Loss is a strange feeling. I don’t know what to do with it.
So I’ll tell you a story.
In that other 2020 that didn’t happen, I’m in New Zealand, at the start of a conference. I’m with three fantastic women who are going to speak on a panel with me. We worked hard in January to get our panel abstract in on time. We put in time. We worked together. I started looking up accommodation. It took effort. And then all of a sudden none of that meant anything anymore.
In April, I found that I was in the absurd position of grieving a conference.
I want there to be space on my academic CV to say, hey, in the second year of my PhD I organised a conference panel, and wrote a panel abstract, and we all got accepted to speak at an international conference. Please honour what I would have done. I try not to centre my life around an idea that hard work always leads to reward. But those hours don’t come back, and I feel like I have nothing to show for it.
I realise that I feel this way about the arts industry. I might be a PhD candidate, but the arts is my homeland. And I realise I am in the absurd position of grieving an industry. I want to believe that 2021 will be a better year, but I can’t see that year at the moment. I want there to be a space for us to honour the people we are, the things we were going to do, the goals we were going to achieve.
Of course, sometimes I’m sad about relatively silly things. I’m sad that Brenton and I didn’t get to take our mothers to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and that our tickets are just hovering somewhere in theatre limbo.
And I’m sad for my own small pursuits, outside of the work I actually get paid to do. I’d planned to model at Dr Sketchy’s with my theatre husband, Rhys. Miles and I were finally going to a gig together after three or four years of dreams and talk. I was going to sing againwith Mouna and Simon, and irreverently dedicate Cole Porter’s song ‘Every time we say Goodbye’ to biodiversity. I was hoping to MC for the first time at Red Light Confidential.
But honestly, all these things, these plans, amount to nothing when I think about the monumental losses I see all around me when I think about my theatre people.
I think about the lost income. The lost opportunities. The tours that were cut short (Bran Nue Dae was great, Hamish, Tristan, you guys should have had a much longer run). The tours that didn’t happen (Brenton, you would have managed that tour schedule even if it was tough. Danita, I was excited to hear you sing). I think about the loss of communities. The loss of lives.
This morning I sat reading Rebecca Huntley’s How to Talk About Climate Change.I just finished chapter 10 ‘Loss, or bury me in a carbon sink.’ She writes about how loss (and other emotions) can both motivate and hinder action on climate change. In writing about loss Huntley says:
In terms of emotion, loss is a step beyond sadness towards grief, anguish and pain caused by losing someone or something of high value. But at a more basic level, loss can refer to having to (or being forced to) give something up… (p. 197).
I cried as I read this. Yes, I cried for the world. I cried for the biodiversity that I was going to sing to at my show that I never got to do. But I also cried for the Arts. I cried for my friends, who are also my family.
One month ago, I found out a friend had died. Last week I found out a venue I had the joy of producing shows in was closing. Last night I found out a colleague had died. Loss is a strange feeling. I’m not sure what to do with it.
“Every religion,” writes Huntley, “has its own highly developed rituals to deal with grief and loss.” She continues:
In countries like my own, with a growing number of people who describe themselves as having no religion, we’re more likely to go to a therapist than a church when we find ourselves trying to cope with these emotions. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. …. the collective nature of grief in religious communities can sometimes offer the kind of comfort therapy can’t”. (p. 205)
I want us, in the arts, to sit together and honour who we are, and what we were going to do, and what we have lost, and what we hope to do in the future. In the coming weeks and the coming years. This is probably an on-going project. But I’d also like to host an online space where this can happen. Where we can talk about lost work, opportunities, community and – tragically – lost lives. If this would be helpful to you, please be in touch.
Go well friends.