Perseverance . . .
A couple of times this year and last year I was told by important people–my thesis advisor at Rice and the career advisor at York–that I am determined, driven, and organized about pursuing my dreams to be a playwright. Notably so. It was great to hear, but in my head I thought, “Me? Really? Out of all the over-achievers you see day in and day out at these institutions?” Even when I scored high on the grit test in my summer mentorship internship junior year, I thought, “Yeah, but that just must be a fluke. I was only thinking about playwriting when I answered the questions . . .”
Yes you stupid perfectionist that means you are worth betting on, especially as a playwright. It means that though the odds are against you to succeed in this game of the “dying” theatre arts, you have the drive to keep battling. It may seem unimpressive to you because you are living it, but it’s true. If your housemate noticed it within your first short conversation, then this personality trait must be more obvious to the rest of the world than it is to you.
Recent events in my career and personal life have made this more evident to me. It’s funny how that happens. I try to separate the two, but especially in the theatre, all these threads of my life continue to twist and tangle together. It’s a beautiful, cruel thing. And that’s what my perseverance is, too: a double-edged sword. Most of the time it’s helpful. It’s what allows me to read articles about playwrights receiving thousands and thousands of rejections and still open my notebook or a new play script in Celtx instead of burying my head in my pillow and picking a new dream. Over the past month, while doing a lot of growing up, it was just painful.
First, in the days before my trip to the 2014 Encuentro in Montreal my main summer collaboration project unraveled. After our last big meeting, inspiration finally struck and I spent the following Tuesday morning churning out scenes and new material to bring back to the group. But by Thursday I could only watch helplessly as members dropped off the projects like flies, barely waiting for the entire group to receive the first Facebook post to add their own exits. Caught up with packing and an out-of-town guest, I could not meet in person to staunch the flood, to rally the remaining troops and contain the damage. Worst of all, when I texted one of the most enthused and excited members of the group, I could tell he had given up hope. All the energy, the rush of ideas, the constant push forward that he embodied throughout the initial stages were gone. It only took a few text messages and Facebook posts.
I understand why he lost hope, why all of them did, but it felt so hypocritical. We had said from the beginning that in Toronto, a city filled with young theatre artists and new theatre collectives and companies forming and failing all the time, it would take a special commitment to keep our precarious, new group moving forward. And then at the first sign of lost momentum, the strongest members of our collective gave up. I was left sitting there, wanting to fight for those scenes I’d written and the galvanizing talk that had fired up all of us just weeks before, but I knew that alone I couldn’t rekindle anything. That’s also what collaborating means.
And then a friend gave up on our relationship. I usually don’t talk about my personal life on this blog but in this case, it fits the theme. It was the same sort of let down only stretched out over a much longer period of time, which meant it hurt even more when the collaboration turned into a solo mission, then disintegrated into nothing. I spent time in undergraduate repairing this friendship after some un-reciprocated feelings on my part put it in jeopardy. Though it hurt, I made sure we could work together without anyone knowing the difference. Somehow this seemed to create a stronger friendship. After graduation, we stayed in regular contact and I thought that maybe it was all worth saving, worth putting all the effort into being friends than risking it for romance. It helped me feel connected and supported in this new city and country. When the old apartment flooded or graduate school courses were stressing me out, another letter would come in the mail and I knew I could escape to thinking about the little joys in life.
But in a matter of minutes, it all fell apart. Words were said by him that could not be revoked. In one instant all the old hopes of something more were brought into reality, and in the next dashed to pieces so that I wasn’t allowed to ever imagine that door opening. These things happen. They happen to people every day. I thought I’d been through this already and having the same wounds ripped open and doused with more acid feels horrible and unfair. But the worst part is not the broken heart. It’s realizing that a great friend is too scared, too embarrassed, too guilty, too something to fight for any future contact with me. The friend that seemed to persevere across the rocky, emotional past and the vast geographic distance of the present can so easily give up on me.
I’d never thought of myself as the brave one, the one more willing to take risks in any group. I’ve always been the kid hiding behind the couch because Ghostbusters is too scary, but I guess that little girl used the fear as she grew up to make sure she wouldn’t spend her life cowering. So now she devours Alfred Hitchcock flicks, writes her own monster/ghost stories, and giggles when her versions turn out even scarier than before.
It’s all for the best. In spite of it all, I’m still a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, when it needs to happen. I don’t want to work on projects where I’m the only one fighting the odds to keep the group together and creating. I have too many other ideas and projects to pursue. I especially don’t want to invest myself in friendships, much less romances, with anyone unwilling to fight and contribute to the future of our relationship. To fight with and for me. But learning these lessons, as necessary as they may be, it stinks. They said the real world started when I graduated Rice University last May. I say it starts again anew every day, or at least that’s what it continues to feel like.
Thanks for letting me be a little self-indulgent this week. I am hoping that this pep talk doesn’t just apply to me but that it’s a useful reminder to many. It can be hard to see the blinders we are wearing when we look at the world. In the rush to move forward, we miss the signs of progress that show how well we are doing, how tough and strong we are getting.
. . . now that’s a scrappy trait worth treasuring.