If I can make it, and this is a very big if, this upcoming Friday will be my last day at my day job. I made the impulsive decision to quit and wanted to figure out how to go for what I really wanted. In my mind, I had enough money to cover me through the end of January (which realistically is through December) and 2020 has taught me there is no such as future planning. Not anymore.
Plus, in my head, I was like “I’ll have more time to write and to really plan out what my next step should be, even in a pandemic world.”
Then, I looked at my calendar. My next free day is November 15. October is so packed I do not have a single free day. Oh, and I’m also the crazy* person who started a theatre company in a pandemic and would very much so like to be employed again by January so I’m filling job applications out daily.
And there are a lot of hopeful options on the horizon. And that’s great but……..
At the beginning of the year, I tried to write a post about burn out. About needing a break but I was in a really rough place. My whole life was changing and I was scared and exhausted and angry. But I think it’s important to address, especially now, as the arts are “paused.”
First off, who are the arts paused for? It feels like while theatre is no longer able to produce massive Shakespeare productions, ADs are turning to new work. I’ve had three commissions since March to create brand new plays. And since March, I’ve written SEVEN** plays. I started a theatre company (apparently so did everyone) and I can’t remember the last time I was this exhausted.
I owe a new draft of As You Are to Florida Studio Theatre, Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson) to OSF and a couple other places, Letters to Kamala goes in to rehearsals in two weeks with American Stage, Black Mexican goes into rehearsal next week with RLTC, Adored You will stream next week, as will Echo Me, and I still would really like to finish F*ck you, Neil this weekend.
So, to recap, that’s six different plays and I haven’t even made it to obligations through October 15.
We’re at a place in the artistic world where we’re being told to take the work we can because everything is “dark.” And yet, I feel like I’m working my ass off without a second to breathe. I’m not sleeping. I’m not focused at my day job (which lately isn’t something I’m super bothered by considering how I’ve been treated in my final days). I’m forgetting things and missing deadlines. I feel all over the place and have no way of centering myself because I feel like I have to say “yes” to everything. Because, 2020, you know?
And, to be honest, I have never been more challenged than I have this year. For the most part, the things I’m saying yes to are things I’m enthusiastically saying yes to. Did I think I’d be able to write a play full of monologues? NOPE. Did I think I’d be able to write a play about building community during quarantine when I feel so isolated? NOPE. And I’m so f*cking proud of everything RLTC has been able to pull off. I’ve never really written a play about my complex identity and relationship to Latinidad. And I’ve tried FOR YEARS. This year I was finally able to do it. And it’s been incredible.
The problem is, I feel like I’ve been in overdrive. It’s like I’m trying to convince myself that I am, in fact, a playwright, despite not feeling like one. (Oh, also, I’m randomly applying to grad school for my PhD? It’s been a wild ride.)
I’m thankful to be working but I need to catch my breath. I would like to sleep again. Even my cat, who normally sends me death glares, has been looking at me like “Yo, are you alright?”
I deeply loathe the term “self-care.” Like most helpful terminology, I feel like white people discovered it, columbused it, and then ruined it.
But what does self-care even look like in a 2020 world? I’ve had a hard time getting out of bed and exercising is…….boring. I ran for two months. I ran in the pouring rain, I ran in the unbearably hot summer, I ran every day and you know what? It’s f*cking boring. Dating is a nightmare in your 30s (No wonder all my friends are married now) so no distraction there. I live in an apartment by myself in a city where 50% of people I can name, I kind of hate and the other 50% have very full lives and are too busy. Self-care lately has been buying nice bourbon to drink while I write and then dancing to Youtube tutorials (or sometimes just playing the tutorials and doing my own thing).
I feel like I’m functioning above capacity. I need a break. A real one. But I’m poor and I keep accepting day jobs that pay 40k when I’m 100k in debt and keep fighting with micromanaging supervisors and to keep choosing between playwriting and making spreadsheets….FOR WHAT.
Well, for rent, that’s what for what.
The freelance life is frankly terrifying. What in the f*ck am I going to do in January? And will I ever get a real break? Is this just what my life looks like now? I worked 4 13-hour days last week. I’m tired.
As artists, when do we ever get a chance to take a break and recalibrate? I’m burned out. I’m been burned out since before the pandemic.
Is this how it goes? Should I just accept that there are no breaks? No plans? No time to take a breath? Should I just write another play? Do I just keep pushing forward? What happens when “burned out” turns into “full breakdown”? Do I just ignore it and produce more work anyway? Will theatre make it or am I writing for a virtual space now? I feel overwhelmed. And yes I’m incredibly grateful I’m still able to work but…
What happens next?
*I think it’s really problematic how we use the word crazy but as someone who is always trying to reclaim and redefine what it means to be “mentally ill” it’s nice to use the word for fun. So, clinically, I am crazy. I have bipolar type 1. And as far as I’m concerned, unless you’re willing to drop your diagnosis like I do, f*ck off and don’t use “crazy” anymore.
**One of the seven is a 10 min play.