I’m Lovin’ It?

It’s a thing that, at some point, everyone comes up against – that moment when something you love becomes some kind of burden and you just want to quit. This applies to hobbies, jobs, work, relationships… everything.

I’ve certainly come across it before in my own life long before now, but I guess it has a weird poignancy due to a semi-arbitrary decision I made a little over six years ago. In June 2007, I graduated university with a BA in English and a BEd. Teacher’s college was always a plan B, a fallback, though I had no idea what Plan A was. I spent almost my entire undergraduate life preparing for my second-place career, not know what first was. Finally, a little before I graduated, I figured it out: publishing! I gave myself seven years to make it happen, figuring that five was a bit too short (everyone needs time to put in their grunt work and escape a dead end or two) and 10 was just irresponsible (how long do I want to earn peanuts, exactly?), so seven seemed like a good compromise.

Well, it’s a little over a year until my deadline comes to pass, but a lot has happened in that time. I got married, acquired a mortgage, and have absolutely put in my grunt work. I’m still not where I’d like to be monetarily, and I’m just now branching out into freelancing and real networking, but I’ve got to consider: at what point do I stop going for a ‘job I love’ and just do it for the money? After all, how many of us truly find a job we love, that is fulfilling and perfect? How much of that is a myth, anyway?

A lifetime of television shows and feel-good dramas have taught us that following your passion is a kind of purity. A heart followed is a heart fulfilled, surely. Except for the times that it’s not. A recent episode of How I Met Your Mother encapsulated this nicely, when Lily, who loves her husband and child, confessed that sometimes she wants nothing more than to up and leave them. This isn’t a damning admission, but rather a statement of fact: nothing is pure.

I remember in high school when a student I respected a great deal, Eugenia, said she was thinking of stepping down as President of the Music Council (think Student Council, only more specific). She just wasn’t enjoying it, she said. At the time I couldn’t relate – after all, you just put your head down, ignore the distractions and push through, right? Why would anyone consider quitting? It wasn’t long until I had my answer, when just a couple of years later I realized I didn’t want to teach skiing anymore.

The short version is that I had gone about three season in a row of only hitting the slopes for training and teaching purposes – no recreational time. I took a day to visit Blue Mountain by myself, the first time I had ever gone skiing alone, just to find out if I still liked it. Verdict: yes! Since then I’ve made sure to go out for fun at least a couple of times a season, but even so I’ve still been tempted to just drop the whole enterprise a handful of times. I often describe myself as passionate about skiing (and teaching it), and that I love it, and I’ve learned to just ignore those moments when part of me asks why I bother anymore.

So what about my actual career, the writing slash publishing slash editing one? Well, I like a lot of it. I find satisfaction in aspects of it and frustration in others. Clearly, my passion hasn’t provided the financial dividends I’d hoped for, and maybe it’s time to consider selling out a bit and take a job that pays the bills and leaves me freer to spend my free time as I’d like (such as, oh, taking a ski trip instead of staying in Ontario, the skiing world’s armpit).

I suspect I’m a bit late to the game in accepting the fact that virtually any career I pick will have more headaches than I’d like it to – I mean, if my hobbies (which I “love”) stress me out sometimes, then what hope do I have for a career that I “love”?

Probably the same chance as everyone else, actually. I’ll find something enjoy about virtually anything, something that convinces me to push past the inevitable moments of doubt I’ll find in any endeavor. That’s life.

Oh, and Eugenia pushed through her doubt and stayed on as president. To the best of my knowledge, she was glad to have done so.

I’m lovin’ it.

~Mike!

Advertisements

Some Stories

– The music room in my old high school had a couple of side rooms to practice in. A few of us were killing time in one of them one day and we put a sign on the door (the only door, mind you) saying, “Please use other door.” A slightly loopy classmate knocked to come in, and we shouted at her to read the sign. She fell for it.

– My first ‘job’ after graduating university was an internship at a downtown book publisher. I spent a lot of my time dealing with this one bike courier we nicknamed Johnny Anger. Nice enough person, but as often as not he’d come out of the elevator muttering and swearing to himself, and we knew to just let him be. He’d collect or deliver the package and leave without exchanging a word with any of us. This was fine by everyone. One day he was especially agitated. He came in, almost upgrading from a mutter to full-blown audibility, and to this day I appreciate his restraint in waiting to re-enter the elevator and for the doors to close before releasing a long, loud, echoing “FFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” in the company of his own solitude in the elevator shaft. Oh, Johnny Anger. I miss you.

– The first time I lent out my old skis to a friend, they broke. He felt terrible. I couldn’t stop laughing. Then we realized he still had to make it down the hill. He felt less bad. I kept on laughing.

– Waking up from a concussion is a very cool experience; I mean, I could feel my various brain functions rebooting at different speeds. I was all, “situational awareness at 5%…10%…15%… and rising” and “motor function at 5%…10%… still 10%… yeah, we’ll camp out at 10% for bit” and “spinny vision at 100%…90%…85%… and dropping.” Regrettably, my sense of humour was low on the priority list of mental faculties to re-engage, so I spent most of my time telling the campers I was in charge of how I felt totally OK instead of opening with, “Upon reflection, I have decided that the bike jump isn’t safe after all.” Eh, who am I kidding? They wouldn’t have gotten the joke anyway.

~Mike!

Theatre Review: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Soulpepper)

rosencrantz_and_guildenstern_are_dead

All right, gearing up for my first theatre review since high school. This could be… rocky.

I’ve got a love-like-meh relationship with the Soulpepper Theatre Company. On the one hand, they’re one of Toronto’s best-known small companies and they have a great reputation. On the other hand, a bunch of what I see there just doesn’t work for me. I want to like it, in the way that I want the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays to do well. I’m a fan in spirit, but sometimes I just can’t get behind what they’re actually offering.

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a great little play that’s right up my alley – absurd and existential. It basically takes a hard look at two minor characters from Hamlet (the prince’s “friends” who spy on him and take him to be executed, only to be double-crossed and killed themselves) and makes them the stars of the show. Only, what do you do when your existence is defined by the script? As the play opens, R (Ted Dykstra) and G (Jordan Pettle) are playing at coins, amazed that they’ve successfully flipped heads about 80 times running. Will it ever land on tails? Slowly they realize that they have no idea where they are, who they are, or where they can go. They’re not even certain which one of them is Rosencrantz, and for all the care that Hamlet gives them, it doesn’t matter. They’re tools to be pulled on stage at the behest of others, dispatched when no longer needed.

Dykstra and Pettle make a good comic pairing as they try to navigate their helpless, hopeless world. Dykstra brings a wonderful sense of uncomprehending to Rosencrantz, a character who can’t quite wrap his head around the concept of his existence but knows enough to be scared of it. “I want to go home now,” is an early refrain. Pettle as Guildenstern, for my money, brings less to his role as the intelligent one of the pair. He does well at getting his mouth around G’s scientific-method-bound dialogue, first using the Law of Probability and then the Law of Averages to deduce their situation, but for me he was less of a character and more of a script with legs.

And that’s basically it. Dykstra and Pettle spend their time parsing the information given to them (“He’s melancholy! Transformed!”) and bring a great sense of just being along for the ride to their scenes with main characters. Their dialogue with Hamlet is straight out of the Bard’s original, but they’re nervous and terrified of saying the wrong thing. Hamlet and Claudius blather on through their lines at lightning speed while R & G are barely able to keep up, saying words they feel are right but cannot understand. They only realize why they’re escorting Hamlet to England and death when they’re already on the boat, and after debating the ethics, decide that the only thing they can do is to carry on. Maybe then they’ll be free.

Director Joseph Ziegler made a great decision in using a theatre in the round stage configuration. Surrounding the stage with audience amplifies the idea that R&G are trapped by their reality, surrounded on all sides. Other actors come and go, but always in front of us are Dykstra and Pettle, flipping coins, examining their existence, making jokes and trying to get home.

As I said, it’s a great script. I love meta-stories that comment on the nature of stories, and focusing on a couple of bit characters and their time in the margins when not in use is a great way to do it. So why aren’t I raving about this show? Honestly, I found it a bit slow and boring. And here’s where my lack of experience at reviewing theatre comes in: I can’t explain why! I want to say it was Pettle who dragged it down. Guildenstern’s dialogue is so heavy on intellectual-speak that it’s hard to be emotional while speaking it. Whereas Dykstra brought a level of terrified earnestness to Rosencrantz, Pettle as Guildenstern struck me with less emotion than I would have liked and more pure exposition.

I could complain about the acting troupe that Hamlet employs – I found them to be weird for the sake of weird more than poignant. Also, was I thinking too hard about everyone’s costumes, which are straight out of the Elizabethan Closet of Traditional Garments? I mean, this is a very modern-minded play, so shouldn’t the costumes be, I don’t know, not so grounded in period fashions? These are the things I thought about when I should have been engrossed in the drama.

Ultimately, all I can say is that the material was stronger than the production, an issue I have more often than I’d like with Soulpepper. They’ve done amazing stuff, but this production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead wasn’t it.

The Upshot:

Clever, mostly entertaining, and a little slow. I wouldn’t warn you off of it, but I can’t recommend it, either.

Also:

I’ll be seeing another nine (nine!) Soulpepper shows this year, plus a few in New York, Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake, so presumably I’ll get more coherent at writing these things. Plus, I’ll have more time to see Soulpepper be awesome, especially in a repeat of last season’s breakout Parfumerie. Til then,

~Mike!