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.

003 | learning learning.

I wish I’d never been commended on doing well as a kid. I was a child. Whatever I was doing was mediocre at best in comparison to a basic-functioning adult and most probably happenstance, so there really was no need to pretend I was up for Nobel Peace Prize nominations at every parent-teacher conference. Writing at a 5th grade level in 2nd grade. Spelling at a 7th grade level in 3rd grade. Reading at an 8th grade level in 5th grade. “Gifted” in America, “Enhanced” in Canada. My parents? “Yawn.” It was such a given that I was likely kicking my peers’ butts at the brain-game that my parents kinda sorta mostly lost interest in parent-teacher nights and figured, hey, let’s just stay all stay home and enjoy the latest Seinfeld, yes? (Sucks to be them, comedy is what I prioritized over math.)

Kids just are, they do what they do, they soak up what they see, hear, experience. So their output is just that. And when I kept getting rewarded for being a nerd, I knew my brain was A-okay and chugging along. It seemed to be pleasing all of the adults around me with no intervention required. I could just continue deep-diving into my Bearenstein Bears, Boxcar Children, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley, Judy Blume goodness, my pocket thesaurus, presidential biographies, and that big book on geographical features, and not worry at all about figuring out how to really do anything. Because my brain seemed to be doing it on its own. And when it got confused? Well, I just walked away. I distinctly remember explosively failing a quiz on measurements in elementary school. My teacher’s facial expression was just flat-out confusion. Was Bree absent when I taught this? How is my star pupil bombing this, not just badly, but at all? Well, the measurements unit wrapped and we never talked about it again and then I wrote a killer essay on killer whales and wowed her pretty fast, pretty easily, and all metric system failures were quickly buried and forgotten. (This was in California, hence, metric, not Imperial.)

Sidebar: I still have no clue what Americans use a yard stick for beyond teachers pointing at chalkboards. They must’ve advanced to laser pointers by now so yard sticks are most probably obsolete both physically and in the percentage of carpenters using them, I’m sure.

I think I’m emerging with two points here. The first, the process of learning was never emphasized, so yea, there really is something to that “commend the effort, not the result” developmental psychology research theory for raising your kids.

The second, I became very scared of venturing deep into realms of learning where I sucked and natural intelligence could only get me so far. I walked into situations expecting an A, perhaps even an A+, so when a big ol’ “Wrong” came my way, it was instant Failure City paranoia. It should never be about failing. It should never ever be that. No kid should ever feel like their only options are to either just be great through no control of their own, or fail miserably.

I didn’t know how to be vulnerable about my shortcomings.

As my natural intelligence started equalling the studying efforts of my teenage classmates in high school, failure and mediocrity became the new weird feeling inside of me. But I surely didn’t know it. Throw in a resulting depression and an inability to label, let alone address, these new feelings of frustration, I was doomed to hold tightly to the antiquated notion that I was naturally able to excel and be perfect– rather than face what I was being shown over and over through test results. I knew I had the brain… I just didn’t know how to use it anymore. I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable about my shortcomings. I didn’t know how to say “Help me, I’m lost,” and “I suck at math so why am I trying to get into med school rather than writing The Next Great Canadian Novel?”

Second sidebar: I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realize that I’m pretty basic at math. When I do math in my head, I visualize. Nothing’s automated. I’m really speedy at those visualizations now, but in comparison to colleagues, it’s probably still a massively slow way to reach answers. (Yes, yes I have worked and trained as a data analyst, and I don’t know what to say about that right now so I guess stay tuned for a future blog post?)

My god, I’ve picked the most subjective career possible– I’ll never get that A from all hundo-p of viewers (that’s 100%, don’t forget)

Which all brings me to today. I know I’m good at acting, I might even say great at times and I can say that with confidence. I’ve grown as a learner since my public school and uni days. I’ve practiced techniques from acting and improv classes, gigs and watching others perform live and on TV; I’ve changed how I analyze scripts. People enjoy my performances.

But when I fail? Hoo-boy. The shame of my “natural intelligence” not gleaming through to glide me to perfection– yea it definitely tries to kick down the door to get at me and slam me down to my knees with brute force. But the default settings that came with my brain barely have anything to do with the clean, precise, technically-proficient and emotionally-generous professional actor I am continuously developing and forming.

Yes, I utilize my natural instinct of swimming into the depths of my emotional well, and I pick up humour faster than them non-humourous folks (who even are they, why even are they, please let me never go out on a date with any of them ever again). But the precision in harnessing my emotions for this career is something I’m constantly fine-tuning and will be forever. I’ll never be exactly what everyone wants. My god, I’ve picked the most subjective career possible– I’ll never get that A from all hundo-p of viewers (that’s 100%, don’t forget), let alone that A+. There’ll always be the flip-side of a reviewer deciding comedy needs to be explained to me because I just didn’t get it.

But as long as I don’t get complacent and sit back to rely on whatever level I’m at now, as long as I stay aware that perfection is nowhere near and there’s always room to push and uncover my next layer of unbelievable– yea, I’ll be here chiselling away. Because, here’s the lesson, kids, now I know how to get better. And I actually want to instead of running away from questions about how many meters are in yards (or yards in meters?). Because I love it so goddamn much beyond everything. All that career-flipping, purposeless wandering and suicidal depression that dropped me off at “either go die or pursue your dream career” cliff (which will fill up this blog)… was worth it.