Higher Education: Making Allowances

Barbara Jwanouskos is cutting some slack.

I’m feeling very raw lately. I think that’s because of a possible artistic self-expansion. I’ve shed off another layer and my heart has grown three sizes over the last couple of weeks. It’s rather painful.

I’ve in the middle of a busy time. Lately that’s mean submitting my work out, hearing lots of feedback, revising, re-envisioning, solidifying intent. It’s a funny time when you about to have other people read your work. Whether it’s a group of friends in a living room or pressing the button to “submit”, sending your play off into the unknown, it can all be rather emotionally (and sometimes physically) demanding.

Maybe it wouldn’t be called “growth” if it wasn’t painful. And at some point, you have to put yourself out there as an artist and say, “okay, here’s what I’ve got for you.” Waiting for the reaction or feedback is always a tricky thing because 1) you just never know what folks are going to think and 2) should it really matter what others’ think? It’s a tightrope walk between self-indulgence and self-denial.

I was thinking about this a lot today because we started a new project in our Theater Lab class where we’re swapping roles. The directors have been given the assignment to write something and the writers will be directing their work. I’m all for being nimble enough to wear multiple hats and perform multiple roles in the theater. I think it can be beneficial, if you see yourself a having a specific function, to take on a new perspective and try to ultimately have the same result – to present a work for the stage. So, today, the directors presented their newly created little play babies and the writers were supposed to give them all feedback in the same way that we do every time we have workshop on our own.

For whatever reason, I found it increasingly difficult to give these new writers feedback on their words because they weren’t my writing colleagues – people I know I can be frank with – and yet they weren’t students of mine – people I help see how to create a cohesive dramatic writing piece. Feedback needs to be specific, direct and manageable, but it sometimes needs to be tailored to the person too. Sometimes you can tell people they should write a whole different version of play and it will energize them to start back at the beginning. And sometimes to hear that could be so disheartening that they end up giving up on a project that had a lot of potential. I don’t want to do that to the people around me – at the same time, I can’t just smile and say something is “fine” when I don’t see it as such. How do you tell this to someone who cares deeply about what they’ve worked on?

There are times when we put so much emotion in things that the best way to handle it is to become desensitized and clinical. To a certain extent that’s something I’ve learned I need to do with my own writing. Because the emotion of creating a piece overtakes me and, I’m sorry, but I do care that is “working” and that people have a response to it. I’ve been going back and forth with whether I think this is a positive or negative aspect. Sure, it can be both. On the one hand I think it’s because I have a lot of passion about what I do that I can push through more challenging artistic moments with a piece. And on the other hand, I feel like because I care so much about the piece, I can’t see the forest for the trees. So, maybe it just is.

Well, then, what is there to do with all this rawness? This painfully uncomfortable feeling that I might burst at any moment? Have a break down, start crying, become light-headed, stress eat two donuts in one sitting… I don’t know that I’ve really found an answer except to say to myself that I should “do whatever I need” and sometimes that means I shut down. Sometimes it means I say something I regret in the moment, but I try to take a step back and notice. Maybe forgive myself, if it seems like I need it. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that I allow myself the room to move forward. Possibly not even forward, maybe I just allow myself room to move.

With that comes this awareness that I am capable of moving and feeling and expanding beyond what I thought was possible.

And I can live with that in mind.

That is a value that I could point to feel proud of.