Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Dear Sam Stosur

Dear Sam

I’m not a tennis player. I’m a writer and part-time gardener and I know nothing about tennis. I was rubbish at sport at school (especially tennis) so I’m not remotely qualified to talk about the game you play professionally and I wouldn’t dream of being so presumptuous normally… only the thing is, it’s summer here in Sydney, the garden was left to fend for itself while we enjoyed the holidays and that meant I saw you play at the Apia International Tournament on Tuesday.

Sam in action in Sydney, image taken from her website www.samstosur.com

Sam in action in Sydney, image taken from her website http://www.samstosur.com

I have failed at many things in life (largely unsuitable jobs and unsuitable relationships) but the one thing that really infuriated when was when I failed at something I was good at.

Did you know that I once held professional Equity membership in England and in Australia? No, why would you, we’ve never met and there’s not much a professional tennis player would have in common with a struggling actor, yet watching you play that match on Tuesday I was reminded of the years I spent struggling to succeed on stage.

It wasn’t lack of talent that scuppered my chances (although let’s not pretend I was the next Judy Dench, I was good but not that good) and you’re certainly a far more talented tennis player than I ever was an actor. No, the root of my failure lay in far more frustrating territory.

I tried too hard.

I can clearly remember the occasions when I relaxed enough on stage to let the performance flow; when I was connected, focused and completely unaware of time passing. Moment by moment I was ‘in the zone’, trusting that all the work I’d done beforehand – the training and the rehearsals, the creative play and text exploration, the blocking and line runs – would stand me in good stead. All I had to do was turn up on time, focus, relax and let it happen. On those few occasions when ‘flow’ happened, people flocked to congratulate me on a magnificent performance, which I remembered nothing about.

It happened twice – that’s all – out of hundreds and hundreds of performances, and the rest of the time my creative spirit was gripped in a tight chokehold, strangling any hope of joyful release. I was convinced that if let my concentration drop for a moment the performance would falter and I would fail miserably. I never did fail and audiences were generally appreciative but I never really succeeded either.

Now I get the fact that as a tennis player you can’t ‘take your eye off the ball’ and concentration is important, but I kept thinking about theatre as I watched you try harder and harder out there on court that day, and my heart went out to you. Sam Stosur you are a supremely talented tennis player – you’ve won the US Open for goodness sake – and you clearly know what you’re doing.

Of course, I never had an opponent on the other side of the net staring down at me and daring me to lose; most of the time theatre is a collaborative sport (unless you’re being mercilessly upstaged) but it’s a sport nonetheless and there’s no shame in failure; success only comes when you’re willing to fail.

The shame is if you get beaten not by your opponent but by your demons, because at the end of the day it’s all just a game, isn’t it? Acting is called ‘play’ acting for a good reason (and oh how I wish I’d realised that years ago) and sport is surely called a game for the same reason. Both activities are meant to be enjoyed, aren’t they?

I admire your courage in getting back out there time and time again to stand in the brutal arena of a tennis tournament, where the raucous cheers of encouragement must be hard to take if you can sense you’re losing the battle. Presumably you do it because you know you’re really quite good at it.

That’s why I don’t give up on writing. I was always more comfortable with the quiet solitude of writing than with the noisy hype of theatre but failure still looms large. All of us struggling to succeed in creative ventures face rejection and there’s no denying that it hurts, but it hurts far more when you scupper your own chances of success.

The second draft of my next book is due back from the editor any day now and it will be covered in changes, corrections, comments and queries that will alarm me. I will struggle to remind myself that it’s meant to be an entertaining read and I will worry that I’m no good as a writer. All I can do then is bring my best game to the page, make a cup of tea, relax and try to enjoy the process.

Those people who can silence their critical inner voice have an edge that no amount of practice can match, so keep going Sam, relax and remember you do know what you’re doing.

May the flow be with you.

15 comments on “Dear Sam Stosur

  1. nantubre
    January 16, 2015

    I think the best bit of knowledge I have learned from being an artist is that not everybody will like my work. The next best thing I have learned is that it doesn’t matter. If I have done my “best” (definition: the result with which I am happily satisfied), I have done well. Well… unless, of course I’m doing a commissioned piece. In that case what someone else thinks of my work is Everything! My point is this: we can only be defeated by ourselves. A person can lose the game but still be a winner. A good book is a best seller to the one who writes it. But you already know that. I feel a new blog post coming on…. lol

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      January 16, 2015

      Nan it’s so simple isn’t it? And yet so hard to put into practice, especially when the world is watching. I think I would find it extraordinarily hard to work in an arena that was televised!

      Like

      • nantubre
        January 17, 2015

        You certainly do well when being interviewed!

        Like

  2. bkpyett
    January 16, 2015

    What a great post Deb. Yes, getting into that zone sounds so easy! May we all find it. My husband paints and is often in that zone, it’s wonderful! I hope Sam S. reads your blog!!

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      January 16, 2015

      And the difference between being in it or not is so fine, and as soon as you start wondering if you’re in it, you’re not! I reckon meditating would help. Your husband’s beautiful work makes it clear he spends a lot of time in that zone!

      Like

  3. Carricklass
    January 16, 2015

    Wow Deborah, that’s a powerful posting. Yes, I can see clearly how your ‘trying too hard’ interfered with your progress as an actor. Expectation of excellence which you know you are capable of, is inhibiting. You are extremely talented – I’ve seen you in plays and you were sublime in your roles. This is an amazing posting. How many times have we seen someone giving their all and not quite getting there – wanting to reach out and comfort them – tell them how much you, someone whom they don’t even know, is inspired by them. In writing this posting Deborah, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      January 16, 2015

      Thank you Carricklass, that was a long time ago wasn’t it? I once watched someone I love dancing and she was technically perfect but my eyes were drawn to the exuberance of someone far less talented whose joy in what she was doing was palpable. To let go and trust the moment seems so difficult. So I’m going to keep practicing doing just that!

      Like

  4. candidkay
    January 16, 2015

    I go to the Theodore Roosevelt quote Brene Brown quotes so often: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    Like

  5. debhuntinbrokenhill
    January 16, 2015

    Brilliant. Theodore Roosevelt was such an inspiring president and your quote makes me want to read a biography of him, would you have any recommendations Kay?

    Like

  6. monsoonwendy
    January 16, 2015

    Oh would you believe that!? I have just got the link to that fabulous Theodore Roosevelt speech but candidkay has done it! Good on you and like you, I heard it first from Brene Brown too! IT’s a cracker isn’t it? I so hope Sam Stosur reads this Deb! I certainly needed too. Much love from ‘ere.

    Like

  7. mrdjangozazou
    January 18, 2015

    Oh boy, I remember you getting into that concentration zone in some play or other in London. We were backstage, and prior to my entrance as a character who’d been outside in the rain I was being squirted with water. I think me and the girl with the spray gun were flirting so no opportunities for moisture-related innuendos were being lost and then you walked past on your way to your scene, and I threw you a line about being damp before my bit had even started. And your response was just to stare. Yep, just a stare, and okay, so my killer gag might not have wounded many wits, but never before or since have I seen my jokes turn so rapidly to tumbleweed borne along by such a chilly wind!

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      January 19, 2015

      Oh dear, that chill wind that froze your marrow (and I am so sorry about that my very dear friend!) meant I most definitely wasn’t in the zone, instead I was trying far too hard to get into it. I’d hazard a guess you spend far more time in the zone than I do and I should learn from that!

      Like

  8. mrdjangozazou
    January 18, 2015

    ….actually, you know, on reflection I’m wondering if I’m not conflating two separate moments. Your scary response to my clowning was all exactly like that, but maybe I wasn’t being squirted with water at the time. That might have been someone else I was annoying in a different play altogether!

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    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      January 19, 2015

      …quite possibly right, Mr Django, and the water heading your way looks like it’s freezing right now – and for once, it’s nothing to do with me:)

      Like

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This entry was posted on January 16, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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