.journal 2021.11.30


.org.21: Hold On To Nothing As Fast As You Can

Now listening to: Sigur Rós, ( )
Now reading: [REDACTED]
Now playing: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4)

If I had anything that I could call a triumph this past year, it’s the fact that I wrote my first short play, and had it produced, in the first months of 2021. My campus decided to try producing a number of short plays via Zoom this past spring in lieu of an on-stage production (since we were all still getting vaccinated for COVID-19 back then), and after putting out some feelers, I adapted a short screenplay of a couple of scenes from my novel The Prostitutes of Lake Wiishkoban, which I’d originally written with the intention of producing a YouTube video promoting the book’s release (but never got around to putting together in the wake of Mom’s passing), and adapted it for the stage. It got accepted to the short play festival, I got to sit in on the Zoom rehearsals, and I’ll be ending this year as a produced playwright despite not really thinking about even writing a play when 2021 began.

The experience of my play being produced, however, provoked an identity crisis that I’m still kind of dealing with, especially as I consider how the pandemic has changed me. During the early rehearsals of the play, I didn’t feel like a couple of the actors (both students on our campus) were grasping the personalities of the characters they were portraying. Without wanting to give them the full story of the novel (they were acting in multiple plays for the festival, on top of taking a full slate of courses in the midst of the pandemic), I tried to relate the personality traits of the characters to my own personality traits, in the hope that they would grasp their characters more quickly. By the time the novel came out in 2016, it was all too easy for me to see the parts of myself that I’d put into various characters, which kind of goes along with the old saw about how you should “write what you know” and all that.

It didn’t take me long, however, to realize that the advice I was giving to them wasn’t hitting the mark. My first instinct was to recognize that my students see a far different side of myself than what I consider, for lack of a better word, my “default” personality. Years of bullying and other abuse when I was younger turned me into a very shy and reserved person, at least when I’m in a physical space with others, and that was a huge problem for me when I began teaching in 2005. More than just needing to talk in class, my previous experiences as a student made me realize how deeply hypocritical so many of my teachers were (before I got to college), and how too many teachers ask their students to do things that they would never consider doing themselves. My teaching style is dependent on students sharing their experiences and personalities with me in order to help them find meaningful things to write about, and if I want students to open up in class, then I need to open up with them. (This is still very difficult for me, as my students can tell you. I swear that I can feel every muscle in my body tensing up when I start talking about myself to any appreciable degree.)

After one rehearsal where I failed to communicate the essence of my characters to the actors, though, I began to realize that I wasn’t just that closed-off with my students at that point. Thinking back on the previous couple of years, and how I acted around other people wherever I was, it was like the person I was remembering was totally different from the person I remember being when I first wrote my novel. I didn’t recognize at first how much time had passed since then, and that I’ve noticed other shifts in my personality over the years, but this one kind of hit me all at once, and it wasn’t a good feeling, especially as I was struggling to deal with the problems that came with being about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic at that point.

To some extent, the pandemic has probably been a major source for the personality shift I noticed during those play rehearsals. From the moment we started resuming classes during spring semester 2020, after we closed down for a couple of weeks to reorganize ourselves and take that first stab at pandemic learning, I made an effort to put even more into my communications with my students, to let them know that I was just as concerned as they were about COVID-19 and all the changes it had already wrought on our lives. I haven’t stopped doing that, and that’s probably a good part of the reason why I’ve had so many problems with feeling burnt out over the past year. Teaching — when it’s done right — involves a lot of emotional labour, and that part of my teaching has had its dial stuck on eleven for almost two years now.

It only seems appropriate that the other major examination of my personality this past year was also prompted by another accomplishment. As I blogged about recently, finally making affiliate status on Twitch a couple of months ago resulted in me making some small enhancements to my Twitch channel to make it look more pleasing. In trying to create an overall experience — graphics, sound alerts, and so on — that I felt was a good reflection of my personality, I couldn’t help noticing that the two things that I pushed to the forefront of my creation — my desire to create a space where people could chill out, and my childhood love of The Gong Show (one of the least chill television shows of all time) — opposed each other in a lot of ways. On some level, I think I’m come to accept that this dichotomy is a valid reflection of who I am, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m totally comfortable with it.

People change over time, and I’m no different, but I wonder at the person I’ve become as I type these words now. Given that the pandemic is still ongoing (and was getting worse here in Wisconsin even before the Thanksgiving holidays, to say nothing about concerns surrounding the newly-discovered omicron strain), maybe I should just accept that I’m going to be changing even more in the months ahead due to the necessity of change at a time like this. That doesn’t change the fact that I still feel, at a very core level, very uncertain about this person I’ve become. I want to say that I’m still a huge introvert, and I think I still am in a lot of ways, but a lot of my recent behaviour would seem to contradict such an assertion. Maybe I’m just an introvert who acts more extroverted when the circumstances dictate, and those circumstances have been dictated a lot more than usual since the start of the pandemic. I don’t know.

We are all works in progress. It’s been hard to feel like I’ve been progressing in much of anything (even taking into account the accomplishments mentioned above) over the past year, but I’m going to keep working at becoming the best version of myself I can be, whatever that ends up being. That’s all I can really do right now, and even if I don’t like it, I should at least try to accept it as best I can. I just hope I feel better about the person I’ve become the next time I come here to type something up for the .org’s anniversary.

Everyone take care and be well. I will see you all soon.

— Sean