Saturday, December 26, 2015

Is Mad Max Feminist?

I realized it's been a while since I wrote any pop culture posts so I think I'm well over-due on my meanderings in film and book reviewing. So I'll lead myself back into this with an area I could discuss for the rest of my life: Hollywood and feminism.

After all the hype it got this summer, I finally watched Mad Max: Fury Road over Christmas. Online, everyone seemed to be celebrating how important it was to have an action film that primarily focused on women (especially as the film made heaps of money and did well across the traditional action film audience, proving that, yes, you can put women in important roles in films and men will still watch them) and that it dealt with feminist subject matter. So I gleefully approached this film, hoping it would fill my little feminist heart with hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow for Hollywood.

Except that it didn't really. I was utterly underwhelmed and not very impressed. There was very little dialogue throughout the film and (as a writer) I was pretty disappointed by this. Limited backstory is not always a drawback but for a film that throws you into a bizarre, apocalyptic world, I wanted more than I got. When special effects take up more time than storytelling, I am also disappointed and Mad Max certainly did this.

At the end of the film, I wondered: Was it feminist? It wasn't not feminist - it certainly spoke out against degrading women and treating them as objects, but it never put men in a very strong place of supporting women. Max and Nux certainly aid Furiosa and the "wives" but more for their own survival than because they see the women as equals (although they seem to come around by the end). The women other than Furiosa didn't seem to have names (if they do, I never caught them) and they have little in the way of individual identities - but it is the apocalypse. It's not like we're learning great details about anyone here. Still, I struggled to identify them by anything more than physical characteristics and thought this was pretty lack-luster if we're going for feminist action film. If you're going to star women, then give us women, not facades.

What leads to the great escape road trip is Furiosa's aiding these women - the "wives" as I've decided to call them since breeders (the name given to them in their society) makes me break out in hives - to escape the fate of forever bearing sons to the war-mongering Immortan Joe, tyrant and creepy misogynist. "We are not things" they say and paint on the walls of their escaped prison. But does the film ever really give them the opportunity to act as more than things? The one "wife" who begins this rebellion (and here there be major spoilers) is killed while the others struggle to continue on without her and most hover in the background while Furiosa, Max, and Nux retaliate. So much of this film is focused on car wrecks and disastrous crashes, amping up the exact violent environment the war-mongers we're meant to be pitted against thrive on, which sends a bit of a mixed message. These guys want to die violently and go to Valhalla - which is exactly what they get at the hands of Max and Furiosa, while the mothers' society women who join them seem to be there only in order to die. The "wives" do want their freedom, but they seem to hover more in the background like damsels in distress than empowered people. Yes, I know they've been imprisoned for their whole lives, but that doesn't mean they aren't motivated to do something. Maybe it's their clothing - the flowing rather scanty white attire that makes them look so damsel-like. I can't help but think that their attire is entirely meant for the male gaze and less of a representation of what they are leaving behind (especially with the first look we get at them from Max's point of view, rinsing off in their revealing white like some kind of male fantasy. Maybe the fantasy as this moment for Max is the rare and treasured water, but that is not what the camera shows us). This immediately puts them on a different ground than Furiosa, who from the moment we see her is a tough tour-de-force, a rig-driving disabled badass who is not afraid to commit treason to help those in need. But even Furiosa is a bit disappointing - there's so much more that could have been given to her as a character and she's played by Charlize Theron, who's an incredible actor, but isn't given much beyond her shooting and driving abilities - and while there clearly is something more there in terms of her past, we're not granted that in this film and apparently have to wait to find out in a sequel. This film did make a killing in the box office, but if this is the best we can do in terms of feminist action films, we still have a long way to go.

Of course, this is all my opinion. The issue in critique films is that they can be read in so many different ways - there's how the director wants you to see it, the studio, the actors, the screenwriter, and then the audience themselves. I didn't see it as all that feminist - maybe because I was expecting so much more after the hype. Fighting back against men who are violent and warring isn't all that interesting to me - it's been done before. Let's do something new. However, it does get men to watch mainstream movies that teach feminist concepts. And maybe that's a bigger deal than I allow it to be (I think back to the ads for the new Fast and Furious film and how women are only allowed bikini-clad torso shots that surmise that they are pretty objects to be ogled and fondled, not allowed part of the action. In that respect, Mad Max does blow them out of the water).

Still, I can't help but compare it to Sucker Punch, a film that didn't gross as much but I think does a better job of putting women in an action role. The issue is this film can be read as sexist - the way the women are sexualized throughout the film, how seduction and assault become part of the narrative. However, I think this is actually really feminist and, like Mad Max, can trick men into watching a feminist piece. Women are scantily clad, but they choose their outfits in this fantasy-escapism where they fight their own tormentors in their mind and in actuality. Emily Browning leads the brigade but each character is allowed a fully-formed fleshed-out role - and when you lose one of them, you lose a full character. It questions the male gaze throughout by showing these women dressed somewhat provocatively while they fight against men who see them that way - the men who imprison them and torment them. It's almost a metaphor for women fighting to gain control in fantasy/sci-fi genre itself - how to we retain our own personal definitions of femininity without being seen as catering to men; how we strive to tell our stories while those claim men aren't interested because it's about women. It's directed and partially written by Zach Snyder, who did 300 (a pretty good film) and Watchman (a movie I will never see because everyone I know has told me it's awful). So it may not be the best made film or intentionally feminist. But the line, "You have all the weapons you need. Now fight" - speaks to me. It's all about finding strength within and that you as a woman are strong enough. And what's a more feminist message than that?

I think what really disappoints me about Mad Max is just that I gave into the hype and expected more than I got. And that I wanted so much more from the script - I thrive on dialogue and there wasn't much to be had in this film. For me, it doesn't say enough - or maybe it doesn't say it in the right ways for me.

Regardless, I hope to see more films like Mad Max and Sucker Punch, because it's about damn time that people realize women can hold their own - both in film and in real life. Directors like Quentin Tarantino (a favorite of mine, though not free from my critique) has said Mad Max was the best film he saw in 2015. Which coming from the creator of Kill Bill is an awesome compliment. However, (and this is getting back to my parenthetical comment about Tarantino not being free from my relentless critique), while I really want to champion him as someone who can write really powerful women, I'm not convinced that his characters are free from misogyny either (I'm thinking of this review from the New York Times I recently read about The Hateful Eight and now I'm really going to have to see it and see if I agree with the review or not). But are any of us entirely free of sexist comments or thoughts? I'm not perfect - I certainly have slipped up in the past and probably continue to do so. How am I failing in how I see my own world? And down this path lies the realm of cultural studies crisis where nothing can be truly feminist and we're all doomed. So I'm going to stop that before I begin because that took up way too much of my college career.

Ahh, this is why I stopped writing about pop culture. Because it's impossible to resolve anything. It feels good to be back.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Asking Why

Note: So this draft has been sitting in my "to post" pile for a bit and is a little behind where I'm at. So I'm getting it posted now before I get any further behind and try to use the next post to catch up. Enjoy.

For the most part, I'm not a mystical person. Horoscopes tarot, dream interpretation are all fascinating and use bits of pop psychology to seem relevant to our lives and personalities, but aren't logical or legitimate. However, things have been weird and illogical as of late, especially in the realm of my dreams. Yes, yes, I know other people's dreams are boring, though I've never found them so (who said that? Was it Oscar Wilde? It seems like a sort of Oscar Wilde thing to say), but just bear with me here. I dreamt that a friend of mine was angry with me only to have the feeling that dream gave me actually occur during a conversation with them. I had this sort of half-awake dream that a former coworker of mine was engaged and found out that she recently had become so. And for some reason, I'm being asked again and again why I do what I do (in dreams and in my waking hours). Overall, my dreams have been making me question myself which has made the last few weeks rather interesting.

This isn't a post on mysticism or dreams or anything of that nature - I can't explain that and who knows if it's just coincidence or something more. What I'm intrigued by is the sudden onslaught of the question "why" and how fundamentally important it is in what I'm doing right now.
I've always been the person who was too curious for their own good - badgering my parents with questions, talking to professors - well, professors who made me ask "why" - during their office hours, over-analyzing everything and wondering what makes us do things certain. But when it comes to my writing, I haven't always asked myself "why" in the same terms. I know why I do dramaturgy - because I love collaboration and theater and research and history and, to steal a line from "Hamilton" I want to be in the room where it happens - the rehearsal room, in this case. Writing, however, I've been doing a lot longer. Since I was eight or nine. The first thing I remember writing was a retelling of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," in a sort of fan-fiction thing. Writing is something I just started doing because, to use my child logic, I had a lot of words in my head and I needed to do something with them. I started asking, "What if?" with stories and ran with it. It was something I enjoyed and a way to do make-believe on paper and find a way to entertain myself being an only child in a neighborhood of older adults with no young children.

I'm far different person than I was all of those years ago. But writing has remained. It's taken on a whole new meaning for me, one I haven't given much thought in recent years. I write because I write, simple as that. Except it's not.

For those of you just tuning in, I've gone through a huge change since last July. Along with the hurdles of other baggage I was going through, I found myself not wanting to write, not caring about writing, and, well, not caring about a lot of stuff in general. For the first time in really clear, powerful terms, I faced the belief that I was a crappy writer head on. Not from an outside critic, but from myself. This wasn't a new issue - all creators of any kind struggle with ideas that they aren't good enough or wasting their time or bad at what they do. But this was the first time, in regards to writing, that I no longer wanted to do it. I couldn't find a way to express what I was going through, to care about the characters I created. I believed that all my stories and all my characters were dry, boring clones of each other and that I was incapable of writing anything new or interesting or original. (There are certain trends - I tend to have an emotional-repressed females who think they're awkward struggling through something and care strongly about feminism. And often there's an otherworldly element). Worst of all, I felt that those around me didn't see me as a writer but as a silly person with lots of ideas but no where to take them that no one cared to read if I did ever get them down, likely in a sloppy, ill-formed way. For the first time, I wondered what it would be like if I stopped writing. Everything sounded so blasé and bland and boring and I believed that I couldn't write diversity and I couldn't write about anything interesting because a writer can only write what they know and I don't know anything and haven't done anything with my life.

This is a huge steaming pile of shitty lies, though it never sounds like it when I hear it from myself (as Andrew Solomon says, "The truth lies"). I wouldn't have blogged for so long and have people who read this blog if I was an utterly terrible writer. While there are certain trends in my writing that stay the same, my female characters are likely not all the same. And while things get all muddled when you're stuck with them in your head, that doesn't mean that my ideas are boring or uninteresting or not different.

So I've been working through that on my own, while also finally showing my writing to people in a playwriting class, a medium of writing I (sadly) hadn't much explored since high school. This boosted my creativity and got me writing again. And then, just a few weeks ago, I ran into a former coworker of mine on the light rail. I was talking about my writing (I think I'd mentioned my playwriting class) and she asked why I wrote. I was stumped for a moment - why did I write? Wasn't this the very question I'd been struggling with earlier? My coworker was wondering what the point was - if we're all going to die, why do we strive so hard to create something in the hopes that it might outlive us? Doesn't it all feel a bit pointless?

Yes, it does at times. I wonder about that often. But I took Emily Dickinson's quote, "If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain" very much to heart very young. I haven't succeeded in sparing broken hearts, I fear (especially my own) but I write in the hopes that if one person reads and learns something from my writing, or sees the world in a different way, then I've succeeded. Ideas pop into my head and I feel compelled to write about them because I think they're interesting or important or they just won't leave me alone until I've penned them down. I mainly hope to give voice to something different, to strive for diversity and work through issues, to better understand the world.

I also write to fight against problems I see in the world. Lin Manuel Miranda said this in a recent interview and, because he said it more brilliantly than I ever could, I'm going to quote him:
What I can tell you is that works of art are the only silver bullet we have against racism and sexism and hatred… Art engenders empathy in a way that politics doesn’t, and in a way that nothing else really does. Art creates change in people’s hearts. But it happens slowly. (x)
On top of that, writing is a bit like breathing for me - I don't really know how to not do it and live. There is a vaguely destructive and all-consuming edge to this, as writing is not breathing, but as long as I'm doing a little each week, things are generally okay.

Along with all of this pondering, during coffee with an actor/artistic director I'll be collaborating with next year, the importance of why was brought up again, this time in regards to Simon Sinek's book and TED talk about starting with why:

I might have posted this video. I know for a fact that I've seen it before - half-way through watching it, I realized I'd seen it during my ill-fated time at Globe University, thinking I wanted to become a paralegal in my post-undergrad soul-searching. Now that this video has come back to me in a completely different framework from a completely different person at a completely different time in my life, its ideas are even more important and I have a completely different reason to be asking why.

The actor I spoke with said to try and summarize why you do what you do in a short phrase or two words if possible. I've been thinking about this while waiting for phone traffic to pick up in the box office and realized what it is that I've been trying to do for so long. I'm interested in other people's stories, in hearing what they have to say, as well as finding a way to convey my own stories. In short, I want to give voice - especially to stories that don't always get told. I've been a fan of Studs Terkel since I was a college sophomore and when I heard about his gathering of stories for the book Working, I was mesmerized. I wanted to find my own way of doing that and I think I've finally found a way to make that happen.

Asking why is such an important question, beyond even what Simek describes in his video. As an artist, I have to ask myself why because people are always going to ask me. But I'm also going to ask myself. In the dismal days of last summer when I was wondering why I bothered doing anything, it would have made things easier if I had better ammunition to support myself with. When you doubt your own authenticity, it's important to have a strong foundation to pull from and prepares you for criticism from others. And, while I constantly search for acceptance and approval from others, I'm not often going to get that. More often than not, I have to provide it for myself, and give others a reason to care about why I do what I do. And it's time that I give myself what I need to make my why happen.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

On Being a Novice Dramaturg

If someone were to ask me, "Hey, so you dramaturg. How do you become one of those?" I would laugh hysterically and apologize for being the worst person in the world to tell anyone that.

It's true that I'm a dramaturg. If you've never head the term before, let me explain what it involves. It's often attached to literary departments in theaters and to playwriting, and involves researching historical and cultural contexts of shows, providing information on past productions, finding and writing scholarly and journalistic criticism, as well as providing writing aid and structural advice in the creation of new plays. As a professor of mine once described it, it's like being a midwife - you don't have the baby and you're not the doctor, but you're there to help the whole birthing process along. In terms of that comparison, I'm like a nursing student who just started her residency program. I've worked on couple of shows and proudly use the word to describe my career path (or at least career attempts) since others started using it rather than deferring to my box office "day job". But I don't kid myself and establish that there is a distinct difference between dramaturgs who a more professional career in the field and my endeavors. Let me break it down for you:

1) Experience: When people around you say, "Yeah, I've worked on over 300 shows," you can't help but feel really green. I'm new to the field. I know that. The bio I wrote up to be printed in the program of the show I just worked on might be the shortest bio I've ever seen in any theater program ever. So when people treat me like an expert in the field, I appreciate the respect, but I worry that they'll discover just how new I am. Likewise, being continually treated like I have no idea what is going on is equally worrying - because it makes me wonder at what level I have to reach to be considered a pro. Shouldn't it be the caliber of my work that can help make up for lesser experience? But I understand I have a long way to go.

2) Training: All dramaturgs I've spoken with have MAs or MFAs. Two did particular training in dramaturgy. While I now have plans to pursue further education, I've decided to go in a slightly different direction. After looking at dramaturgy programs, I feel pretty comfortable with my research skills, my ability to write critically about theater and plays and discussing them in our current cultural moment, and to work with scripts that need special attention (such as the works of Shakespeare). A great deal of this falls into the fields of my undergraduate work. What I'm not as comfortable with is my ability to provide help to new plays in terms of writing advice and play structure. At the same time, I'm looking to improve and my explore my own playwriting abilities and start calling myself a writer, damn it, instead of always adding it as an afterthought. So I've decided to start looking into MFA programs for playwriting. And the best part about MFA programs? Most of them don't require you to take the GRE. Which is seriously why I've avoided looking into grad school until now.

3) Reimbursement: Of course, one of the clearest divide when I talk about my work to others is the fact that I continue to work as an intern or on a volunteer basis. During my playwriting class, I described this to one of my classmates and he was aghast that anyone would work for free. I explained to him how this is kind of the norm in the fine arts world, especially in dramaturgy. After being told of grad students and those with masters degrees still working for free until they can get to whatever magical job or experience level grants them monetary reimbursement for their work, I'm not terribly surprised that I have (and likely will, for the foreseeable future) be working without pay (though I along with it rather grudgingly most of the time). I'm getting people interested and managed to get work - and that's a far more difficult hurdle. What's far more frustrating is seeing the reaction of, "What do you mean, you work for free?" and that this is so far off the radar for many people while it's been a reality in my life since I first started applying for internships in college.

4) Dramaturgy in practice: I admit that I have not exactly take the most orthodox approach in my pursuit of this field. I don't have much of a performance background in theater, I haven't done much scholarly writing in the field, I haven't worked directly in writing aspect of a new play, and I haven't done much public writing about plays as of yet. What I have done is a lot of visuals - putting together a book of photos for the cast creative team on a show, posting quotes and photos for another show for the same audience, and creating display boards for audiences to look at. I'm really interested in audience engagement and, as this is something that theaters are beginning to look at and find more important, is something that can really help me along. But it's not always the first thing that comes to mind when dramaturgs are asked aboard for a show. So I've got my own personal interests - how to better engage audiences with show, how to give them more background about productions and scripts and historical context - to contend with when approaching opportunities. And a lot of this falls on me to say, "Yes, I'll do this AND I'm also interested in doing this, if you'd like." Thankfully, my box office and front of house experiences helps me out a lot in these respect.

Clearly, I have a lot to learn. But here's what I do have: a lot of compassion - for people, for theaters, for subject matter plays deal with; a whole lot of curiosity - I'm one of those people who look up one article on Wikipedia and spend two hours jumping from topic to topic; and a knack for research - I've been fortunate enough to have a liberal arts background that's begun to help me out in the long run. I also have the privilege of having family and friends that supports me and the fortuity to be around the right people and in the right places at the right time. Also, I'm used to listening rather than talking - I love hearing people talk about what they are passionate about and what they care about. Which is very helpful - dramaturgs do a lot of listening and a lot less speaking during the whole rehearsal process. Though we aren't recognized for our work the way that actors and directors are, there is a certain reward in knowing someone has learned from you and that you've helped a production in a unique way, filled a certain void that others may not have even known was there. And for me, that's accomplishment enough.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Into the Unknown

If someone had told me last November that the next twelve months would be the most incredibly changing months of my life thus far, I probably wouldn't have believe them (and then been worried for the next twelve months at what exactly they meant). But they have been profoundly life-changing. Where I'm at right now is an entirely different place from where I was just a year ago.

Let me catch you up a bit. Since just September alone, I've gotten a new box office job (back at one of my favorite theaters in town, the Guthrie), landed a dramaturgy gig with a show that opens this Friday, gotten two leads on further dramaturgy work, seen a hell of a lot of theater, read some plays, took a playwriting class, started writing a couple of new plays, and began looking at MFA programs. I've been doing nothing but theater and I've never been happier.

Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been a walk in the park. I've had the usual experiences - perpetual fatigue, no social life, a diet based mostly on carbs and protein-based substances (lots of eggs and lots of pizza) that when expressed is generally preaching to the choir. And then there's the idiosyncrasies of any production - the show I dramaturged was a big learning experience and an insight into the complexities of the production process. And then there's the crippling self-doubt - also unfortunately commonplace - in which I wonder why the hell am I doing this. During tech, it's not unusual for actors to proclaim that they hate theater. It's a little hard to not go through it all and not have a small bit of hatred for what you love. As messed up as that might sound to you, trust me that you learn to deal with it and it often makes the successes all the more important.

What I'm struggling with on some level is where I am, where I'm going, and how I got here. In my head, I'm still that kid who grew up in the suburbs and is trying to get a grasp on what I'm doing with my life while in actuality I'm pretty urbanized by now, know what I want to do, and am more or less doing it. It just keeps boggling my mind, as one of my good friends from high school who did theater for all four of our years there and studied and performed in Chicago and New York is now a flight attendant for Delta, while I've pulled a 180 and jumped into the theater community through an open window. We're both happy but it just goes to show that, as John Lennon so eloquently put it, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."

Why am I saying all of this? Because I've changed - and this blog is changing along with me. Never fear, I still plan on being the same nerdy, fandom-focused person I've always been. But there's going to be a lot more theater posting, I figure. I'm trying to get a grasp on how I want to discuss theater beyond my work and this is likely the testing grounds for it all. So bear with me - this, as it always has been, is a work in process.

Let's go.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


And now for something completely different... (sort of).

A thought struck me today while watching Doctor Who, as tends to happen when watching that show. It was "The Snowmen" episode when Clara is introduced (re-introduced, I suppose, but not as a Dalek but a Victorian barmaid/governess). When asked by Madame Vastra to describe in one word why she followed the Doctor, Clara replied, "Curiosity." And I don't know why but at that moment I had a grand epiphany.

Just recently, in one of the many job interviews I had, I described myself as having a lot of curiosity. It's true. Being an only child, I had find ways to entertain myself and developing a broad sense of curiosity was necessary. It's led me to pursue writing, dramaturgy, and personal hobbies, as well as collecting a lot of information that will never be useful but sure is fun to know.

My epiphany, of sorts, was this: curiosity, while a great driving force in my personality and artistic work, also has a dark side. For as much as it leads me to discover and do great things, it also leads me to ill.

I'm fascinated by people. I always want to know more about them, to know what they think and how they see the world. It's largely why writing is so compelling to me - I love nothing more than creating and interacting with characters. However, there's a line at which too much curiosity turns into worry - and anxiety. I began to yearn for knowledge I don't have - but worry about what would happen if I did know it. I want to go out and explore more of the world - but I fear what it will reveal to me. I begin to fill in the gaps of what I don't know - about people (especially people I care about deeply), about places, about the world - with stories and hypothesis and ideas. Sometimes they're proven right. Sometimes they're proven wrong. Sometimes they begin to blur and I can't quite tell where the fact and the fiction begins. And it's a little bit scary. And so the anxiety begins to roll in. 

This isn't Anxiety with a big A like I've talked about previously (though there's a link, I'm sure) but human anxiety, things we all fear. We're alarmed about the fact that we can never completely know a person, even those we love. We're all worried about learning something about a person that shatters our view of them. We're scared that our world view will fall apart when we see something we don't like or didn't expect. We don't like it when our own interest and passion in things leads us to something we don't like to know or that challenges what we do know.

The thing is, this happens. And it will happen again. And again. Our perceptions of the world will be tested, broken, reformed, and blended. And while it can be scary, it can also be grand and brilliant and beautiful. I've been going through some of my old writing, trying to see if anything can be salvaged from it to be rewritten or made into something new, and seeing how much my view of the world has changed in just a few years is incredible. I always strove to be a deep, understanding, insightful person in high school, but I think this sort of backfired and made me melancholy and a bit pretentious. But when I stopped focusing on becoming this way and reached out to people and let them reach out to me, sought out new experiences and let impulsive actions sweep me away from time to time, I became a lot more understanding and knowledgeable than when I was trying so hard to be.

The tricky thing is learning to accept all the beautiful and difficult and ugly and mind-blowing things curiosity reveals to us. There are things I wish I didn't know about people and things I wish to know that I will never learn, just as I have revealed to much of myself to others and not enough to some. Or have revealed the wrong parts and hidden away the right. Simply put, being human is hard, and because we aren't as lucky as all of those telepathic Doctor Who races who can express exactly what they're thinking and feeling through thoughts, communicating is often difficult.
Thankfully, we have art and science. I completely believe that art helps us say what we could not otherwise and science helps us discover and understand concepts that we would otherwise wonder about for eternity. Both of these areas are spurred by curiosity and, in curiosity, there is hope. I grew up hearing the idea that "curiosity killed the cat," as a warning about being misled by our own passion and interest. Which is fair - curiosity can be dangerous. But it can also be the one thing that keeps us going and keeps us trying new things. Too often we forget the whole saying: "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back." Because even when curiosity can lead us into danger, it can give us new insight, new knowledge, new understanding. While it can also scare us and worry us, it can also heal and inspire us.

And so, I'm a creature of curiosity, meaning I'll go wherever the winds take me and create a thousand endings and beginnings. I'll always be looking for something knew to learn - about the world, about myself, and about everyone in it. I may not always like what I learn, but I'll take it all in, knowing there's always something new around the corner. And, to put it all in one word: Geronimo.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Monster Under the Bed

I've decided to write a follow-up to my last blog post, not because I want to really, but because I need to, as I keep coming in and out of one of the worst mental health spells that I've had.. well, probably ever. There's a reason for this. I just lost my job (for complicated reasons I won't discuss here). I found out my best friend has been in the hospital since June 9th with a very rare health condition and she can't have visitors. I was supposed to be adopting a cat but things seem to have fallen through. I have a lot of spare time to think about what's happened in the last few months and frame it terms of only messing up, and I have even more time to convince myself that I've come nowhere in the last year. I have a lot of issues from years past I've shoved aside but haven't yet worked through and it's all put me into a deep, dark well of depression. With my anxiety accompanying it, it's like having a pair of nasty, revolting monsters sulking through my mind.

Of course, many of my feelings about myself are an outright lie. Anxiety and depression love to lie to you. They like to make untruths and impossibilities seem like perfectly reasonable things and all the while convince you that this is the way things are, that you're just awful and wrong and messed up. It's been described elsewhere as constantly fighting a battle against a foe who's entire strategy is to convince you that there is no war going on at all. It's a battle I've unknowingly been fighting my entire life and I'm only now beginning to see. It does, however, help to explain my great fascination for stories that describe fighting some great dark force, be it magical or entirely too human, that have great psychological effects (Harry Potter, LOTR, Wheel of Time, The Hunger Games, etc), as well as stories that contain a lot of internal conflict in their characters (Jane Eyre is the first to come to mind and finally I can begin to better understand my mad obsession with that novel).

I'm struggling now to keep moving forward. In the last few weeks, I've managed to find plenty of things to keep my busy - job searching and interviews, watching movies, reading, writing, and attending the Minnesota Fringe Festival as well as other theater grousp and seeing as many theater shows as possible. But Fringe ended over and things slowed down down. And I felt that darkness roll back in like the tide. Not that it ever was gone - I just managed to keep it at bay, at least until the last day of Fringe when I missed most of the day because I was feeling so down. I spent large parts of the day crying for reasons mostly unknown. Little things would set me off - seeing a post online about Chris Evans and his anxiety, seeing a friend comment on something on Facebook and wonder why they so rarely comment on my posts, interpreting things (from people's comments to social media interactions) in such negative ways I had no clear idea of what was actually going on, hearing a song and bursting into tears because it's so hopeful and I feeling like I've got nothing. Even when I did have better days, I could feel the sadness floating underneath, coming and going in waves, waiting for the tide to overtake me.

Overall, I'm exhausted - and largely because I've been trying to pretend things are okay and getting better. Right after I'd lost my job, the bulk of my anxiety disappeared and I thought, "Well, maybe it was largely work related." Wrong. It's just changed and made itself more subtle, like it was before. Just today I told my parents things were fine until I had a meltdown over dinner. Anxiety has now teamed up with its dark twin depression and reared its ugly head in a way I don't have much experience with.

I've struggled with depression since I was young and I knew it was issue but never thought it was something I'd have to actually clinically face. Even more than my anxiety I brushed it off, telling my therapist I just have "blue spells." I was wrong. It is as much an issue as anxiety, perhaps more so, because I don't know how to deal with it at all. Anxiety, in my experiences, talks to you and vocalizes in metal processes how awful you are. But depression is silent. It creeps up on you and is all the sudden there when you wake up in the morning or read something or drop something while making dinner. It's like a poison and you have no idea what antidote you need to neutralize it. Even when you think you're doing better it comes back and you relapse like someone trying to get over the flu. If anxiety is the elephant in the room, depression is the monster under the bed.

This comic from Hyperbole and a Half is one I've related to for years but here recently have related to even more so. Her depiction of depression and its affects are spot-on for me, especially in terms of talking about it. There's no easy way to tell someone you've had thoughts of self-harm - and this is a terrible time and place to admit it. But I have no idea how else to address it. I've never acted on them - I'm too scared, which is a mercy. When these thoughts appear, I get nauseous and terrified and I know immediately I need to do something to get out of these thoughts rather than let them overwhelm me. I don't know why or how it works - it just does. But the thoughts are still there and are no less disturbing.

I'm afraid of being a burden to people. I don't want to be that person who shows up and mopes around. I've gotten lucky - the last few times I've seen friends, it's been on good days. Yet I know I'm not always going to get that lucky. I'm worried that I'm beginning this trend of "oh, she's feeling down because she lost her job," which isn't it at all. Yes, losing my job sucked and yes, I've complained about it quite a bit. But it was just part of the trigger for a larger problem that's much more difficult to finagle. Even after having two successful interviews, the whole vicious cycle continued as I wait to hear the results.  I also struggle with the fact that most of the time I do pretend I'm fine. I can usually put on a smile even if I feel like I'm falling apart inside. In short, I internalize anything and most people are never the wiser.

I want to be more honest about how I feel, but we don't exactly live in a society that prizes honesty in our feelings. I'm trying to be more direct when people ask me how I'm doing rather than just saying "fine" or "good." But I worry this will cause people to avoid me because they think I'm doing poorly or need space or, my biggest fear, that they think they're responsible in some way. I want to be social but I'm worried that no one wants to hang out with me because of what I'm dealing with. I'm not even sure I'm any fun to be around right now. Even though I have a good handful of friends, I feel like it's often up to me to contact and make plans and, while I never used to mind, it's hard for me to feel empowered to do this right now. So I sit in my apartment mull over all the junk I mentioned previously. I need help but I don't know how to ask and I don't know what I need.

So I'm writing this damn post instead. The good news is that I think I'm through the worst of it and I never want to let myself get this bad again. However, I can also feel it lurking in the back of my mind, waiting for me to weaken again. The end of July was like my immune system getting weak and all of this finding an opportunity to break in. Realizing that I haven't been the same semi-confident person that I was last winter hurt even more and made things worse. But I remember how I was and how I felt and I want that back. These problems are all my own and I'm not going to stop fighting.
And I've found support in a place I wasn't expecting - a horror movie. I watched The Babadook a few weeks ago just when things were starting to get bad. I was impressed at the creepy, suspenseful elements and good plot. But most of all I found the allegory of the Babadook interesting. In the film, he's represented as character in a horrifying children's picture book come to life to torment a grieving woman and her son. However, in the end, it's less important that the Babadook is a physical monster and more that it represents grief, sorrow, and depression in life - and how trying to ignore these issues or letting them take over can have terrible consequences. "If it's in a word or in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook," is a line that from the scary book that is repeated and becomes integral to the story. You can't get rid of depression once you see it, you can only learn to live with it. It's the real monster that waits in the dark and the only thing you can do is face it and fight it and learn to understand it.

Knowing the monsters I've always feared are real - at least mentally - is kind of a relief. Now it's just learning how to deal with them - and how to fight.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

So it's after 1am in my part of the world, I can't sleep, and I'm very much grappling with something I've been trying to avoid dealing with a better part of my life. Though I've already taken steps to recognize and work through it, tonight I'm really beginning to sense how much this - well, sort of thing - has a grip over my life.
I'm not the only person in the world to have anxiety, but anxiety sure as hell doesn't let you easily recognize that. Throughout high school, when many people (including some of my friends at the time) began to realize they had it, I saw my own struggles and continually compared mine to theirs (which, of course, you really cannot do - pain and struggles are relative, not equatable - but of course I didn't know that) and decided that, no, I was just shy and awkward, I wasn't suffering from anything more than slight social anxiety that I would grow out of.

Fast forward to college, where answering questions in class in a lecture of over one hundred people terrified me, but I did it because I cared so much about what I was learning and I was finally beginning to believe that I had something interesting to say because people actually listened to me, which I found amazing for someone that had mostly been talked over previously. I chose to believe I was leaving my anxiety behind me, ignoring the days I dreaded presentations so much my stomach hurt, as well as the days I beat myself over mistakes I made with friends and people I cared about so much that I would cry for hours and spiral myself into a deluge of depression and apathy. My roommate at the time discovered she had anxiety as well and I figured I couldn't have it because I wasn't having panic attacks like hers. I skipped more lectures in my abnormal psychology class than any other class I took in college because I "already knew the material" - somewhat true but my excuse to avoid feeling what I thought was psychology student syndrome, but was likely the first stages of self-diagnosis.

Fast-forward to now. I have a job that has challenged and changed me. I am surrounded by people I love. And because of many things that have happened in the last few weeks and months, I have finally acknowledged I have anxiety. Sometimes I have panic attacks that cause me to lose my sense of rationality and cry and be unable to breath. Sometimes I make mistakes and beat myself up about it - the larger the mistake, the more I beat myself up about it. I jump to conclusions about what people think about me and the way they treat me - usually negative. I read into things people and often assume that they are thinking poorly of me/did something because of something I did/am generally a terrible friend and person. I worry about being self-pitying and yet refuse to acknowledge the real struggles I am having. I lose or gain appetite erratically, I have sleeping issues (like right now), I let my sensitive nature take over until I am nothing but a giant, sensitive ball of emotion that can be pushed too far by the slightest prod. I worry perpetually - about everything, everyone I care about. I fall into blue periods of depression where I can't actually believe that I have much value as a person. These moments are the most troubling, and they've become more common in the last few months. But this is where the good news comes in.

Luckily for myself and for everyone I know, I've started seeing a therapist. I realized what was going on and ultimately knew I couldn't continue like this. Life is too short to let fear and worry take over. But of course that's bringing in new concerns - will I be able to afford this in the long run, what if this doesn't work, my therapist is pregnant - what happens when she leaves and I have to switch to a new person, what if she doesn't actually listen to the details of what I'm saying and this isn't going to help? But it is helping - already she's given me great advice and I can feel a change, though it's small and slow in coming. It doesn't help that a great deal of my life in in continual upheaval and I am a class-A pro at making stupid mistakes. And also the struggle is that once I recognized I had anxiety, it gained a certain kind of power once I began to see just how clearly it's consumed my life.

I'm certain that every person who struggles with anxiety struggles with it in a different way, to a different degree. I know that mine is relatively minor. I can usually do social things without much trouble. I love being around people and they make me feel better about things (most of the time). I don't have long bouts of depression and there are some things I don't worry about. But my anxiety shifts and changes. Sometimes it's like a gnat, buzzing around your head, always there, but not always noticed. And sometimes - like tonight - it's the elephant in the room, a giant hulking beast waiting for you to make a wrong move so it can come in and trample you. And sometimes it's something much worse, something I don't know how to describe - something utterly monstrous that only wants to devour and destroy you. I don't like not being in control and the scariest parts of anxiety for me are those moments when I so clearly feel the lack of control I have over my own mind.

I know that I can't always have control in every situation - such is life - but I should be able to feel like I have a grasp on my own mind. Which is why I'm writing this post tonight. I told my therapist that I didn't feel the need to share my problems with the world, on Facebook or any other capacity, because I could just tell the people who needed to know and deal with it as I went along. But I've realized I'm wrong. I do want to tell people because I don't have anything to hide and because if one person reads this post and realizes something about themselves, then that's more than I could ever hope for. Self-diagnosis is tricky - sometimes it can be worrying over small concerns. But sometimes it can be healthy and incredibly important. If I hadn't spent a night rereading about anxiety and looking up discussions about it on the internet, I never would have convinced myself to set up an appointment with a therapist and learn to work through all of this.

But I also want to share this post for another reason. I've always posted all of my blog writings to Facebook, inviting any of my friends to read it because - well, why not? I like people to read my writing and sometimes it can spur discussion. Here recently, I've been using Facebook a lot more than I have in recent years and I finally realized why. When I was in college or even shortly after college, I used Facebook to share what I was doing with friends - usually my roommate - because it was fun to show off what I was doing. Now I feel like I'm showing off more on Facebook, but really I'm sharing the experiences or things I'd want to share with my friends but don't because I'm often on my own. I live on my own now and I'm beginning to see how many things I would have shared with my roommate instead of the internet. I haven't spoken to her for a while - she has her own struggles and I'm worried to burden her with mine - and so I guess I'm writing because I can't really tell her right now. In many ways, Facebook has also become some sort of device to share with people things I'd like to tell them but whom I don't often see or I'd feel weird messaging all the time. It's a sort of surrogate, passive communication where I put out stuff and hope people will respond to it instead of just telling them. I don't know if it's good or bad - but I do know that social media has played a fairly significant role in my anxiety issues, especially with blogging.

Regardless of all of this, I am also writing this because I do want other people to know - and yet, I'm not actually telling them, I'm writing this post that I can't guarantee anyone will see. And yet, I want to share what's going on and I want to talk about it, but I don't want to totally interrupt people's lives to do so - but if any of you reading this are some of my Facebook friends, please know I will certainly talk about this with you. I want people to know because anxiety is so prevalent but so easily misunderstood. Just writing this post has been a struggle - honestly, I thought about writing about my early recognitions of this at least a year or two ago. It's hard because as someone who is always trying to put other people first, I need to learn that sometimes I need to do what is best for me. It isn't selfish and I'm not trying to gain attention. I just need to talk about it - and right now, this is the medium that suites me best.

TL;DR: I have anxiety. It sucks, but I'm working through it. I've avoided dealing with it because - well, anxiety - but I'm not going to pretend it isn't there any more. I'm stronger than I think. As a nice quote I came across says: "So far you've survived 100% of your worst days. You're doing great."
Often I need to remember this.

In closing, a note: I keep a printed out image on my nightstand that I found online sometime in the last year or two. It reads: "Sometimes I feel like giving up, then I remember I have a lot of motherfuckers to prove wrong." Anxiety is one of those motherfuckers. And I am not going to stop proving each and every day that it is wrong.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sensitivity (and a Real Neat Blog Award)

It occurs to me as I grow older that I am, in fact, a rather sensitive person. This isn't really all that much of a surprise. I cried a lot as a kid. I don't usually like violence in film or television (with the rather strong exceptions of Quentin Tarantino films, Shakespeare, murder mysteries, and anything involving superheroes). I took a sensitivity quiz and, on a scoring that 14 means you are very sensitive, I scored 21. My coworker recently joked when I injured myself at work that it's a marvel that natural selection hasn't weeded me out. This has taken on a different meaning in my head upon realizing due to some strong emotional reactions I've had in the last week that it's lucky that I've emotionally made it this far.

I haven't stayed consistently sensitive. I was a bit of a harder, cooler person in high school and held onto some of that through college. But here recently I've really let that slip away. Maybe it's the relief that I don't have to work retail anymore. Maybe it's feeling really, really comfortable with who I am and what I'm doing and where I'm doing it all. However, I'm worried that I might be slipping too far and getting too soft, too sugary, letting my inner Hufflepuff run rampant and not remembering that if I am not at least a little Slytherin and Ravenclaw that I will utterly be taken advantage of. Or I'll be too emotionally exhausted to do much of anything.
It's a hard balance to achieve. I like being sensitive. I like being able to gauge the emotional quality of a room just by feeling it (which in theatre is kind of nifty when it comes to sensing how an audience is reacting). I like being a little different, that people see me as kindly and good-natured and maybe a little to nice to be totally sane. I don't like that it makes it easy for people to get a rise out of me or manipulate me or make me look foolish. I've become somewhat like the walking embodiment of Bubbles from The Powderpuff Girls. I don't know how this happened but it's simultaneously great and terrible.

That's not to say I'm always nice or sweet, innocent soul. I hold grudges. I have a sharp tongue and a strong sense of sarcasm. I'm impulsive and a bit cynical and don't always think things through before jumping in and doing them. There's a bit of a know-it-all and a notorious schemer on some level. Some days, I think I'm just a complex human individual. Other days, I just feel like a mess.

Things have been a bit messy mentally the last few days but admitting that helps. Being human is messy. We're complex and our traits our not as easily elucidated as the Sorting Hat makes them. I embrace my sensitivity, but I can't let it limit me or overpower me. I'm far more than that.

Aside from that bit of pensive self-thinking, I have recently been nominated for a Real Neat Blog Award by the wonderful Anna over at Just Rise Above It. I'm supposed to nominate other blogs but sadly I don't read many other blogs these days because I am busy but mostly incredibly lame. However, I will repost the "rules" upon getting the nomination and answer the questions asked of me.

Hey, look, awards logo.
  1. Put the award logo on your blog.
  2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.
  4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)
And here are my answers to Anna's questions:

1) Where do most visits to your blog come from?
Mostly the United States. However, here recently, they've all been from Russia.

2) What are your creative pursuits, besides blogging?
Writing, researching as a dramaturg, watching theater, endeavoring to be a playwright, resurrecting my flute playing and then injuring my finger, getting stitches, and being unable to play flute for at least ten days. And reading. I think reading counts as creativity - you visualize all these different places and people in your head, after all.

3) What is your favourite quote?
One I've got the shortened version of tattooed to my arm: "It's a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind" from the novel Sugar Street. Though I also love this one from Oscar Wilde: "It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still love it." And this one from F Scott Fitzgerald: "Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person."

4) How do attempt to stay healthy, in whatever form you take ‘healthy’ to mean?

 As much sleep as possible, lots of water, eating various forms of edible things that people generally claim are nutritious. I like running and doing yoga, but if I'm off mentally, I won't feel physically well either. So I try not to worry about weight and diet too strictly. I don't like being too strict with myself food-wise as I did that for two years in college and was terribly miserable. Healthy for me focuses a lot on personal relationships as well and if I'm not feeling right with friends or family, then I'm not feeling healthy either.

5) What do people not expect about you?
My tattoos. People are always surprised that I have any at all, let alone four. Having tattoos then causes a lot of assumptions (which segues nicely to the discussion I had above about being sensitive and yet not) which I think is interesting and yet troubling. But yeah, the tattoos.

6) Anything you wished you had learnt sooner?
Hey, eighteen year old me - remember when you were totally terrified you were going to never ever be kissed or be found attractive by a human male? Yeah, shut the hell up, relax, and live a little. You're going to be fine. 

7) Share one of your current favourite recipes with us!
I made a variation on this herbed gnocchi recipe last Thanksgiving and loved it. I swapped out the thyme for sage and added prosciutto and it was amazing. 10/10, would recommend.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oliver Sacks
One day I will have to live in a world without Oliver Sacks in it. That day is a lot closer than I thought, from the op-ed post he wrote for the New York Times. It saddens me as he was one of the first psychologists whose work I read, long before I majored in psychology. I read Musicophilia somewhere around my senior year of high school when I was taking AP psych but planning on being a music educator. I read and watched Awakenings and sobbed. I still have The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat waiting to be read and wanted to buy his newer release The Mind's Eye for a while now. The time to do these things is soon.

I love the humanity of Sacks, the way he talks and thinks about people. It's really poetic and beautiful. The way in which he speaks about his own death in such terms is no less beautiful but certainly very heartbreaking.

This is another sign to me how fast the world is spinning. Already I've been at my new job a month. It has been nearly two years since I graduated from college. I am a far different person than I was just a year ago. The world around me feels like a different place and I'm seeing in it with different eyes, experiencing it with brilliant wonderful people, some I knew before, some new and very welcome to my life. I have advanced romantically further than I ever expected already this year, with great happiness and bittersweetness. I have lost someone again, a Facebook friend I didn't know well but a musician I had played with back in high school. Her death is a shock to me because she is younger than my parents and someone whose death I never thought I'd see in memorials across my Facebook page. I feel old and young, knowledgeable and naive, experienced and oh so unprepared. This, I think, is the average state of living - a continual paradox of getting it and not having a clue.

I don't look forward to living in a world without Oliver Sacks. But a world without loss, without change, is not one I am in nor can understand. Loss is a large part of life. But so too is living it. The most one can do is learn to live with a sort of flexibility and grace, learning to accept defeat with a certain poise, to keep confidence in fighting when the battle isn't over, and to keep on thinking and breathing and believing when that static ennui of being rolls over. Oliver Sacks somehow manages to achieve all of these in his reflection on his own mortality, an amazing feat that should be lauded, because it certainly isn't easy. While all things end, his words continue on and keep people thinking and trying and hoping. And that's amazing.

[Apparently I'm feeling really metaphysical today. It's nice to have my brain running like this again - I missed it.]

Monday, February 2, 2015

Blogging, Martin Freeman, and Theatre
I need to be completely honest about being a blogger right now. Besides my excuses of being busy, one of the reasons I've stopped blogging frequently is the visibility of this blog. Back in the day when I'd entertained the idea of internet fame, I used to long for my blog to gain high traffic and land me the book deal I always dreamed off. This sounds ridiculous to me now but it was once pretty true. Now, however, I'm struggling a bit because I'm aware of the visibility and the comments I've been receiving on posts.

I love that the Internet allows people to say what's ever on their mind, but sometimes it's not too nice. I don't often get rude comments on here, but the longer this blog is out here, the more I get. Which is understandable. Trolling continues to exist and not everyone has to like what I have to say. I do have pretty thin skin but writing out here has helped me get used to to differing opinions and the not always kind ways in which people express them. However, I'm still a sensitive person and that's something I want to retain a bit of in my life. I'm cynical enough in other ways; there's no use in letting that entirely seep in to my writing. The thing is that I receive far more positive or constructive comments than I do aggressive or rude ones. So this issue is really a moot point - it's not that my blog is all that visible; traffic is relatively light and that's the way I'd like it now. Which is a far place from where I was a year or two ago.

In some ways, this correlates with my interaction with celebrity culture. Not so long ago, I was fascinated with celebrities, sort of yearning to be one myself or to be best friends with one. But then things started to change. I saw my favorite actor perform Coriolanus in London. I began feeling incongruities with my interactions in fan culture versus how I wanted to be treated as a fan. I got an internship, then a job, in theatre. I went back to London and saw another of my favorite actors in Richard III. I came back from London, was working three jobs, and realized that celebrity culture was never something that I wanted to be a part of - I just wanted to belong to something. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I clearly belonged working at the theatre and only in the past month or two have I realized how much not only my views on culture but my own world views have changed.

The weird thing is that I've been acclimated to my present way of thinking for so long that I forget that I ever thought any other way. Fame is a far off thing I'm interested in watching and discussing but it doesn't pertain to me. Not that it did largely for the most part before hand - I wasn't focused on being famous. But it was still something I longed for deep down. Overall, that yearning is gone now. Do I still want to write the next great American novel? Yeah, I do. Do I want to still be able to walk into my local grocery store without getting accosted by people? Yeah, I do. I want to be successful in what I do, in whatever form that takes - hopefully one that allows me to live my life as I'd like but with the added bonus of, you know, having a book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. This still seems pretty impossible most days, but it's more realistic than the dream I had in high school of starting a rock band (which was only entirely impossible because I played flute and had never sung in public before. And knew no one at the time who played guitar).

I think it hit me most of all the other night when watching the American Idol auditions that took place in Minneapolis. I was watching it with a friend who lives in my apartment building and it hit me in the middle of this how strange it was for these people to find music careers this way. There's hundreds of ways to find a musical career - some far more profitable and some far easier than others. But what struck me as most surprising was a guy who performed Million Dollar Quartet in Vegas auditioned for Idol because he wanted to make his own music rather than pretend and play someone else's night after night. As a person who works in theatre, continuously seeing others become people who are not them and say lines they didn't write, I thought this was interesting. I understand why he did it, but for so long, getting into theatre at whatever level was my main goal and I did struggle with the notion that someone who was performing in Vegas (albeit, as an understudy) wanted a larger form of success than that. I don't blame him one bit; my notions of success and "making it" are just very different than his.

Part of me wonders why I continue to say this further, between this post and the last and to draw out differences in thinking which are going to me more obvious to me than it likely will to you wonderful readers. This is probably because it's better to clarify a change in focus than just suddenly change my blog. I contemplated started an entirely new blog, more theatre focused, but that just seemed like a lot of pointless work. So much of the content on here is important and, even if I don't agree with some of the posts I wrote on here in the past (and really it's more like the rhetoric I used in the posts than the actual posts themselves), I prefer the idea of showing where I've come from rather than sweeping it all under the rug. And I don't want to abandon all that content and force all you lovely readers to a new platform. So here we are, on an updated design-wise blog, doing the same old same old, as I waltz pretty circles around ideas and hopefully move to something that makes some semblance of sense.
Until then, I would like to take a moment to do a bit of reflection on my favoritism of certain celebrities and fangirl a bit over the namesake for this strange writing beast. And that would be Martin Freeman. You see, I had the extreme luck and pleasure to see Mr. Freeman perform Richard III in London last September. Much like seeing Coriolanus only a matter of months before, it utterly blew my mind and made me realize how important theatre is in my life. But it also made me consider exactly how one's own favorites actors related and affect one's life. I've liked Mr. Freeman's work long before I knew him by name, when I first saw him in Love Actually. But it's incredible to me how someone can command such a role like Richard III and make you love and hate him all at the same time. The scene that blew my mind the most was a part in the play shortly after he murders his wife. Now, I have a fondness for dark and grim plays, but also abhor violence. (Also, stage blood makes me nauseous. More about that in another post.) The murder scene was horrible to watch; totally uncomfortable and jarring. But minutes later, when Richard's mother is reprimanding him and calling him beastly names, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Richard. It didn't make any sense - I'd clearly seen him do something terrible scenes before. But Mr. Freeman's posture as Richard, the way in which he wilted to the verbal abuses, his look of shock and sadness at his mother's words - it caused a sudden and very powerful conflict in my stance as an audience member.

This is what I love about theater so much - the immediacy, the way it sways and moves you the way film does, but right before your very eyes in a place that you do not have any command over. You can pause a film at home, but you cannot stop a show once a stage manager has got it going. (Okay, yes, you could stop a show, but I highly recommend you do no such thing.) What makes Richard III such an eerie play is that Richard makes you complicit in his actions and scheming - he speaks directly to the audience from the beginning of the play, and you have no choice but to sit there and watch the horrors unfold. The way in which the director, Jamie Llyod, and Martin Freeman portrayed this onstage was thoroughly engaging, rather sociopathic, and a bit seductive. I didn't want anyone to stop Richard from his monstrous deeds because I was rather getting a kick out of watching them unfold. Which is anything but what I'd feel if this were actually happening around me. But it's how the show made me feel and that's an incredible power to create.

I have a renewed fondness for Mr. Freeman after that performance and feel even happier than ever to have him relevant to this blog (however strange the blog's title might be). It's shows like this that have driven me to work in theatre, even while working sixty hours a week and dealing with bleeding patrons, nearly naked men doing yoga in the lobby, interactions with the police, and the general hullabaloo one experiences as a house manager. But that's another story entirely... :)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Working, or: Leaving Retail and Getting that Professional Job People Have Been Asking About Since College

So since I'm getting back into the habit of writing here, it's only fair that I give a throughout explanation of where I've been for the last few months. It looks a little something like this:

For those of you who work forty hours a week, you already know this, but having a forty hour a week schedule is... well, a lot of work. Especially the schedule I had, working price change at a retail store, going in at 6am until 2:30pm most days. I could write a saga on the merits and pitfalls of working retail, but I'll save you. However, I'm not doing it anymore. I spent nearly a year and a half working in the store and now I've left, having been offered a full-time job at the theatre I worked in part time before now.

I'm elated. Retail is a job, but it's not the sort of job I could have forever. While my store was a pretty good place to work, it also had its flaws, especially in terms of technology and communication. I was also growing exhausted from my early hours. It's not easy to get up at 4:15 in the morning, especially in the dead of winter, and go to bed around eight at night to try and get enough sleep to repeat the whole process over again. I'd grown weary of the issues and emotional stress retail brings with it and I'd rather do something my heart is more drawn to. Also, having benefits and vacation days is sure going to be a nice change.

However, I am going to miss all the people I work with at the store and I feel a bit bad about leaving them, especially because the departure was pretty sudden (I'd been thinking about leaving for a while, but I didn't expect an opportunity to come along anytime soon). My coworkers talk about "getting out" and wanting me to take them with me. And I feel really guilty that I, who've only been there less than two years, am leaving with those who have been then for many are still going to be there for a while longer.

Now, I want to make something clear: I am pretty good worker. I work really hard. I have a college degree and decent job experience thanks to the retail work and a college job. But I wouldn't be anywhere that I am if it weren't for the people around me. I'm in theatre because of some really lucky connections, some major miracles, and being in the right place at the right time. If I hadn't sent a bunch of query emails about internships last summer, if I hadn't gotten a reply from one at just the right time, if I hadn't done well at the internship, been offered the part time house managing job and been convinced by my roommate at the time to say yes, and if one of the guys from the theatre hadn't put in his notice for the end of the year, none of this would have happened. Everything lined up perfectly and I am astounded by it all. Since I graduated from college, I'd applied to so many full-time professional jobs and none of them so much as sent me a rejection email. But now I've landed one in an area I've dreamed of working in. And I honestly don't know how entirely it happened.

That's the problem with the job market. There are jobs available, but submitting a resume and interviewing for them doesn't seem to be landing people jobs. Having a college degree puts some people at an advantage, but it doesn't guarantee anything. Being a good worker isn't always enough. Sometimes, it comes down to who you know and where you are. And it's not always fair.

I'm not feeling guilty - for once -  about landing this job. I feel I'm just being honest. Getting into certain fields can be difficult and, being new to theatre, I can't help but want to make a good impression to keep things in my favor and to stay in the field. I like people and I want people to get along with me to make life easier. Maybe this is some secret in job performance, but I don't really know. It's what I've always tried to do after realizing that being the ansty person I was in high school was unbearable to myself. And things have gotten a lot better since then.

There's a lot of mental changes I went through in moving from one job to the next. I'd never put in two weeks notice like that and knowing my time was limited at the store felt a bit weird and sad. However, I'm elated about not having to wear my work uniform anymore and am rebuilding my wardrobe, finally having an excuse to choose out some nice work attire. But the part that seems the hardest for me to accept are my hours - 10am to 6pm, not 6am to 2:30ish - and my salary. When I found out what I'd be projected to be making, I nearly died. Going from just above minimum wage to quite a bit above minimum wage is something I had only been dreaming of just a couple of months ago.

Here's an honest fact about retail - you make very little doing some of the hardest, most thankless work in the world. For my early hours, my limited ability to take time off, and fast-paced heavy workload, I made $8.75. And that was after three pay raises; my starting wages at the store were $8. Minimum wage in Minnesota has gone up, so my pay did too at one point. But it's still not much. Hence the need for another part time job and the freelance gig since at least half of one month's pay check was going to rent alone. Which made me think of this post I saw ages ago on Tumblr:

This most rings so true with me. My idea of wealth is maybe being able to rent a house some where in Minneapolis and having a cat. That's it. Nothing larger. It used to be a lot different - pent house, trendy condo somewhere, having a summer home - though I think I projected those ideas on other people, perhaps never sincerely believing I'd have them for myself. But now my salary increase makes it seem a little more feasible to get a cat and maybe in a year or two move out of my studio into something larger. What makes me happiest is that I no longer have to work three jobs.

If you're a Millennial, I have a feeling this all sounds very familiar to you. People tell us that we're a privileged generation because we have all this access to technology, and we can go to college, and we don't have to work for anything. You probably already know it, but those people are delusional liars. I've been incredibly privileged in my life - so privileged - and I'm still working my butt off to pay rent and not have to feel guilty every time I want to buy lunch instead of bringing one from home. I don't even have college loans and I'm still worried about finances. The economy is in a very different place than it was twenty years ago, the job market is different, society itself is different. Being really good at something and caring a lot and interviewing well isn't enough anymore. So many jobs ask for technical expertise you can only get working the job, but they won't hire you without prior experience on a job like it, but you can't get the experience without getting the job. It's a convoluted vicious cycle. Meanwhile, there are retail and service jobs open, but people don't want them because they don't pay well and companies keep threatening to replaced such positions with robots (check-out lanes I understand because cashiering is kind of the worst, but seriously, what the hell is this, Lowe's?). And then there's my area of work, non-profit groups and theaters and such, which survive on donations and ticket sales and aren't the most stable of places. While I love that I've ended up here, I know it's not going to be without its own problems.

My former roommate always used to quote her father and say, "If work was fun, it wouldn't be called work." But I've always wondered why work can't be more fun. It doesn't help that what I've learned from my short time in the work world is unless you're a computer programer or have a business degree, life might be kind of rough for you. Which made me quite a bit bitter, then just kind of morose about it all. I've always been skeptical of people who gave doctors and lawyers more respect as people than teachers and plumbers and baristas. Working in retails has made me even more skeptical. Yes, certain jobs take a lot more training but all work has its importance. Maybe this is why I like Studs Terkels' Working so much.

The issues I have with work is hard for me to articulate. But this quote from yet another Tumblr blogger (again, seen ages ago) helps point it out.
the question, really, is ‘when did it become acceptable and even normal to constantly overlook your current present in favour of some non-knowable and never certain to even exist future?’
Having a job that isn't entirely inspiring and fulfilling causes a lot of dreaming for a future of something else. It's easier to cope with reality when you're dreaming of a different reality entirely. I spent a lot of time doing this at the end of my college career and post-college. I don't want to say that this sort of thing is entirely bad, because we all do it, but I was getting to the point where it might have been a bit unhealthy. I was focused so much more on the future than the present that I wasn't entirely aware of what was going on around me, but often this was the only way to get through bad days at the store. There was a point where I stopped doing this and settled into the present, but it caused me to change my relationship with fandom and with what I was planning to do in the future. I'm not going to lie - it hurt a little bit, and I had to give up a little bit of the dreamer I was and accept a bit more realism. It also caused me to change how I viewed my current job - not a temporary thing, but long-term until I found something more full-time than retail. It worked for a while, but I got burned out on it fast. It was hard for me to find a way in which I could do a job with minimal creativity and high stress long term. And the worry never went away, especially as to how long I'd be able to work three jobs until it became a problem.

I don't want to say that moving into theatre full-time will completely avoid the dreaming of the future. No job is perfect and I'm one hell of a daydreamer, after all, but it will definitely help me enjoy and focus on the present far more. But I'm left wondering how in the hell I'm able to move on to something like this and others never have this opportunity. I don't like the idea of pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps - aside from being an entirely physically impossible action, it makes it sound like the person did it entirely on their own. Which I most certainly did not do. I avoid thinking about climbing a ladder to something greater - ladders have destinations and aside from my vague career goals, I have no idea where I'm going to end up. I cringe at the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants, worrying about those who might be getting crushed under the giant's feet. I'm deeply skeptical of consumerism and, while working retail, I worried constantly that I'm not actually good at work because I'm critical and self-depreciating and don't always respond well to authoritarianism. Yet somehow at my store I managed to put most of that aside and make a good impression. It isn't relevant any longer, but it sure confused the hell out of me. I'd go from the store to the theater on Friday evenings and realize what a different I was performing the two jobs. I felt far more comfortable in the theater and felt much more sincere and honest with patrons than I ever did with guests at the store. Even though there's a huge part of retail work coming into play with how I work with patrons, there's something at least more genuine for me. Eventually I think it was the discordance I felt working the two jobs that made me realize something had to change.

But my mind is still stuck at the "how did I get here?" stage. I did work hard to get here, but how in the world did it all work out when nothing else has before? I honestly owe a lot to the theatre I work at and a lot to the people around me there. I'm deeply in the honeymoon phase of all this and once I settle into my job, maybe I'll feel a bit differently. But right now, I'm right where I want to be. I also have a whole lot more creativity streaming through my mind, which means a whole lot of strange, rambling posts like the one you just witnessed. So brace yourselves. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Once More, With Feeling

It feels like half a century since I last posted on here and, while it has been quite some time, it's only been since October. Admittedly, I haven't written a substantial post since the middle of last summer, but none the less, the amount of change I have gone through in that short time period is quite large. So it's time I get you all caught up and I get this blog caught up - content-wise as well as structurally - to where I hope to continue posting.

Not long after I had posted back in October, I got a biting response on something I'd written a while back on celebrities, criticizing my infatuation with celebrity culture and defending their actions. It was around the same time that I realized my relationship with celebrity standing was greatly changed. Working three jobs - retail, house managing at a theater, and writing in a freelance gig - caused me to have a whole lot less time to daydream about celebrities, watch films, and surf Tumblr. In fact, I willingly stopped going on Tumblr all together due to a lot of the hostile posts I saw on there. I think I had mentioned on here somewhere before that I was beginning to enjoy a more private and less social media influenced appreciation of texts such as Sherlock and Doctor Who. Now, nearly at the beginning of a new year, I haven't been on Tumblr in over a month or two and I don't miss it at all. It works great for some, but it's not the place for me. My blog still exists out there, but I never use it.

Aside from my changes in fandom interaction, I myself was changing as a person. One doesn't move to a new apartment, travel to London for a second time, and start writing a new novel that's highly personal without having at least some parts of these events change you. I had a hectic autumn and, as we reach the deep midwinter, I am in the middle of another series of great changes, some of which I might elucidate when the time is right.

Most of all, I've been doing a lot of theatre. Given that my dream profession lies here, it's a good thing. But it's also changed on how I want to focus here. I'd like to have the freedom to write a bit more about my experiences working in a local theater arts community while also talking about larger media events. Fandom is still a major part of my life, but not in the way it once was. The way I regard my favorite actors is so far changed from where I was a year ago that I can hardly compare the two. It isn't age but my experiences that have changed me, and I'd like to discuss that as well.

And so I've changed the layout of this blog to better suit my mindset and my mood. I rather doubt content will change all that dramatically - except hopefully the posting frequency will increase again.

The question you might have is - why now? Why start posting again after all this time? For one, I finally got the internet in my apartment better configured. But I've been waiting for a time that seemed right to start again - and for some reason this is it. The year is ending, my freelance gig is over, I feel like I've mentally aged a lot in just a matter of days, and I feel like it's time to come back here and start things anew.

So if you're still out there, let's see where this goes.