'Ment-Well' #2: The Liminal Space
Author: Radhika Aggarwal (edits by Lou Platt)
It's been brilliant to join this group of makers, who through meeting only a couple of weeks ago, have articulated collectively a mode of being, and listening with each other, which gives us permission to share, with all aspects of our being. As we arrived together, checked in and shared our recent ups and downs, we talked about how we felt about each of us reflecting our collective thoughts after each session via this blog. The pluralism of feeling aired felt liberating and made light of what had before felt like an anxious burden. I hope I can capture here some of what we spoke about in the spirit of how it was meant in the moment. And what we said was it is vulnerable and brave to share ones voice and that we trust the thoughts of anyone of us present as I suppose the gentle stirring of thoughts expressed here comes from the collective and is therefore collectively created in its essence.
In terms of the mode of our virtual chats, we discovered that hiding our 'self- view' made for much less zoom fatigue and an ability to deepen our presence in the group. (Honestly, this one trick has revolutionised all my zoom meetings and I no longer need to be that narcissistic fucker looking at myself in a meeting - which I totally did!). Also, unless we preferred not to, we agreed that leaving ourselves off mute felt a (insert wholesome adjective here) way to interact, allowing for the micro-noises from everyone's space to enter our collective space. These sounds seemed to bring us together more, rather than distract or interrupt.
We coined a term - or if it already existed - re-coined it - of 'our shadow processes'. We talked about the shadowy dimensions of creating and not just wholesome productivity (which frankly is far from what really happens, right?) which felt hugely liberating. It feels rare, and even taboo, to talk about this murkier side of making, (especially at networking events and in funding proposals!). A bit like how our vocabulary around mental health has only started to shift and open up very recently. In making, it feels like our mental health is intrinsically tied to the process yet it has remained shameful to appear with certain qualities ie being unreliable, lazy, jealous/envious, unproductive, neurotic or feeling a lack of drive. Yet all of those feelings were shared in various ways and with different expressions, with a sense of acceptance and an absence of shame, and an awareness that these are part of the creative process.
We liberated ourselves by confidently sharing the darkness and in doing so new sparks were ignited. We talked about the notion of giving up and how we often berate ourselves for not 'seeing something through'. A brilliant expression emerged for the Inner Doubter that tends to creep in soon after a 'genius moment', when there should be nothing but elation and excitement for an idea and its future possibilities. The Inner Doubter can be like a troupe of unruly backup dancers who suddenly and unexpectedly join you as lead singer on the stage. You're mid creative-flight, and they then start singing that you are rubbish and a rubbish lead singer and "they" would do it better and blah blah blah. If this rings true, and your backing dancers are trying to upstage, sabotage, take over, or kill that creative flame because of their (your) fear of getting burnt, maybe it's time to stop listening to them, perhaps ask them to leave the stage and arrange a future meeting where you can talk about the fears that they are holding and what you can do about this together that feels more creative and less destructive.
Talk on process and shadow-processes moved into exploration of the "liminal space" that we find ourselves in and what this means for us. The liminal is the space in between, it's like the airport terminal, no-mans land, neither here nor there, the moment between the in and out-breath, the waiting room. These images are poetic and evocative, but grasping a solid meaning or a sense of this space was challenging for some (definitely me!). How do you hold on or relate to space that you can't see or touch?
Perhaps it's something like an absence of flow, with flow being optimal for feeling creative but inside our own chaos, there would always be some flow and some static? Whilst in a breakout room an artist explained what the liminal meant for her in a way that could really be grasped and held onto. For her, within the liminal space it is difficult to lay routes, make long term plans and big decisions for the future. The liminal space evoked for her an almost limbo/unknown from which it was difficult to act. This felt really relatable and seemed to link well to the 'stuck' place we often encounter in our work, but also more broadly to the situation we find ourselves in now, in our unique times. Are artists, through often navigating the spaces between, better equipped to process the broader in-between space we currently find ourselves in?
As the group re-joined from the breakout rooms, the plurality of meaning for what felt like 'a waiting room', a space that wasn't conducive to action, unfolded. For some, they were alone in the room and wanted others to come in. For others, there were too many in there, and they wanted to be alone. It could be big and expansive or small and limiting. For some light, for others dark. This metaphor wasn't one thing for all of us and that, in itself, felt exciting and linked to our earlier explorations of our processes. There seemed to be huge difference in how we all tick, and go about things, and yet we are finding a shared language to frame and express those workings in a way that feels new, and ours.
Before we left this wellbeing session, we gave ourselves permission to release the 'fail flavour' from the term 'giving up' and instead were invited to play with the notion of 'letting go' of what no longer serves us rather than framing it as giving up. Letting go perhaps gives a greater sense agency when needing to stop (temporarily or permanently), and trusting that letting go might in fact be the most creative step that can be taken.
We held each others silences and emotion. A rarity in the zoom room. Our zoom room, with an unmuted quiet, felt very connected.
What are 'Ment-Well' articles?
Between July and October 2020, eight early-career theatre makers will come together to explore different aspects of their making process. They will be guided by writer, theatre maker and performer Caroline Horton who will facilitate five Mentoring sessions. In between the mentoring sessions, Artist Wellbeing Practitioner Lou Platt will facilitate Wellbeing sessions. In a hope to share discoveries and learnings with the wider community, each participant will create a 'Ment-Well' article that will capture something of one of the nine sessions. These articles are for collective self-reflection and a transfer of knowledge. They are to be approached by the author and audience with a sense of lightness, spontaneity and curiosity, and may be a seed or starting point for further thought and exploration - nothing more, nothing less.*