Anxiety, Inspiration

In Two

The day I broke my hand was really just like any other day.  A situation with certain variables, and a resulting outcome.  I needed to get to work.  The skytrain was down.  The busses were full.  I rode my bicycle, a car wanted to pass me, and I crashed trying to get out of its way.  In the first moments, I was most concerned about my head – I had hit it pretty hard, and I was worried about a concussion.  I noticed blood on my hands, but couldn’t feel anything.  I blacked out while waiting for the ambulance.  It wasn’t until the second hour of waiting in the emergency room that I realized my rapidly swelling hand had taken the worst of it all.  Two hours after that realization I was back at home in my PJs, dazedly trying to make a cup of tea with a cast on my left hand.

I learned a lot of things from my month in a cast.  I am a hand talker.  I am someone who often touches other people on the arm or hand when I’m making a point.  I like to make notes.  I like to do many things at once.  I was unable to do any of those things with my dominant hand folded up in plaster and tensor bandages.  Instead, I had to do lots of things I don’t like, such as ask for help, do one thing at a time, and just ‘relax’.  I found acceptance of only being able to hold a coffee or an iPhone at once (oh how I loathe my own dependence on technology).  I met many kind and considerate strangers out in public who were intuitive in sensing the need for help (anything from tying shoelaces to picking up dropped items), and I heard lots of stories of other broken bones.  I was stunned by the compassion from people with permanent injuries to their hands and feet who would talk to me out of the blue to ask how I was holding up.

In the four weeks I was unable to use both hands, I had more writing deadlines than I’d had in the last year.   I tried dictating to patient Arlen as he typed, but I have enough trouble getting words past my own editing faculty to put them on paper, let alone passing them through someone else’s ears first.  Unable to handwrite (my right-handed cursive proving hilarious but illegible), the only option I had was typing with one hand.  The rush of words and ideas came too fast and my one hand, spidering across the keyboard was too slow.  I had to write.  I had workshops and meetings days away and a backlog of inspiration but when I sat in front of my computer all I got was a big, chest-pain inducing, NO NO NO feeling.  And it was terrifying.

I survived, as we always do with these big things.  I got my cast off three weeks ago now and bit by bit my hand is healing, though weaker than before.  I picked up a pen right away and my WPM is back as it was before.  I am more grateful than ever that words can go from heart to page as smoothly as can be again.  I guess if you had asked me 2 months ago before the day the skytrain broke down if I feared something happening to me that would change my relationship with my art, that I would have understood the premise intellectually.  But there’s no way of knowing what it feels like until you just can’t, until you get that NO NO NO feeling.  All the while I knew I had the luxury of a date on my calendar when the cast would come off and things would be ‘back to normal’ again.  I can’t even concieve of the strength of people for whom that day likely won’t come.

Since then, I’ve been watching people’s hands.  My mother is a clothing designer, and I don’t think I ever fully realized the amazing alchemy that happens in her studio.  I bring her bolts of fabric and she stitches and pins and paints and turns out beautiful garments, one of a kind creations.  I think about her hands, strong and skilled with years of expertise and artistry running from fingertip to seams.  I can only imagine how many things have been made with those two hands, making something out of nothing.   To help myself build back my strength, I am teaching myself to play the ukulele.  I’ve never played an instrument before and so the feeling of strings under my newly callused fingertips is thrilling.  I feel the years ahead of making music and taking photos and word words words I have are a gift.  Just like my mom and the meters of fabric that are her medium, I know there is much to come from a pen and paper and these two hands.  And pretty soon, one of these days I’ll get back on my bicycle.

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Writing for the Blank Generation

When I was 17 and in my final year of high school, I saw something written on the wall of the bathroom that stayed with me.  “I belong to the blank generation”.  A quick google search revealed it was a snippet of lyrics from a Richard Hell song, which begins “I was sayin’ let me out of here before I was even born”.  Though the “blank generation” referred to a specific breed of angry punk-rockers, at the time I felt it had an awful lot of resonance with my own.  At the time I was bussing across town from East Van to a West Side public high school, and as we approached graduation the message was clear: You’d better go to school, and you’d better start planning your career.  And if you don’t know what to do, you’d better figure it out soon if you don’t want to end up flipping burgers.

5 years later, my “blank generation” is flipping burgers with one hand and finishing degrees with the other.  And it’s not looking like it’s going to get better any time soon.  For them, that “blank” spot might be in their savings account, their employment prospects or their property ownership.  Young adults are leaving their twenties still crippled by student loan debt and paralysed by a job market left scarce by the recession, and the dream of owning a home is more of a punchline then a plan.  Something went wrong.  Post-Secondary Education had been touted as the only way to make a career worth having – except that in reality, a bachelor’s degree can’t get you a job that can help you pay for it.  I’ve been talking to friends, co-workers, reading messages from twitter and Facebook, comments on articles and I’m hearing the message loud and clear.  Things aren’t looking good.

Right now I’m writing a show called STATIONARY: a recession-era musical.  I didn’t set out to write a political show.  But in writing a story about people my own age, I didn’t see any other way to do it.  I don’t know what other story to tell than someone battling against huge obstacles in pursuit of the life they dream of (and I don’t think any other writer ever did).  Those obstacles have looked different in generations, in centuries gone by, but at this moments, they look a lot like the battle between following “the plan” and paying the bills.  The “Plan” would be checking off those boxes that have been laid out as the “5 Milestones of Adulthood”: Completing Education, Leaving the Family Home, Becoming Financially Independent, Marriage, and Parenthood.  According to an article in Salon.com, in 1960 “77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by the age of 30. By 2000, fewer than 50 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men had done so”.  Does this sound like anyone you know?

In trying to put the plight of my peers on stage I’m constantly catching myself listening the comments section in my brain (never a good idea).  To look at it one way, we are a generation whose elders failed to protect us from skyrocketing tuition rates and have consistently taken political action that ensures a living wage is far out of reach.  On the other, we’re labeled as entitled whiners who supposedly expect success without having to work for it.  I can see both sides in a theoretical sense, but here’s the thing – I know lots of young people, non-artists included who work hard and have almost nothing to show for it.  To succeed in today’s job market, candidates are supposed to be highly experienced, have tons of extra skills acquired outside of school, be bright, energetic, charismatic, persistent – so what about those who lack any one of these qualities?  Too bad for them?  Then what?  I don’t have the answer to that.

Life happens.  We get caught along the way by our family situations, our environments, or ourselves.  So I’m writing a story about 6 young people that one way or another have found themselves stuck.  Stationary, if you will (if you didn’t get the pun before, now I’ve laid it right out for you, just in case I’m not as witty as I’d hoped).  Aren’t we all deserving of happiness?  I sure think so.  And I hope these folks make it there, even with the considerable odds stacked against them.  It’s been a struggle to process what I want to say and bring it to life in story form, and I would love to hear your comments about what you think those struggles are.  And you can judge for yourself if I am successful in doing just that when STATIONARY: a recession-era musical goes up at the Cultch with the Neanderthal Festival in July.  For now, some reading material:

Two Articles by Rob Carrick from the Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/rob-carrick/boomers-have-a-stake-in-gen-ys-success/article2435015/comments/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/2012-vs-1984-young-adults-really-do-have-it-harder-today/article2425558/

“What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?”  From the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all

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What I’ve Learned – The First 9 Months

So, I’ve been bad with this  blog.

Like, really bad.  Like not updating since August bad.  But as it turns out, I’ve had a lot of very fun things to do since August, and I’m finally ready to process it all and get back on the blog-wagon.  In a tribute to Stephen Heatley’s famous ‘samplers’ (UBC kids will know what I mean here), here are a few of the valuable lessons I’ve learned in my first 9 months out of theatre school.

GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH – Vancouver Fringe Festival

I spent a lot of time running around the campus of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival this year, seeing as many shows as possible and flyering my tired butt off for Oh My God with Delinquent Theatre.  I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of artists, both local and visiting, national and international.  I saw a lot of amazing theatre, and a few disappointments.  The common thread between the best shows?  Attention to detail.  Without fail, the shows I enjoyed the most were created by artists who integrated storytelling, design, and atmosphere without sacrificing any quality due to lack of resources, or simply letting something be “good enough”.  From the international Fringe vets to the first-timers and wild Onsite shows, my favorite theatrical creations showed evidence of great care and vigilant creative standards in every aspect of the show. It reminded me to always look at my own work and think – could it be better?  What can I do to keep moving forward?

A CAREER IN THE THEATRE IS NOT LINEAR – Making a Scene Conference

In November I attended the Making A Scene Conference, presented by the GVPTA.  If you have never attended the conference before, I strongly, strongly recommend you do.  The short form explanation of MAS is a gathering of the best minds in the BC theatre scene gathered in a room to discuss, debate, and dissect the state of affairs in our local theatre scene, and what we can do to serve it better.  Check out the 2011 MAS report for some highlights – I left leaving, well… engaged and empowered, which was the title of the event.  One of the many things that have stayed with me was the remark made that “a career in theatre is not linear”.  This struck a chord with me and continues to do so.  Looking back on my time out of school so far, I can clearly see that every dream gig I didn’t land ended up freeing me to do something else different and exciting.  There’s no such thing as ‘lost time’, unless you make it so.  In this career, there’s no standard path to follow – it’s all up to you.  After 3 years of regimented theatre school where your time is not your own, it’s thrilling and terrifying to know you’re now holding the reins.  Talking with more established theatre artists helped me understand there’s no right or wrong path – just the one you choose for yourself.

THEATRE IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN – Wizard of Oz at Carousel Theatre

It’s a simple lesson, but perhaps the easiest to forget.  After months of auditions, callbacks, anxiety and planning, I finally got to settle in and do my first post-school Equity contract.  And what a dream – The Wizard of Oz with Carole Higgins and Carousel Theatre!  With multiple character tracks, 10 costume changes, and wonderful choreography, Oz was one of the most personally challenging shows I’ve done to date, and I wouldn’t have survived it if it weren’t for the warm, fun and funny group at Carousel.  Whether it was through inventive and inspired choices on stage or MadLibs and fart machines backstage, they always kept me laughing and reminded me that – oh yeah, this is supposed to be fun. There is plenty to be anxious about in this career path, but it won’t be worth it if you can’t relax and enjoy the moment, and I am grateful to the wonderful folks I worked with on Oz who reminded me of that.

IT’S NEVER THE RIGHT TIME/IT’S ALWAYS THE RIGHT TIME – Delinquent Theatre

On January 9th, 2012, my friend and theatre partner Laura McLean and I got the news that our fledgling company Delinquent Theatre was officially incorporated as a non-profit society.  This brings us into a new and complicated era of AGMs, boards, grants, licenses and more.  It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s so very worth it.  We’re mounting 2 original musicals within the first 6 months of our incorporation, and doing everything on our own.  We’ve got ambitious plans for the next year and a bit for Delinquent Theatre, and you know what?  We’re ready for it.  There will never be a ‘right time’ to take a leap of faith – you can keep waiting for the time when you have a little more money, a little more time, and a little more experience – or you can jump in with both feet, open eyes, and an open heart and see what you learn.  We’ve opted for the latter, and I look forward to all the lessons I haven’t yet learned, but am about to.  Bring it on.