This post is a little different from my usual (and longer)–even wondered if it should go on the Sassy blog instead (so I’m putting it there too)–but I felt like it kind of goes here. It’s been growing in the past few weeks of watching The Glee Project and particularly relating to Nellie, who was just taken out of the competition. I’ve been wanting to write a “Dear Ryan Murphy” letter and since I don’t really know how to get in touch with famous people nor any big interest in figuring it out, I decided to write a post.
I may well just be projecting but I felt like I got something about Nellie –and I see a similar something in Michael—and her difficulty getting past her inhibitions. Every week she’d get notes about her inability to just drop into character or into the spirit of the assignment and sometimes about her confidence. For Michael it’s the inability to get out of his head. Every week I could feel that frustration of the Glee folks at offering the same notes and seeing the same problem again the next week.
I used to be one of those people who couldn’t get past herself. I get the frustration that others feel – I heard it many times. And the look on Nellie’s face was the look I know I used to wear. Because here’s the thing you confident people who’ve jumped at your chances and become famous Glee people don’t get: there are people who literally don’t know how to access that place in themselves. I knew what confidence looked like when other people exhibited it. I knew that some people didn’t have inhibitions that kept them locked inside themselves. But when someone told me to be that I felt blank. Confidence and lack of inhibition didn’t feel like they lived anywhere in me. If I’d known how to exhibit those traits believe me I would have because it was not fun listening to the criticism about all that I was not.
I came up with this little scenario about the show to try to explain what it’s like to be in that place. Each scene is set at the critique section at the end of the show (sorry Ryan and Nellie, this is of course just hypothetical!).
Ryan: Nellie, you have such a strong voice. But you know we have white, brown, black and yellow people on the show. I need to write for someone who’s purple.
(Nellie’s face stiffens and her eyes take on that deer-in-the-headlights look).
Nellie: Be purple. Right got it.
Ryan: Nellie, you have the same note again. We need you to be purple.
(Nellie, wearing a lilac ribbon in her hair, looks frozen and more uncertain than before)
Nellie: I’m really trying to be purple. (Looking like she knows she can’t be purple).
Ryan: I’m really starting to get frustrated here. Every week we give you notes that tell you you need to turn purple and here you are again, just as white as can be.
(Nellie, sporting purple eyeshadow and purple blush, tears up and looks frightened again).
Nellie: I thought I’d finally gotten purple this week.
Ryan: Here we are again, Nellie. Same thing. I have to have a character I can write for and I want that character to BE purple.
(Nellie, who’s dyed her skin purple, wipes away tears. Her eyes still look haunted and you can see that how to BE PURPLE is still a mystery to her).
Nellie is booted off the show. She walks away muttering, “I just don’t know how to be purple.”
For the confident out there who feel so frustrated with those of us who aren’t (or weren’t) confident, that ”get out there and grab the ring”, “feel confident”, “step outside of yourself” set of instructions you like to bark at us sounds pretty much like “now be purple”.
In my life I know that I traced that frozen, paralyzed, inhibited thing back to an early childhood with lots of harsh criticism and a family for whom the oddness of me was something to eradicate, squeeze into a tiny box and never allow out. I went through lots of scenes in which my aunt would drag me –starting at 12—to an adult party of the “horse people” (it’s a Central Kentucky thing referring to the thoroughbred horse farm owners and various trainers, jockeys, breeders, etc.) and set me loose without introducing me to anyone. After I’d stood for a while, frozen in one place, she’d sidle over and hiss in my ear, “You look like a post, get out there and mingle and talk to people.” I’m still not particularly good at going to a party full of strangers, especially one where everyone has a shared interest about which I know nothing, and just “mingling”. However, now I’d just wander around smiling at people for a while and leave without feeling at all embarrassed. At 12 it was like saying “be purple and do it now.” Huh? What?
My observation, after going through lots of inner work in groups and assisting at lots of classes where people did inner work and just being in the world, is that lots of people have a frozen or paralyzed place inside. The issue may vary and for some it’s frozen in one or two circumstances but not others and for some of us it’s (was) being paralyzed all the time. And until some kind of work addresses the issues that led to the paralysis, a note about being more confident or setting aside inhibitions or getting out of your head is like giving an instruction in some obscure Chinese dialect.
Now that I’ve come to a different space in which I’m pretty outgoing and confident (with a few places in which I still freeze) the odd thing is that I can’t tell you how I got there. I never really addressed the issue of lack of confidence or did anything to try to be less inhibited. I really set out just working on unearthing and releasing any beliefs or issues that seemed to contribute to holding me back from life and, especially, that seemed to be contributing to the big health issues. I felt my way through. I let go of a lot. Jobs and groups and scenarios that put me in a position to be “out there” more kept falling in my lap and suddenly there I’d be being a leader or talking in front of a group while perfectly calm. And I can’t tell you any more about how I found that place in me where confidence lives then I could have explained how or why I couldn’t get there before.
I just wanted to try to explain this for the confident folks of the world who just get out there and do it and who feel so frustrated by people like Nellie and me. When you say “don’t be so inhibited” or “just step out and be confident” we understand what the words mean but we have no access to the place in us where that confident self lives. For me, it made me feel worse, more inadequate, more “wrong”. I don’t know how to tell a Nellie what to do on being faced with something like the Glee Project and not knowing how to be the contestant they need. Maybe look back into your earlier life and ask, “what do I believe about myself that makes me lack confidence and when and why did it start?”
Thoughts for Ryan: I guess I get the search for a wheelchair bound, blind, she/he crack baby to write for but really for those characters you’re talking about writing a character that’s just that person which doesn’t really ask them to be able to be something else. I’m interested that you don’t think a character who lacks confidence and is inhibited would be worth writing. It’s such a widespread problem, I agree with Robert — I think people would pull for that character…