The day after our son Bailey was born, lo these twelve years ago, my love/husband/partner Daniel decided we should get up and go outside with him. I panicked—raw in every way, aching with love and fear for the new being we created and were left in charge of. He insisted, gently. I balked. We went out for a walk. He was right, of course, to get up and go out. To be in the world. We’re still walking, the three of us out in the world together. It turns out that being a parent, making a life in the theater, and parenting while making a life in the theater are all insanely hard. But parenting is the absolute best cockamamie idea we’ve ever had. Still, my heart explodes daily in crippling fear and ecstatic joy.
I have a running joke with one of my best friends, Wendy (who also happens to be one of the greatest people and moms in the whole world), that we’re going to start a podcast. It’s going to be her and me talking about all the shit we wrestle with – family, the state of theater, making art, teaching, politics, social justice, economics, parenting, partnering, producing. How the backdrop of the world stage seems to get more warped by the day – shredding at the edges and bubbling at the center. How hopeless it can feel. And at the end of each session, we will have reached a fevered pitch, winding ourselves in knots discussing and dissecting the problems and issues that are vital to being alive today. “Surely there must be some way forward,” we will proclaim, “a light at the end of the tunnel!” Then we will wrap up with a resounding – NOPE. The podcast, we joke, is going to be called This Intractable Life. And because we both believe in progress – somehow, still – the coda will have to be something like what economist/artist Carl Richards says: do it anyway.
DO IT ANYWAY.
Messy, wayward, wild, willful, tough, unruly, stubborn, and tenacious. Intractability, it turns out, contains some of my favorite multitudes.
Theater itself can be intractable. So can toddlers. And teenagers. This is not for everybody – this life in the theater: making it work with 30% less than we need, embracing instability as a given, valuing things that the wider culture might not. Parenting is not for everybody either, and economic and socio-political realities bear down hard on the decision to be a parent – especially for women. However, for me, there are some parallels between theater and parenting, and some ways in which embracing the intractability of it all helps me navigate both things.
I love theater parents; I stand in awe of them. In that spirit, I tried to write down some of the things that keep me going as our family ventures out into the world together.
Ways that parenting is like making theater:
1. Best approached with beginner’s mind, as the Buddhists say. Staying open, free, and eager. This is exciting, and hard.
2. Collaboration is key.
3. The biggest triumphs are sometimes the least appreciated.
4. Imagination = invaluable.
5. We don’t have enough money, time, energy, etc. to make it work.
5a. We have to make it work.
6. It’s messy and exhausting.
7. One of the ways we fuck it up is by making it about ourselves. We all do this sometimes, and we can always correct course.
8. We don’t own it and we can’t control it. It is ancient and ephemeral – existing only in the space time of the present moment.
9. A lot of it is tedious and repetitive. See beginner’s mind, above.
10. We have what we have. Time, space, collaborators. Wishing otherwise might not be the best use of our energy. Better to embrace what we actually have, and make magic with whatever it is.
11. Imperfection is a gift. Really really. Owning our faults and limitations is catnip for kids and audiences alike.
12. We can save our own asses by going back and figuring out what story we are telling – to ourselves, our kids, etc. – and figuring out if that’s the one we want to be telling. (And if it is, how we can tell it better.)
13. We will be saved – in the particulars and in the grand gestures – by the love of it. The love for it. The love within it.
Secrets that have helped us parent, and might help others too:
1. We don’t have to do it the way they tell us. There is a whole industrial marketing complex generating a steady stream of guilt and scarcity just for parents. We all consume it daily. (Extra bonus! You don’t even have to be, or want to be, a parent to be subjected to the massive amounts of shame and fear bombardment.) Within pretty wide parameters, we can and should do it our own way.
2. We know how to do a lot of this stuff already. We are devoted to an art form that rests on the pillars of community, empathy, imagination, and communication. We’re already ahead of the game in the parenting sphere.
3. Balance looks different at different times in our lives. I wish people would stop asking mothers how they achieve work/life balance. They probably don’t. But if they are teetering in this moment in an upright way, that’s huge. If they are tipping, we can probably help. A little goes a long way.
4. Depend on the kindness of strangers. We don’t have to do it alone.
5. Connect, connect, connect. We can get through almost anything if we close up ranks and really focus on seeing and hearing the people we love the most.
6. Give everything. Expect nothing. Move on. – Harold Pinter
Addie Johnson Talbott is an actor, producer and non-fiction writer.
This piece is featured in issue 004 of The Dionysian.