A Hard Right Turn

right turnIt takes a lot of time to make a right turn.

In my case, this means a hard right turn away from what I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years, owning and managing Stage Left Studio, my 45-seat theater in Manhattan.

I quit posting on my blog regularly about two months ago. My brain was too full of decision-making to write. I’d been debating whether or not to renew my lease next July when it runs out.  I’ve been single-mindedly focused on my work and hadn’t given adequate thought to the future. I took stock of all the practical details. In a world where ticket sales are down, and funding is drying up, the desire to make a profit in theater seems almost quixotic. I’ve been settling for making enough money to pay the rent, as have most of my colleagues. And like my colleagues, I am tired – tired of working at my computer for hours every day, tired of setting up tickets and sending out promo, and running box office, and handing every dollar I make over to the landlord. Even more tired of pulling money out of my life’s savings to pay my expenses.

My best friend said, “You may want to back off from your calculations, and think about what you want to do.”  This allowed me enough space to process my feelings, and to conclude that what I want is to stop spending most of my time managing, and little of it making art.

Then I added up my receipts for the past year, and realized that in 2014 I am not likely to break even. And voila! The decision was made for me. Simply. I yielded to the facts of the situation and started making plans to exit. I created a plan to take a year off, traveling around the country, visiting friends and helping them with their projects – video projects, art projects, photography, new plays, new children. At the end of that year on the road, I”ll turn 66 years old and will claim Social Security and move into a new place, hopefully in the desert southwest, in Santa Fe.

I’m not sorry. It’s the right thing to do. I can feel it in my bones.

I let the world know about my decision – first my inner circle, then my outer circle, then my large circle of friends on social media.  I was thrilled to read words of praise and encouragement from everyone. People thanked me for the support I’d provided them as artists and talked about how much Stage Left has meant to them, how they had found a home here.

And I did create a home – literally. This is a live/work space, where I sleep and eat and make art, and welcome my friends onto my stage and into my heart. And they let me into their hearts too. We’ve collaborated together and shared highs and lows, disappointments and victories. It has become an artistic home for a whole family of writers and actors. I know I’m lucky to have such good friends and colleagues, who so willingly support my hard decision to do the right thing, to make this hard right turn into the unknown.

These same people are also disappointed that I’m closing my doors. They can’t hide that from me, as much as they might want to. They’re used to having my theater as a resource. Many of them anticipated doing their next shows here, and now I’m moving out. And I share their disappointment. It reminds me of the dilemma so many of us face when our parents move out of the family home, and into smaller, more affordable apartments, retirement communities or assisted living.

I remember going home to visit my parents in Kentucky and Mama would say, “You might want to go up to the attic and see what’s in that trunk of yours.” And Daddy would say, “Probably a bunch of junk taking up space.” I’d put them off with a blithe, “I might want it someday.” Truth is I hadn’t looked in that trunk in years. My parents’ home was a safe haven, for me and my stuff. The family home was more than a place where my parents lived, it was a resource. But what if it’s a resource you don’t use? The person who maintains it can’t keep doing it simply because you have an attachment to it.

When my mom died, twelve years after my Dad, we kids had to sell her house, and we had to empty it first. We finally opened our trunks to see what was in there, and, like much of Mama’s stuff, we gave a lot of it away. It broke our hearts to undo her kitchen, to empty her silverware drawer, to take home her spoon rest as a keepsake.

I know that packing up my home will be a painful process. I’ve made art on this stage for 10 years. The vibe is rich from all the performers who did beautiful work here. How will I tolerate the loss of my routines, the easy habits of morning coffee, the beautiful utility I planned into my theater home? I”m a Cancer, a homemaker. I”m attached to my environment. How will I feel about keeping my toothbrush in a travel bag, eating out of someone else’s kitchen, putting my spoon rest away for more than a year? Moving out will be a trauma, like a surgical procedure. I’ll plan, I’ll do it, and as I mount the virtual gurney, and roll down the hallway into my new life, I’ll look up at the lights with a bemused and fatalistic humor. Hopefully the results will be positive.

My friends who want to work at Stage Left again, someday, are sad I’m moving out. And so am I. But we all know that I can’t maintain this space because they may come back some day. Like our parents, we have to accept hard realities. If the rent is too high, then the home can’t be maintained. Like our parents, I have to think about my own needs, and find a way to live within my means.

Some people are envious, “I wish I could go on the road for a year.” I’m still ambivalent. I still grieve the closing of my space, the packing of my stuff, the dismantling of my theatrical home, where we all have been so happy together. I think to myself, “Yeah, a year on the road. No fixed abode. Living out of a car and sleeping on people’s couches and pull-out sofas. Cutting down expenses until I can get the government to help me manage on what little savings I have left.” But I remember what it was like, back when I was a stand up comic on the road. My car was my little home on wheels, as familiar to me as my bedroom is now. I can find a way to be happy with less. That, as my Mama told me, is the key to aging gracefully. And that’s a worthy goal.

I do anticipate the year’s freedom that I am setting up – the chance to visit people I love, including return trips to NYC, and sojourns with people I haven’t seen in years. I’ve been invited to homes across the US – Florida, California, Georgia, New Mexico. I’m looking forward to new experiences, and a strong shift in my lifestyle. This will be the first time in my entire existence that I will have no home–the first time that I am free to shift with the wind, to follow my impulses, and to have the time to think and muse and wander.

I wrestle with my conflicting feelings about this space of mine – which I built so lovingly, which I have maintained with such effort and which is wearing me out. I don’t want to leave. But I have to find a way to make art, and have a decent standard of living. And I have a strong hunch that Santa Fe will give me that – and that the noise and dirt of midtown Manhattan will not.

So I ride the pendulum of my feelings -back and forth, sad and happy, freaked out and calm. Come next summer, my New York venue will join my parents’ home as a place where memories abide, and I’ll ride off into the sunset, into a world of new collaborations. My New York friends will have ME as a resource, and we’ll keep in touch via social media and Skype and the Big Apple will become a vacation place instead of my home.

I can live with that.

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3 thoughts on “A Hard Right Turn

  1. Pingback: A Hard Right Turn | cherylsmallman

    • Thanks, Erica. So glad you resonated with that one. My mother taught me that, and she was a model of acceptance as she grew older. And I do think that our drive to accomplish things often takes us away from our joy. I hope you’ll come and hang out with me wherever I land.

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