I live with approximately one thousand paradoxes in my brain. I want to do more, I want to do less. I want everyone to like me, I want no one to know me. I want to be good at music, I want to stay bad at music so I’m not obliged to ever do anything of good musical quality, ever.
But there is this one paradox that defines me. A paradox that trumps the rest: I want to be close to the fire, I want to run away from the fire.
Let me explain.
Symptoms of being close to the fire (in chronological order):
First, there’s awkwardness. You march into situations you know nothing about, not sure what you’re ready for or what will happen. This includes: being in a place where you don’t speak the language, agreeing to do something you don’t know how to do, breaking the rules for a reason that’s apparent to only you, creating any type of art. The fire can get awkward really quick and it’s usually terrible.
Then suddenly, euphoria! This usually happens if you live in the awkwardness long enough to be fulfilled. Don’t ask me how it works, but if you run toward awkward situations, you usually discover something vital. Don’t ask me what. How should I know? The euphoria is the best part of being close to the fire.
After euphoria you get good old depression. That big discovery you made has faded, or you figured out that it wasn’t real (or for us artists, it was “cliche” or “not your best work”) or you just need to do the dishes again. What the hell? I thought this big euphoric moment would mean I wouldn’t ever need to do the dishes again! Oh I do need to do the dishes? Now? Okay…
Then it starts all over again.
Boldly go toward awkwardness, find total euphoria, loose total euphoria. That’s the fire cycle. It’s a total roller coaster of mood swings, existential crises, enlightenment and lots of awkward failure.
I want that. I LOVE that. I’m in theatre because it’s the art form that, to me, emphasizes the roller coaster. You work on a project, it gets awkward and unintelligible, there’s a euphoric breakthrough, then the show closes and you curl up with Netflix and whiskey, feeling like you’re a worthless human being.
(There are plenty of theatre artists, I’m sure, that have figured out how to make work without going through all this. I sure haven’t.)
So…the thing is…there’s this other thing I want too. I want to be far away from the fire. Which looks like:
Having peace of mind. So you need to do the dishes? No big deal. Just feel the warm water, breathe, maybe listen to some amazing music or awesome podcasts. Take a long walk without music, just thinking about, well I don’t know what you think about, but I tend to think about space, robots and trees. Peace of mind is where you can really figure out how to be a good human being. Or not even that, maybe just a human being. It’s nice.
But then there’s the sense of uselessness. I don’t know if you suffer from this same blessing/curse but if I just sit around being at peace with myself, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything. It gets a little cold when you’re away from the fire. The dishes get done, but in the grand course of humanity, that really isn’t enough, right?
So you distract yourself by watching other people who are living close to the fire. People living close to the fire are super interesting! They make art, they try stupid things that fail, their lives are full of drama. From the child cooks competing on TV to the esoteric playwright who produces shows in his living room – I could be entertained my entire life by these people. I could do the dishes, cook my food and watch the people close to the fire.
So there’s the other cycle. Peace of mind, followed by a sense of boredom/uselessness which is cured by art and entertainment. That’s what it’s like away from the fire.
Me? I want both. If I live in one cycle too long, I crave the other. I’ve tried to solve this couple different ways, all of which fail.
I try to live close to the fire, while pretending I’m not. This usually means creating art, but not listening to what other people think about it. I reject critique – positive and negative alike – because critique reminds me that I’m close to the fire! This pretense takes a lot of mental acrobatics and usually ends with me walking away from the fire.
I’ve also tried to live far away from the fire, but pretending I’m warm. This means I start projects, but never finish them. Excitedly email people about setting up meetings, but dreading them when they come. I pretend I’m on a big adventure, when really I just want to do the dishes and listen to Ira Glass.
That’s my ugliest and most wonderful paradox. Running back and forth, getting cold and getting burned, trying to pick up everything I drop along the way.