Saturday, June 2, 2012

A change of plan.

Cary Tennis recently described depression as thus: "We eke out a little life while waiting for rescue, while waiting in our shipwreck in our floating misery being eaten by the tides and pecked at by birds, while waiting to reach some kind of land and eventual comfort and bliss.”

When I turn that statement over in my head a few times, it makes me laugh a little.  A shipwreck.  My attempt at grad school was definitely a shipwreck.  Floating misery indeed!  Undulating tides, being pecked at by birds, month after month with no land in sight.

Yesterday I paid my rent for June and told the apartment manager I will be vacating the place on June 30.  I am leaving Phoenix, the City of Armpits.

I don't for a second regret leaving school, but since the semester ended a month ago, I've been agonizing over what step to take next.  Should I stay in Phoenix and work, even though I hate it here?  Should I move to a better city and work?  If so, which one?  Should I go back home to Wisconsin and work?  What is the best thing to do?  What is the most financially responsible thing to do?  What is most in line with my values and life goals?

I've been toying with so many ideas and options, comparing pros and cons, trying to predict possible and likely outcomes.  I had decided that staying in Phoenix for now was probably best, and I'd applied to dozens of jobs in the past month...and gotten three dead-end interviews and six email rejections in response.


Earlier this week I was chatting with my friend Emily about my blog and whether or not its content is preventing me from gaining employment.  We also chatted about hobbies--things that we like to come home to, activities that inspire us when life prefers to rip inspiration and encouragement from us, like skin ripped from a cat.      

Like most everything I encounter, the word "hobby" makes me feel inadequate because I never really developed any conventional, easily-understood-in-conversation ones.  We were relatively poor when I was growing up, so during my formative years my hobbies consisted of a) throwing old dolls up into tree branches to see if they'd get stuck, then throwing a baseball at them to try to get them down; b) dressing up in various bizarre clothing combinations and riding my bike to the grocery store to stuff as many free donut holes into my pockets as possible and then leave without buying anything; and c) setting up progressively higher stacks of empty boxes to see if I could jump over them without knocking them over.  Oh, and d) writing.

Because I've had some trouble incorporating those first three hobbies into my adult life, I've tried substituting them for more socially acceptable pastimes.  Like sports, gardening, taxidermy, photography, or sports gardening, or taxidermy photography.  But to no avail.

Writing has always stayed with me, however.  I typically write between 1-6 hours per day, sometimes more.  Not always for fun, but sometimes for sadness, and sometimes for no reason at all.  When I finish or throw out one writing project, I start another, not because I'm disciplined (I'm not) but because I can't really help it.  It just kind of comes out on its own, without me trying or asking it to.  There seems to be a congenital, incurable leak running from my brain to my hands to a computer or some paper.  Like chronic writing incontinence.  I have tried to plug that leak and relieve the pressure elsewhere, but it won't do.  There's nothing for it.  It can't be helped.

After speaking with dear Emily, I decided on two things: a) I refuse to hide under a rock and be afraid of any employer discovering my writing, because I am not ashamed of what I write; and b) I want this blog and my other material to be funnier.  A number of people (not related to me, just so you know) have told me my writing is funny, and maybe it does inspire a titter every now and then, but I want it to be really fucking good.  Like Augusten Burroughs good.  Like June Gardens good.

In fact, I want to be skilled at comedy in general.  At writing it, speaking it, and acting it.  At delivery and timing, improv and scripted.  I want that to be my job.  And where better to learn those skills than comedy school?  I've been considering The Second City training center in Chicago, which offers a large variety of comedy writing and improv evening classes, as well as ones in stand-up and in creating good female characters.  Because if anyone is tired of comedies portraying men as fun-loving goofballs and women as boring, nagging shrews, it's me.

So I am leaving Phoenix at the end of this month, and I am going back to Wisconsin to look for seasonal work.  Yes, my home state does have a bleak employment outlook for 2012, but since I was born, raised, and educated there, I have a lot more contacts in the area.  I know the landscape, I'm familiar with the companies there and their summer hiring schedules, and you know, if nothing else, I know where all the strip clubs are.  I only plan to be there for a few months, until I can afford to move to Chicago, LA, or New York and go to comedy school.  My goal is to be enrolled by Christmas.


I can't say for sure what medium I'll end up liking best.  Maybe writing sketches or scripts, or writing funny songs, or doing group improv, or maybe creating film shorts or podcasts.  Or who knows?  Maybe I'll fall in love with doing stand-up.  I'm open to any and all of those things.

Man, I can't tell you how good it feels to finally give myself permission to follow this performing bug I've carried all these years.  I've wanted to set that little sucker loose for long, but have always felt silly about wanting to.  I've even publicly made fun of myself for wanting to.  Mostly because whenever people who are not in the entertainment industry talk about it, they often say one of two things: that people who want to become successful entertainers will never make it, and that people who already are successful entertainers are spoiled, egotistical, overpaid attention-whores who throw temper tantrums all day and contribute nothing of value to the world.

Is that really the case?  Obviously some people do make it, or else we wouldn't have any writers, dancers, singers, actors, or entertainers at all, and secondly, there are some entertainers who aren't divas and who donate a lot of their money to charity.  And whether a show or book is a tragedy or comedy, it can be a beautiful, deeply moving work of art that illuminates the human condition and inspires meaningful dialogue about social and political issues.  Plus it can inspire big movements and social change.

But isn't it better to be a direct agent of that change?  Don't performers just waste time by distracting everyone else from the problems of this planet?  Like drugs and alcohol, when the fun and games are over, the problems are still there, aren't they?  Besides, what right do we have to smile or be entertained when there are so many horrible things going on in the world, when there are so many people writhing in pain as we speak?

I've wondered about that for a long time.

After years of travel and education, my understanding is that there are some forms of suffering that certainly can be alleviated through hard work and change and sacrifice.  Sometimes the sick can be healed, the poor can be fed and housed, the wars ended and replaced by cooperation, the laws rewritten to reduce damage and extend more rights and protections to more living things.

My understanding is also that some sufferings are inherent to having a pulse and therefore cannot be changed.  Some illnesses cannot be healed, some conflicts can never be resolved, some evil aspects of human nature can never be fully repressed through socialization.  Some things will always be wrong and unfair and cruel and unbelievably disgusting and fucked up.  Comedy, I think, helps us through those times.  The times when we've been sliced to the core and salt is in our wounds and everything is broken and crumbled and we've been lost at sea for so long that there is nothing left to do but laugh.  There is nothing left to do but slump over in a fit of giggles until we're sweaty and breathless and our faces hurt.

That is where I think entertainment and amusement fit into the bigger picture of the human narrative.  There were times when I believed nothing in this world could be changed, and other times when I believed everything could be changed.  The truth, as so often happens, is somewhere in the middle.  Yeah, maybe entertainment doesn't solve the world's problems, but not all the world's problems can be solved, and what then?  Life sucks and we know it.  We humans are burdened with a consciousness able to dwell on that unhappy observation, but also fortunate to possess a few little tools to lighten the despair.  Like laughing and hugging and temporary forgetfulness.  Even in the most isolated hunter-gatherer tribes, there is still art and entertainment, music and dance and adornment and storytelling.  The world over, societies insist on the presence of these things.  We insist on being entertained, at least some of the time--and we want it done well, goddammit!  We want our entertainers to remind us that all is not lost, that there are some good things left.  If not peace and justice, then at least more and more giggles.  

So, am I really walking away from a full scholarship at a top graduate program to join a comedy troupe?

Yeah.  Why?  You got a problem with that?  You know, sometimes we have to let our gardens grow into a mass of wild and weedy confusion before we decide what to trim and what to encourage.

Sometimes we have to float along, clinging to bits of a sunken ship, for months or even years before the horizon is broken by a crag of green.

Land ahoy, mateys!

Now hoist me mist-mast 'fore I swab yer poop deck.