Yesterday I wrote a happy post. I warned you there’d be a sad post.
This is it.
As writers, we are trained to find patterns and story in our everyday tragedies and tribulations. We look for meaning. We look for bad guys and good guys. We look for connections, arcs, morals, lessons.
This is both a blessing and a curse.
Theatre artists will work long hours for little to no pay because we believe in what we do. Because we think we’re lucky. Because we have glorified the starving artist trope. Because we have to pay our dues, which we have interpreted to mean that we have to be okay with being treated like shit or underpaid or burnt out and so exhausted from working on other people’s visions that we have no time for our own.
There’s a whole thing going down about The Flea in New York right now, about their practices doing exactly what I described. I never worked with them, have no intimate knowledge of what happened. But this particular exchange hit me as truthful in a universal way:
I used to wonder if I should have moved to New York to be a playwright. At some point I blamed my choice for staying in Southern California as the reason I had no real playwriting career. Whatever the hell that means….I mean really. I don’t know. Do you? I used to think playwriting could be a career and now I’m not so sure.
I stayed here for many reasons. Not the least of which I was afraid, yes. But I also had a grandmother who I was very close with, already in her 80s by the time I graduated college. And a younger brother turning 7. I wanted to be a part of their lives. For her, it was the last decade of her life. I was already projecting into a future of grief, and I wanted to plan for that. I could be a granddaughter and sister across the country. But not in the way I wanted to. I figured I could still be a playwright here just as well and still be the person I wanted to be. So I stayed.
I used to wonder if I should have gone to NY to work at places like The Flea. But if I had made that choice, 13 years ago when I was leaving undergrad, I would still be here, in the middle of a pandemic, the whole industry shut down and scrambling, and sins surfacing because we no longer have anything to lose.
And I’d be alone in a little apartment in NY. Maybe with another production or two under my belt. Maybe. But just as broke and confused and wondering if I should have stayed in LA all those years ago.
And I’d be grieving my grandmother just the same.
Because she died yesterday.
It’s a long story that I don’t think anyone wants to read. But she and I both contracted COVID from her caregiver, who we had just hired to come in to my parents home, where my grandmother was now living, to help her exercise and eat and be well a few times a week. I’d met the caregiver that first day and spent a lot of time showing her around. She didn’t know she’d been exposed before coming to us.
So my grandmother and I both got sick. It has been a very long month.
Here is where the blessing of the writer species comes in. I look at the whole arc of the story, and I’m grateful I stayed close by. I was able to be close with her, help her where I could, and be next to her while she died at home yesterday afternoon. So many people do not get that small gift right now. To be able to say goodbye. To know you did something, even if it was not enough to conquer death. I’m glad I did not give up who I hoped I could be for the chance to work at The Flea.
Here’s the curse.
I’m angry. I’m angry at everyone refusing to wear masks, who take risks that are intentionally exposing others. For companies who do not, after 9 months in a pandemic, have even the minimal amount of education and systems to at least find proper protection.
I’m angry at the idea that art can only be made on a little island on the east coast. I’m angry at everyone who has exploited others, including myself for buying into it and working in that system.
In my happy post, I wrote that the pandemic has shown how racist, selfish, lazy, entitled, self-driven rather than community driven we all are. And I stand by that. And I’m angry about it.
But, my default is to look for meaning and clarity in all this, to organize it into a story I can understand. But my anger does not work like that. I am going to spin my wheels on that search for years. I will never have an answer that feels like enough.
I think every grief is different. For each person, and each loss.
We’ve been grieving the loss of theatre for 9 months. It has looked different for everyone.
I’m still figuring out what my grief looks like right now. It has been almost 28 hours.
This is going to take a long time.