is oh so important. It is so easy to get caught up in this awesome exciting ride and forget about the little things.

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