My day begins at 6 AM. Or it does in theory, it probably begins at about 6:08 after ignoring my first alarm and checking my phone notifications. I take out the dogs (we have a new puppy and he must go out right away), shower and dress, and get breakfast and lunch ready for me and my boyfriend.
I make sure I have coffee and gas and then try to be in the car before 7:30, because that’s when the traffic gets worse. I turn on my Waze app and listen to my news podcasts first, the daily ones, and begin the drive to Baltimore. Another day, another dollar.
My day ends at about midnight. I take out the dogs one last time. I replay the whir of activity in my head one more time. Anything I need for next semester? What about a job application for this weekend? New car repair on the way? I savor the moments of calm, where a ticker of to-do items aren’t in my head. It’s only for this one more year, I tell myself. I do these things for an easier future.
In real life, “deaths of despair” have been on the rise as the age of information reveals to people just what they’re missing out on.
It’s a cliche that feels almost delusional. When I founded Critical Point Theatre four years ago, I was starry-eyed and eager to clash with the world. I was ready to prove myself. Now, I often feel the gasp of — is this it? How long is this struggle? When confronted with a story that is shocking or strange, I sigh with cynicism. When someone asks if I’d like to see a play, I feel guilty about my twinge of disgust. Enough with the plays already.
I don’t really relate to the themes of our upcoming production JERK as a sex addict. But I strongly understand the politics of desire, the lengths one will go for a thrill. The satisfaction of intertwining oneself with others. After all, I’m a smart girl. If I wanted to perform better at my “stuff” — producing, studying, and creating etudes of original theatre — I definitely could. I could spend less time at bars and playing Candy Crush. I could neatly stack my priorities, knowing how to say no to bad ideas and pushing vital opportunities forward.
The silent scream of what you’d like to say to your smug boss if you had the chance, the comfort of pulling the cover over your head – all these, too, have addicting qualities. Control and discipline have become more difficult in an age where just doing things — all kinds of things – have become easier. If your guilty pleasure can be performed at a click of a button, how to resist?
At the same time that access to temptation has eased, life has become more complicated and rigid. For me in 2013, putting on office clothes and being able to afford a bagel at Starbucks before work was exciting and fresh. Setbacks were lessons learned as I took baby steps. But in the age of the JERK characters — their late 20’s, early 30’s — the response of weariness and need for escape is just emerging. The tick of the clock isn’t persistent, but it still keeps time.
So how do you keep it all together? In JERK, James becomes a “glutton of consumption” and drags Elizabeth into his eternal quest for comfort. In real life, “deaths of despair” have been on the rise as the age of information reveals to people just what they’re missing out on. Addiction-related diseases and suicides have spiked in response. Some of this is pure economics — income inequality has skyrocketed, creating fewer financially stable families and more people to gawk at them, wistfully.
But part of it, perhaps, is that marketing has just become that good at knowing what we want and feeding it to us at the flick of the wrist. Gluttony feels more natural. And entire systems of culture are shifting with the times — as hookup ads have heated up, so have the numbers of couples who describe themselves as non-monogamous. But when do the goalposts move far enough that we feel lost, adrift in our wants and ignoring our needs?
I am 15 minutes late, sighing in traffic at 7:45 AM because I don’t want to get in my car and go. Just one more game, one last article. One more bolt of pleasure before I push back into the prickly routine, unable to fully recharge. Moments savored, moments lost.
Julia Katz is the producer of JERK: Or, The Stimulation of Self and the Artistic Director of Critical Point Theatre, which she founded in 2013. She is an MFA student at Towson University, assists veteran producer Philip Arnoult at the Center for International Theatre Development, works as the Program Editor for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and does Marketing/Communications for the Talking Band.