Artistic (Temporary) Death in 2020
In December 2018 a very short 'play' of mine, which was more like an SNL skit, premiered in front of a live audience. Before then, it had been twenty years since my words were the context of a performance. The following May I acted in my last live performance of someone else's words. I felt a change in my career coming when two of my plays, "Floating on Hope Ave" and "One Angry Gay Man" were workshopped in February 2020. Then, that thing took over artistic life for most of us. Eventually, my written works were produced by a few different companies online, and I acted and directed in other people's words. Of course, the film version of "One Angry Gay Man," what I now call a concept film, was created and aired online through one company and for an online festival. I created various film shorts for my old YouTube profile. Many of them were lost to my belief that my channel wasn't what it should be, thanks to various pieces of advice. When some of my fellow artists returned to live productions as actors, directors, or other artists or had their written work produced once again (if it ever really stopped for them), I feel I went in another direction. I created some more videos and tried to collaborate with other artists, but in general, those efforts were futile. I can't really blame anyone but myself. I wasn't creating any new works; instead, I was relying on past works to bring me recognition. I fell into the trap of believing that since my 'older' works weren't being produced that no one would be interested in newer works.
In that time I lost my best friend and biggest fan, the one person who truly supported and understood my artistic career and was there in the audience during the workshop. I still grieve and struggle at times with that loss. When my mother died, one vital role died, too. As George references in "Floating on Hope Ave," I didn't know how to function. I didn't know how to create. I think in many ways I didn't allow myself to create. I became a shadow artist, trying my best to be a cheerleader for others while neglecting my own journey. The age of social media marketing also convinced me that I had to hustle in a manner that doesn't sit well with me. I never quite mastered self-promotion, even though it felt like that was all I did for a stretch of time there. I knew it didn't do shit to actually advance my career, but I tried. Then I slowly stopped trying. Sure, I would now and then post a YouTube video link or reference a play review on NPX, but in general I didn't have the reasons to promote. My work was not being recognized. Simultaneously, several of my artist friends were working in the field or having their works produced and published. My own jealousy led me to stop following their profiles, and the occasional check-ins just further exacerbated my feelings of inadequacy.
This semester has not been an easy one for me. I've only had one speech class and three writing classes. Only two of those classes have been remote, and I have not been on top of my game this semester. In my remote writing class, I ran out of lessons I could lead and was grateful for the handful of playwrights who joined the class as guest speakers. All of them are far more successful at that role - playwright - than I am. The two accelerated writing classes have been quite challenging for me. I'm so tired of various details of that type of work that my work there is not good either. I do feel like I have inspired some people to write and think differently, but in general, that work hasn't been satisfying for quite some time. I kept phoning it in, though, and that drain of not doing what I love has worn on me.
This is my last semester teaching grade-based writing. This is a huge risk. For the past thirteen and a half years, out of my 133 courses taught, 76 have been writing-related courses. I've led 24 speech classes and 34 other classes over my academic career. This doesn't include the nine years I worked in other non-college settings, which includes two years as a high school English teacher. Without my mainstay classes, my course load and pay will decrease. That fear led me to take on these classes this semester. There is a quote I actually jotted down from a student paper and put on the wall before me. The quote by Kylie Francis reads, "That risk you're afraid to take could be the one that changes your entire life." This change is that risk. I have at least two speech classes this summer, but otherwise life is one big unsecured movement.
Fifteen days remain before the last of my final grades will be submitted. Once again, I will face nearly another two weeks of unemployment, and my first paycheck won't arrive until June 10 because being an adjunct is the worst. When the semester ends, I hope other things I put into motion will resurface, such as work for proofreading. What I really love, though, is acting, and even background work is hard to do when I have specific days I need to work in front of an audience of students. I will do my best to take advantage of days where I currently don't have specific time commitments, otherwise referred to as Summer II. Neither college has released fall assignments for adjuncts, and at neither place am I close to being considered for full-time status, where people know what courses are coming well in advance.
I don't want that anyway. That's not where I belong. I'm an actor, a writer, a director, a collaborator. Of course, I will still need to teach speech online for as long as I can, work proofreading gigs, and perform random tasks as possible. I just can't pursue other jobs that involve such personal interaction. Factory or mail work may become my alternate base. It's not in my make-up to continue dealing with people to the extent I have been most of my life. It's enough of a struggle when I'm working in creative venues. These two years-plus working from home have been a blessing. I need to find ways to revive that lost momentum and tap into the artist I've been and will be again.