Exactly a year ago today, I wrote Dancing On Our Own about it finally hitting me that the pandemic was 100% real and going to change absolutely everything. And it did. Depending on how you count it, up to four canceled productions. Had to leave my job. And move yet again across the country for a new one. We all know there was great loss.
But, and I know for a lot of people this isn’t true, my career kind of took off the in the pandemic. Around late 2019, I was starting to feel like my career had hit a plateau. Then, with the promise of productions in 2020, I thought “oh this will be the turning point.” But then those got canceled.
But then…I got three new commissions. I joined a writer’s collective. I started a theatre company. My plays felt like they were everywhere. I went from feeling like I was DOA to having to put a calendar on my wall made up of a paper bags just to keep track of everything.
If I only look at my career, last year was actually a really good year. Which feels weird to say because last year, personally, was a f*cking horrible year.
I don’t like to deep dive into my personal life for a lot of reasons but the most fun way to say it is because I’m a Cancer sun/Aquarius moon. But I think the idea that we have a work life and a personal life and that they’re separate is bullshit. Because I cannot just leave my “personal life” at the door when I enter in my work life. If my family member dies, they’re still dead when I go to work. That doesn’t just go away because I have “work” to do and taking a week off for personal time is not enough to make me forget. Nor should I be expected to.
To be honest, I find theatre people particularly bad at this. We like to pretend like these very curated version of ourselves, our “professional” self is the only self that matters but holy shit would it have been helpful to know that my heroes who were rising in their careers had actual real awful shit they were working through. And somehow trying to find out how to still show up for work anyway when all you want to do is cry on the couch.
So…my personal life this last year has been a shit show. In January, I left my husband of nine years to move to Madison. The plan was to spend six months apart and then in June decide what would work for us. I was supposed to fly to Arkansas in March as a halfway point before June. And then literally a week before my flight, the world shut down. The pandemic rolled around and we pushed it back because it felt like there was just so much to figure out and that it’s not like we didn’t still love each other. I went to see him over Thanksgiving and things seemed…good. Like the plan was that I’d eventually come back.
But I needed a job and Arkansas didn’t have one for me (I looked) and I wasn’t sure plawriting income alone would cover my bills so I took a job in Alfred, NY meaning I’d be gone again, for another year.
The same day I got some really amazing playwriting news earlier this month (can’t share yet), he texted that he wanted a divorce.
It was a long time coming but that didn’t make it hurt any less. From here on out, on every single piece of legal paper, I’ll have to put “divorced.” And I’ve tried to talk to friends (who are still married and/or partnered) about it and they’ve said “That’s what happens. People get together in their 20s and then divorced in the 30s. It’s normal.”
Not for me. My parents are divorced. My grandparents are divorced. I really wanted to break that cycle and I gave everything I had to make it so that I wouldn’t…be here. And then to hear “it’s normal” or “what are you upset about? This is a good thing right?” from the people who should be my closest friends….
And then mix of all those heavy feelings with I haven’t had any time off to process this. I’ve been working nonstop since January and while February tried to kill me, March hasn’t been much better. I have been turning work down in April just to have a moment to catch my breath.
Because moving to a completely new city where I have no real support system + getting divorced + being worried about my parents + trying to get on a TV show + working on readings and workshops and directing + teaching four 4-credit classes + planning what the f*ck my future will look like = TOO F*CKING MUCH.
During an interview, they asked me a very simple question “Where are you based?” And I broke down, crying. Because with this divorce, I no longer have a home base. I’m not based anywhere. I’m just kind of floating and hoping I land somewhere okay. And in that moment, I couldn’t put on a brave face. Because again, I carry my “personal” life with me every I go because it’s just my life. It’s what makes me human.
I’ve had zero time to deal with any of this. And I feel like I’m just supposed to be “happy” that I’m still working and that I should be “humble” about my career taking off like somehow there’s an off button to my personal life that’s exploding.
I’m sharing all of this to say I’m worried with the vaccine and theatre gearing up to “return to normal,” we’re going to make the same mistake. Jumping right back in without taking a moment to address the very real TRAUMA we’ve experienced this last year is a mistake. And one we’ll pay for dearly.
I’m glad things are taking a turn and more people are getting vaccinated. I’m glad it looks like we’ll be ready to go back to live theatre this summer and all of that is fantastic.
But when are we going to deal with the collective trauma we’ve faced? Never? Do we just go right back to “the show must go on” regardless of anything else?
If the answer is yes, I’m not sure I want to be a part of that.
I, for one, need some time to grieve while I’m not still in it. And frankly, I’m excited to know that once I’ve taken the time to grieve, once I’ve accepted that maybe I can’t write right now is because I’m fucking broken and it’s okay to take some time to heal, once I’m able to actually catch my breath, if I can make it through this…
The plays that are coming after I’m healed, after I’ve taken the time to find balance, are going to be my best yet. Because I’m giving myself permission to be my fully realized self and not just my “professional” or “best” self.