A long time ago, when I was an arrogant (though well-intentioned) 20-something, I was penpals with a favorite writing teacher of mine from college. In one of her letters to me, she said something about the challenge of balancing attention to her writing with attention to her family (husband, kids). In my reply, I said something about how maybe you could only be really good at one of those things. Maybe whatever got you first, got the best of you, and you needed to resign yourself to having the other things in your life playing second fiddle.
She never wrote back.
I wrote again, a year or so later, to say, “I realize I was talking out of school, I hope you’ll forgive me,” but got no reply.
It was rude and insensitive and precocious of me to say what I did. But I do wonder if I was right.
Live From New York…
Cut to the present day: A friend of mine is being considered for a spot on Saturday Night Live. I am so excited for her (she would be perfect), and so insanely jealous, all at the same time. I believe jealousy is an important clue to what we really want (thank you, Artist’s Way), so I’m trying to figure out what it really means.
It’s not about coveting my friend’s potential slot. I’m nowhere near the powerhouse of a comic actress she is. And as much as I love to perform, being a paid performer is not my dream.
So why the jealousy?
Jealousy as Guide
Working on SNL represents exactly the kind of creative collaboration that I want at the center of my life. I realize that the reality of daily life at SNL might be (and likely is) far different than the romanticized ideal in my mind. But at its core, it represents the possibility of fucking around with other artists, chasing creative impulses and ideas, and making something together, consistently, that a lot of people get to see. That is my idea of a dream life.
My old improv group, JINX, played this role for me, for a while, minus the big audience, and it was so deeply rewarding. And then I was in an improvised movie project, called Neutrino, which was the peak creative experience of my life so far, because of the way in which the insane production timeline forced collaboration — similar to experiences I had on the 48 Hour Film Project, but even more condensed.
It was back in college that I had the first collaborative creative experience that really left a mark on me — that knocked at the door of my soul, woke up some latent part of me, and gave me a thrill like none I’d had before. I was part of a group that wrote and performed a play inspired by Paul Simon’s Graceland album. We used improv to develop the script, and it was the first time I’d improvised… it felt so natural. The entire project set my creative cylinders tingling. When I started taking improv classes years later, a similar part of me lit up inside, only it was even more fulfilling, because I came to love the people I improvised with. They became my creative family.
These days, the artist inside me only really gets to come out and play when I write, like I am now. And it is deeply satisfying. I love to write. But even on that front, I have this growing, sad feeling like it’s a gift on the back burner, that I’m not giving sufficient time to grow and breathe.
Finding Space for Art
I just got through reviewing my schedule for the week. It is so hard to set aside the space to write (finding space is a big theme for me lately…), on top of everything else I’m trying to do with my life. And right now, the only reason I have the time and space to write this post is that my wonderful husband is running a few errands with our daughter, so I’m home alone (deliciously alone).
I want to design my daily life to honor and nurture my artist, instead of fitting her (poorly) into the nooks and crannies. If I don’t — how will I get better? How will I explore my full potential? How will I find the bigger audience I crave?
How do you overhaul your life to allow more room for art? Lately, thoughts turn to geography. Brooklyn is inspiring but hella expensive. So is DC, where I’m from. What if I could find a place to live where less income goes further, so I could use more of my daylight to let my inner artist out to play? …without moving to some completely charmless, homogenous, suburban outpost? I don’t need hip, but I do need a pulse, and walkability, and a community.
How do you find that magic place? “Chapel Hill, NC,” I think, or maybe somewhere in Baltimore. But the last time I picked up and overhauled my life, it was just me and Jordan, and we were four years younger and more energized. Now we need to think about schools, and we aren’t interested in moving any further from friends and family, so the west coast is out. Is it savvy to be researching options like Chapel Hill, or am I being absurd? It reminds me of being in my early 20s and thinking I could figure out my career by sitting in my room with a pen and a journal. You have to live your way into these things, sometimes.
Then again, sometimes you need to make shit happen.
To return to the place where I started this post: My friend who’s up for SNL has devoted 110% of her existence to cultivating her artistic ability and voice, and now she is getting exciting opportunities to share her talents with a big audience. Even if SNL doesn’t pan out, I know it’s only a matter of time before she has her own sitcom (truly). I don’t care about fame or glory but I do care about finding the space to really dig into myself artistically and see what I’m capable of; and I care about finding opportunities to share my writing with more people, and finding artistic collaborators (improvisers or otherwise).
But I wonder: With all the energy I put into my family, and my work… is my art doomed to play second fiddle?
Was my (obnoxious) letter to my writing teacher right?
What do you think? How do you put your art on the front burner? What role does geography play? What sacrifices have you made?