This one is about notes from the field. Really. The field in this case: theatre/performance.
Field* is perhaps an apt metaphor. A wide open space of possibility, filled with wild, budding things. Sometimes the vastness is overwhelming, as I sense into the feeling that anything is possible, everything is possible. Sometimes the buds promise blossoms, blossoms drop off and disintegrate into seeds, caught on the wind, unpredictable. Some seeds germinate, others don’t. Opportunity abounds. As does uncertainty. And it can be impossible to take root. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a weed and a wildflower. Sometimes it’s hard to know which—weed or wildflower—will best nourish your aching soul.
At least for me.
The vastness = I must do everything!
The buds = Endless opportunities for projects with little certainty as to what will germinate, take root, develop meaning and more opportunities with time.
Weed or wildflower = There are a lot of projects, they are all worthwhile in their own ways, but which will fulfill me aesthetically and personally?
I’ve caught my breath in recent weeks, a gap in my projects for the past couple of weeks. This may be the most space I’ve had since 2011. It doesn’t feel luxurious enough. And in a few short days (and I do mean short, the nights are long), I’m back at it, with multiple overlapping projects, one which comes to fruition on my 39thbirthday. Giddyup, 2019.
In this breath, I’ve noticed some things about myself.
I’m often consumed with envy and comparing mind. It seems everyone has a cooler life than me, a cooler career. I know some hella successful and impressive folks. These folks jetset and trendset. They make films, perform on Broadway and tours, they make art at international festivals (srsly, do all of you have to go to the Prague Quadrennial?), they create national social justice curricula, they publish books, get tenure, found organizations, win awards, get fat grants, and change lives. I know and have worked with a Pulitzer Prize winner, for fuck’s sake. And she’s younger than me!
I know some really cool people.
And I happen to know that some of these really cool people aren’t satisfied. They struggle with the same not-enoughness, envy-full feelings I experience. Because even if they’re on Broadway, they still haven’t played that role or won thataward. Because even if they’ve published that book, they haven’t gotten that promotion. Maybe there’s a reason we all love Hamilton. We can never be satisfied and we’re all working like we’re running out of time.
Capitalism sucks and we’re all causalities. There’s the reality that few of us can survive on the work we do and, often, the more interesting the work, the less commercially viable. Capitalism sucks and it would be really cool to live in Berlin on an artist’s visa, but I suspect I’d still feel like I’m hustling.
But also this field—this theatre/performance field—fuels this kind of carrot-on-a-stick, treadmill psychology. It normalizes exhaustion and scarcity as a lifestyle. No time to rest, never enough. If I can only get X project then I can really have Y. If...then…if…then…
And social media is doing us no favors in this department.
I am witness to people living out the various dreams I’ve had for myself at various stages in my life.
I worry that I’m not keeping up.
I’m a perfectionist who is painfully imperfect.
I’m the poster child for FOMO, living in fear of missing some “big opportunity.”
And, of course, the big opportunity is this very moment. This very life I’m living. These very friends that I am too busy to meet.
I am missing out by fearing missing out.
And I do a lot.
And I do so much that I don’t have time to breathe. To absorb it. To celebrate my wins and grieve my failures and losses. I do so much I don’t pause to glance at the wildflowers in full bloom.
I am working on tending a garden. One in which I determine what will grow and thrive. A garden that gets plenty of light for spreading leaves and nurturing blossoms, plenty of shade for rest, water, nourishment, and attendance.
I am sorting through my seed bank. The seed bank of filed emails, hand written notes and cards, small gifts and tokens from those with whom I’ve worked—performers and colleagues, students, prisoners. Those little treasures and notes that whisper “thank you, you’ve changed my life.” I am humbled that I have so many of these messages. These are true gifts. And they are rare. And not everyone has them. I know that.
Of course, I haven’t changed anyone’s life more than anyone has changed mine. We move through life in a series of encounters—formal and informal—and so long as we show up, build relationships, listen and share, we’ll change each other’s lives. It’s actually pretty simple. This work can be unsexy and uninstagrammable. And it’s really fucking meaningful. We’re all in this together, in fact. And my really cool friends, well, I celebrate them. I know they’re hustling too.
Last Saturday, I sat in a classroom at Sterling Correctional Facility and I did some of my best work. My best work. And no one will ever see it. And I think on it and I know that it matters. And I celebrate that.
There is a quote by Iranian American novelist, Dina Nayeri, that I’ve been thinking about for the past two years. She said in an interview, "I remember a professor telling me that, you know, you can either have roots or wings, but if you try to have both, you're probably going to fail." I think about how having roots and wings could rend a being in half, torn into two parts.
Since I graduated with my MFA, I’ve looked for opportunities all over. FOMO. I see opportunities all over, blessing and curse. These opportunities make me wanna flutter and stretch out my wings. But I’ve had a lot of wings in my life and have been trying to focus on roots.
Right now, I want to grow roots and to enrich the soil right where I’m at.
*In spite of the appearance of abuse, no metaphors were actually harmed in the creation of this post.