Early Saturday morning, I’ll be driving to Kansas City for a reading of Good Bad People with Unicorn Theatre. Which despite the very depressing post that you’re about to read, I am very excited about. (I also love Kansas City so YAY FOR A WEEKEND IN MY FAVORITE CITY.)
I thought for a long time if I wanted to write the blog post before the drive or after I got back (and around Thanksgiving time). I decided to go with before the drive because I’d really like my Nov 30th post to be about my time in Kansas City after I have some time to think about it.
Also, there’s been a pressing question on my brain now for weeks now:
Will I ever be satisfied?
My friends like to joke that I could be winning a Tony pissed that it’s not a Pulitzer and just obsess over what I don’t have instead of being happy with what I have. And as much as they’re joking, they’re kind of right. I tend not to celebrate my “wins.” All I can see half the time are all of my losses.
And there are so many.
I very recently got rejected from two pretty big things I thought I’d at least get an interview/finalist status for. And while usually, I prefer a short and sweet “It’s a no for me,” these two rejections really hurt.
So with those rejections combined with all these lists going out all of the playwrights people should know about (lists that I’m not on), it’s made me take a beat and really think things through.
What if this is it?
And “this” isn’t bad. Last year, I set some goals for myself as part of my New Year’s Resolution.
I didn’t do that bad. I submitted to 88 opportunities and could maybe make 100 by the end of the year. I did have two fully staged productions of my work but it was the same play. I wrote 2 new full-lengths this year (OF MICE and 86’d) but I immediately tabled 86’d so I don’t know that that counts. I will need to finish THE FIELD by the end of this month so maybe I could count that. I did have four different plays read this year (and 9 different readings) which is amazing.
So…why doesn’t it feel like it? Why do I feel like I’m moving backwards?
2017 felt explosive. I felt like I was on the precipice of something amazing and that explosion bled over into 2018. I was getting produced! People recognized my name when I submitted them. I was being invited to submit places. By the end of 2017, I was kind of awestruck at what 2018 was about to bring.
And now as I get to the end of 2018, I’m underwhelmed by 2019.
Which is crazy. I should be happy. I mean, oh my God. The year I’ve had. The people I’ve had the chance to meet and work with. The cities I got to see, some for the first time. I got tea. I went on Airbnb adventures. I played chess in coffee shops and wandered around and didn’t get killed. I won an award I thought I’d never get. So why?
Why do I not feel accomplished? Why do I feel like my wave is about to crash? Is it just the rejections? Is it the not knowing? Is it just depression*?
What would be enough? What am I waiting for?
Back in 2010, I saw my words on stage for the very first time. It was part of my first playwriting class. The play I wrote was a knock-off of 4.48 Psychosis with a weird romance twist and was more autobiographical than I want to admit most days. The play was called committed. Since I was the only one who showed up to help the lighting designer focus the lights, he let me pick the gels and have a special in the reading of my play. He also let me stay in the booth because I told him I was too nervous to sit in the audience.
The play was (is) a 100% poetry. There’s not a straight line of dialogue in it. And it’s heavy. I mean, like HEAVY. (Every character commits suicide by the end of the play.) And the audience felt the heaviness. You could feel the weight of it all and if it had been me today, I would’ve cringed.
But me, in that moment, loved every single second of it. I didn’t care that it was too heavy. I didn’t care that the audience was literally trying to figure out how to escape. I didn’t care that my design was over the top. All I cared about in that moment was that for the very first time, I had encountered something (playwriting) that was about to change my life.
I knew it immediately. And yeah, I tried to run from it but every time I think I’m done with playwriting for good, I think about that night.
And how it felt.
I know now that committed is not good theatre because it’s narcissistic and that audience should go on the journey with you not be attacked along the way and left stranded. I know now that I want to write the kind of theatre that address social justice issues so I can use my art towards making the world a better place. I know that someone, at least one someone, is thankful for my work. And that should be enough.
My therapist asked me what would make me happy. She meant in the general sense of life but I’ve been thinking about that question in relation to playwriting a lot. Recognition? Awards? Finally being able to speak openly about my enemies without it ruining my career?
What would be enough? Will anything ever be enough?
And worse than that, back to my first question: What if this is it? Can I be happy with my career plateauing here? Would that really be the worst thing?
At some point within the last year, someone told me there are goals and there are achievements. Achievements are things you collect and goals are things that change you and make you who you’re going to be.
I think I have spent too much time focusing on achievements. It’s time to accept that this *might* be it. And this isn’t bad. Two fully staged productions. Nine readings. Five different cities. How could any of that be bad?
I want to spend what little I have left in the year thinking about what my goals are. Not the things I want to achieve but the kind of artist I want to be. The kind of person I want to be. I want to spend more time on real human connection instead of “I won XXXX.” I want to write a play with a real heartbeat that carries some weight to it but still embraces you at the same time.
I want to focus on happiness.
Lately, playwriting has not brought me a lot of happiness. It’s just brought a lot of stress. Either I feel like I’m falling behind and not writing enough. Or worse, I can’t appreciate what’s right in front of me because my brain is obsessing over a rejection letter I got on the way to the adventure. At some point, I stopped appreciating what I was right in front of me because I wanted more. So much more. All the time.
And I’m not saying I don’t want to be ambitious. I am saying that I don’t want my ambition to destroy me anymore. Ever since I was 15, I’ve had this voice in my head telling me to be better. Even if I was the best, I could still be better.
Now it’s time for that little voice to f*ck off.
*I don’t mean that to say depression isn’t a real thing. It is. I’m bipolar. And sometimes when I get sad, it’s clinical and sometimes it’s not.