Higher Education: A Sense of Finality

Barbara Jwanouskos is approaching the end.

Thursday at 11:59 PM marked the submission of our screenplays to the Sloan Foundation competition. It’s the culmination of about eight hardcore months of training, polishing, and crafting scripts that take on a science or technology component and explore it dramatically. And while I am so glad to be able to put this aside for now (even though I’m still at my computer, still writing…) I can’t but help feeling a bit nostalgic and sad that this part of my time here is coming to an end.

Earlier in the week, the three other second year dramatic writers in my program (Laci Corridor, Jonah Eisenstock and Josh Ginsburg) and I all went to get our caps and gowns for the commencement ceremony in May. We met with the design and production team for our thesis plays, which begin rehearsal next week. More and more it feels like we’re checking things off the list and counting down til… DUN DUN DUN!

We actually have to leave school.

Gasp!

Don’t get me wrong. One of the reasons I chose this program was because it promised that you’d be out in two years. I said, “well that’s for me! I need to be back in the real world!” I was looking forward to working hard in school, honing my craft, and then getting back to the Bay Area to keep on working on new plays already! At the time, it sounded easy to do, but now, with everything coming to an end, I’m finding it difficult to not get swept with emotion over Every. Little. Thing.

Just like everything in life, we have to come to terms with the fact that, yes, things do end. We move on. People move on. The world changes, shifts, grows and deteriorates. It can be hard not to treat everything as precious when you see that end point in sight. That’s what I’m trying not to do right now, but it is hard.

Maybe it comes back to managing your expectations about a particular outcome. As if suddenly, once I’m done with this program this magical spark will be endowed upon me and I will be A WRITER. Like all caps, even. I think it’s helpful to look back and see how far you’ve come, but the end hasn’t ended yet, so there’s still more pushing to do before it’s over. That’s where some really key growth can happen.

I was doing all this google-fu the other day as per usual because I had to make a decision about whether to push myself to write more even though I was tired or if I should just recuperate and start fresh the next day. And somewhere in hopping from page to page in trying to find the answer I wanted (go to bed), I read an interesting perspective. That sometimes when you give up or stop when it gets really hard and you don’t think you can go on, you’re missing out on some a breakthroughs that can develop.

Certainly I have experienced that. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t pushed hard in many ways. It comes up a lot for me in a visceral sense when practicing martial arts. There’s this whole idea I’ve been working with lately of not being afraid to get punched hard and not being afraid to punch hard. What’s interesting is that it’s actually currently harder for me to dish it out than to take it. At least from a psychological fear perspective. But in this type of training, even just stepping an inch beyond your comfort zone is a dramatic shift because it moves your fear barrier out one inch. Slowly it grows and grows.

I’m almost on the other side of the bridge and I have a moment now to look back at where I’ve came and to look at the surroundings. I don’t exactly know what the end point is or what that looks like and what my life will be like once I reach it. For now, I’m just taking stock in the passing scenery and trying to value it for what it’s worth. Then, it’s on to keep pushing.

Higher Education: Win Some Lose Some

This has been an incredible week over in the halls of Purnell. Very affirming, in many ways, but also it feels as if a door (or doors) are opening. Maybe it’s because the snow is melting a bit more (though the corner business has up twinkly x-mas lights again) or maybe a piece of learning is turning into understanding…

Cue the orchestra for me to now express myself in song.

Does Bette Midler ever need a caption? No.

Does Bette Midler ever need a caption? No.

*Ahem*

It can be tiring to try to progress as an artist. Some days it feels like nothing is working. I could totally relate to Claire Rice’s efforts to break through her writer’s block. These whole last couple of weeks has been like pulling teeth with regards to writing. I’m working on three huge projects: a full-length screenplay about hackers, my thesis play exploring violence at a kung fu studio, and a new play that’s a family drama intercepted by a has-been motivational speaker.

All three things have very real deadlines. Time is running out. I can no longer dilly-dally. Every time I sit down to write, I think, “these pages have to matter”.

omg_hamster copy

But you know what? Sometimes the only reason they matter is because you directing your energy into the projects you’re working on.

And it’s hard. I know it’s hard. It’s hard to come up with ideas. It’s hard to execute the ideas well. It’s hard to bring people together to hear your shitty ideas. It’s hard to be told your ideas are shitty. It’s hard to go back to your ideas and incorporate “feedback”. It’s hard to rally the troops once more (for between one and forever years), hear more feedback. Rinse, repeat. And then it’s hard to get people together to make your shitty idea a reality. And to get the money to do so. And for the performance to come out well. And to get people to come see it. And understand it. And hope they actually like it. And by extension you.

And feelings.

My play makes me feel all of this!

My play makes me feel all of this!

It’s like they say, “if it were easy, everyone would do it”. We don’t get paid well a lot of the times. Or at all. Or sometimes we end up paying in order to pursue our artistic passions. A lot. But if we were in it purely for the money, wouldn’t it just be easier to do something that actually gives us more of a “return on our investment”?

Guys! I’m sure you all know, but you will never make the money back that you put in to pursuing a life in the theater. So, that means you do it cuz you love it. And love is a hard thing. Sometimes, you know… love hurts. It’s sort of like art-being-hard is a person continually punching you in the face and after a while you’re thinking, “any time you want to stop would be just peachy”.

I am just as cynical as the next person and that’s why any win I get, I stick to like a needy cat covered in caramel sauce.

Don't ever leave me, wall!

Don’t ever leave me, wall!

This week’s wins all concerned validation. A guest artist from the land of TV, Aurorae Khoo, gave me a great compliment that since last year, my visual writing had dramatically improved (just the kind of improvement you hope for in a Dramatic Writing program…). My instructor, Rob Handel, came as a guest speaker to the Advanced Playwriting class because I had assigned them “A Maze” to read (three more chances to check it out!) and gave us some great advice about focusing on specificity in our writing. And my one-act play, “Sad Karaoke”, was performed in the Theater Lab class today and was so exciting to see on it’s feet (yay to my director, Kyle Wilson, and cast, Cameron Spencer, Veladya Chapman and Erron Crawford!!!).

And as great as all these wins were, there’s still work to do. Compliments don’t win competitions. I’m not trying to compete with anyone else necessarily. It’s more like being in competition with myself. Is this work I can be proud of? Did I spend my day focusing on the things I really needed to focus on? Am I taking active steps towards personal and artistic growth.

Absolutely.

But that is also still the case even when I feel as though I’ve experienced multiple loses. Maybe I got passed up for an opportunity, perhaps I was slighted, perhaps people didn’t understand what my play was about, whatever. At the end of the day, who cares? I guarantee as the person experiencing the loss or win, you feel it more than anyone else. And the sooner we get over our losses AND our wins, the sooner we can get back to work and keep at it.

No one has reached perfection, which can sound depressing, but it’s actually affirming, because if we do it because we love it, that means we can still keep doing it because “it” isn’t done yet. Nothing ever really is.

I firmly believe that you have to be in perpetual motion in order to succeed. It doesn’t matter how much, just that it’s happening.

Good luck to you (and may the odds be ever in your favor).

game_over