Say What?

Nice For What

Call me Scotty. I’ve had my eye on the door for about a year. I’m not alone in feeling this way. If you work in the arts in a big city for more than 5 years, the stress of keeping your head above water can get to you. The need to be true to yourself and your creativity, while trying to pay rent, is never ending. This is an old problem. None of us, actors, playwrights, dancers, sculptors, are new at this hustle. I have to remind myself of that when I get maudlin about a play I’m writing and get stuck. Nick Hornby published a collection of essays called ‘Shakespeare Wrote for Money’ in 2008 which pointedly reminds all of us that while we are engaged in a lofty endeavor, we still gotta eat.

I worked in the private sector 10 years ago and enjoyed it for a variety of reasons. I remained friends with many of the people from my old job on King Street and one of them has been my biggest supporter. I stopped by the office two weeks before departing for Stratford to drop off some home-made molasses cookies for him and, as he gave me a tour of the beautiful space, I observed that he’d taped one of my postcards to his office wall; I thought that was lovely. There were still a few people at the company from when I still worked there and I felt a little nostalgic.

I loved the comradery of working with a team of smart, focused individuals. I learned a lot about how to lead a town hall, complete with PowerPoint slides, and clear talking points. But I also hated the crowded trips on the subway, always being the one to clear the paper jam, and passive-aggressive behaviour of petty administrators who always low-grade reminded me that even though I had a Master’s degree, they could still order me to do petty shit. I looked around at the beautiful, gleaming office and wondered if I could return, if they’d have me. Freelance work has been a drain and I felt that maybe I should be a grown-up and get a real job, petty despots notwithstanding.

Last week that company handed everyone a letter and announced that they were shuttering; more than 50 people out of work. Individuals who had been with the company over 10 years were informed that there was no more money and they would not be getting any severance. A sobering development and I stopped peering over the fence at that lush, green grass.

When I flirt with the idea of applying to Google for a job, I reflect on Herman Melville, who worked as a teacher and a sailor, while also writing his short stories and novels. He had some success but it was fleeting, and he died at 72, relatively forgotten. Moby Dick is the best representation of a writer’s life: pursuing what some might believe is an elusive goal only to be bitterly disappointed at the results. Moby Dick only sold 3,200 copies in Melville’s lifetime. I often look at my work and wonder ‘what I am doing, and to what end’, but then I contemplate getting a job at ScotiaMcLeod and mutter, ‘I would prefer not to’.

All writers are thieves and magpies. I stole the title for this blog from Drake because I believe it encompasses the lived-in experiences of the female playwright. If you’re too nice, then you’re seen as soft and a doormat (if you’ve seen ‘Mouthpiece’ by the Quote Unquote Collective) but speaking your mind can get you labeled a difficult bitch, who doesn’t have a sense of humour. Nice for what, indeed. I’m sticking around out of stubbornness, at this point, and if I’m nice to you it’s because I know you are an ally. Thank you.

A new scene for my Viola Desmond play popped into my mind as I walked along the swollen shores of the Avon yesterday. Today I’m sitting at my desk in the Director’s Office at the Stratford Festival on William Shakespeare’s 454th birthday.  I am still having trouble with my vision but I’ve begun to perceive my creative role more clearly. Shakespeare articulates it best: ‘Our doubts are traitors and cause us to miss the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.’

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