This post and its title is inspired by Wynn Handman.
Or at least it’s inspired by the docu-film I saw about Wynn Handman last night – It Takes a Lunatic:
And the way Wynn Handman was portrayed in it.
Those who made it obviously admire him. The admiration was palpable.
Those who participated in it, were interviewed for it – which included many very famous actors, writers, playwrights, directors and other people in the entertainment business – all spoke highly of him and the effect he had on them which had an effect on their career.
Michael Douglas was one of those interviewed, he was a student at Wynn’s acting school – which is still open for business with Wynn teaching there even though he’s in his 90’s.
Anyone who thinks they’re too old to be or do something should take note of that – that Wynn Hardman is still busy being and doing in his 90’s – and watch this docu-film.
Anyone of my age – in their 50’s – who is doing that thing of:
“Omg I’m in my 50’s, I’m done for, my life is over, my body is crumbling, my mind is disintegrating, I’m a grumpy old person who is no longer considered relevant, no one wants to listen to me because all I talk about is how awful everything is now and how the world was better in the past when I was young (which I know is bullshit but nostalgia helps relieve my neuralgia… or maybe it makes it worse!?), I might as well just do nothing and wait for Godot… wait for the Go dot which says I can now go to the grave. Heavy sigh… a sigh which no one will bother to ask me about even though I did it loud enough for everyone to hear because now that I’m old no one cares about me.”
Should not only watch – It Takes a Lunatic – but also watch – The Kominsky Method – which is a TV series about an acting teacher played by Michael Douglas, and his chats with his best friend played by Alan Arkin, and the shenanigans they get up to.
Both actors and their characters are in their 70’s and 80’s respectively, and if those of us in our 50’s or 60’s whined about being old around them, they’d probably tell us young ones to shut the royal fuck up! because we know nothing about being old since we haven’t reached that level in the game of life yet – that’s a thought which occurred to me while watching The Kominsky Method which made me chuckle.
There were several points made in It Takes a Lunatic over and over again – these were mostly things which Wynn Handman wanted people to understand, not just intellectually but deep in their gut because it would give them a better appreciation of themselves, others, life, and the purpose of creativity.
One was about having “ballast” within – something to anchor you, keep you steady, a core material within which you had to have before venturing into the sea of imagination or you might get swept away, drown, lose yourself.
Another was about taking risks and not playing it safe, especially when it comes to creativity because safety kills the creative muse.
Wynn Handman took a risk when he created – The American Place Theater. He set it up as non-profit, which is where the title of the docu-film comes from because the lawyer he asked for advice about making his theatre non-profit told him that “It takes a lunatic to do that“.
He wanted it to be non-profit so that he didn’t have to rely on Box Office hits to finance his productions – he didn’t want to only produce popular plays, and have his theatre be mainly about making money.
He wanted to take artistic risks, produce plays which might bomb but which meant something, said something meaningful, opened eyes, minds and hearts, provoked thought and feeling in both the actors and the audience.
He wanted to seek and find playwrights who, perhaps had never written a play before, were also taking risks in their creations, and give them a venue, a chance, to be seen and heard.
One of the consistent points which was made not by Wynn Handman, but by all of those whose lives he touched and inspired was that his belief in them made them believe in themselves.
At the very end of the docu-film, when yet another person said that Wynn Handman’s belief in them made them believe in themselves which led them to take risks and find success in their creative work…
It struck me that Wynn Handman might have said, if asked:
“I didn’t believe in them, I didn’t need to because they believed in themselves all along, I simply reminded them of that self-belief within.”
“I believed in them because they believed in themselves, they just didn’t realise it until they saw that self-belief reflected in me looking back at them.“
That’s what I was thinking about last night just before I went to sleep. I knew then that I wanted to write a post about it, and so I was also thinking about how I would do that, what angle to approach it from.
I played around with possible titles to help me find my ballast for the post.
One of which was – I Want To Be That Man! – and I wrote a little introduction in my head about mentors, role models, people we admire who inspire us with the aspiration to be like them.
But then I started to ramble on about something I know I’ve already written in a post… and I started to heckle post-writing me from the perspective of post-reading me, plus some input from preemptive me (who puts herself in the possible shoes of others, especially fault-finding and offense-taking shoes, and tries to see things from their point of view).
There’s this theory…
“Generally the theories we believe we call facts,― Felix Cohen
and the facts we disbelieve we call theories.”
… which I’ve heard people discuss. I get it intellectually, it makes sense, but my gut just says no to it.
And that is that if you’re female you need a strong female role model upon which to model yourself… and there aren’t as many strong female role models as there are strong male ones – at least not in the distant yet not that distant past, as in when I was growing up, and when subsequent generations of females grew up.
The reason I consider it to be a bit of a myth is because when I was growing up I didn’t consider whether someone was male or female before I chose them as a role model – I simply chose the person for their character and the attributes they had which I admired and wanted to develop in myself. I’m sure I’m not the only child who did that.
The other reason I consider it to be a bit of a myth is because people sometimes prove that particular myth by pointing at Barbie dolls as an example of not strong female role models.
Those people never played with my Barbies – they were badass bitches, fierce femmes, warrior women, who traveled the world, took on many roles, fought many different types of battles, could save themselves and didn’t rely on the Kens to save them… they often had to save themselves from the Kens or save the Kens.
I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with that – my child psychologist Godfather did when my narcissist parents decided to mess with him using me and mess with me using him. Luckily for the most part my parents ignored my Barbie plays because it didn’t interest them and didn’t threaten them.
While the play did spill out in Summer to other places, it mostly stayed in my room… which only caused a problem for my mother when she had to access the clothes she stored in the wall to wall cupboards there (my room used to be her walk-in closet/dressing room) or when she needed for it to be a problem because she wanted to let off steam on me about something my father had done, and using my “mess” was a good tantrum flashpoint.
Sometimes I used to stay up until the wee hours playing Barbies, especially if a story had reached a climatic point and I couldn’t wait until the following day to find out what would happen. The stories could get very complicated, and while they were my stories, they were also the stories of all the players in the play – the Barbies and the Kens had a lot of say in the narrative. They weren’t just inanimate objects animated by one child (or two if I had a friend playing with me, but that was not a regular event).
I do know that most children didn’t play with Barbies the way I did as when I had a girlfriend over and we played with my Barbies, they’d experience a form of cognitive dissonance – why wasn’t Barbie in the kitchen baking muffins for Ken, or getting dressed up to go out on a date with Ken, or chatting with other Barbies about make up, clothes and Kens!?!
My Barbies did sometimes do those things, especially if the girlfriend playing with my Barbies couldn’t handle them not doing those things, needing time to learn about all the other things Barbies could do and be if you just used the wilder parts of the imagination, the parts which don’t genderise.
Most of my role models were male, but that wasn’t what I was looking at, I only noticed that about them decades later when I kept bumping into that theory.
I did have at least two female role models.
One was a character, Carmilla/Mircalla in a Vampire film series – The Karnstein Trilogy – she wore her rings back to front so the gemstones pressed into the palms of her hands when she closed them (I think that was her who did that, maybe it was a different female vampire).
The other one was Purdey from The New Avengers who was played by Joanna Lumley long before she became Patsy Stone in Ab Fab. I got myself a Purdey haircut… and adults kept mistaking me for a boy because of it.
So anyway, I nixed that angle partly because I’ve done it before and partly because I didn’t want to deal with other people’s headaches which they might get from how they interpret what I said and what it does once it enters their head (thank you, Bill Burr for that, it is a most helpful perspective!).
Not that I get the sort of people who have to argue with you because they’ve used what you wrote to offended themselves on my blog and have made it your fault and responsibility to un-offend them.
I think it’s in part due to writing lengthy posts which those sort of people can’t be bothered to read. Then there’s all the tangents, twists and turns which require agility to navigate… I should probably have one of those warnings on my posts like the ones video games use: If you experience dizziness, nausea, start fitting or frothing at the mouth while reading this – stop reading it.
And the fact that if you come onto my blog, we’re playing Barbies my way – if you want to play Barbies your way do it on your blog or on a blog where they play Barbies your way too.
It’s interesting to note that Wynn Handman was a big supporter of the women’s movement. His right-hand man at The American Place Theater was a woman – Julia Miles. She founded – The Women’s Project Theater – which at first was part of The American Place Theater, before it went on to become a separate entity.
He helped a lot of people give birth to the creative power inside of them in physical form. He encouraged them to have courage to show the world who they really were, what they could do when they believed in themselves. Wonderful stuff!
After I’d nixed that angle the title which I used for this post popped into my head…
And it made me hmmm… in a peaceful and yet restless manner – the latter because I knew I’d forget it if I didn’t get out of bed and write it down.
It takes a lunatic to make people believe in themselves…
I know I’m a lunatic, but I’d like to be a lunatic like that who does that… makes people believe in themselves.
I have occasionally done that, but… I have a tendency to do it with the narcissists in my life and things go all Pete Tong = wrong, especially as narcissists don’t belief in themselves the way they appear to, they need other people to embody their self-belief for them – in others words you’re their self-belief and you must belief in them, keep going and going until you’re empty, used up, then they move on to someone else who will play that role for them.
When people believe in themselves, truly not fauxly, there is an energy to them, to their beingness which is inspiring, mesmerising, fascinating, incredibly interesting.
It is their ballast…
It is beautiful to behold, to see and hear…
It can be infectious…
I love the story Eric Bogosian told about when he was young and just starting out, and how he discovered the special magic of the Wynn Handman effect.
It’s all about what’s going on in the head of the killer as he sits blindfolded on the electric chair just before the switch if flipped. The docu-film showed clips from the performance and it was stunning in performance and concept. It made me wish I had been there and seen it!
I think that particular play was one which received some shocking reviews because it shocked the reviewers so they blamed the play for their state of shock… rather than review themselves and ask themselves why they were shocked by it, and perhaps discover something interesting about themselves in the process.
People who believe in themselves while they attract admirers who are inspired by their self-belief and how it works through them, also attract enviers and others who want to tear them down, steal their self-belief away.
Especially when it is true self-belief which can be perplexing to observers, and what perplexes may be unpalatable to those who are perplexed by it.
Rather than faux self-belief which is more palatable to those looking at the self-believer since it looks and acts in an expected way and thus doesn’t challenge the viewer. It’s safe not risky. It doesn’t provoke in them a sense of… perhaps something missing inside of them.
“When you hit a wall – of your own imagined limitations – just kick it in.”― Sam Shepard
Wynn Handman had the ability to show people themselves, and in seeing themselves they found what they had perhaps been missing… which was there all along in a blind spot.
Did they put their self-belief in the blind spot or did someone else put it there for them when they were perhaps a child or older?
Self-belief is a bit like a fire in a fireplace burning within us, a core aflame… lack of self-belief is an empty fireplace.
That image came to me because of a post-it note to self on my desk which says – Empty fireplace.
Having self-belief doesn’t mean there won’t be times of self-doubt and its companions, fires burn bright, but they also burn in many other ways without the fire necessarily going out.
Self-doubt and its companions can be very good kindling, fuel for the fire, testing it… the way critics test us all with their criticisms, sometimes their criticisms cause our fires to lose flame, but the embers still glow, hold heat… and a gust of fresh air can revive it, flames shoot up again.
Okay, this is a good place to stop, but before I go chasing another dot… chasing the go dot, chasing Godot because I’ll be damned if I just sit and wait for him…
What does self-belief mean to you? What image does your mind conjure up for it? Do you have it or are you seeking it? What fires it up for you and what makes it lose flame?
Who’s your favourite mentor or role model from childhood? And from adulthood?