UKH! - how to not power through a creative dry spell
What's an extended grace period? It's what you give yourself your first year out of school if you move to a city you know nothing about and think you can take the entertainment world by storm while maintaining a full time job.
This site is coming up on two years of being born, I forget what they call those, and it's hardly been touched. Is there opportunity in Chicago to find eager young actors and co-conspirators to flush out and help produce a script? Ya, duh. And a bustling comedy scene that gives time to any new comic that has the courage to live their dream? Yes, hundreds of that. And do energy drinks and cigarettes exist and can fuel you on hard days just like they did during your worst days in college? Yeah they do, but you don't need to treat yourself like that.
Idk if it was the imposter syndrome or the terrible job I had last year, or just not being able to write a decent set for my whole first ten months of living in Chicago, but after one year here, the wind had been almost fully taken out of my sails.
The thing about standup that you need to keep in mind if you're new in town and also not shit, is that lots of people your age have *been here awhile and *are big shit, and it will be incredibly difficult not to compare yourself to them even though all you have in common is that you're in the same line of work. I'd been on my creative wave for 3 years, and in college? I mattered. I was that fucking Kid at the comedy clubs in Columbia, Missouri and when I got on stage? It'd suck 1 out of 2 times, but I'd feel great. And I wasn't just a schlub trying his damndest, I was on the come up. I had friends in the community and I was comfortable where I was after like 6 months in the scene. Maybe 8. But when I got to the city? I felt like a void yelling obscenities and upsetting memories into a hole. I was a void and the audience didn't care about all my secrets and stories. None of them were worth telling anyway. And to top it off, there were ppl in the industry here that hadn't even been at it for as long as I had! It was like I lost my safety net and then got vertigo.
And there's a thing that comes with lack of confidence (p sure it's just called depression) where the act of even trying to make something to be proud of hurts. Like as soon as you start and it's not good, the wind? wholly removed from your sails. and you feel dumb as hell trying to write a script, or even just taking out your camera. I still can hardly bring myself to draw a picture without going "I used to be good at this!!!" in my head. Like convincing yourself that what you're making won't be your best work when it's already taking energy out of you makes you not want to do it at all. So you wait for inspiration. And even when it does come, your gears aren't oiled enough to even start the car. (I do not know how cars work.)
If you've got an excuse, you're gonna use that excuse too, boy, damn you're gonna use the fuck out of that excuse. The job I took to get me to the city required so much commitment and early mornings every morning, like 5am early, some shit that wasn't even feasible in college. But you can't move to the city just to immediately give up on your dream. You still gotta go out to shows at least twice a week. Then once a week. Which becomes a few times a month. Until it hurts too much to bomb in front of a bunch of comics who are that much better than you over and over. And then it's once a month. And then you take a break.
Listen- writers block is one thing when you're in the throws of the creative hot streak, but when you start from scratch and it feels as if your future is at stake? you feel yourself straining the muscles of your right brain trying to manifest a morsel of something you can be proud of. And manic creativity is such a different beast. I began "grinding" and in substitute of doing what you're really proud of, going out and recording people's sets and selling it back to the comic as freelance work (honestly great idea, but I was not well during this period). I started collaborating on a pilot script with a couple guys that always feels overzealous and a waste of time (not if you literally just say it's not). I hopped onboard an ill-fated Chicago music scene project as a camera crew member (make those connections). Honestly? these are wholesome endeavors and I'm glad I mustered up the energy after work and go get these gigs, but they were all short-lived. I didn't have the steam. My collaborators also didn't have the steam. And it made the "breaks" I gave myself so much harder to give permission for because I knew other things I could be doing.
Nobody really liked me when I was 23. Mostly me though. Every little victory was backlit with shame for not having larger victories. This lasted me about six months and I'm so glad it wasn't longer than what it was. And I had no clue how to get out of it, until really giving in.
Sometimes all you can do is forgive yourself. If what you're trying to accomplish isn't giving you any joy, drop that task indefinitely. Don't even bother picking it back up until it gives you the feeling you want out of it. Art doesn't have to be for the observer nearly as much as it needs to be for the artist. I haven't had the means to make a short film since I got my degree. I don't know enough people in this city or quite have the time or organizational skills to direct something just to show to a potential employer. You know actors want to be compensated, right? And you can't convince somebody you're fully competent with the Adobe Creative Suite if the only editing tool you have access to is iMovie. My only means of computing is with this 2017 MacBook Air. They told me as I was buying it that I can't edit a movie on this thing. The others were a thousand dollars more and, fun fact: editing footage on a laptop is gonna shorten the lifespan of the laptop by like five years. It's easy to feel defeated when your aspirations outgrow the means you live in.
When I took that break, the only thing I had faith in was that if I really want to get back to my craft, I'll want to get back to it. "I will reach a point" I concluded, "that I will return to my (writing, performing, filmmaking) because I enjoy the act of it. But until then, I'm not going to suffer through it because of some self-appointed pressure."
I think I'm back to where I need to be.
For the forseeable future, I'm going to try and write on this blog. I'm substitute teaching now anyway, and most products of the school system know there's not a whole lot to do when you're on the clock. If I'm gonna be writing, I'll need some writing samples and there's no use putting them on a WordPress site when I'm already paying to keep this one active. Maybe it'll be fun.