Movement brings clarity, or: keep peeling the onion

Illustration by  Melissa Brazeau

Illustration by Melissa Brazeau

Whether in rehearsal or working with a client, I often use an onion as a metaphor: your peel off layer after layer to get to the core. It takes time and patience; you can't grab off three layers at once and expect the same, beautiful core you would get if you did it a layer at a time. I like to think of the core as the most honest, distilled version of whatever we're creating— the work truest to our person. "Peeling the onion" is about experimenting, noticing, and adjusting.

A few takeaways from this metaphor:

1) The only way to get to the core is to start (probably before you feel ready):

Launch the website, write the grant, propose the project, book your first client, etc... We take these first steps before we know what the core will look like; we take these first steps knowing that we'll need to make changes and adjust our course. Action is the only way to clarity.

2) Everything is information:

It's only natural that when we start down the path of peeling the layers, we expect a specific result. Sometimes I start rehearsing, and I get super attached to a specific piece of music or an  image, but it doesn't end up serving the piece. Sometimes the hardest thing is to check my ego at the door— my ego that gets super attached to a specific outcome, and loves the security of knowing. 

To really get to an honest core, I have to allow space for the unexpected, and to see the unexpected as data that's helping me peel the layers in one way or another. 

New information, even if it's not the information you expected, still brings clarity.

3) Information is only helpful if you respond to it:

The surest way to get to the core of the onion is to respond to new information. Stay flexible.

4) Discomfort happens:

"Peeling the onion" is about editing, going deeper, and sticking with something until it congeals. My husband, for instance, has been working on a screen play for a year and a half now. The first time he wrote a draft, he said "This is it!" And then he took time to sit with it, and realized it wanted to be something else. He wrote a whole different draft (and then another). 

This process brings up discomfort. When are we going to arrive already? And that sort of thing. Our brains are way more comfortable just checking the box and starting something new— saying it's great or it's horrible, rather than this in between process. We are each pioneering our own work, and that, in and of itself, is uncomfortable— there's no knowing, really.

5) You don't have to wait until it's done:

Though we live in a very binary culture (Republican/Democrat, good/evil, sick/healed, black/white, etc...), I challenge all of us to "go for grey," as my former therapist often said. What does this look like?

  • Can you put the piece up in front of an audience, even knowing that this might just be a draft?
  • Can you try your process out with a client, even though it still needs work?
  • Can you sell the painting, and then next time commit to doing things a totally different way?

Back to my husband's screen play: he submitted it to a contest and advanced to the next round, all while writing a totally different version of the play.

"Peeling the onion" is about the balance between action (what you control) and experience (the things you can't always control). It's about leaving space for your work to evolve and deepen, and your plans to change. It means that you SHOULD start, AND realize that the universe— or whatever you like to call outside forces— might give you new information. Stay open; stay curious. Keep going.