Theatre people ask me the same question over and over again. I'm at a cocktail party, on the street, at a catering shift, or in a coffee shop and I run into someone I know. "How are you?" They ask. "What are you working on?"
When I am between projects, I do my best to avoid this question. I dodge people I know will care about the answer. I avoid large social events. I cater cocktail parties and pray I won't run into anyone I know. I drink with friends who are good enough not to ask. When someone pops the dreadful question, I answer noncommittally. "There's this new play," I say. "I'm waiting to hear back from some opportunities," I say. Both are technically true, if not particularly honest.
Working, to me, has always felt like worth. Grades used to be rewards for work well done. They don't grade you in the real world, so when I graduated from college I moved the bar. Work itself became the reward. If I was working, I had an answer to "What are you working on?" If I was working, I could call myself an artist. If I was working, I was worthy.
Then came a year (or maybe it was two) when all I did was work. I have a number of part time jobs - never fewer than two, sometimes as many as seven, and that year I did every one. Partly out of necessity and partly out of fear, I worked whenever I could. I took all of my skills and threw them at the world. I took photos for money, I catered for a couple of companies, I produced, I directed, I never stopped moving. My boyfriend's mother asked me, "Is there anything you don't do?" I laughed in response.
In May, I worked until my body felt broken. Recognizing this, I took a break from physical labor and threw myself into two theatre projects. I told myself it wasn't work if I didn't get paid, so on the side I worked wherever I could find something that did pay.
In September, I took a job in an office to try to work less. I was in the middle of the home stretch associate producing a show that was about to travel to LA - the biggest responsibility I'd ever had. I jumped in and tried to learn a new set of tasks anyway, emailing and taking phone calls for the show on the side, catering whenever I could fit it in. My boss at the office yelled at me a lot.
In October, the show opened in Los Angeles to a sold out house for it's one triumphant performance. My producer-boss thanked me for everything, and told me I was working too hard at the wrong things. I listened and nodded and drank my cocktail too quickly. I wore high heels to the show's opening, hugged my best friend from high school at the after party, had dinner with my parents and flew back to New York for work the next day.
In November, Donald Trump got elected President. I had taken the night off to watch the results (and hopefully celebrate my girl Hillary), but I regretted it as the night went on. I wish I was working, I thought. Then I could stop myself from feeling this.
In December, I thought about the new year. What were my resolutions? How did I want to spend the year? What did I want to work on? I came up with nothing. In between my office job and my catering shifts, I went home and slept. I started watching Gilmore Girls from the beginning. I went on a lot of coffee dates.
It's March now, and the New Year has come and gone. Donald Trump has been President for 44 days. I am still working at the office, still catering, still worrying about money. I have to pay the bills, after all. But somewhere in the last few weeks, I've stopped answering the question "what are you working on?" so noncommittally. "I'm taking a break," I say when theatre friends ask.
I'm taking a break. It's true and untrue, all at once. When they ask, I want to say:
I am chasing freedom.
I am talking to my sisters on the phone.
I am remembering what being a storyteller means.
I am spending more time nose to nose with my sweet kitten, who loves when I am home to play with him.
I am writing more. I am writing truer.
I am spending hours reading on the couch.
I am taking time to listen to myself.
I am going to brunch.
I am being still.
I am breathing.
I am letting the world come to me.
I am, finally, trying not to work so hard.