Journaling in the time of coronavirus
Full disclosure: I don't keep a journal. I've made attempts at various times in my life but was never able to be consistent. Chalk it up to another "Gee my life would be so much better if I did this but I'd rather sit on the couch and watch TV..."
Whether or not you currently keep a journal, or have been thinking of starting one, I do think our current situation in lockdown is a unique opportunity for actors. We have many boxes to tick in our job description, and one of the most important is the ability to truthfully recall our emotional life in as many situations as possible, and to be able to draw upon those emotions at a later date when a script calls for it.
When we started our online classes a few weeks ago, I took a poll of my students as to their current state. Many expressed feelings of depression, fear, uncertainty and even panic. These are generally classified as "negative" emotions - the ones we want to squelch, avoid or deny. But dedicated actors don't have the luxury of classifying feelings into good or bad categories - every experience and the accompanying set of emotions is a valuable asset to be embraced.
In normal times, fear is one of the most difficult emotions for us to access because thankfully the majority of us haven't experienced a truly fearful situation. So when we have that coveted audition for a series like The Walking Dead and have to conjure up an existential threat that shakes us to our core, that's hard to wrap our heads around. But right now, many of us are facing that existential threat. Some of us are fearful of catching the coronavirus. Some of us have elderly loved ones and we're fearful of their susceptibility to this illness. Some are fearful of losing our jobs or our homes. Some are fearful of venturing out in public, either now or when it's deemed "safe" by our government. And some are just feeling isolated, missing human contact.
Keeping a journal of your feelings at this time can be a valuable tool, not only in managing your current emotional life now but also for future reference. Tuesday, April 21: I feel alone and scared. The pictures from the hospitals in NYC are scary and I'm frightened for my friend who lives in Manhattan, etc. etc. Make a note of the time of day and the room you're writing in. Also make a note of where you are feeling this in your body - in your chest? Solar plexus? Arms? This is a very important detail to remember and will become a part of your muscle memory.
Fast forward to several months from now. Life is back to normal and you have just received an audition for one of the apocalyptic-type shows that are so popular now. You have the benefit of opening your journal and reading your entries from this time period. Because you've made note of your muscle memory - the area of your body that was the most affected by these feelings - you can lean into that and revisit your state of mind. What you formerly had to fake and felt little connection to, you can now approach truthfully, because you experienced this sense of dread, fear and isolation.
Any experience in an actor's lifetime becomes an opportunity to add more colors to your artist's palette. It's our job to be emotional athletes and to be courageous about our work. So be fearless about being fearful. Write it down now and use it later. You will be a better actor for it.