Compartmentalizing and the Female Brain

by Tiffany Antone

Have you read this post about women and submissions on Donna Hoke’s blog yet?  It’s super interesting.  In it, she talks about how women statistically submit fewer plays than men do, and so how in the world can we hope to achieve gender parity when we’re not even kicking out as many plays as they are?  She posits a few ideas as to why we’re not submitting as much work as men, one of which might be that we’re simply not writing as many plays as they are (while admitting she’s not quoting scientific data on the subject) and I think that she’s probably on point with some of it.

Because her thoughts echo thoughts that I’ve been personally mulling over (and freaking out about) the past few months – and it all comes down to a very self-judgmental “Why haven’t I been writing as much as I know I should be/want to/need to if I’m going to reach my goal of becoming a real-live playwriting SUPERSTAR (hahahaha) sometime soon?!”

Tina knows what I’m talking about… I think

I mean, I’ve got time.  I’ve got actual time in my schedule to write right now, and instead of being a hyper-productive story machine, I’ve been dragging my feet, occasionally circling the creative drain, and beating myself up about it every step of the way.

And I know that part of my problem is that I’m never JUST thinking about playwriting… When I’m dragging my feet on my written work, I’m dragging my feet on ALL of my work.  When I feel creatively stumped, I feel stumped about life.  I’ve been down and out and confused about just what the hell was wrong with me for months – which was of course not helping me write anything – and then it hit me:

I don’t know how to turn off the very loud, very panic-stricken part of my brain that is constantly worried about finances and health insurance and the unreliability of my fragile adjunct positions and whether or not I’m making something of myself fast enough to save myself from a life of obscure forgotten penury…

Ever find yourself pulling one of these as you just walk into the bank?

And this monumental (and very loud) worry about my own survival has been clouding the creative waters from which I work. This worry about unmet goals and far-off dreams has been pressurizing every unrealized sentence, turning them into huge ugly stones of depressing non-accomplishments that I don’t know how to move.

And once I realized this, the solution seemed clear:  I needed to chill the f*** out!  But how?

Maybe I need to look to some of my male contemporaries who have a (seemingly) easier time compartmentalizing tasks and worries.

I imagine inside every guy there is a Peter Griffin telling him when he’s approaching critical mass.

Because I really think that the gents are better at turning off parts of their brains in order to focus on each thing in turn, one at a time.

What a concept.

I mean, I have always considered my ability to juggle multiple ideas/projects/and thoughts at once as one of my biggest assets, but when the juggling gets out of control, it’s no longer a strength but a very paralyzing weakness.

And I don’t think I’m the only woman out here trying to do too many things at once while mentally beating myself up at each step for not being able to give any one of those tasks my full, undivided attention.  I feel guilty writing because I’m not out earning money by picking up extra paid freelancing gigs, and I feel guilty working on those paid gigs because they are doing absolutely nothing to move me further up the theatrical or academic pipeline.  I worry that the things I want to do aren’t yet earning me a living, and yet I know that they’ll never ever earn a living if I don’t continue to labour away at them in the un-paid now.

But what if I put some of this obsessively negative energy to work through focus.  What if I could shut up the Chicken Little part of my brain and double down on patience and faith in myself and learn to work on one thing at a time?  What if I can learn how to tell my constantly-thinking-worrying-about-3-different-things-at-once mind to let go of some of those worries for a little while, and to believe that putting down a few of my “balls” for a little while won’t bring down the entire circus.

This cat knows what I’m talking about

What if I can cultivate a practice of healthy compartmentalization?

What do you think?

~Tiffany

3 Comments

  • By Donna Hoke, November 11, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

    Totally. Women tend to feel guilty taking time for themselves, especially if there is no concrete reward for doing so. The traditional child-rearing model is a great example; in the past, men chose to be as involved as they wanted to with their kids. Nobody blamed them if they worked too much or came home from work and then read the newspaper. Women don’t tend to compartmentalize in the same way and one thing bleeds into another bleeds into another…

  • By Robin Byrd, November 16, 2014 @ 9:48 am

    I must think like a dude in some respects because it comes down to doing what you have to do to get it done. This past week after working extreme hours for weeks to get a project done which took all my and I repeat – my — free time, I took vacation hours at my desk and finished a play that I needed to submit by Friday. Was I selfish? Yes. Did I get it done. Yes. Why? Because it had to be done. Here’s the thing, if you don’t take care of you, the you that is so important to taking care of everyone/thing else in your life, this you will start to be less than. You must feed yourself, simply. After all my stressing for the project and pushing to finish the play, I had a doctors appointment and guess what? I was completely stress free. Being stress free for me has a lot to do with me getting my stories out. I multi-task till I can’t then I compartmentalize then I multi-task, etc. And, I make time for family and friends – just as important. You don’t have to write as much as ‘unhindered males’ all the time – if that’s a real assumption – but you do have to make time to write and make sure that what you send out is undeniably good work. What are your accomplishments to date? As a whole you, you’re doing pretty good, lady… Don’t sell yourself short. Count all the blessings, try to enjoy the journey, and take care of you, Ms. “Making-a-way-for-other-female-playwrights-to-be-seen aka Little Black Dress, Inc., real life Academic Professional” Phenomenal Woman. You are so totally awesome!

  • By TiffanyAntone, November 16, 2014 @ 10:22 am

    Thank you, Robin – Wise words and encouraging 🙂 I think that dedication and conviction are doubly important. I for one know that I sometimes hide behind my to-do list, as though it’s a legitimate reason to NOT write, when in fact it isn’t. Making the time and then setting that time aside for writing, and then using it for what it was intended is key, and that’s something that I’m really working on 😛

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