006 | the gig i didn’t get.

The second time I met my now sister-in-law, my brother took us to lunch at one of those comfort-food Chinese restaurants where the portions are a’plenty and the ambience is as easygoing as pizza night at home. I tried to be an enjoyable human and not indadvertedly point bright flashing arrows towards my depression and low self-esteem. I ended up trying to make a joke about how aimless I was in terms of my career– having just moved on from a retail sales job to an executive headhunting/business development role I had no business being in because I have never ever been driven by sales and profit– to the complete dismay of my family.

Me: “Oh, I wish I was one of those people who knew what they wanted to be from a young age, then went to school and studied exactly that and now they’re a boring accountant!”

Future-SIL: “My sister’s an accountant.”

My bad. Goddamn, my bad.

But you get it. You decide on a career for its job opportunities, you complete the training, you apply to the jobs, then if you’re feelin’ fancy and adventurous, move onto another company and move up the ladder– but you’ve always got that one field to comfortably move around and adjust within.

The only job I’d ever declared from a young age was actor.

But for my parents sake I declared doctor– medical, not academia. No one wants an overeducated woman, I hear. From my mother. And the Bengali aunties who inform her of these things.

To my friends I declared myself a future med student by day, bartender by night. My head was mostly filled with tropes from ’90s blockbuster films and novels beyond my social comprehension. I’m pretty sure every twenty-something character was pulling some sort of sexy double-duty like that in a big city.

To myself, sitting in front of I Love Lucy marathons every weekday afternoon, I was reassured that my tendency to laugh too loudly and react too bigly was the best life I could ever live.

School extracurriculars to expand on this performing lust never came to fruition in elementary school. We moved constantly in the middle of school years. Singing publicly was being muddled within choirs. Acting was something shy-person me was never encouraged to try though I was desperate to feel it (until high school when my brother pushed me into it! What! Story for another time!). I remember one summer we learned American Sign Language and performed Mariah Carey’s “Hero” for an end-of-term school concert. Yes, I was registered for summer school in order to get out of my parents’ hair, but really, can’t begrudge ’em since when else would I have learned ASL?

The confident superhumans unaware of their own limitations.

While we were all signing the lyrics, one girl, Wendy, was selected to sing it. Long curly hair, supreme confidence, she jumped at the chance to sing solo and goddamn she sucked. Like, so hard. Thirty-six year old me who has now watched and applauded numerous gifted child singers is still horrified by how awful she was. I stood in the second row, my sad signing hands barely visible to our audience of parents, and seethed for not having had the courage to raise my hand when the teacher asked for someone to sing. I felt helpless in wanting to sing solo and so loudly, not along to the radio in my parents’ car, but loudly and proudly to this audience of bored adults.

But that’s who wins, that’s who always wins. The confident superhumans unaware of their own limitations. I bet when they hear the phrase “low self-esteem” their instant reaction is that iconic Mariah Carey gif. And why not, it’s such a pathetic way to face life.

It’s ok, we can say it. In fact I’ll say it first. I wish I was dumb and aloof. I wish I wasn’t aware of how I can come off. I wish my brain didn’t make me feel an everlasting wave of embarrassment the morning after a performance. Don’t worry, I have mentally fortified myself through my late-twenties and now into my thirties. I mean, after the wave of political and cultural idiocy we’ve been over-inundated with for a good few years now, we’re all done holding back. But to have spent so much thought and energy on holding myself down, it’s… it’s annoying.

I think I just want to leave it there. I’m only throwing out the facts here, as the analysis is the work I’ve done since and who I am now. Sometimes I ridicule myself/marvel over how I live my life, similar to how parents form their children’s lives– classes, projects, and practice time– but instead all entirely focused on the development of my own self. The self I’ve always wanted to be. If that makes me selfish, so be it. I can be aloof, too. Purposely, though. I can on purpose pretend not to care. And if you do it long enough you can sorta convince yourself you don’t.

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.