A shooting in Seattle. Call the ASM. A shooting in Toronto. Plot the props. A massacre in Syria. Follow up on call times, ask the costumer to work on the bandana, type up to-do list for the director’s assistant, establish task list for my assistant, notes to myself on colored pencils, blacks to wear for performances, driving schedule, when to eat and what will be available, tape my book so pages stop falling out, pay the car insurance–wait, wait, middle brother’s birthday is on Thursday. Crud.
I’ve gotten so busy doing a play about becoming distressed over the state of the world that I can’t pay attention to the world. It’s such an irony that it actually gets hard to say anything about it.
We’re coming down to the wire so I barely get to leave the theater. When I do I’m desperate to decompress and so dunking my head in the days’ atrocities is just not on the agenda. But when should I? Is it when I’m most stressed that I might identify best with people who are literally under siege? Is empathy a worthy goal for a person?
It’s telling that the idea that it’s ok to dissociate, to not have to carry the tragedies of others is voiced by one of the most tedious characters in the play. She’s daffy and uncomplicated – however, her view is most merciful to an individual. Or, rather, she says what most people would say: that it’s ok to shut out terrible news and shrug off the stress and anxiety other people have to suffer. Ultimately, we tell ourselves, we have no responsibility to bear the pain, particularly when it serves no useful purpose. It’s good to be aware of what goes on in the world, but we don’t have to cry just because someone else in the world is crying. We say.
Maybe it’s just me; I don’t want to identify with that sort of giving up and tuning out. But the effects of anxiety are very real. I lose sleep, my appetite gets messed up, I get more gray hairs and more acne, my perspective gets skewered, my temper is shot… I do have my spates of avoiding the news – in between my usual setting of being very tuned in.
Should we all be as radical as the journalists who risk life and limb to be on the front lines of hot zones? Is anything short of a Doctors Without Borders fieldworker morally lazy?
Or if we sit back in our relatively comfy lives and conserve our energy, maybe we can give more of ourselves to the those around us, prioritize our tribes of friends and family and give love and attention to those we actually interact with on a daily basis. In contrast to the character who advocated shutting out bad news, the character who sought it out was just about cruel to those around her. Perhaps not intentionally, but in the end there are few other words that capture what the other characters suffer due to being in proximity to her.
Note: the above was begun last week. Haha, I didn’t have time to finish the post. So I’m catching up now, a couple of days after opening the play.
The play is about far more than looking for the “right” reaction to the pain suffered by strangers. But it was interesting to me to realize that the last couple of weeks have had me so busy that I really have no idea what’s going on in the news. Odd for someone who identifies as an information junkie. And who, as such, has occasionally lost patience with people who put no effort into keeping up with news outside their immediate spheres, believing if they can’t do anything about it they shouldn’t even be troubled by it.
Well…does being driven by the news to a heightened level of anxiety mean the same thing as being a compassionate person? Does our reaction to a broken animal by the side of the road tell us everything about our humanity and connectedness? What do I get out of reading every single news article that comes my way, the entire New York Times, sometimes, or a full two hour block of NPR? What does the world get out of me consuming all that news, besides one more disillusioned liberal?
There are no answers, just doing. Creating, expressing. At Son of Semele we’ve opened ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL. It’s a crazy show; it’s demanded a lot of us at every level. I did some dramaturgy for it in the early days (April-ish) and have been the stage manager throughout.
In order for me to work on output I have to pause the input. I may or may not owe the universe an explanation for why I’ve taken my eye off the ball, but that’s what I’m going with.
ROADKILL runs through June and the first weekend of July.