I've been alone for 10 days now.
That sounds a bit more dramatic than I mean it to. All I mean is my roommates have been off sunning in Bali since Santa dropped my presents off at my family home and I came back to an empty house. It's just me and the banana bread I made and the wind that keeps knocking and asking to come in.
I facetime my parents at least twice a day. Surely I am not doing this adult thing right. I've started talking to the pictures that scroll across my TV screen as the Chromecast sits waiting to be used again, or waiting for me to switch back the Food Network.
So I'm writing this because I'm stuck, I think. I've been thinking about Bo Burnham on Pete Holmes' podcast when he said-
we've forgotten that happiness isn't a state of being.
Mom and I talked about this over the cupholders in her Toyota. She sees her students, 9th and 10th grade, from an affluent community in the most expensive place to live in the US. She sees them getting sadder every time they check their emotional pulse and the screen doesn't flash up a big smiley face. She sees parents falling through the middle of a concern spiral, wondering what on earth is wrong with their precious little babies. Which of us did this happen to? It must have happened somewhere between Parents and Children, a passing thought that transferred from car to car on the LIE and ended up a part of our collective subconscious. I don't know who taught us this, but we've started thinking of happy as default, so if we are not feeling Happy, then we Must Be Sad.
This feeling of If Not This, Then That has been weighing on my soft and snow-shoveling-sore shoulders. What I mean is- everything feels very cut and dried. If I'm not at work, then I'm wasting time when I could be earning money. If I'm not booked until next year, then I'm not good enough to get hired. If I'm not working out, then I'm actively getting fat. It feels harsh and wrong to type that, read it back to myself off the screen. But it sounds pretty convincing when I'm repeating it to myself in that whisper of words that you've never said out loud, the drift of a thought between ears that you haven't actually figured out the words to and yet you know exactly what you mean.It's like if I'm not On, then I'm Off. Like the moment I stop Doing Something, then I'm not Doing Enough.
I've been feeling this everywhere. About everything. And yet this must be common, I can't be the only person feeling this. I can't be the only person feeling like I might just be wasting my time.
It's been the worst when I think about my career. What a shame-riddled spiky word that is. Career. If I'm not spending every moment working towards My Career, then I am just not working hard enough. Every social media post will tell you that the grind never stops. So if you take the time to watch an episode of Law and Order SVU, then you're not on the grind. Every moment you're awake should be filled with pain and agony and working till your knuckles bleed to make Your Career Happen.
But I can't make art without other people. I need a rehearsal room, stocked with other bodies and a water filter to do what I am best at. How nice, I think, it would be to be the kind of artist who can make the kinds of art you can make alone in your room at 8:30 in the morning. But I can't draw much more than a stick figure family, and I don't play any instruments. So I thought, buck up and finally finish writing that play you've had sitting in your drafts for years. You'll feel like you're making some art again. If you're writing a play, you're making art. And if you're making art, then maybe you'll finally feel like you're working towards Your Career. But call me Ismael- playwriting has always been my white whale.
I've never been able to finish a draft of a play. I hoard half-finished drafts like one day they'll form a floatation device when I'm sinking in an unknown body of water and no one can hear my screams. Like a teen who bought an adorable pair of shoes even though they're a size too big but maybe the doctors were wrong and she isn't done growing. I just can't seem to get to the end of a play. I've always thought I couldn't finish them because I wasn't committed enough, wasn't good enough at writing, wasn't pushing myself hard enough to "do the thing that scared me." Everyone else seemed to be able to get to the end, no matter how much they struggled in the middle. But every time I close my eyes and think about what I might have to say, I can't think of anything. Everyone else has already said it. They've said it better. They've said it more eloquently, with better metaphors, with themes and through-lines that kids in Drama Lit classes would think about for hours until they finally figured them out, with symbolism that would make everyone in the class go "ooooooh" when the teacher finally explained them. I've never written anything that had to be explained. I felt like I was drawing with crayons when everyone else had been given calligraphy pens.
The theatre is the language I've chosen to speak. So, if I can't write a play, then I must not be able to write at all.
My New Year's resolution is to do my Artist Pages every day. Every morning, three pages. Pen to paper. More often then not the last few days, I've written about exactly this- how I must be worth nothing as an artist, because I can't seem to make any art. I'd write furiously for three pages, then done. Book closed.
And then it dawned on me. I was, in fact, writing.
Maybe it didn't look very high-brow. Maybe I wasn't saying anything new, or altogether too interesting, or even true. But I was actually writing. And I said this Mom through our shoddy wi-fi connection and she said- "who said plays are the only kind of art you can write?"
So then I thought about all the things I've written and finished before. There are plenty. Blog posts, letters, essays, tweets (which are harder now because there's more characters). I thought that I couldn't finish a play because I didn't have anything of value to say. Maybe I haven't finished a play yet because the things I want to say and the way I want to say them don't fit inside a play. Maybe they do fit better inside a little box in 240 characters. Maybe I'll become an expert in avant-garde type-setting poetry. Maybe I'll only write on the inside flaps of Honey Nut Cheerios boxes. I'm not bad at writing, I was just putting on a sweatshirt two sizes too weird.
So, I'm writing this because I'm gonna take some time to figure out how my voice wants to sound these days, or any number of other analogies for writing. I feel the need to see something concrete. To look and say, ok. We finished something. I don't need it to be good. I don't really even need anyone to read it ("of course you do Jess that's why you're posting it online and will probably share a link to facebook too!"). I need to know that the mush inside my head has turned into something real, something that's orbiting just as fast as me but exists outside my body.
I think I understand the appeal of blogging. There's no templates here. Just open space and a publish button. Thanks for being there for me while I try this on for size.