I’ve been told by many a hipster that I have bad taste in music. Instead of listening to the Mountain Goats, I’d rather listen to Taylor Swift, post-Red album. And I like Panic! at the Disco so much that I wrote a jukebox musical using only their songs.
I was in Florida when I heard “High Hopes” for the first time. It was one of my “take a walk in the rain so you don’t hurt yourself” walks. And I don’t know that I’ve related that strongly to a song for a long time. I literally cried as I was singing the song out loud in the literal falling rain. Sometimes my life is a music video.
To say I’m ambitious is an understatement. Within minutes of meeting me most Harry Potter fans know I’m a Slytherin almost immediately. To quote an actor from a show of mine, it’s “that ambition tho.”
I have a bad and unhealthy habit of looking at website for awards I want while I drink whiskey straight and think almost obsessively “I want it.” I do this at bars. I do this at airports. I do this everywhere. I pull up a website, look at the list of “past winners” and sit and just scheme on how my name can be there someday too.
I am like this about everything. In high school, I knew I wouldn’t win president but I could probably win Vice President if I jumped on the right campaign so I literally did a very informal poll to see whose ticket I should join. Did I do anything as Vice Pres? Nope. Of course not. In college, I joined an advocacy group and saw there was a hierarchy. And my ambition was like “climb that tower.” And I did. But I didn’t really do a good job. I’m attracted to power, not responsibility. I want the title; not the work.
This problem has followed me into playwriting. Playwriting is slow. And inconsistent. One minute your show is in DC, literally packing the house and then next minute, crickets. Absolutely nothing. And then sometimes you have a string of really good months and then it returns to nothingness. On my website, there’s a news page. I stare at this page a lot. And I obsess over the months not covered, the months where I have nothing going on.
Those awful slow months.
In ten days, I will be in Massachusettes sitting in on the first rehearsal of my play, Well-Intentioned White People at Barrington Stage. In fifty-five days (damn that’s a lot of days), I will be in LA seeing another play of mine. And, hopefully, in 90 days, I’ll be in Michigan working on another play.
But today? And tomorrow? Nothing.
I have a friend who does a show almost every night and I have to stop myself from getting jealous. To her, it’s nothing. It’s the grind. To me, it’s everything. It’s constant. It’s the immediacy I’m jealous of. I want to be constantly doing things. Constantly working. Constantly getting closer and closer to my playwriting wishlist.
I can’t be given the genius award if I’m not even working.
What am I supposed to do in the downtime? In the nothingness? Right now, I don’t have anything lined up for November or December. I’m still getting rejection letters regularly and I’m looking at my NYE resolutions like it’s homework I’m behind on instead of good intentions.
Problem is, I’m behind.
By the end of year, I am supposed to have submitted to 100 opportunities, have two fully staged productions of my work, write two new full-lengths, and have four different readings of my plays in different places. So far, I have two guaranteed fully staged productions by the end of the year, have written one new full length (the other one I wrote is so scattered I’m not sure I can count it), and will have had only 3 different readings of different plays by the end of the year.
And it’s July. My time is running up.
But then again, these limitations, this very loud and obnoxious clock is self-imposed. No one told me I had to do this. It’s a pressure I have thrown on myself. I want to keep amazing myself, keep pushing myself harder and harder.
But, to be honest, those high hopes, that unrelenting ambition, that voice in my head that keeps saying “not enough, not yet” is driving me a little crazy.
I struggle to appreciate what I have done. And how I’ve done it. I’m not sure how to step back and go “Wow. Holy shit. I did this.” Instead, my go-to is “Cool. Now push harder. Be better.”
Because I’m relatively young, I am honored to still be able to blame my parents for this. And I could get into the whole spiel about how stepmother didn’t believe I was ranked third in my class because of that one C I got or how despite having straight A’s otherwise my parents still talk about that one C but it’s not really worth it. Because I am young but I’m not that young.
And ultimately the voices in my head are mine.
So here’s the question: How do you appreciate the amazing things you’ve done while also making sure you keep moving forward?
I could look at this year like this: I’ve been to Chicago and Orlando this year. My plays, so far, will be in five different cities by the end of the year. And I got to work on a really hard play. For two weeks! And that’s all amazing.
But when I write it out, it doesn’t look like enough.
I don’t know what enough looks like. When people call me “famous playwright,” they’re kidding and, for the most part, they have good intentions but it literally makes me gag. Literally. It makes me sick.
Because I want that so badly.
I want to walk into a coffee shop and randomly hear two people discussing the new dark comedy by Rachel Lynett they saw at Steppenwolf. Or to see my play at a Barnes and Noble (assuming the store is still around at that point). I don’t want to be recognized on the street but I desperately want to be “name famous.” Or at least theatre name famous. (I said Lin-Manuel Miranda to my dad and he was like “Who?” I think it’s important to remember that only like 10% of the country actually cares about us theatre nerds. My dad knows Hamilton but not Lin.)
And that will take time. If it ever happens. Which sucks.
I want everything. EVERYTHING. My ambition literally knows no end. A good friend of mine joked that I’ll be accepting a Tony, pissed that it’s not a Pulitzer. Nothing will ever be good enough.
So how do you create goals that way? How do you live that way?
I don’t know. I know consistently wanting everything all the time is not a healthy way to live. I am sick all the time. I don’t sleep. And I blow through writing ideas and submissions so fast it’s ridiculous.
If you’re like me and nothing is good enough and you’ve somehow stumbled here while waiting for another rejection letter to roll in, I want to pass on some good advice I recently received:
“Greatness is subjective. So is talent. So is everything. If you want to be great, decide that you are. It’s that simple. Dare to believe you already are and everyone else is just slow to realize it.”
To my restless, overly ambitious friends out there, we’re already great. We’re already amazing. Everyone else is still catching up. Keep working. Keeping moving. Keep creating amazing things.
They’ll catch up.