What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Last weekend, my husband and I tried to take a restful vacation. We almost succeeded until the ambition-obsessed part of my brain chimed in and convinced me to turn the trip into a future blog post. So I slung my DSLR over my shoulder, planning for some sunny, spring photos of us spinning and dancing in the unseasonably warm March air.
Well, the weather was anything but spring-like and dance-evoking. It rained, and I mean really rained, from the moment we got down there, to the moment we pulled back into our driveway.
But we were still on vacation, right? We were there to relax.
The beef I have with relaxing is that it has the ability to unleash all my pent-up anxiety. It's a bit like shoving a few more poorly-stacked pots and pans into an already precariously-balanced cupboard. You shut the cupboard thinking, "I sure do feel bad for whoever has to open that next!"
But it's always you and the pots and pans always clang all over the floor of your vacation. I was forced to stop moving, and it hit me hard.
Our trip got me thinking — why do I feel the need to turn every small project into a career endeavor? And even more so, why is each moment of "downtime" filled up with logistics, errands, or activities to better myself? Is there such a thing as too much ambition, and does society's pressure on women have anything to do with it?
Let's go back a bit. I grew up in a family of theatre people, and so, became a theatre person myself. I was taught from a young age that women got the short end of the stick because there were more of us and less roles to go around. Sound familiar? Anyway, the seed was planted early on that I needed to work my butt off if I wanted to stay in the field, not even "make it" in the field, but stay in it at all. Before school, I would request that my dad leave me the audition section of the newspaper next to my pop-tart breakfast so I could highlight any theatres casting children. I knew that I had to be on top of things — even as a (neurotic) ten-year-old. Nonetheless, I went to plenty of cattle-call castings that "typed" people out (A casting intern walks down the line of actors and say "yes" or "no" based on what you look like). I knew, even then, that most boys were heading in, and you were more likely getting a consolation doughnut with your parents. It was a sheer numbers game; it was never "personal."
The major difference between now and then is that as a kid, my imagination switched on when I needed downtime. I would head outside to the backyard and pretend I was an Olympic swing-set champion (still mad that never became a thing) or run around pretending I was a horse. If I got overwhelmed by family issues, school, or a sexist, disappointing art form, my brain would say, "Welp! Better go climb a tree!" As an adult, this unfortunately dissolves.
Luckily, the imbalance in theatre is finally gaining data-based traction. The Dramatist Guild has teamed with The Lily Awards to create what is known as"The Count." The Count is an annual, controlled study of the women's roles in American theatre. It's pretty disheartening, but not surprising. Only 22% of the produced plays across America from 2011-2014 (excluding Broadway) were written by women. The numbers for female playwrights of color were even poorer. Playwright Marsha Norman pointed out, "If life worked like the theatre, four out of five things you had ever heard would have been said by men. "
There is no question that our frenetic energy to keep up in theatre is legitimate and rational. And obviously, this is not only in the theatre. I would love to hear other examples; it's a conversation worth getting specific about. We often hear about the overall female pay-gap, currently reporting thatwomen make 79% of men's wages. But how have you specifically seen this within your own industry?
To bring it back around, how does constant momentum affect our daily habits? If this push to keep up with the men is pushing against us, how can we justify taking time for ourselves to sit back and breathe? Because in the same way we deserve equal pay, we also deserve equal time to be present in the moment and develop who we are as people. These are the moments that fuel us to believe in our work and our journey as compassionate and educated individuals.
In a recent Pew Research Study printed in the NY Times, data was collected based on opposite-sex couples in two-income homes, over the transition of having a child. Even in feminist-minded homes, and where both parents work full-time, the study found that mothers still manage more of the at-home and daycare-related logistics. The article added, "The Labor Department found that the extra time mothers spent on these activities came out of their leisure and work time. Married fathers tended to work more hours a week than mothers — 42.6 versus 36 — mostly because mothers were more likely to be absent from work. They slept about the same, just over 8 hours, but mothers spent 2.9 hours a day on leisure activities and fathers spent 3.7 hours."
But why does this downtime matter? Personally, the moment I take step away from my work and find an activity that has absolutely no connection to self-gain or domestic responsibility, I re-find my center. The pots and pans no longer need to erupt all over the floor. Not only does this time remind me that I can slow down without the world ending, but it also provides perspective on the details that cannot be ignored. It reminds me that I have not been self-creating these problems and imbalances—they are real and require balance to maintain.
I often turn to the words of Pema Chödrön, a prominent female Buddhist teacher. In an article from Tricycle Magazine, Pema Chödrön explains that our desire to keep busy is an escape-mechanism from accepting the present moment, from looking inward. By breaking our habit of constant motion, we face the suppressed negative feelings toward others and ourselves. "When we [pause], we allow some space to contact the natural openness of our mind and let our natural intelligence emerge. Natural intelligence knows intuitively what will soothe and what will get us more churned up; this can be lifesaving information." Downtime is not just about our relationships or careers, it's about who we are as people.
It's important to recognize that we do not imagine this imbalance. It's structured into our system of home and career, and we need to place the personal downtime-gap as high on the shelf as the pay-gap. On top of all of this, society especially pegs Millennials as indulging in too much downtime, a concept that confuses me, seeing that the women in my life, especially in theatre, barely have a second to breathe. But we have to breathe. There is guilt and there are opinions coming from every direction telling us not to. We have to breathe, we have to take time to sit with a book, to have a damn cup of coffee, or to do some yoga without taking a picture or focusing on our "beach abs." These moments of pausing are the moments that allow us to bring life back into the ambitions that make us the passionate women we are.