I fell off my creative horse about 6 weeks ago, oh, around the time I started writing a grant for the next stage of my solo show, “You’re Not Alone.” I wonder what my horse’s name is. Sandy?! Anyway, what is it about grant writing that just completely CRUSHES creativity?! I think something goes on where if you talk and talk and talk about something you are GOING TO DO, it starts to feel like you have already done it, and so you find you have no need to actually DO THE THING anymore. In my opinion, the act of describing Every. Last. Detail. of a project and slapping a monetary value on it forces it, at least temporarily, into a very boring box. A moving box. A moving box full of office supplies. A moving box full of office supplies, with each item meticulously listed on a white, well-placed label. ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZ!!!!!!
(That was me falling asleep from boredom, but then waking up and realizing I am STILL BORED)
It’s that classic dilemma: either I struggle to pay the bills/use up all my energy at a day-job, but let the project just become what it wants (Maybe it’s a live performance! Maybe it’s an album! Maybe it’s 90 minutes of screaming and throwing slices of bread at the audience!); OR I plan EXACTLY what I am going to do BEFORE ACTUALLY DOING IT, so that I can prove I deserve money, but then the project just kindof flounders along, feeling forced and unnatural. (Can artists just receive basic income already?!)
I’ve been on the latter path for actually quite a while, since submitting and then receiving a grant for stage 1 of my project in late 2020/early 2021. And really, it’s not tooootally the grant’s fault. I LOVE the grant!! The thing is, I am writing a show about healing, AS I CONTINUE TO HEAL. So every damn time I come back to revisit the stories I have written, about all the times in my life I have felt deeply alone, in an attempt to understand WHY so I can LET the fuck GO and feel “normal” already… they have changed!! Suddenly it doesn’t seem so important to drag an emotionally abusive ex through the hot coals, labeling him as a “recovered heroin addict” to tilt the audience’s perception of him; or to rant about my annoyingly-in-love neighbors during the pandemic for 2 whole minutes (a long time, in solo show land).
I get so annoyed with this past version of myself, whining and moaning about such seemingly trivial things. I get terrified of what people in the audience will think: “Ugh she is so self-absorbed! Get over yourself! Was this all really necessary to turn into a WHOLE SHOW?!” So I frantically hack into the stories and re-write them from the place in which I currently exist, until they feel lighter. I can read them without cringing, and I can imagine myself actually having FUN while telling them onstage. I have done this EIGHT TIMES now. After each re-write, I bounce along on my merry way, ready to finally write some MUSIC for the show…
But what I actually end up doing, is taking a break. My life may seem like a romp through the botanical gardens compared with people who grew up in war-torn countries, people who have suffered through physical or sexual abuse, racial discrimination, people who lost parents or siblings at young age, the list goes on and on… but the shit I am writing about is heavy, to me.
With each show re-write, my injured child-perspective catches up just a bit more to my more evolved, compassionate adult-perspective; but going back in time to these painful moments that shaped me is really hard. It forces me to regress, in a way, so that I can remember how I felt THEN, versus how I feel now—because these stories are all told in present-tense: as 7-year old me, 16-year old me, 32-year old me, and um, pandemic me.
I can boil my childhood experience of my mom’s depression down to a few sentences; but in order to choose the most effective words, I need to go back into that dark space I existed in for years. The space where I would stand paralyzed outside my mom’s bedroom door, not just hearing the sounds of her crying, but feeling and absorbing her pain. I felt equally useless and alone. I was unable to help her, and she unable to help me. At least, in the ways for which we were really longing. (If you are noticing my writing has gotten slightly* more formal, blame the grant)
*I did not swear in my grant applications, though I feel it would have made them much better
So herein lies another obstacle with my show: 1/3 of the stories are about my childhood, aka, my relationship with my mom. From my mom’s perspective, I’m still mad at her. I must be, if I need to write a whole dang show about my childhood trauma! I must think that she was a horrible mother—and everyone in the audience will surely think as much when they hear my words, shooting her evil death glares and googling pictures of her so they can print them out and put them up on their dart boards. Let me first just say, my mom is awesome, and I really am trying to portray that in my show. As complicated as our relationship was, I always felt loved. And, you know, fed and stuff. And that, in my opinion, is THE DEFINITION of a good mother.
From my perspective, I am writing this show in order to help myself heal, to re-build our relationship, and to help others who have had similar experiences feel less alone. I think everyone processes things in different ways—my preferred method is through writing. And clearly, sharing it with everyone I know.
It has been extraordinarily hard navigating the tightrope between expressing myself truthfully, and not hurting my mom’s feelings. Telling the truth is actually a radical act for me—I never really felt safe doing it as a kid, for fear of making mom’s anger or depression worse; or accidentally telling someone she’s gay and getting bullied by all the toity nuns at my catholic school. (Yes, toity. It just sounds right)
The fear of hurting my mom’s feelings alone has made me want to give up on the show many, many times. But I have to trust that I am slowly finding the right words—the ones that are honest AND empathetic. Words that make space for my story, and hers. And when I can’t find the right words, I will find the right music.
I also have to trust that I am not the only one in my narrative who is healing. My mom is healing, too. I think she is starting to see that my own emotions, no matter how “ugly” they are sometimes, are completely separate from her worth as a mother. That my memory and perception of events from my childhood is different than her memory of the same events—this is just how it goes. It is my right to share my story, as I experienced it. It doesn’t mean one of us is wrong, or “better;” it just means we are living two very unique human experiences, that also happen to be extremely relatable—because news flash, we are ALL KINDA FUCKED UP.
I think we all have a right to tell our story, and express our full range of emotions—even if, relative to other human experiences, they seem trivial. If I were to boil the thesis of my show down to one sentence, it would be this:
There is nothing lonelier than having to keep your story a secret.
So, will I ever finish this show? I sure fucking hope so. Maybe on opening night, after 270 re-writes, I’ll get up on stage, throw a slice of Wonderbread at each and every person’s soft, exposed face; and then proclaim into the mic: “I have spent a lot of my life feeling alone, but now I’m fine!! The End.” And you know, maybe that’s the goal. Thanks for the grant money!