While I have a bed and a perfectly functional chair in my room, I choose to sit on the floor. In the dark. Legs crossed. One with the carpet. I'm feeling small amidst the general clutter that comes from existing in one space for an extended period of time.
I'm staring up into my “Be the light” canvas wondering how I can possibly be any kind of light with no job, no long-term artistic opportunities, sitting cozily in lock-down position. It seems like the coronavirus is all anyone is talking about; how to not get it, how “weird” it makes everything seem, how lonely everyone feels.
At first, I didn’t really get it. I’m not worried about getting sick, though maybe I should be. And I don’t feel isolated. I’m living with two other young women, who provide me with movie night companionship, boy drama debriefings and shared boxes of Domino’s pizza. I’ve been working on a film project recently, and managed to distract myself for a few days within the otherworldly cloak of creativity; it doesn’t feel like the everything is falling apart when you’re telling a fictional story where you know exactly how everything ends.
But now I don’t have a job; my part-time restaurant gigs are no longer viable and I’ve been told by several people to file for unemployment. I never thought I’d have to tell the government I was unemployed. I mean, yes, I want to be an actor, but there’s a certain amount of personal dignity being an actor actively looking for work. Yes, I may not be able to support myself off of stage plays and low budget indie films, but I can still make ends meet through survival jobs and generous families who pay me to hang out with their kids and bake cookies. But that’s ultimately unsustainable, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work again, and now I have to suck up whatever little dignity I have left and face the fact that I am unemployed.
All my big spring and summer plans are cancelled. I was looking forward to working on a NYU senior thesis short film shooting in Charlottesville in the spring. It was a really cool opportunity to work on a high-quality student film set with female directors and producers, and now because schools are closed for the rest of the year, it has been indefinitely rescheduled. I was going to assistant direct a children’s theater workshop entitled “2Young2Shakespeare” where kids talk through and learn about their emotions through Shakespeare monologues. It would have incorporated traditional African call-and-response performing techniques, and given me my first real leadership position in a theatrical setting. Put on hold. I was the production assistant for a team of artistic technicians working to take over 40 high school and college performing groups to the Festival Fringe, the largest theater festival in the world in Edinburgh, Scotland for the month of August. This too, is cancelled.
This all seems childish when I consider the significant health concerns the virus poses to friends and loved ones with compromised immune systems, for whom this sickness or a trip to the hospital could mean exposure to a deadly illness. I feel silly when I realize that it is only now that I’m starting to feel the power of the Coronavirus; when it affects the rhythms of my daily life, my finances and my summer plans. And I feel like my feelings are invalid and my worries pale in comparison to those who are homeless, who are ill, who relied on free and reduced lunches at school as their only reliable source of nutrition. Who am I to complain when compared to the struggles of others in my own community?
When I try to push down my disappointment and soldier on, there eventually comes a time when the pressure pushes the needle past the red line and something breaks. I realize that I am not in control. I feel useless and directionless, floating in a sea of uncertainly and doubt. Why am I crying? I’m not sick! None of my loved ones are sick or in immediate danger! I have some savings and am making a little bit of cash, at least this week. But I wonder…what am I good for, if I’m not creating? What am I good for if I’m not actively doing something all the time? If I have nothing to look forward to…what do I have to work towards?
This pandemic (such a terribly sinister word to think about with the sun shining outside and birds chirping near my window) is forcing us – forcing me – to stop. To look. To breathe. To think. My dad always says that comparison is the thief of joy. Comparing hardships is ridiculous and pointless. It solves nothing and creates an aura of competition in an area of our lives where competition should be the farthest thing from our minds, when we should be coming together to fight a common danger, not begrudge one another our disappointments. As one of my housemates so eloquently put it, “your broken leg doesn’t make my sprained wrist feel any better.”
My value and your comes from our existence, not from what we do, own, produce or earn. My feelings and your feelings are valid, and deserve – nay, demand – to be felt. And as cheesy as it sounds, I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to not be okay, and to not always have to be doing something to feel successful or worthy. Our society places too high a value on the drive to go, the need to do, pushing 110% every day, a feeling that is especially strong in the college town where I live. Now we are (granted forcefully) given the chance to stop and breathe and think.
I’ve finished a rather large paint-by-number, completed several puzzles, started a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with friends, joined a virtual book club and made this website. Instead of worrying about the lack of opportunities in the film industry right now, I am working on the one thing I do have control over; myself. I’m trying to edit and perfect my reel (emphasis on trying) and updating my resume. I'm applying to voice acting roles and ads that accept videos from home. I’m singing almost constantly, and am slowly learning my way around the ukulele. I’m also reading more, spending less and becoming more intentional in my personal spiritual growth.
During this time of fear and uncertainty, I’m trying to focus on the potential for growth and new beginnings, and I encourage you to do the same. It can feel hopeless and terrifying, and I never want to downplay the seriousness of the situation for anyone. I do, however, believe that joy can be found anywhere, and it is how we choose to respond to trying times that define us. Will we defeat this pandemic, or let it defeat us? I’m holding up my own little candle in the darkness, and will wait patiently for the light of morning.