Thoughts on Entitlement
I have had a difficult few weeks. Some clients at an agency where I volunteer are facing life-threatening problems that are not, technically, mental health issues, but because of budget cuts and layoffs there is no one else to address them, so we have stepped in--and been stymied at every turn by bureaucratic snafus. A dear friend who has been plagued by a series of scary health problems over the past few years is preparing for yet another serious operation later this month. And I have been preoccupied and disheartened by both the responses to the Penn State scandal and the military-style crackdown on the OWS protesters.
And so this week, I screwed up in my musical theater class. It wasn't one of the insane, dramatic failures that come from overreaching, which happen to me periodically and which I don't mind, because I always learn from them. This time, I simply called it in, something I don't think I have ever done before, and that I didn't think I was capable of doing.
At our regular post-class coffee-shop postmortem, my friends agreed that my performance had been subpar. "You usually have this spark, and it just wasn't there," was how one of them put it. My friend Florrie, who knows pretty much everything about me, said, "It's not surprising that you were a bit distracted given everything that's been on your mind."
It wasn't just distraction, though, I realized later. It is more that, given all of the distressing events going on right now, it is hard to feel entitled to spend time and energy on such frivolous pursuits.
Don't get me wrong: I believe firmly in the value of art to any civilized society. Just not necessarily my art. I don't write searing social or political critiques, and I am not performing protest songs or guerrilla theater. I write stories about the inner workings of ordinary people, and I perform songs about unrequited love and social awkwardness.
I went to bed after class thinking that perhaps I should just give up this nonsense and focus on things that matter. When I woke up, though, I remembered two things people had said about my work the day before, which hadn't really registered at the time. My class friends agreed that even when I do mess up, I always make them laugh. And my teacher, after rightly blasting me for a half-assed performance, said, "One thing about you, though--I always care about you. Whatever you're singing, I'm always engaged and rooting for your character. Some people perform flawlessly, but they don't make us care. I'd rather watch you."
And laughter and caring are also important to a civilized society. So I'm still in. Though not giving up the day job.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. She is the author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007). Her Career Coach column appears every Monday on Inside Higher Ed's Mama, Ph.D. blog, and she is a regular guest panelist on Litopia After Dark. She can be reached at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.