Thursday, May 21, 2020

How We Use Time Now

how productive is enough

picture of a river through a wooded mountain area tinted blue with the words 'Any time not sick, is time well spent. -Julie Nolke' written on it
pine watt/Unsplash

Let that sink in. Everyday you aren't sick is a good day. In a fairly objective sense we know this is true. I know it hasn't felt like that to me, but I suspect it is still true.

How could that not be true during a global catastrophe. Whatever the specifics of our individual situation, we are facing a world that's different than it was in 2019. As you may be acutely aware, our industry, both on camera and on stage, has been largely hollowed out. This isn't new, Shakespeare faced this too when the plague came to London.

But what do we do? I mean what do we do and feel we need to do now? I have felt alternately that I should be solving everything all at once, and also be content to do whatever I can each day and be ok with whatever that is.

Don't forget to be thankful for the time you have, and make use of those low moments. Feeling uncomfortable is great because it shows you all the things you can be, and what you need to be.

- David Bowie, as told to me by Joseph Dale Kelly

This does not mean you must "be productive." As Bowie says: be what you need to be. Surviving a pandemic is success. Having a pulse at the end of this is success. Have a pulse and then all your dreams can come true.

This may sound harsh, or reductionist, but couldn't it really be just that simple? Couldn't surviving a global pandemic be enough, and anything else is bonus? I think this is an uncomfortable and oddly simple truth. Thriving as we may all wish to thrive may be less possible now than at any other time in our collective lives.

This angers me, and my rage lands on the virus itself. Unfortunately, it has no face to punch, literally or metaphorically (though washing hands does help kill it). So in my distemper, what should fill my time, occupy my days?

There have been good things said about how to spend and even structure time during lock-down and quarantine, but what do we do as actors specifically? There are resources for financial relief (donate to the Actors Fund if you can, mail a donation for COVID-19 relief to The Actors Fund Home, 155–175 W Hudson Ave, Englewood NJ 07631 or visit and click donate), and unemployment is also worth perusing. I am also seeking other options myself.

So step one seems to be pursuing financial relief. Step two probably can be seeking other income. This likely means seeking a non-acting job. Like anyone not doing what their career is, we are very allowed to be unhappy about it.

And there we land back on Julie Nolke's words: any time not sick is time well spent. As mentioned, having a pulse is now the bar for success and we have the gift of anything else. Seeking work that doesn't require going to set or stage isn't fun, but is worth doing anyway.

Maybe step three is to get ourselves creative sustenance. I'm not talking about paying acting work which is likely more scarce now than any other time in the last century. I'm talking about feeding our souls and using our instruments. Creative outlets now, as before, don't always require many others to participate or a hiring to happen first. We can do this without permission from anyone else. No guarantee it will always be satisfying, but it is possible.

Now may be a time we can work on a screenplay we have had on our back burner, or a play. But it's ok if we don't. Maybe we can join one of the online script readings by video chat. But we're fine if we don't. Maybe just cold read something. Or don't. There is no playbook for this or plan we have to fit. That doesn't mean we aren't pushing back against our own expectations. And one's own expectations can be oppressive.

Our own expectations do get dicey. Our own judgements often aren't particularly useful or helpful. That doesn't mean we don't have them or shouldn't have them. It does mean we are likely better served by not acting on our judgements or feeding them. Have I done all the things in an ideal world I would love to have gotten done so far during the pandemic? No. Do I gain by beating myself up for that? No. Do I beat myself up a bit anyway? Yes. It is also tempting to beat myself up for beating myself up? Also yes. I am reminded that it is worth remembering to breathe.

The Crux: the Sabre-Toothed Tiger

And here's the crux of it: many people feel uncreative right now. Many are unmotivated to work on acting things or really anything else as well. You are not alone. A metaphor I hastily came up with early on in this was that we're all trying to do everything we're trying to do with a sabre-toothed tiger in the room with us, looking on and ready to pounce. After all, there is a threat looming. Something that might hurts us and the people we love is, in a way, stalking us. This can't be comfortable. It truly cannot.

This can, all by itself, account for not being motivated. It can explain why creativity may be less accessible. And it is awful. Acknowledging the pain at least gives us some sort of handle on it even if it doesn't help it go away. Yes, Shakespeare wrote some great work during epidemics, but almost everyone else didn't. Almost everyone in the history of the world hasn't. Virtually everyone. And that does not make them any less valid of a human. If you have made anything, it's bonus. Our worth is not bound to our output. We do not earn the right to be ourselves through productivity. It is worth saying again. We do not earn the right to be ourselves through productivity.

And there's the gain we can have that Bowie name checks: this discomfort can show us all the things we can be. Yes it is awful, and the possibilities for the future are limitless. Still. These feel mutually exclusive but they aren't. It strains the mind to hold the ideas together at once: the difficulties we face now and our dreams coming true. We can survive this, and doing so is enough to achieve greatness when the threat has passed. Having a pulse at the end of this is exactly enough for us to thrive down the road. Yes, we'd like to thrive all day everyday, and often we may have been amazingly lucky to be able to. Right now, that is less possible. And that is the fault of a virus. Place the blame there, where it has been earned.

Maybe we can see things more clearly through this, even ourselves and our priorities. And maybe we can't. Either way is ok. Because simply being around tomorrow leaves us with options. So do that, and you're succeeding. Anything else is a bonus. Everything else is a bonus. Talked to a friend? That's bonus. Ate something vaguely healthy? That's bonus. Scrawled something down for a future project? Bonus. Read this paragraph aloud to check in with your cold reading and speaking of text? That's bonus too.

No two actors have the same career path. We're not lawyers, accountants or anything with a singular sequence of steps to take that lead to employment or professional development. We also get fewer road signs along the way confirming our progress is in the direction we want or that progress is happening at all. This has long been true.

But often our best work is when we, and our characters, face uncertainty with courage. And courage does not mean not being afraid. Courage does not mean knowing the outcome or forcing ourselves into some form of comfort that is known and straightforward. Courage does not mean feeling good about it and courage is not concerned with comfort. Courage is doing what we do anyway. Sometimes that thing we do is read a line, execute blocking, show up to an audition on time or play a role. Right now the "it" we have to do is have a pulse. Our task is to be. Our success is to look back on this pandemic and tell those unborn now what it was like back then. Back now.

We can act in faith or act in fear, but not both. Act in the faith that surviving now lets you thrive later. The thriving will come, as certainly as the sun will rise tomorrow. Right now, just be. And may all the time you spend be not sick and so well spent. And if you do spend time sick, may that time pass as gently as possible and return you to days well. Just be.

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this posted by David August at 1:05 PM 

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