The Wise. The Foolish. The Ugly. – An Introduction to Character Work

I woke suddenly last night. A billboard was essentially flashing in my psyche that it’s time to share this inner work. It’s deeply personal. Possibly creative. For me it’s always been necessary. It’s been confusing. It’s jeopardized aspects of my life that most people would not allow to be known or seen. But it feels so certain to me. It’s the source of my fire. In the view of placing it in my life, it has been a burden. I’m tempted to speak of it as a wound, but it is not. Words such as renaissance and a vision of the sphinx cross my mind-space, but get rejected. It feels vulnerable, something of a confession, but absolutely necessary to my path to work from and share.

I had clearly lived several lives by the time I had hit mid-life and crossed into my fifties.  I had found the energy and discipline to work on my inner life, my art, my family, and simultaneously support dozens of others in pursuit of their dreams and create a revenue stream for such. But when it all blew up in front of me, I knew it was time to reconsider my approach.  Better stated, it was time to consolidate and work on my foundation. One of my favorite therapists and counselors liked to call me Warhorse (from the movie). I think he knew I was buying time, collecting lessons and feeding my psyche as I was bearing so much on my shoulders during these times, that phase of my life, to use in the construction of a new platform, a foundation from which to operate in the future.

As I’ve previously shared, over the course of a few short weeks, I found myself an outcast – literally with nothing and on the street.  It was so shocking that it took me a few months to realize what had happened. I was unsupported in each of these independent creations and my core psyche, this blurry connection to some higher being, was the only thing that connected these entities. The doctors and therapists had their chance. They’d actually taken their share and actually been amused at my own study of their patterns and methods and outcomes. The lawyers took theirs too and quickly distanced themself from my predicament – they of all professions seem to run quite quickly when they get exposed. And then there’s my long-time ex-fiancée with kids and family – they made off with a sizable share and a big piece of my heart. Any then there’s church, community and friends – my volunteer work with her network, men’s and family groups through local church’s went for naught, probably mostly through exposing my deeper, core un-belief or non-conformity with their dogmaic and singular approaches to life. That all things work to the best of those who love the Lord, as some would say, is both certain and debateable. Read on.

Fortunately my own children had become independent by this time. They’d seen me tossed to the street before and pull myself back together – not necessarily as severely as this situation looked, but they knew I was tough, resilient. This one looked like it could put me down for good – it was a trifecta of sorts. If my children had not reached that stage of strength with themselves coincident with my experience of this falling apart, it’s the one thing that might have caused me to take a different path and abandon my quest, my lifetime calling. They had some sanity and even a touch of what I have – whatever that is.  I always figured if I didn’t do it, one or all three of them would have to. They seemed to see things from a stable enough  perspective, although their mother’s voice and perspective was naturally still burning strong through their psyche’s as it should – but they were safe, strong and gave me space to do the hard work I needed to do on my own in the phase that followed.  

I never questioned losing my soul in the process. It was gut-wrenching across all four arenas of the human experience – emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally. This quest was on the order of chasing the holy grail – but there was no script, no camera, not even anyone to understandingly hold my hand from time to time. The quest been hovering beneath my psyche as far back in to my  life as I can recall. I never felt like I had a choice to do other than I was doing – or more fittingly stated: being. I was always questioning myself and taking in feedback from others, considering alternatives in the pressure cooker of my psyche. It was mind bending to admit that conforming to a single belief or role would be the ultimate betrayal of myself. That was not a conscious declaration, but in retrospect an underlying reality for me.

So, I put everything on ice to figure it out, to understand this quest, looking into the crevices of my life – past, present and a sense of what lay ahead. All along I’d wanted to create my own platform as an artist to park this phenomenon. Athletics in my adolescence had been a healthy and appropriate place for my rage. My wife and the oil business could barely contain or host my sexuality and creativity. I was exploring artistic platforms to express something clearly beyond the commonplace to the suburbs

Looking back, Texas was a terrible choice for pursuing an artistic approach. But I wasn’t looking for friends, so maybe it was the best. Texas’ affluence from oil and gas resources (like it or not) supported the arts but with some distance (the prevalence of capitalism and fundamentalism). Seeing into the deep wounds of the real artist is scarier that doing karaoke, doing a cover, or reading a song on stage Sunday morning. Texas is home for more of the weekend warrior and that’s fine. Who am I to judge? Some are perfectly satisfied with a workshop every few months and getting a local commercial or a short 5-line forgettable role in a film. My quest had nothing to do with money or achievement. I’d already touched on all that. It had everything to do with expressing something unknown to even me, searching and of course, only now can I understand there’s a huge factor in the element of a sense of timing involved with my process.

I was clearly searching for transformation, something entirely new, for a platform that didn’t and may not even exist at this moment today, a platform in which to park the craziness and be deliberate with the characters I create and the circumstances I need to unearth. The timing may be equally creatively, powerfully beyond my control, because the patterns, stories, the tunes or frequencies I seek to create need ears, eyes, minds and likely bodies to find their home – their way – their destination.  Who knows? As you read this they may be streaming your way for all I know.

I’m struggling to find the language here. Humbled as such that “they, their way, their home” could indicate it’s not even my own.

… but back to the point at hand. I’d missed my first beloved acting coach’s good offer to bounce between LA and San Francisco. Cliff Osmond had coached, mentored, become a close ally and friend. He held his hand out, offered his service, connections and residence on the West Coast, in La-La land – the entertainment industry. Thank goodness I didn’t go. Success in TV, Film or Comedy would have been just another achievement and distraction from the real work at hand, then and now. At that time I couldn’t walk away from my family. I was the Warhorse and at that time I had not unpacked my inner martyr, transcended my sacrificial characters, as I would later. Cliff did understand that I had no alternative to my process, I was doing this work with myself to survive – to live with myself – not make a living – to express and get something out that was working through me that even to this day seems to be work in progress, that is taking form to be of service to my fellow man.

We all create characters in our lives and most are blessed to believe in what they do from that singular person in their life. It’s so close to most people they never stop to realize they’ve created it. Most create one character and dedicate, commit to one and/or possibly hide another side of their life from themself and/or others.  They find an area of life they enjoy using for making a living and build an identity and life around it. It’s that character that allows them to enter a contract and feel safe within the confines of it, be it marriage or a mortgage, an education loan, a profession, a title and a healthy ownership of a proud legacy that a person and their family looks back upon with fondness. Of course to me, that’s a fairy tale – but to many it’s more near their reality. Those regrets are just real and natural as that era will allow.

Undoubtedly my early childhood trauma played a role in creating chaos, cognitive dissonance, the ability to get distance from stress, to see abuse and manipulation from a distance, as well as to create situational survival characters. Who am I to say or judge? I’ve just lived out the cards that were dealt.

In my 30’s, I  had deliberately attempted to use acting workshops and film work to create the space for these parts of myself to get air, to exist without misleading others or causing confusion in my life. I wanted to channel the energy into contrived circumstances. It was cathartic and revealing. Unlike most actors, it wasn’t about getting attention or even finding myself. It was about accumulating a broad range of experiences that brought more and more patterns to my awareness, the patterns that were laying just beneath the surface waiting to shake my hand and smile at me.

I do commit to these characters. As I’ve advanced in life, I’ve learned how to operate from them with dignity and honesty, with myself and with others. Any of the unconformities that others notice are great segues into their shadows, if they are willing to dive deeper. 

The bigger part of me doesn’t really believe anything. Don’t take that too literally or in the wrong vein … I have a deep sense of human dignity, honor and values. That fact underlay the core from which this character creation operates. I do have a technical view of how all this works and how consciousness feeds into it all. It can be a bit shocking or dark, but taken in small doses, it can become a haven to accept and reconcile human behavior and many seeming absurdities.

I do believe that is the somewhat the tip of the iceberg, a by most views a dark, surprising but uncomfortably welcomed, necessary truth. We do form these beliefs and can commit to them. There are many possible belief systems. They can and do co-exist. The education and the uniform expression from these belief system is so common and apparent around us. There is a common element, aspects of shared belief systems, adhering to certain laws of conformity. These commonalities in belief systems lend the matter around us to find form. The structure of matter, energy and life channels the variety of these contributions, yours, mine and those from others, into our reality. They create the actual possibilities, the boundaries, the potential and limitations alongside some guiding larger plan.

Relax. This is just as complex and as masterfully arranged as everything is by nature. There’s nothing I can do to quell this pressure in my psyche or fire in my gut. It’s just as known or as hidden as it needs to be at the time. Sometimes I’m struck by similarities from my life as an oil man, as an earth scientist and powerful leader in business. This life force is much like the oil beneath the surface of our planet: it is stored as a resource to energize our lives, our connections, our desires and needs – all in some grand experiment or scheme. It’s been there for millions of years. It’s remarkable how it’s been harvested and driven, quickened and multiplied our minds doing.

A very common experience with myself is wondering why I am here … and yes, I do find myself occasionally saying to myself that I don’t want to be here, but never intending to do anything about that. I’m here of service and driven by this quest, often seeming my feelings and curiosity are the burner tip of my fire, more and more, streaming from my heart into lives of others, potentially into yours, with love.

Published by Mark Roach

Mark Roach is creative businessman, artist, actor, writer, producer, engineer and executive.

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