As an actor, I accept that all these feelings are necessary onstage. In my real life? I have a harder time making peace with all of them. Of course, the real kicker is that all these "big feelings" happen at once. I keep waiting for a time when I can savor the joy I feel during a production without my familiar friend fear intruding our our time together. I often convince myself that I could deal with shame if I didn't have to face it at the same time of feeling tired. But as we all know, we can't special order our emotions and we can't put a hold on certain feelings during the course of a creative journey. It's a big feelings free for all, whether we like it or not.
Another constant creative mirage that haunts me is the vision of having unlimited time to focus on my play. Wouldn't it be easier to deal with pre-show nerves if I didn't have my full time day job, or have to go to the dentist just days before opening? Again, most of us creatives cannot wipe their schedule clean just because we have a creative date approaching. This crossroads offers a hard choice. We can throw the baby out with the bathwater, and allow the flood of "other" responsibilities and stresses to drown out a creative event we have worked so hard for. That is an option--to let the dentist appointments, day job stress, exhaustion, and millions of other things wash away the joy. Or we can choose to let ourselves feel all the big feelings, including the joy and excitement of making something and getting to share it with the world. Will you still feel overwhelmed? Hell yes. Will fear and shame and anxiety still be with you? Of course. But don't shut the door in joy's face during times like these. You worked hard and made something worthy and at the very least, you deserve to take a moment (or many moments) to recognize and enjoy that. Otherwise, what is all the exhaustion and stress and fear for? Don't let those feelings be in vain. That's one of the reasons we work so hard at something--to enjoy the journey, yes. But we'd be lying if we didn't admit that we also like to see how it turns out in the end.
The other "big feeling" I've been wrestling with this week is vulnerability. BIG WORK is a documentary play and based on other people's words, but woven into the narrative is my own story of struggling with work and my identity. It felt personal to write on the page, but now that I'm facing down opening weekend of the show and the prospect of saying these words aloud, it feels like a HUGE tidal wave threatening to take me under.
I realized that this nebulous feeling that slowly crept into me this week, tightening its grip is actually what researcher/storyteller Dr. Brené Brown refers to as a vulnerability hangover. What is a vulnerability hangover you ask? She defines it as “the feeling that sweeps over us after we feel the need to connect… and we share something deeply meaningful. Minutes, hours, or days later, we begin to feel regret sweep over us like a warm wave of nausea.”
Sound familiar? I have felt this way for years before performances and presentations, get togethers with friends, and job interviews, but only had the words for it after I read the description by Brené Brown. Just being able to define what you feel is the first and often most powerful step in living with the feeling.
Usually a vulnerability hangover happens after we share something deeply personal with others. I haven't shared this play yet, so what I'm feeling is technically not a hangover, but perhaps a vulnerability pre-hangover, if such a thing exists? Whatever it is called, it's powerful. All week, I cannot stop thinking about the fact that so many people in my life will be sitting in the audience, watching this play and hearing, among others', my story. Family and friends from near and far, high school and college, my arts community, my various day jobs, old teachers, and acquaintances alike will all be in that space. My palms are sweating and my heart is racing just thinking about it; it induces this feeling of want to run as far in the other direction as I can. At times like these I ask myself "Who convinced you to jump out of this airplane? What made you think you wanted to emotionally skydive?" And then I realize that it was me. I didn't get here by accident. I brought myself here.
A small benefit of realizing that I did this to myself makes it feel a tiny bit less scary. After all, if I brought myself down this path, I could decide not to jump, right? It's helpful to realize that is a choice. And yet, when Saturday afternoon arrives, I will walk into that theatre and share what I've made. Why? Because the truth is, I want to share it. I want to be brave. I also know my own fear well enough to know that I'm going to experience such joy and exhilaration performing and being fully present in that space that I can't resist that chance. I guess that's why some people get the rush from skydiving. There's the excitement, then terror, and then exhilaration, a true one of a kind experience. A rush of living in the moment.
Over the course of this play, I have really come to terms with what it means to have a day job and I must say, that I don't struggle with my job defining me nearly as much as I did. So much of that peace I feel now comes directly from the process of researching and writing this play. The idea of someone coming to the performance and hearing these stories and getting to walk away just a bit more at peace or with a few more questions about their job and themselves and the work they want to do in this world is one that also pushes me to do it.
I'm going to continue to gear up for this perpetual leap of creative faith and wish you the courage to continue with whatever you may be working on or unveiling soon. So often this process feels like the scene in the movie where the hero tries to jump the car or train across the gap, across the missing tracks, over the cliff. It's tense for sure, but most of the times they make it. And the best part about a creative leap of faith? When you share something you've created, you're not risking life or limb, and aren't in danger of physically hurting someone else. In that way, the stakes are fairly low. Here we go. I'll certainly report to you from the other side of my creative tracks and can't wait to tell you what the big jump felt like. I have a hunch it will be worth it.
If you are in Boston this weekend and next, I'd love to invite you to share this performance with us. There are still a few tickets left: BIG WORK tickets