I’m not sure when the exact moment the rage which recently smashed around inside me like an uneven spin cycle dropped out. I do know that it was replaced by one of the most complete bouts of apathy I’ve ever felt. Perhaps this extreme polar switch makes sense. During the fall I was on a hair trigger: working a job in which every second was a brand new source of inept hatred, hallucinating through my grandmother’s death in a hometown that was no longer home, punching out a comrade while blacked out, getting ready to brawl with liquor store employees who gave me shit over my peeling ID, trembling with rage at any real or perceived judgments, growing terrified that the budding pain in my chest was going to bloom into a heart attack. And then, perhaps with the onset of the always rainy, gloomy Washington winter, I shorted out.
This isn’t to say that I stopped getting pissed and became an android. I was just as paranoid about being judged by other people as before, but the urge toward violence vanished. The problem was that all my urges toward greatness had been swept alongside. I stopped doing anything, and furthermore, I stopped caring.
Not doing anything isn’t that much of a stretch for me, but this was different. Usually when I’m not living up to my potential, potential which usually involves translating all my big thoughts into writing, there’s a scathing voice in my head which points out my shortcomings. In the last few months, that voice has been silent. I’d get through an increasingly judgmental day of work, come home, and be a bland, mediocre receptor for entertainment for the rest of the day without a shred of guilt. In a tribute to my mind’s keen ability to subvert and sabotage anything, my psyche became a hall of mirrors in which I felt guilty for not feeling guilty.
The mantra I ended up hanging onto during this dead winter was a piece of advice given to me in my preceding anger, something which has haunted me ever since. I was in the midst of a series of improv classes when my grandma died and I went back to Wisconsin to have my brainbreak. When I returned to class, I was pretty much done as a person. My improv work was shit, not simply from a lack of experience and refinement but because I had run out of joy.
After one particularly wooden and defensive scene, my instructor addressed me as I fidgeted about on stage. You don’t play characters who allow themselves to be affected, he said. You don’t play characters who can change, he said.
And he was absolutely right.
The problem is that, had this bit of criticism merely been limited to my ability to carry a scene, it wouldn’t have been so damning. But to me improv is therapy, an evolution of all the guidance counselors and psychiatry of my youth. As such, it’s almost always true that my flaws in improv are my flaws everywhere else. So I took this advice and kind of broke myself applying it to the rest of my life. I didn’t feel guilty about doing nothing, but I sure as hell put myself into a coma wondering where my ability to change and to grow and to care and to be affected went. Seems pretty self-fulfilling.
I’ve continued with improv, but during this winter it began to feel like an obligation I analyzed to death. My big stupid energy had been replaced by methodical paranoia which I used to dissect my work into meaninglessness. I coldly resolved to coldly improve my technique, attempting to impress my fellow chaos seekers with my logical, sensible stagework. I doubt I impressed anyone. While logical and sensible aren’t bad tools to have as a performer, they mean nothing if a person doesn’t give a shit ‒ and I was all out of shit.
I became envious of people who cared about anything.
March was perhaps the worst and best month of my hibernation. It began with me attempting to dredge up some semblance of joy to unleash for my improv theatre’s auditions to join its mainstage group. It didn’t really work. I don’t think I was horrible, but my audition was a rambling mess surrounded by people who were clearly more invested than I was. I can’t say I wasn’t very bummed out when I found out that I hadn’t made the cut, but what was worse was that I knew, without a shred of forced humility or self-abasement, that I hadn’t done my best. I certainly wouldn’t have voted for me, and that’s much worse than whether everyone else thought I was terrible.
I wallowed in that failure for a bit, but thankfully March is always my best time of the year, and this time around it didn’t disappoint. The easy reasons were all there: I spent my birthday getting ridiculous among friends, my parents loaded me up with birthday cash, and my tax returns rolled in. More importantly, spring finally came, and few things in life make me feel as calm as the warming of winter.
On the day after April Fool’s, I started a new round of improv classes with the same teacher who sent me down my ruthless path of self-examination. This time around, I feel brilliant. And, as this serves as evidence of, I’m starting to write again.
I’m starting to care again. Feels like I’m waking up.