On Optimism, and More Performances

Let’s talk about how I’m currently navigating one of the most difficult times of my life, and yet I still feel hope. Progress and the changes that come with it are uncomfortable, painful, terrifying, and full of bumps. It’s been very tempting for me to assign the difficulties I’ve experienced cosmic value. To give the setbacks credit. Like, maybe if I was “meant” to be here, “meant” to do this or that, “meant” to be with this person or be with someone else, it wouldn’t be this hard. It should come easy. Like, the right path will be accompanied by less doubt and less red lights and less walls with no ladders and less challenge. When in fact, progress, growth, and our own ability to achieve anything beyond daily survival occurs most dramatically in the face of obstacles. I KNOW, it’s as if I’m saying all those cliché motivational posters are onto something. Well. I mean. That shit is hanging on hella walls for a reason, you guys.

I left Seattle and in doing so left: familiarity, the support of an entire community, several best friends, my girlfriend, a great job, lovely coworkers, a wonderful and affordable apartment with the best landlord in Seattle, a neighborhood cat named LeRoi who would visit me often and provide cuddles, my kickass rabbi, gorgeous mountains on mountains on mountains, incredible coffee, a rebellious DIY spirit that inspired me daily, and weather that allowed me to acquire a real nice vintage winter coat collection.

I knew uprooting my life and plopping down in a brand new gigantic city wouldn’t be a total breeze. And even with that expectation, it’s still been tougher than I expected.

First of all, there’s been a lot going on in the world. These are turbulent times, ugly times, hate-filled times. There is a lot of anger, and twice as much fear. For any person who is aware of what is happening to people both abroad and here in the US right now—it’s difficult to stay engaged with the news, hell, stay engaged with the world, hell, stay engaged with ourselves while knowing that our time, resources, and ability to do anything substantial about it are less than we’d hope.  We want change, we want it yesterday. Instant understanding. We want justice at the same speed that we receive the news about the latest tragedy. This is not the way it works. How I wish it were. It’s not. Human evolution can seem fast in some ways (technology!) but in other ways, it’s glacial. We’re working on it. It’s so glacial, and, we’re working on it.

And then there are the things that seem to hold less weight than, say, the tragic injustices of humanity—but which still are difficult. Three months of unemployment. Yowza. Moving by myself. Like, actually moving by myself. Have you done it? Carried giant, heavy boxes up and down stairs and then unpacked them with zero outside help or assistance from another being? It’s exactly as fun as it sounds.
Also, a breakup.
And, a health scare.

Let’s talk about the health scare.

I was really freaked out. With good reason. I don’t need to go into super personal health history details here. I’ll just say: this experience was a wake-up call. I essentially spent a week thinking, well shit. Maybe that’s it. Should I start playing “The Final Countdown” here in the procedure room or should I wait until I get in the car and start crying?

I’m ok. I have never received a more relieving phone call in my entire life. I’m ok.

It just made me think, though—who do I trust? Who is here for me, disagreements and differences included? Life is too short to spend with people who will fade out when things get difficult, people who will run even when there is a mere difference of opinion. I know a lot of people like that. It’s not personal. Well, it’s kind of personal. But the world is large, there are many people, and those people can have friends who are not me.

When you spend three days not knowing what the rest of your life might look like—who do you call? Who shows up to hug you while you cry in the elevator?

But, weird fade-outs can occur when good things happen, too. Like, my show got nominated for the Stranger’s Genius Award. And that’s pretty cool. I’m honored. When I look at the roster of past nominees and past winners, it is full of artists whose work I respect, whose work has greatly inspired me. And what I love is that the Genius awards are not afraid to give credit to the weirdos. I’m a weirdo. My work is weird. I appreciate the nomination, and I’m proud of it.
Yeah, we all know that people sometimes bail when things get hard, but when things get good? There are people who are spooked by that, too. People who support you and stand by you while you’re in the process of making the work, even help you build it, but who are MIA as soon as the work is recognized (these people are probably the same people who don’t like pop music. I don’t trust people who don’t like pop music).

This led me to try to understand the strange phenomenon of artists who are discouraged, rather than inspired, by other artists’ achievements. Like, we’re all on the same team here. We all want our work to be understood and appreciated and valued, and we’re all working against the odds to make it happen. Someone else’s success does not make you a failure. Someone else’s success means its possible.

Maybe it’s all this sunshine-supplied vitamin D I’m getting on a regular basis, or maybe it was my Summer of 2016 Health Scare, but I will no longer cater to unnecessary negativity. Why would I want to surround myself, in any environment, with people who want to point out how impossible everything is? I’m all for acknowledging that there are things that exist that are terrible, things that suck. Things that need improvement, better organization, more support. Positivity doesn’t have to mean total resignation and ignorance, or only expressing positive emotions and burying the negative ones. Like, I can be a positive person who is also sad/angry/hurt/upset. Likewise, negative people can be happy/enthusiastic/joyful. But our true identity, our true character, whether we are deep-down positive or negative, is revealed when things do not go as planned. When things are less than ideal. When life is difficult. When you get sick. Or go through family problems. Or face what seems to be an insurmountable divide. Are the difficulties impossible? Or are they just…  really difficult? I choose the perspective that leads to growth.

I am already beginning to see this perspective affect my work. I’ve had the opportunity of performing in an awesome queer, experimental performance lineup here in LA curated by Gina Young called Sorority. It's always themed and I’ve performed in it twice. My first performance was for the theme “Feedback Loops,” it was a piece that explored the inner struggle that occurs when forgotten feelings of positivity and love arise in the midst of a breakup. How much harder it is to process the hurt of a separation along with the good. How much easier it would be to villainize, to separate, to ignore, to cut off, to be angry, to punch the air and dissolve into a cycle of resentment (fyi: this is the same piece my previous post “On the Personal” discusses, the one I’m working on turning into a little film).

The second performance I did for Sorority was for the theme “Muscles.” This event happened shortly after the Orlando nightclub massacre. Pre-Orlando, I had planned to write a piece about body image, but it just wasn’t working for me. When I sat down to write, nothing came, and I just knew there was no way I could get up and talk about how being skinny is sometimes not all it’s cracked up to be (NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR THAT, ERIN. LITERALLY NO ONE.) I couldn’t pretend like everything was business as usual. I couldn’t feel beyond the numbness of trying to stay upright. So, I told the audience: after a week of LGBTQ trauma, and feeling like giving up was really the best option, I want to perform, with you as witness, a grand gesture of Not Giving Up.
I then performed nonstop burpees for just over 4 minutes, to the entirety of the song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. It was strange and intense and ridiculous and frightening.

I am not strong. I am not in shape. I did not practice. I just started doing burpees onstage. Time became very unclear in a haze of adrenaline and exhaustion, so I don’t know exactly when, but very quickly, my body gave out. Like, I probably only did two actual burpees before I transcended into a mindset where I knew that I could only focus on getting up and getting down as it was happening. Language did not exist. I could not focus on how long the song was (WAY LONGER THAN I REMEMBERED) or whether I was technically still doing burpees at all and I knew eventually I would either pass out or the song would end. At one point there was no spit in my mouth and I started gagging on my tongue. I was worried I might throw up in front of everyone. And at that moment, someone from the audience jumped up and joined me. She started doing burpees right next to me. This gesture was surreal. I was already in an altered state and so it took me a minute to realize what was happening. When I realized that I was not alone, I knew I wouldn’t throw up in front of everyone. I also realized that this performance would not kill me. And to some extent, I think that’s what performance art is about—pushing the boundaries of things that are really uncomfortable but won’t kill us. So when the song ended, I hugged the participating godsend of an audience member tightly, and then sprinted off to dry-heave in the bathroom. It was magical.

So yeah, the last few months have been unexpected. The last few months have been very hard. But I’m learning new things about myself. I’m interested in the difficulty of progress, the importance of gesture, community, and solidarity. I’m interested in setting goals that give me the opportunity to encounter challenges and as a result, grow. I’m interested in love that is radical in its forgiveness, empathy, and depth. I’m interested in a wide outlook, and optimism.