The Ritual of Self-Destruction

by Chelsea Sutton

I’ve been having a hard time focusing my thoughts lately. When they do coalesce, they tend toward the negative. My ego has been battered and beaten in the wind. About a year and a half ago, I had a decent sense of who I was, what I wanted to do, and where I was going.

Now? I spend most days swirling in negative thoughts.

I’m very sure my friends are tired of asking how I am and what they get is a heavy sigh and a “Oh, I’m fine…” thick with the drama of someone who has just survived an island of dinosaurs.

And while negative thinking does not help one feel particularly motivated or empowered to write that next Great American Play that could not possibly be produced before 2025 at this point, positive thinking feels rather naive right now.

Look at the Goldblum and forget.

But it is not positive thinking I need. I’m realizing that before the pandemic – and actually months before that, in spring 2019 – I was doing okay because I had ritual and routine in my life.

I grew up Lutheran and did the Confirmation thing and the teaching Vacation Bible School thing and mostly hated it all, but continued to pray up until maybe my early 20s. Theater became my new church around that time – it was my ritual, my routine, the way I connected with myself. And now…?

Before the pandemic, I was struggling with finding some solid ground in this new chapter of life. But one thing I kept doing was driving to my grandmother’s house is Anaheim once a week and spending 12 hours shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. She needed the extra help, and I felt useful. Since the pandemic, she is living at my parents’ house (which was always the plan) and that routine fell away…

I didn’t stop praying because I stopped believing in God or the interconnectedness of the universe or ghosts or whatever. I’m skeptical, but I also just bought two Tarot decks and watched the whole of the new Ghost Hunters on Hulu. So, you do the math. But the ritual of praying stopped having meaning for me. Before the pandemic, going to a theater had started to wane in meaning too. Even the act of writing feels more like work than magic.

I’ve defined my life in terms of being “a writer.” My whole identity is wrapped in that. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when certain things don’t work out, when Theatre seems to have said “no thank you” to me in general, and when our industry is on a perpetual pause, AND the film industry, AND all of our terrible dirty laundry is being aired out, one has to wonder if defining oneself by THIS is such a good idea.

My routine these days is just my to do list. Endless check boxes that lead to nothing.

When all your meaning, ideas of success, and curiosity is wrapped up in things that are outside your control, where does that leave you?

We are in a period of self destruction. And rebuilding. On both macro and micro levels.

I have had these three tabs open for the last couple days in preparation of writing this blog.

Highest grossing movie this week was Jurassic Park. A movie nearly 30 years old. An indication that the Hollywood machine has halted….and that stories of self destruction are pretty damn relevant.

This week, Center Theater Group laid off half of its workforce.

The PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship, which was a life-changer for my career and, well, life, has been canceled for next year. It’s unclear if there will ever be the money and support to get it going again.

These are all twisted up together in my head. It has something to do with finding meaning and priorities and community. Something to do with a ritual of destruction. Something to do with the T-Rex in Jurassic Park actually being a hero and not the villain like we are led to believe.

Last time I was at my grandmother’s house, I found this photo (below). This, perhaps, more than anything else right now, feels like this moment to me. A world overexposed and erased. But enough of an airplane left to fly into the fog.

Life finds a way.

1 thought on “The Ritual of Self-Destruction

  1. You are such an amazing writer, Chelsea. (And an amazing person.) You manage to make your very personal, very real struggle something that is sweet and naked and raw and in the end, hopeful. Thank you. For being a writer. And being you.

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