Samuel is an actor. He isn’t in films, but you may have seen him on CSI. Samuel is a grieving father, with three wonderful children. He’d accepted his limitations, resigning himself to a typecast: he was the father of the high-school football star that took the gateway drug, the father of the girl that hid her eating disorder.
But Samuel wanted to be more than the grieving father. He was an intelligent man and understood his limitations, but it didn’t stop him from retaining a certain level of bitterness. Ever since he could remember he wanted to act, and ever since he could remember, others wanted that too. He resented this, finding it incredulous the impetus that school teachers, parents – everyone, puts on the arts.
It didn’t make sense – from the moment you started school, before that even, you’ve a box of crayons thrust into your uncoordinated mits with the kind of enthusiasm that would make any onlooker think you were being expected to draw the Mona Lisa, then when you don’t draw the Mona Lisa, your parents act like you’ve drawn the Mona Lisa anyway.
You progress. You’re dumped in front of a piano, or you’re given your grandfather’s old beat up guitar. But you may also be one of the millions stood on stage playing recorder at your school’s Christmas concert wondering why 30 children is the magic number to reproduce a squealing rendition of Good King Wenceless as the army of black and white sticks cacophonies through the wooden hall. It rattles the windows, obnoxiously tearing through the ears of the seated parents, like a tearaway toddler in studded rugby boots, running in circles before stopping somewhere behind the temporal lobe to dance on the auditory cortex as it does absolutely anything to avoid its bedtime.
But still it’s encouraged.
“They’re given creative writing scholarships,” Samuel said to his wife once while they were talking about their son’s desire to become a veterinarian. “These kids, they watch Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin on the evening news putting their balls in teacups, selling the work for £45 million each. “That could be you”, says their art teacher.”
But it never is. It’s someone else.
Samuel was very much of the mind that art couldn’t be taught. He’d studied a number of young artists between jobs and had realised that talent seems more often to manifest through the madness of others, not the individual’s, or the relentless encouragement.
He’d read once that Damien Hirst had received an ‘E’ in art when he was at school. He ended up going to work on the building site. He was still a fairly rebellious sort though, something his mother tried to curtail – she once heated Hirst’s Sex Pistols record on the cooker to melt it into a fruit bowl. That’s the anti-encouragement. You can’t learn these professions.
Samuel often wonders what his life would be like if they’d been honest, told him to go into business, learn finance. Where there’s money, there’s opportunity to make more money. A blank canvas isn’t a blank cheque. A blank cheque is a blank cheque, and you’ll be given a whole book of them if you’re sensible.
The phone rang. It was for an office job he’d applied for in-between acting roles. They wanted to offer him the position. It came with a management training scheme. He stood on the edge wondering whether to turn back, jump off, or take the bridge.
“Can I ask you something?” he said to the lady from HR.
“Would you rather be successful doing something you hate or a failure at something you love?”
“Sir, if you want to work here you can’t ask me that question.”
“Because you’ll never be a success at something you hate.”
“And if I love something?”
“You’ll probably still fail.”
Samuel hung up, and looked to his computer screen, to the script he’d been working on. He scrunched up his face. It wasn’t great.
He picked up the phone again, calling his mother.
“Hi mum, it’s Samuel, how’re you doing?”
“I’m good – just sat down for the first time today, how about you?”
“Good. Just working on something. Do you remember when I wrote that play when I was in school, and I made you and dad invite grandma over for tea so I could perform it…?”
“Of course dear.”
He paused, not really knowing how to continue.
“It was very good…” she offered.
Samuel smiled, and finished up the conversation. He looked back at the script and he began to type…
Sometimes, a little encouragement is all you need.