Thursday, June 9, 2011

Killing ourselves.

I know, I know -- I've been blogging a lot lately. I go through spells like this where my thoughts seem more clear than usual and my inner voice cries out to be written down coherently before its sentiments are lost in the mundane nature that life can sometimes take on... Anyway, I wanted to address something I've noticed about my life up to this point, although I'm not sure I'll come up with a conclusion. That being said, either skip to the end or walk away now.

Here we go?

[What follows is a personal history. It's more for my benefit than anyone else's -- masturbatory even. You can skip it if you'd like.
I've been told a handful of times in my life (hah) that I over-stretch myself. I suppose I can trace this back to as far as I can remember. I used to make claymation movies for hours as a kid, pain-stakingly creating little characters out of clay and legos, moving them half-inch by half-inch for hours, and after an entire day of working I'd have a 5 minute film, maybe. Then when I had access to better movie making technology I would spend hours filming and editing movies with my siblings and friends. Then I got into martial arts, and from a student I became a teacher, going straight from high school to karate school and staying until 10 o'clock every night. Everything up until karate were just fun things I occupied my time with, but with karate my hunger for working my ass off really started to over-power my better sense of judgement. At the tail end of my karate endeavours came theatre, which blind-sided me and re-directed my ravenous hunger to its bountiful table. Karate was one thing -- all the techniques, forms, teaching all kinds of students -- but theatre presented within itself seemingly endless varieties of work to be done. Lights, sound, acting, directing, props, costumes, stage managing -- and subcategories for each! -- there would always be something I could do! It fascinated me then and continues to fascinate me today.
Anyway, my parents had always tried to instill in me a strong work ethic in school, but nothing in school really interested me (besides the occasional English or Creative Writing class). Then, with karate and theatre, it was like the 15 years of dicking around in school reversed itself all at once. I became a machine. And I don't know if I've stopped running since.]

Where and when do we draw the line between being a hard worker and killing ourselves? How long will it take before I realize the sweat on my brow I'm so proud of might just be from all the digging I've been doing into a possible early grave? That's a little exaggerated, I know -- but there is truth in it. I see conflicting things and people all around me -- for example, I was reading the biography of the last days of Tom Dooley recently ... Here was a man who didn't even let cancer stop him from his world-wide humanitarian efforts. I think to myself, "Damn, if this guy had it in him to set up and run hospitals in third world countries while he was dying of cancer, I can certainly go without a few hours of sleep and a meal or two to help put up these shows for the good of the artist endeavours of theatre." Subsequently, one of the shows I've been working on -- "Proposals" by Neil Simon -- brings up an interesting point on "hard work". Burt Hines, the father of the family, destroyed his marriage with his hard work. He opened up shops retailing televisions, one after the other after the other, constantly on the road and away from his family, until his wife couldn't take it anymore and left him. Here's an excerpt from an argument between the divorced couple:

ANNIE: ...There was no way to stop you. The minute you had one store, you had to open another. Why wasn't it enough, Burt? Two, three stores would have been plenty. We had enough money. Why was eight stores so important?
BURT: Because I was good at it. If Babe Ruth could hit sixty home runs, why should he stop at fifteen? ... I wasn't as smart as the kids are today. I had no special gifts. The only talent I had was to put in the time.

A remarkable and admirable sentiment, but somehow flawed all the same. The question I've had to come face to face with recently has been simply: Just because I can do something, does it mean I should? When did life start becoming how high I could build my list of accomplishments? When did life get to the point where I didn't feel like my day was worth anything if I didn't crash into bed at an absurd hour absolutely exhausted? When did I turn my exhaustion and pain into pride and worthiness?

I just don't know anymore. We need hard workers for the society we've set up to function, don't we? We need Wal-Marts to be open 24 hours a day, we need late night fast food joints, we need warehouses to ship out products all day and night, we need stores to be open 365 days a year -- and yes, that means Thanksgiving, yes, that means Christmas, yes, that means Easter -- no sir, YOU have a happy holiday, because I actually have the day off, thank you.

Well, that just got really cynical really fast.

Anyway. Our work-a-holic society continues. I'll take a box of sleep deprivation, a carton of achy joints, and a twelve-pack of not-seeing-my-friends-and-family. That's the combo meal that comes with a feeling of self-worth, right? Supersize me.


1 comment:

  1. Wow. Hm...I can't really speak to this because so often I consider the time I spend working as time spent with friends. That's not entirely true, everyone desires that down time to just sit and chill, but it has always been difficult for me to picture what I do as work. Perhaps this outlook is what helps me cope with the busy nature of what we do. That being said, I jive with what you're saying. You'll figure out the balance. I knew a theatre prof that would stop rehearsals at 9:30 regardless of where he was so that he could go home and watch the news with his wife. My undergrad prof came to almost no performances or after hours activities because he needed time with his family. Maybe it's just laying out those parameters for ourselves. Clearly defined boundaries of work and life. I don't know. No answers, sorry.