I had another post I was going to write today, but that one’s going to be postponed, because this one seems more timely.
After my shower today, as I poured moisturizer on my entire body, I noticed something about one of my fingernails. It used to be grooved because of an old injury, but now it’s not. The scar on my finger is still there. A reminder of the power we have to ignore wakeup calls.
It reminds me of the scenario in ‘Moonstruck’. Cher’s character is yelling at Nicholas Cage’s character, about the wildness of himself. The wolf who chewed off his hand (accidentally cut it off in a bread slicing machine) in order to avoid the trap (marriage to a woman he didn’t love).
I was maybe twenty. In college at the U W. I’d come out to Washington after a year of college in Montana, which was disappointing. I wanted more challenge, more focus on my major–which was technical theater.
I hadn’t reckoned that coming to a place where I knew no one, introvert that I am, would be so lonely. I also hadn’t reckoned on S.A.D.
Depression plus loneliness made me miserable.
I went to classes, then to the U. Bookstore and bought reams of fantasy books. Anne McCaffrey saved my life. Went home and wallowed. But I survived and even made a few friends. Three years later, it was summer quarter. I only had one more class to take–offered only during spring quarter. Somehow, my advisor hadn’t figured that out right. I wasn’t concerned about money since my mom was footing the bill. I could always find interesting classes to take.
What I was concerned about was moving on to grad school. Which had to be somewhere back East. I was thinking about NYU or Carnegie Mellon, which were the two big theater tech schools at the time.
I was terrified. I didn’t want to go to another huge city and be alone again, knowing not a soul. And get depressed all over again. I couldn’t face it so soon after recovering from the last depression. Resources were not what they are now. I wouldn’t have even called it depression, although that’s what it was.
I was also annoyed at the whole idea of what went on in theater. At least at the UW. We’d do a show, build this enormous set, use it for a couple of weeks, then tear it all apart. Some bits might be saved if there was storage and if it could be re-used. But the waste was enormous. We filled entire dumpsters. I had just discovered environmentalism and I felt appalled at going into a field that contributed so much to landfills. The department had three theaters to itself and shared another two with the music and dance departments. There were easily four different shows going on in any given month.
So, while I was musing about my future I got put on one of the summer shows as the props master. I had never even worked on a show where I created or found props. I was completely out of my depth and there was no one, not a single staff member, grad student or teacher around to help me. This was all volunteer work, I might have been getting a few credits, but I already had all of those sorts of credits that I needed.
I failed utterly and completely. Couldn’t find or make most of the things needed, no matter how I tried. The scene shop was short-staffed that summer. All the shows were behind on the building end.
I remember standing at the bandsaw. Looking at something I was about to cut, trying to figure out if I could make it work for some bloody prop I was trying to create.
Someone came by and told me we were having mandatory weekend work calls. All weekend. Which meant that besides trying to do the props I was expected to work on the sets too.
I was so angry.
I forgot to reset the guard on the bandsaw from whoever had used it last. It was up really high. I should have lowered it about six inches. And so I cut my finger, badly.
Then I was even more angry and embarrassed that I’d cut my finger from doing something so stupid.
Someone hauled me off to the emergency room. Where I got stitches and a prescription to keep it immobile for several days. But I had my finger at least.
No weekend work call for me.
But I still felt embarrassed and stupid. And questioned whether I really wanted to be in theater. My research and experience of life in theater was sixty hours of work per week for twenty hours of pay. In the town Seattle was, there weren’t that many union jobs available. Most of those had to do with working rock concerts.
It was a wakeup call that I’d been ignoring so the universe kept giving me larger and larger ones until I got the message.
So, I walked off a cliff. Quit school completely. Because, after all what good was a theater degree if you weren’t going into theater?
Reassessed my life. Drifted, for years. Eventually I went back to school, at Antioch Univ. and finished my degree. Still paying for it. Student loans are forever.
Finally decided I wanted to be a writer instead.
No biting my finger so badly it needs stitches, but sixty hours work a week for the pay of twenty–if I’m lucky.
And plenty of scars. The invisible kind this time. But I pay more attention to wake up calls than I did.