004 | forced relaxation.

I’m trying to learn this new-to-me concept of relaxing on purpose. Have you tried this? Have you been told you need to do this? Rather than relaxing only when you’re at your breaking point and there’s no other option? The former is foreign to me, the latter is de rigueur. Or was. That’s what I’m being told repeatedly to change right now.

Let’s rewind. My pre-pandemic life was non-stop. When you take on a flighty artist career with no solid guaranteed track of progression, or even a mediocre spot you can sit in stagnant while collecting a dumb little salary (any character on any show can be killed off with no hope of ghosts haunting characters fortunate to be alive by the mercy of god showrunners), you spend a lot of your time justifying spending the majority of your life and headspace on unpaid work.

Definition: unpaid work (adjective + noun)

All that goes into stepping foot into this “pay to play” industry.

Auditions (prep, hair, makeup, commute), self-tapes (in-home studio setup: camera, lighting, sound, background, arranging for a reader (in-home or at a studio), performing improv/stand-up nightly at comedy theatres (and sticking around for drinks to foster those relationships), classes, practice, creating your own work (writing, rehearsal, production prep, shooting, editing, submitting to festivals), networking/getting your face in front of casting directors (coffees, panels, workshops, events, committees, play readings, attending friends’ shows, social media), oh and those silly little hugely-impactful things like updating your headshots and demo reel.

So I did all of that. And I fuckin’ LOVED it and readily want to get back to it. I was all up in it. Not a single day went by that I didn’t meet a new person I genuinely wanted to keep in contact with as a friend and work with in the future. We all did it, and continue to in some way, because it keeps you on your toes, lets you keep strengthening your acting skills even if you haven’t booked in over a year, keeps you engaged with new grants, projects, writers fleshing out their scripts. And, frankly, just have people to turn to when you’re confused and need to commiserate on the nerve-wracking but totally normal aspects of your mysterious career choice.

Oh shit, I just thought of another piece of unpaid work: the upkeep of your mental and physical health in order to keep up with the strange demand to simultaneously balance incredible vulnerability for your performances, and accept continuous notes and rejections. Good result of the mental health unpaid work: Nothing is a rejection. It just wasn’t for you. Celebrate those who were meant to play that role. Then go bust your heart out at karaoke and get your kudos from those rowdy strangers sitting too close to the stage. Your singing lessons were worth it. They sent you drinks. Exposure bucks be mad real.

Not a single day went by that I didn’t meet a new person I genuinely wanted to keep in contact with as a friend and work with in the future.

So that’s the unpaid work.

For auditions, you could get as little as 12-hour notice, meaning a M-F 9-5 gig to actually bring in your “how the fuck am I supposed to live?” money was pretty much impossible. I was fortunate to have a professional career I could reel back into a part-time office role. Lucked out hard on a part-time contract with incredibly supportive, and let’s admit it, slightly intrigued and invested, higher-ups that let me create my own schedule and change-up my availability on short notice due to my “acting thing.” In addition (because part-time hours don’t provide enough to live) I took on a second part-time role, this one as a front-of-house supervisor at a comedy theatre– with more regimented work hours. But, bonus, when you’re surrounded by actors, it’s a bit easier to offload shifts short-notice in order to streetcar it to an audition on the other side of the city.

And that brings me back to relaxation. Wow, I spun out hard into the weeds on that explainer…

How do you justify taking a day or evening off to do nothing, when you’ve turned your hobby into your career and your free time into side-jobs? You… kinda, don’t. Waking up lazy at 11am on a Wednesday doesn’t feel that great when you know you could’ve used the morning on building/practicing something for your career. I’ve had office jobs. I’ve gone above and beyond for them. But I really didn’t need to because barely any workplaces are that loyal. Tell me you couldn’t walk in day in, day out, put in the same minimal level of effort and walk right back out and still keep making a buck. With this weirdo artist career, you know that you hold the choice– you either make something happen each day, or you let all of your efforts slide back until you become a nobody. Nothing’s guaranteed. If you lose your clout or appeal, your agent’s got every right to drop you like a hot potato before you leave your stink on their roster.

“You’re in a state of panic. And your anxieties can’t be addressed until we calm you down. So sit and watch comedies. Laugh. Distract yourself.”

My family doctor.

So when the pandemic started, I really didn’t know I was freaking out internally. I was so consumed with making to-do lists, attacking the big house projects that I never got around to, creating tasks and exercise programs to keep my mind and body alert… But I was never actually reaching the point of working myself to exhaustion like pre-pandemic times, which would result in curling back into bed for the day every week, to let my muscles and mind zone out.

Spring/summer/fall 2020– I didn’t lay on the couch and watch Netflix. Yes, I did have several rewatches of Brooklyn-99, Superstore and Archer, but that was in the background while I turned my place inside-out and purged every room in my home (which, funnily enough, resulted in me banging and cutting open my forehead and very scarily discovering my newfangled allergy to the antibiotics in Polysporin– it was a week of almighty horror to watch my face swell up like the IT clown’s balloon, but right now, hilarious. I looked like a sumo wrestler. I recovered. Not this time, Pennywise.).

I didn’t actively sit and watch TV and use the least amount of my brain as possible. I didn’t play games on my phone. I just couldn’t justify doing so. I was already being a waste on society, so surely I couldn’t add to it.

And now I’m in a state of depression rolled up into grief, and prior to starting up with my new therapist last month, my family doctor told me to stop trying to think and journal my way out of this and relax. “You’re in a state of panic. And your anxieties can’t be addressed until we calm you down. So sit and watch comedies. Laugh. Distract yourself.”

Therapy’s helping majorly, and I’m only able to do the emotional work because I’m actively giving myself TV time. I’m actively sitting my butt down to play Candy Crush until I get to a frustratingly insane level (hot tip: leave it and come back the next day, the game will take pity on you and bring down the difficulty level, I swear, and I have no issue with robots pitying me before their near-future takeover). I’m actively sitting my butt down to read series and series of romance novels about cousins in the Midwest and siblings in Alaska each finding their soulmates (these outsiders all surprisingly have no qualms about relocating and living in isolated Alaska, meanwhile I can’t get a guy I’ve invited over and dimmed the lights for to make a move on me…)

Therapy’s helping a lot, so much so that I’m back to making daily to-do lists and creating and completing projects. In fact, I’ve already done a cleaning overhaul and rearranged my furniture. I can feel myself wanting to go gangbusters on my career and jump for the highest peak possible.

But I also keep getting reminders from all over, from healthcare workers, from general internet discussions… Just take it easy on yourself, would ya? We as a general population, we have anxiety. Our poor Canadian vaccine rollout will go as it goes, waiting truly is our only option, so in the meantime… Calm, bring down the anxiety. Distract. And laugh.