I extrapolate by nature. I don’t hoard seeds of knowledge; I plant those seeds and let the roots crack open the shell and grow down in the ground as the plant cracks open the dirt and grows up to the sky. It is the way of wisdom. I don’t memorize steps, I learn by feel. I am an emotional learner more than an academic one. Once upon a time, I did both, but now I am a different sort of learner.
Strict academic learners are factualists and literalists, and, if they are not snapped out of their rote routine, aren’t very smart. They memorize, they model, and they mimic. They have no natural feel for what they are doing, always doing their best to remove the emotional from the intellectual, and always getting things wrong.
Once upon a time, I took care with the balance until I saw that sometimes you have to be the balance, and thus, you have to be more extreme yourself to balance an equation – that is, until you see the scale balance itself out, and then you go back to your own previous balance.
Right now, I am a full emotional learner so I can better understand what that actually means. I don’t cook by recipe – I cook and experiment, for instance. I use a more primal – feral – way of creating and learning.
For instance, I am a big fan of Shakespeare, but don’t ask me to recite it or remember his plays these days. I extrapolate the meaning and then apply it. All the world’s a stage, he reminded us in As You Like It, and his words had a big impact on my life and career.
When I was four years old, I knew Romeo and Juliet, as in, I could actually recite Romeo and Juliet and know what it meant. I have no idea where my knowledge of it came from as my mother’s shelves were filled with psychology books, not literature, and certainly not British lit (I am the sole anglophile in the family, though anyone who reads my fiction pretty much knows my love of it runs deep).
But I knew it. I knew my Shakespeare. When mom was house hunting when I was four, we came upon a new townhouse that had a living room on one floor, and then steps to the dining room/kitchen where the dining room was an open-concept mezzanine of sorts with a balcony overlooking the living room. There were no doors on this level, just a dining room and then a separate room for the kitchen.
When I first saw that dining room from the living room, I ran up, went to the balcony and recited “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name …” I also threw a big fit until mom bought the house and then 27 Glen Vista Drive became home (and you thought your brats threw hissies to get their own way). I was sold on the balcony alone (even though the famous balcony scene in the play never actually called for one) and it was my favourite place in the house until mom redid the basement in pine and made it a super-fabulous rec room without peer.
A house with an indoor balcony was great, I thought, finally I will find someone to play Romeo while I play Juliet. For whatever reason, I had a great need to play Shakespeare, and I found Hamlet way too scary (more terrifying than my Ken doll with the gross fake beard, Sonny Friendly the Muppet with teeth from Sesame Street, the Incredible Hulk, and the Kool-Aid Jug Man put together), except nobody ever wanted to play Romeo, even though it meant climbing on the sofa to climb over the balcony.
Oh sure, everyone wanted to climb up and over the balcony for its own sake because it was forbidden fun of the best sort, but no one ever wanted to play Romeo – ever – not even once. Somehow, everyone felt abandoned down there in the living room and started to cry – as in blubber and scream “Noooooo!” from the top of their lungs the second they were asked by anyone to be Romeo. No boy ever wanted to play Romeo. No girl ever wanted to play Romeo. Everyone wanted to play Juliet along with me.
To be Juliet was a group effort, meaning it always ended up being Ten Juliets and No Romeos with ten kids – boys and girls – at first, reciting Juliet’s lines to silence because no one ever wanted to be Romeo. It didn’t matter if the kids were old friends I knew for years or some newbie who just came to visit for the first time from anywhere around the world – no one ever wanted to be Romeo. Period.
It wasn’t as if no one wanted to play, the mere suggestion was met with a hearty “Yay!” or equivalent before everyone ran upstairs to the dining room. Yes, let’s all be Juliet because Juliet is where it’s at, was the message I got and I did not mind sharing the communal space of Juliet. Needless to say, Ten Juliets and No Romeos evolved to become a challenging, but very popular game at my house.
I learned that you don’t have to follow someone else’s script and you could always improvise. In Shakespeare’s time, men took on women’s roles; in my childhood, Juliet was also one for the boys – and girls. We learned to make do without a Romeo in sight, and in the end, Collective Juliet somehow survived and thrived just fine without Romeo and never died when our game was done.
Years later, I took a theatre reviewing elective at j-school, one of the assignments was seeing and critiquing the play Good Night, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) that was a comedy with the premise of an unhappy female English professor who has a theory that both Othello and Romeo and Juliet were supposed to be comedies – judging by my childhood alone, it’s a theory right on the money. In every performance of Ten (or whatever number came to my house that day) Juliets and No Romeos performed during Shakespeare in Sasha’s Dining Room Festival (Sasha was my nickname as a kid until too many people decided that was a great name for their dogs, too), Juliet always had a really fun, silly, and happy ending.
It also served as an interesting beginning for me.
At the most basic level, it actually got one big lesson through to me: the script does not play in the real world. It was a huge lesson that had epic ramifications in every aspect of my life, from the personal to the professional to even the philosophical.
The script does not play in the real world.
And if all the world’s a stage, it is one where the script does not play in the real world. It is shocking how many people never understand this Truth no matter how many times they are proven wrong. They spend their entire lives practicing how to say hello in the mirror, fantasizing what they will say and how other people will react, and they will always try to manipulate and choreograph the stage where their script does not play. The go by the script. They stick to the script. They demand others to play by their script. They make enemies of anyone who does not go by their script, and worst of all, they never abandon the stupid, inferior-to-life script because they always think the next rewrite is going to finally prove them Forever Right.
Just stop conning yourself, chuck the script, and wing it.
But the lesson didn’t end there. It got me started thinking about acting in a philosophical manner, but I also grew up in a house where, while my mother was not a psychologist but a driving instructor, she had a lot of professional psych books on her shelves. I inherited them all when I started studying it at university, and not surprisingly, while other kids were reading Curious George, I was reading Carl Jung. I was reading books called Vulnerability, Coping, and Growth published by Yale University Press by the time I was seven years old.
My mom’s amateur interest in psychology turned into my university degree. Psych was second nature to me. It was the most fascinating of all the sciences – but it was also the trickiest if you didn’t understand the nuances of the profession. I learned how to question studies at a very early age.
Some researchers tried to take out the emotion out of their studies and it had very disastrous results. They weren’t accurate. They didn’t take the most important factor in consideration, and here was a little girl who, if she wasn’t reciting Shakespeare from her dining room stage, was reading whatever cool new psych book her mom bought at the funky remainder book store that sadly, is no longer in business.
And somehow, those two threads began to weave together – the psych and the Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was uninhibited fun. It was grand gravitas. He may have been that stiff upper lip Brit, but what I loved about Shakespeare is he was all about big, raw emotions. Hamlet was a broody little brat, but boy, did his temper tantrums go off like a nuclear bomb. Romeo and Juliet were libidinous little twerps with no life experience or common sense. Lady Macbeth was a power-hungry psychopath, Othello was a jealous and gullible hothead, and King Lear was an arrogant little empty-head, but when Shakespeare was done, he didn’t fool around: title characters got killed. Supporting characters fell like flies. It was all so powerful. It wasn’t as if other playwrights didn’t do the same, but no one could unleash it like him. We go on these days how a cable show is unpredictable with major characters dying like cannon fodder (think The Walking Dead) – Shakespeare was way ahead of the crowd.
And then I’d go read a psych book, and sometimes those books put those feelings into perspective, but there were books that just didn’t get what Shakespeare understood: we are driven by emotions – and they were powerful – his comedies showed how hopeless could be turned into triumph while his tragedies showed how triumphs were meaningless if you didn’t get what life was all about and how those triumphs could prove to be your undoing. Feelings guide us – and when a character was emotionally illiterate, he would get into trouble that he wouldn’t always get out of in time.
I learned a lot about psychology thanks to Shakespeare.
The Montagues and the Capulets had a lot of bad blood and it cost them dearly – but Shakespeare clearly showed how it all happened. Hamlet also never learned to let go of a grudge – he was right to be angry and push back until he just lost control. Shakespeare was on to something and he was a great curator into the strange world of big emotions.
Not surprisingly, when I was a teenager, my mom bought me a bust of William Shakespeare for my birthday, which still sits proudly on my shelf today. She also took me to see a production of Macbeth in Toronto, starring Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson. She knew I had a deep love for the raw emotions with the rational curator guiding an audience through the eye of the storm, and I could not get enough of it.
Needless to say, high school English classes were a breeze for me.
But I loved the balcony in our dining room. That’s where the magic of Shakespeare formed – and transmuted for me.
Psychology and Shakespeare went hand in hand happily until the day there was a civil war in the former Yugoslavia and I discovered how much anti-Serb propaganda was being presented as truth in the mainstream press.
I was no longer living in our townhouse, but the balcony was in my heart. I was a psych student who would go on to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I knew the coverage was skewed, and I knew the news media had blood on their hands just like Lady Macbeth.
But how do I understand the madness of the media war against an entire nationality of people?
The third thread began to weave with Shakespeare and Psychology and I called it Method Research.
I would understand by taking the role of journalist – making the world my stage, but not to act from a script – but to study the profession as a scientist – more specifically, a psychologist.
My findings became the book Don’t Believe It!: How lies become news.
But I became an expert on how to find truths by walking among those you are studying. I learned to do it scientifically and emotionally without getting entangled in biases, manipulations, or irrationality that felled those tragic Shakespearean heroes.
And then I left the profession and continued being both an author and an artist – something I could never fully express before given what I was doing.
But Method Research never left me – I proved it could work and work extremely well – but I still wanted to pursue it.
And so, I realized I was also an actrivist – an activist actress who performed in the real world to make positive changes around there.
I do what I do to build on truths, but also love. You cannot have one without the other.
If there is no truth, there can be no love. If there is no love, there can be no truth.
The concept of actrivist is one I am now refining and on the eve of giving an encore performance of my life. I want to take it to new and exciting levels. I love the idea of being active in my surroundings and then figuring out what it all means. It requires emotional learning – and helps take science out of the ivory towers and out in the real world where we learn by feel and then learn to make reliable and valid studies based on feel that gives us useable and accurate information that is truthful and universal.
The little girl with the psych books and the balcony is still alive and well, thank you, and she has a lot more to explore – and she always loved her silly and happy endings where she could use her gifts to chase the tragedies away so no one ever had to be sad or hurt if she could help it.