Meet Number 11!
What I remember most about my childhood is belonging to a big group of people. We had, like most children growing up in the Seventies, tremendous freedom. We rode our bikes everywhere and some days, we only came home to eat. Summers lasted forever as we lay on hot concrete paths to get dry after finally sliding out of the pool- our hands wrinkled and white. I suppose I had dreams and ambitions but I think they were pretty flimsy. I wanted to be an architect (though I am not sure I knew what this meant) or a chef – a dream inspired by cake shops and Myers Cafeteria in the city, which seemed to me, to offer the best pie and chips money could buy. But apart from that, I was happy to spend endless hours playing in the sun. Dreams and goals could wait.
Before dancing completely took over her life, Neve, my youngest daughter, would accompany me on my walks to the beach. She saw this as a time to catch me up on everything she was thinking about and especially her dream to be an ‘actress slash dancer’. (This is how she says it) The conversation is always amusing and a little unsettling. I mean, I don’t know many people who make a living this way. I have sat for hours at the hairdressers reading the horror stories of the celebrity lifestyle. Entertaining all right, but not exactly what I wish for my daughter. It all looks like way too much hard work. And what if she never makes it? Then there is the question of whether I should be making it happen for her – hunting out and driving her to auditions, playing the stage mum. On the day in question, this was all going through my head as we were walking. She was busy describing the house in Hollywood where she will live and we will visit. Often and with lots of treats from Australia.
And then this familiar voice that lives inside my head started niggling away at me. That voice that tells me to be realistic. That dreams don’t always come true. That it is all too difficult. That risks can be dangerous. Unfortunately on this day, it got louder and more persistent. And then out of the blue, it actually started talking…except it sounded very much like my voice.
“You know,” I said “It’s really hard to be an actor. Not that many people make it.” Neve didn’t look too worried about this. She kept skipping along next to me. I should have stopped right there but this voice had a real agenda. This ‘voice’ needs to be monitored carefully and instead I had opened the floodgates. “Only 10 people in every 10,000 go on to be actors.” This last bit even made me gasp. We walked along in silence for a while. I felt so small, I was surprised I wasn’t running to keep up with her.
Then she turned to me and with the hint of a smile in her voice she said, “Well mum, you’ve just met number 11.”
This was delivered with just the right amount of humour but the message was clear. Don’t mess with my dreams Loser! This kid was relying on me to be the trellis in her life and here I was pointing out the nasty thorns lurking beneath the buds.
Then she started to laugh. Chuckle really, like she was explaining something funny to a toddler. “What?” I asked.
“Where do you get those numbers from? The tens and hundreds.” She was shaking her head in disbelief. In my defence, I started to tell her about statistics but she cut me off mid sentence.
“Mum you really gotta lighten up.” We both started laughing then. It was true. I did need lightening up.
It seems to me that the single most damaging thing you can do to creative potential (yours or anybody else’s) is to listen to that voice inside your head that says you can’t win – that you can’t beat the odds. That you won’t succeed. I still hear it most days but I am on its case now. Like Neve, with good humour and grace, I am fighting back. In our family, “Meet Number 11” has come to mean something very important. Hold your dreams close and believe you have what it takes to bring them to life. Nurture self belief at all costs.
I was pretty quiet on the way home from that walk. My mind was racing. I finally got it. I didn’t have to interfere and dream the dream for her but I did have to be on her side. Every day.
Just as we got to the front door, Neve said, “Don’t worry mum. I get it. I know I’ll have to work hard.” But I thought, no kiddo, it’s me who’ll have to work hard. You’re almost there.