I’m going to kick off this week’s Tape with a question, because I’ve not asked you guys a specific question for a while and I used to enjoy doing that, I liked the conversations it opened up. So, this week’s question is:
What is the source of your power? Is that still working for you? Have you changed it in the past, or is it time to change it now?
I’m asking this off the back of an idea that really interested me in Chuck Palahniuk’s book of writing advice Consider This, which I read last week. Palahniuk explores the idea that “People decide the nature of their world at a very young age.” He suggests that, as kids, we discover and invest in the source of our power based on the feedback we receive – we’re praised for being a strong kid, so we invest in our strength. Or we crystallise into a funny kid, or a beautiful kid, or a smart kid, or a good kid. And those decisions become our personalities, and the sources of our power in the world – we grow into a strong adult, or a funny adult, or a beautiful adult, or a smart adult, or a good adult. And that tends to work for us until we get to about 30 (he suggests – no real reason why 30, other than the law of averages, I guess. Saturn Returns? I dunno.) At 30ish, we realise that the personality we’ve drawn our power from throughout our lives is largely based on an arbitrary decision made in childhood. At that point, as soon as you’ve stumbled upon the awareness of that choice, you can either shift the source of your power and find a new one, with the knowledge that that choice too will be arbitrary and probably temporary and eventually need changing again. Or, you can dig your heels in and insist on the choice that worked for you up until now, at which point your personality calcifies and becomes self-conscious and inauthentic. So you end up with funny kids who grow up into funny adults who then calcify into snarky, cynical adults. Or you have smart kids who grow up into smart adults who then calcify into overly-intellectual, emotionally shallow adults.
I think any attempt to look at human nature as a whole and boil it down to a simple set of rules or patterns that every life follows is always a little bit of a futile endeavour, so I don’t know if I 100% accept that what Palahniuk outlines is some sort of universal pattern that fits each and every life, but I thought it was interesting and it got me thinking, so I wondered if it struck any chords with any readers as well! Have you ever recognised the need to shift to a new power source? Or is it all nonsense?
A picture of a power button. Sometimes I find it easier to know what picture to put in this bit than others.
I think the things I invested in as a kid were being “good” and being silly. If I were to think of it like Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, I would say that my prime directive was to be good, and not to make anybody else upset, and that my secondary directive was to be silly, and where these laws conflicted, precedence would be given to the first law. I therefore invested in a brand of silliness that did little or no harm to other people and caused little or no disruption to established structures of power or behaviour. A sort of silliness that was as easy to ignore as it was to laugh at, like the ambient music of silliness. This, to be honest, still sounds like a fairly plausible origin story for a lot of the comedy I ended up making.
And I think I did start shifting the role those two impulses played in my life around the time I turned 30. I started recognising the limits of goodness, of always living your life with the aim of meeting other people’s needs rather than your own, and tried to get better at asserting my own boundaries even when that meant making difficult decisions. And I think I also started recognising the limits of silliness, of asking myself “What if I actually thought really hard about this, and took it really seriously?” I think I’m still figuring out where I land from those periods exploring new territory for myself, but something about Palahniuk’s idea definitely rang a bell. What about you guys? Did 30 signal shifts of any kind? Or do you feel like the decisions you made in childhood about who you are have always served you well? (I’m assuming everybody reading this is over 30. Might be going out to a horde of Gen Zers for all I know!) I’d love to hear what you all think!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – This weekend is the weekend when all the idiots from Weirdos Comedy descend on the Leicester Comedy Festival for two full days of great shows, and Adam Larter has made a very useful Linktree page with ticket links for all of them. You can buy tickets to all our stupid shows here!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Funnily enough, it was a sentence in an Alain De Botton essay about post-romanticism and blame in relationships. The sentence was “I should never have listened to your selfish suggestion of going on this boring, expensive trip.” Really made me laugh.
Book Of The Week – I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. Really great collection of essays and short stories about womanhood and ageing from the incredible writer of When Harry Met Sally. There’s a really funny one about using the film Chicago as a workout video, then a really powerful one about grief.
Album Of The Week – I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling. She’s always been on my list of “Missed the boat when she was a big thing, must go back and get into her one day” artists, and this week was that day! She’s great. A little bit Joni, a little bit Fairport Convention, a little bit her own thing. Big fan. I love the way she sings the word “daughter,” it’s completely off the chain.
Film Of The Week – The Power Of The Dog. This is good. I don’t know what else to say about it. It’s definitely good. I didn’t love it. I didn’t really engage or empathise or go “Wow” at any point, but it’s definitely really good. It’s really well-made and quite interesting, I just didn’t really feel very much while watching it. You can kind of completely understand where all the hype is coming from while at the same time not really getting it at all? A perfect film to watch if you want to watch a film. You really come out of it with the sense of having watched a film.
That’s all for this week! Thanks so much for reading – let me know if you had any thoughts, and as ever, if you wanted to share this newsletter with a friend and encourage them to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves, and see you next time!
PS I’d love it if some of you wanted to come and see my work-in-progress run at Soho Theatre in March! Tickets are here, and here’s a very fun trailer that Miranda and I put together for it: