How To (Not) Get Stuff Done

So I wrote this dramatic blogpost about feeling dissatisfied with my career and frustrated (this is not a surprise, frustrated is my middle name, but I’m trying to change that….). And it’s been a couple of days. And I’m still thinking about it.

Truthfully, I feel safer being employed for any number of reasons. (cough… Brexit… cough…. but not only that).

1. When I finally became employed a year ago, a huge mountain of financial stress just… fell off me. I’m in no hurry to pick it up again. My mental health likes a steady paycheck.

2. While I may complain about not being able to do stand-up and socialise as much as I’d like, early morning and regular hours are a huge boost to, you guessed it, my mental health.

3. I regularly experience a “grass is greener” moment, like: oh look, here are all these amazing things I used to do that I can’t do anymore, like… songwriting! and…. stand-up comedy! and open mics! And…. yes. I’m not doing those things, or have to really fight to do them on monthly, rather than weekly basis. And yes, the frustration and feeling unable to commit to my career are also a drain on my mental health, since I keep mentioning it.

HOWEVER. Having all my time free and unencumbered would NOT mean that I’d be doing all the things. And there are other things that I am able to do now that I was never able to achieve, such as: regular exercise! (great for, uh, mental health? and physical health, wherein I’m having some problems!); regular writing! (I do occasionally skip a week, but I AM WRITING MY PLAY – it may take me ages at my current pace, but still doing it!); regular sleep! (I’ve never been insomniac, but it does help to have habits). So:

4. I have a tendency to blame my job for being too emotionally and physically draining. But there is nothing to blame. I like my job, and I chose it from the ones I felt available to me. The things that recommend it (gratifying, all-encompassing, engrossing) are also the things that detract from my ability to do artistic things. Take it or leave it, but it is a choice.

5. It’s not a question of whether I should leave my job, as much as it is a question of: can I sustain myself financially and emotionally if I do that?

Therein lies the problem.

PROCRASTINATION AND OTHER FUN WORDS

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I achieve and don’t achieve things. The nemesis of my life has been, simply put, my inability to follow through with plans I make. And while a lot of the time, the plans I’d create were unrealistic and perfectionist, i.e. accounting for every minute and not scheduling any breaks, sometimes even when the plan is good, my day can go completely off the rails.

A lot of it is to do with how I feel.

For example:

  • I respond well to an immediate, external deadline. No deadline = hard.
  • Accountability is helpful and so are other people. Doing things by myself = hard. Even if I need to spend meaningful time with myself to recharge. I don’t always know how.
  • I often tell myself I “should” do thing A, while I secretely need thing B. Example: this morning I should have cleaned. I needed to watch some videos for a bunch of time and cry. Now I need to write, but I’m writing a blogpost, because I need to think, not my play (that will come later). And I’m late to a picnic. So.
  • I often don’t know how to rest or don’t recognise that I’m out of energy. And sometimes I will consciously push myself past it (especially on a deadline) and pay for it later (and be frustrated with my perceived inability to do things).
  • I have a lot of projects. I mean, A LOT OF PROJECTS. I have wide interests, I’m unwilling to drop any of them and specialise, but on the flip-side I get very, VERY overwhelmed.
  • There are things that I need to do that cause me discomfort and fear. A lot of the time I don’t do these things until I absolutely have to. I postpone certain job applications, I’m terrified of making certain decisions, I can’t touch certain topics with a footlong pole. I used to wind up reading fanfic, and nowadays I just watch a looooot of YouTube videos and eat sweets. (if you know me or have been reading this blog for a bit, you’ll know that I’ve gone off sugar at times, or off internet for that matter. These things are not necessarily feasible in the long-term for me, i.e. staying offline all the time won’t work for any number of ways. So for now I recognise that internet + sweets are my imperfect coping mechanisms for when I’m Not Dealing With Stuff).
  • The things I fear and procrastinate about don’t all come with deadlines. For example, I’m getting much better at managing my finances and doing tax return. But there are things to do with managing my career that intimidate the holy hell out of me, such as, oh: participating in comedy heats! Designing a website! Starting and promoting a functioning Patreon! These things don’t have deadlines, but not doing them is cheating me out of progress.
  • I really struggle to bring myself out of certain moods. I rarely go really low anymore, but if and when I do, I very much struggle with asking for help.

THOUGHTS ON POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

So this is hard. And pretty long-term, far as both problems and potential solutions go. Much as I’d love to just quit my job and run off into an artistic sunset, I’ve done that twice before and these were two hard landings – I’ve not been able to sustain the confidence and high energy and commitment to my plans for long enough to launch a career and more importantly, keep it going – and I’m saying that as a person who has had successes in her chosen fields and regularly does paid artistic work.

I’m not going to quit my job or having a job until I 1. have savings that are explicitly for the first 3 6 months of freelance life 2. I can commit to plans and fullfil them in a way that doesn’t self-sabotage my future self. 3. I am generally in a place where I can trust my mental health to sustain itself in the hardships that freelance life (or any life) is sure to bring. These are some lofty goals, but they are goals.

So. Here is what I’m going to do.

Step 1: ongoing – Pursuing mental health help. I am, and have been, looking into getting some help in a low-cost way. It’s not easy – NHS is underfunded, queues are long etc. – but I will keep trying and hopefully can get some support.

Step 2: ongoing – I will continue to refine and test methods of planning, organisation and self-motivation. I just started a bullet journal, I have my token system –¬† and am officially designing my August, so it will great to see 1. if it works and 2. if I can stick to my own plans this month!

Step 3: NEW! I will work on designing a supportive community. I have some fantastic friends and family whom I can ring up and I couldn’t be more grateful. However, I live in London, my friends are busy and so am I and my family is in another country. I’ve been pondering ways to get support on a more regular basis – I really feel a need to get a creative team. More on that later, when I get things going.

Step 4: ongoing + new – Health and exercise! I finally went to see a GP again and am working on being more regular about it. Exercise-wise, I’m still swimming, but some other things I’ve been doing, I had to temporarily drop. This August I will make the time to visit a bunch of classes, to decide whether I want to do anything local (pilates, yoga, DANCE) or stick with the things my workplace provides. I am VERY excited about this (DANCE) because I love dance and I haven’t done it in ages and DANCE.

Step 5: ongoing – Keep on creating new routines that will hopefully contribute to better mental health and artistic activity. I recently discovered Yoga with Adriene, which I enjoy; I’d like to go back to songwriting if I can; I write poetry whenever Rhymes With Orange have something on… plus I blog here whenever I manage. That’s in addition to batch cooking with Oddbox vegetables and trying to keep to cleaning routines I set up with my flatmate and, and, and…. you get the gist.

Step 6: NEW! I will work on getting past my fears. I’m currently writing down a list of things that I’m scared to do, so I can plan in more detail how to get past them. This will have a separate blogpost(s?).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Wow, that was a long blogpost, which I meant to only write as a draft to get my thoughts together. I definitely earned some tokens for that! It cheers me up to see that a lot of solutions I’ve come up with are ongoing, which means that I’m already in the process of changing things up, even if the results are not always readily apparent. Onwards and upwards. Let’s go!

 

Am I Staring At The Sun

When I was in middle school, I listened to Offspring’s Americana.

Welcome! To! Ameri. Cana.

Please. Make. Your. Selection. Followed. By. The. Pound. Sign. Now?

It was a time when I relished heavy guitar music. It was the perfect soundtrack to light teenage angst, slightly more serious burgeoning depression and assorted problems that came with my territory.

I only got into that one Offspring album, mainly to understand the “Give it to me baby… – uh huh, uh huh!” chorus that showed up in parties. (One day I’ll talk more about growing up in peripheral Poland with American culture, but it will have to wait). To my surprise, I loved it. I loved it not for the acknowledged hits, such as Why Don’t You Get A Job. Two songs captured perfectly my sense of alienation: Have You Ever and As You’re Staring At The Sun.

I wrote alternative lyrics in Polish for As You’re Staring At The Sun. I scribbled its lyrics in journals, I sang it under my breath, longing for the full breadth of rock abandon. I wanted somebody to give me a microphone and allow me to sing it, not realising that a rebel scream is never, ever permitted.

Time has passed. I have mellowed. My voice may well be more suited to jazz than it is to rock or punk; I may secretly (or not secretly…) be very sensitive and afraid of offending people, rather than screaming hard-ass rebel I’d dreamed of becoming. I dreamed of being unafraid. Thats a dream that did not come true.

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Have you ever been an artist with a dayjob? Have you ever hated your dayjob? Have you ever found a dayjob that was fulfilling? Have you ever felt like you were cheating on your art? Have you ever got caught up in a paradox? Have you ever felt that there was more?

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I have a dayjob and I’m good at it.

I am a performer. Autistic children are a hard, hard audience. And to a point, I am thriving. Instant gratificaion, being off media, lots of running, changing landscapes. I’m loving it, I’m extremely organised, I’m incrementally… dying? Dramatic. But I do keep realising that I re-organised my life for this work to an extreme extent, with discipline that I was unable to execute as a freelancer. And that bothers me. Bothers me a lot.

So what’s the problem? I like my kids and my team, I am part of the school’s community, I occasionally check out other jobs but don’t make serious plans. I rarely manage to apply for artistic jobs of any kind: I either have no availability or no juice. The job is taking the majority of my energy; if I manage to do anything at all, it’s a surgical strike, maybe three hours a week that I can afford to spend on art. And that bothers me. Bothers me a lot.

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Why do I work harder for a company than for myself? Well, it’s much easier to believe an established entity that hires others. I am motivated by other people’s presence – a lot easier to do work with immediate reward and impact that work for possible future gain. But also I keep noticing this thing of working AROUND my dreams rather than towards them. Like, I’d written songs, but god forbid I honestly pursue getting paid for that, I was just tinkering (i.e. wrote/improvised over a 100 songs, semantics); I wrote three shows, but forget about touring; I love singing, but THAT’S terrifying; I play the piano, but practicing that would trigger my primary school trauma or whatever.

I’m scared. I keep doing things that are slightly AROUND my fears. I’m a good comic with decent timing, but forget about doing heats – nevermind that with my job open mics are all but impossible, because I need to sleep. I can do drag, but not drag improv. I can do improv, but not burlesque. I can do stand-up, but not clown. I haven’t sung for months. I’m losing myself a little.

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I need a new metaphor. Is pursuing my art really staring at the sun, an impossible endeavour? There are still the small things that I do while I wait, like writing this blog, rehearsing twoprov every two weeks, my weekly playwriting sessions and monthly poem-writing courtesy of Rhymes with Orange. These are the real things, things that will count and be beautiful. But I strongly dislike feeling marinated in fear – it’s an emotion I live with and maybe can’t imagine life without.

Perhaps it is time to make a list of things I stopped doing and consequently started fearing. A sum of all fears, to be conquered in small installments. Because aside from the universal fears that we all share now – the rise of fascism; the fall of environment – my personal fear-demons have been kicking my behind for longer than I care to count. And maybe there is no perfect fearless Rita that I dreamed of – just the one willing to face herself, and keep doing it rather than getting comfortable.

Happy Pride: A Love Letter To Fanfiction

It is Pride Weekend. My Facebook is full of glitter and my nails are rainbow. But my mind strays from more straightforward (hah) celebrations to a road less travelled. Here is my quiet love story with fanfiction, which I started reading around age sixteen, became obsessed with at nineteen, to the point of writing my Master’s thesis on it back in 2011.

The beginnings

As a kid I read Everything (and some of it twice). I was pretty obsessed with novels (hello, Three Musketeers and everything Dumas ever wrote!) and about age thirteen I stumbled into the world of Harry Potter. Thirteen is, of course, the age that the Polish translation came out and was heavily promoted. I got myself a free copy of the book and from then onwards, I was lost. Around book four, I gave up on waiting for the translation to happen and got my greedy little hands on the English-language Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At the launch of book seven I was actually in the US, queuing up at Borders around midnight; I remember getting up at 7 am next day and being done with the book around 2 pm. I devoured Harry Potter and at a certain time, I ran out of it.

Enter fanfiction. In fact, history repeated: I found a Polish language fanfic forum, read most of it, found an ongoing translation of a fic I Really Liked (which I can’t link to, as the author has long gone to the published side of the Force….!) and clicked through to the English version. My story of fanfiction is, in many ways the story of me mastering the English language. I have done it mostly through reading romances about wizards. You’re welcome.

What is fanfiction?

Technically, it’s any fictional writing that is viewed in the context of an “original” or “canon”. In this sense, POV books such as The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, could be regarded as such. To many people, fanfiction means lack of quality and literary merit: those people don’t know where to look for good fanfiction. Oh, for sure, bad fics exist; but like any literary society, fanfiction has developed recommendation systems (recs), that help you locate where the good stuff lives. Final definition could be that fanfic lives on the internet, for free, whereas Real Literature you get paid for. Aside from a furious mime pointing towards the Fifty Shades of Grey books (their literary merit is a separate discussion), that definition mostly covers it.

Why fanfiction?

To be honest, my first reason to read fanfic was to get Moar Harry Potter Content. The proliferations of a Canon are infinite – what if we genderswap everyone? What if we put these characters in a rock band and have them tour the world? Some of the variations are almost scientific: take character A, character B, a dash of universe U and… wait for an explosion. In fact, many writers cut their teeth on fanfiction and it’s easy to see why: you get to practice controlling the plot when the characters are already created; you get to play in somebody else’s sandbox, decorating a pre-existing sandcastle. You get to, interestingly, find the holes of the original – to go back to the Harry Potter example, its mythical quality (some houses are Inherently Bad, etc.) lends itself very well to a meditation on the nature of prejudice. I have read many a fic in which the Slytherin perspective has been told, in which the original rejection of Draco Malfoy by Harry Potter never happens, changing the course of war and history for the better. The very nature of fanfiction is looking for a different narrative, much like jazz music meanders around a melody that’s being improvised on. So you’ll find alternative universes where being gay and trans is so normal nobody remarks on it, the authors trying to figure out those perfect societies; conversely you will find “Man in High Castle” meditations on the nature of authoritarianism as well.

Hello, porn!

The discovery of slash (gay male) porn was something of a revelation of my late teens (those who were around when I was writing Girlfag in 2015, know). And while you may laugh at that, fanfic has given me a representation of my own erotic imagination – something that Pornhub regularly fails to do. Writing fanfiction tends to be, roughly, a female pursuit, although it’s been years since I’ve seen any stats on that. In pre-internet times, when Kirk and Spock¬† fans congregated and put their K/S (hence: slash) love stories in fanzines, it was mooostly older women writing it: perhaps the ‘net has changed this. These older statistics wouldn’t reflect gender diversity, anyway; rather, let’s say that fics represents a form of desire that veers away from the male gaze and mainstream narrative – and that’s pretty important when it comes to, well, sex scenes! I’ve read a lot of fairly idealised romantic sex in fanfic, but what draws me in these days is the representation of stuff that I literally never find in mainstream. Sex after trauma; kinky sex; transgender characters figuring out their true selves; exhaustive conversations on consent and boundaries; it all lives there on the internet. Fic gave me a broader understanding of humanity in general, as well as my own desire – because as well as fantasies of perfect sexual encounters, you’ll find the full breadth of human insecurity, awkwardness and the inherent humorousness of sex, as well.

What draws me to fanfic?

To this day, I read fanfic, although it is rarely Harry Potter. I made several lateral moves over the years, reading all and any fandoms regardless of knowing the original texts. I’ve been mostly guided by good authors: people who write amazing Harry Potter fic have written great Stargate Atantis, Due South or Avengers fic and therefore introduced me to those fandoms. The combination of non-male-gaze perspective, the structural lens with which the authors tend to view society and a good sex scene here and there is pretty irresistible! I have also followed the published authors who had to delete their fics once they got published – because I knew their writing to be good back when nobody was paying. I love fanfiction, because it’s a supportive community; because it offers a new writer some training wheels with which they can learn to ride through the peaks and valleys of plot; because it’s a place to meditate on favourite characters, their backstories and motivation. And finally, because at its best, fanfic is a way to change the world – one Harry-Potter-is-gay-and-proud story at a time. And don’t get me started on Captain America….!

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