All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
– William Shakespeare, As You Like It
The film Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky tells the story of ballet dancer Nina. Throughout the film, Nina is desperately trying to let go of her restrictive, perfectionist, ‘good girl’ self in order to properly portray the seductive black swan in her dance company’s production of Swan Lake. One haunting moment in the film shows Nina taunted by voices calling her “sweet girl! sweet girl!”.
In this moment, Nina was doing something I call rescripting herself.
Our scripts are our stories. We tell them to ourselves, our friends, our colleagues. Scripts tell us about our past. They tell us our place in the world, what we can and cannot do. They tell us who we are and where we are going.
A most common and obvious example of scripting is lifestyle branding. Companies like apple market their products as a way of life: buying what they sell means you are freethinking, modern and cool. What kind of flat you rent, the area you live in, the media you consume are all determined by the hipster script which apple tap into with their products.
Another kind of scripting is the American Dream. That script is the rags-to-riches story. It is the story of upward movement, of never-ending growth. It is the story of the merit of your own talents.
Before her Black Swan moment, Nina was living the script of the good ballet girl. She saw her role as dutiful daughter; her script was to do ballet and excel as a dancer. Then, in order to dance the part of the black swan, she had to let go of that script and rewrite it; she had to leave the role of dutiful daughter, forsake her “sweet girl” identity and acknowledge (embrace? confront?) the darker side of her character. The setting of dancing on a stage is a perfect metaphor for the transformation of her character.
We are all players on the world’s stage. Each person has a script, each person plays the role written. We imagine ourselves to be free agents, because our scripting tells us that is important. But family cultures, national identity, advertising, religion, music, literature, films: all these combine to produce complex notions of who we are and what we are to do. Scripting is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us make decisions every day without having to reinvent the wheel. What is important is that we become active agents in our script-writing so that we are not living second-hand lives.
In order to write your own script, you first have to become aware of what story you see yourself in, and what roles you and others are playing. This is not as hard as it sounds; all it requires you to do is to quietly watch your behaviour and emotions. Without judging, without second-guessing yourself, live your life deliberately. Get to know yourself.
I have become acutely aware of religious scripting at the moment. Quite recently I have unearthed a part of my script that compels me to look for my place in other people’s scripts. I subconsciously look for ways that I can be what other people expect me to be. I put myself in the “good boy” role. I fulfill those roles in order not to disappoint or displease them; if I’m really good, I might even earn their love and respect. On the surface, this may seem honorable and good. In reality however, it is cowardice. I do it to protect myself and I do it for my own benefit.
The legacy of the good boy script has been a life curiously full of religion. People want to be heard; I fill the role of hearer. Religion wants people to do, and act, and live their faith. I hear the call and do my best to follow. I obey. It’s what I do: it’s my script. I was always wary of attempting to convert others, because I was dimly aware that the main reason I was involved in religion was because I didn’t want to upset anybody. Until now, I have never understood why I have been so zealous. I think the reason that I have become aware of this is that I have finally begun to write my own script.
Does this ring true to your own life? What kind of roles do you play?