We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations. – Anais Nin
Some of you may already know that I’m preparing for a pretty major life change in the coming weeks. Namely, leaving New York City and moving to the Las Cruces/Truth or Consequences area of New Mexico.
And no, I don’t know anyone out there. This is going to be a free-fall time, a solo adventure with a few specific personal development goals. But let me back up a moment and begin, as they say, at the beginning (which, of course, is never really the beginning, just a middle you happen to call a beginning because that’s the scene you come in on):
As I mentioned previously, I have been longing to get out of cities for a while now and at this point in my life. Living in NYC has only exacerbated that feeling. The concrete and steel and the screams of the bus-brakes and the subways, the smells of the garbage and the press of people the constant press of people have only further instilled a desire to find a place, a quiet place, a place where I can relax my defenses and have space to breath and sit still and listen to silence and tune in to the rhythms of nature. To find my center, to breathe clean air, to open myself up to my surroundings with a sense of peace and safety and joy.
At the same time that this desire has been growing, I made a huge decision a couple of years ago when I left CUNY’s The Graduate Center, forgoing the academic and career path I had set myself on in 2001 when I began my Masters degree at the University of Maryland. Namely, becoming a full-time, tenured college professor. The ramifications of the decision are still being felt, the meanings still being teased out by my mind as I grapple with the awareness that I have chosen to leave behind (for the foreseeable future) a life that holds a tremendous amount of appeal and a career that I’m very good at doing. For years, even when I was mentally (and sometimes vocally) railing against graduate school and feeling ill at ease with the whole notion of academia, I was being told, on a near daily basis, that I was very good at thinking, at research, at writing and at teaching. That approbation felt damn good, regardless of what I was feeling about the system. I was also surrounded by friends and colleagues who were damned smart and curious and excited by ideas and theories and theatre and thinking. Actually, I think I miss that community more than anything else that I experienced as a grad student. In many ways, those colleagues provided more of an impetus for me to think harder than many of my professors and I adore thinking and trying to wrap my brain around concepts that are hard and not necessarily intuitive.
(Well, I do when I am grappling with notions, ideas, and subjects that come naturally to me. Subjects like critical theory, dramaturgy, directing, even teaching others. If I’m honest there are all sorts of things that are hard for me that I avoid – like math and foreign languages. And actually, that’s one of the things I’d like to change about myself.)
What do I really want to be when I grow up? I am tempted to say the same thing that I said when I was seven: “a writer,” but that’s not completely true. What I most want to be is a storyteller. One who can work in various mediums to affect peoples minds, heard and souls. I want to make other people feel what Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Joanna Russ, John Crowley, Samuel Delany, Sherri S. Tepper, Stephen Moffat, and Ron Moore have made me feel. I love directing theatre, and plan on continue to tell stories through that specific art, but directing is easy for me (the challenges of each moment may be difficult, but the process is one that feel entirely comfortable and confident in). Making music is something that I want to become better at, both as a composer and as a songwriter and I will be making a more concerted effort in that arena. I also plan on furthering my experiments in sound design as an expressive and storytelling art
But the most challenging medium for me is writing. And, if I’m honest with myself, writing is also what I most want to leave behind as my legacy. Through plays, short stories, novels, comics and screenplays, I want to tell stories that will astonish and delight, that will make people think and cry and see themselves and see something so alien as to see the world anew. I want to invent worlds where other people want to come and live. I want to create realities that have never been seen and re-write those that have become so trite as to be invisible. I have never stopped writing completely, and have almost always carried a story or two in my head that needs telling, but because writing is hard, it’s very very easy for me to find ways to not do it. School provided me with a convenient excuse because I was writing, just not stories (to be honest though, I do see my academic work as stories, just in a very different sense of the word – but that’s another discussion for another time), and I was expected to focus all my energies on my studies.
Now I no longer have that excuse. Neither will I have a myriad of other excuses for not writing . . . actually, to be more specific, I will not have any excuse not to make writing the primary focus of my life. It won’t be the only thing in my life with any meaning, but the other parts of my life need to be arranged in support of my life as a storyteller and as a writer. Trust me, I know that simply moving yourself from one place to another does not ensure personal change and a sudden ability for self-discipline. So I do not see this move as a solution, or as the answer to my struggles to become the writer I want to become, the writer I’ve always envisioned myself but never actually made happen. However, I do believe that for me to get my shit together as an artist, I need to find an environment that can allow me to feel more open to the world, less defensive, less cut-off from my own needs and desires; a place of silence and stillness that will allow the stories (and myself) a freedom of being that I just don’t seem to find in an urban setting, or, to be completely honest, while living–and by living I mean “significant other” kind of living–with someone.
Scared? Hell yeah. I will have no obligation to anyone but myself and I’ve not been terribly good on that front as it is far easier for me to get work accomplished when it is for someone else. That situation could be directing, where if I don’t come through I let down my cast and crew, or it could be school, where teachers demanded both content and excellence to be delivered to them on deadline. The last time I was not in school, the last time I went west, I fucked around and did very little of worth because I was lazy and undisciplined and unfocused. Graduate school has definitely given me some good habits and abilities that I didn’t have back then, but the fact is I don’t know if I can do this. I have spent a great deal of my life doing things that I know I can do, often times with great success. So, do I have the life skills, the self-discipline, the fortitude, the courage, the skills, or the focus to be who I want to become?
I don’t know.
But I guess I will find out. One way or another.