A couple weeks ago I downloaded an app that tracks how much time I spend on my phone. Among the many ways in which I fear I am constantly failing myself and everyone around me, I worry about that a lot. I worry that I’m not present enough. I am ashamed of ever appearing like I’d rather be somewhere else. The app lets you set a maximum amount of time you’re allowed per day, otherwise it will send you guilting, sad-face-emoji notifications reminding you how much of your life you’re wasting. I deleted my social media apps – easy. It doesn’t count time spent listening to music or podcasts. It was fine.
And then the whole thing happened. My phone blew up right away – I’m in Toronto doing a residency, but I live in Vancouver and everyone on the West Coast wanted to know what the hell was going on. But days have gone by now. It’s not about information or gossip, or trying to provide some kind of context. It’s not about what’s happening here. It’s about what has already happened, in offices and rehearsal rooms past and present. It’s about what has become painfully immediate. I burn through my battery, metaphorically and literally. My stupid app continues to send me sad-face-emojis, as I send text after text, email, phone calls. Fuck off, I think. This isn’t me wasting my life. This is triage.
The concept of ‘holding space’ was first introduced to me a few years ago – I can’t remember who it was that did, nor can I figure out who to credit the concept to (another failure, but onwards, I guess?), but it I felt like a term I’d been looking for all my life. I believe, so strongly, in holding space. It feels like something that I and the people in my life do reflexively, and it feels like if I have a higher purpose or whatever, that would be it. Holding space – allowing someone a moment, a place to be fully themselves, to give them permission to be exactly where they are – it’s a renewable source of energy. I hold space for my friend, who is then able to hold space for her parent, who is able to hold space for their sister – onwards. It is an essential practice for any community, particular one under stress or in transformation. My friends, my colleagues, flood my screen with pain as fresh as the day it was created. I hold them as best I can.
I am drowning in duty, in holding space, when I finally text a friend (there’s another few minutes added to the fucking app’s timer) for help and she comes over right away. She, too, needs some space. She’s anxious, eyes darting, body moving non-stop. We unplug, go to a pool and float, move our bodies in the water, try to talk about anything else but it always circles back to: what do we do next? I always pride myself on being able to ‘take it’, to hold it all. It’s probably some jock bullshit I’ve inherited from the old boys club – being proud of how much I can take, where really I should be proud of how little I’m willing to.
Monster. I keep hearing that word, monster. It’s apt. I will not rob anyone of their language, their reaction, their emotions. But it doesn’t feel right for me. To me, ‘monster’ implicates that person as an other. I wish it were that tidy. It elevates the person, paints them as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde nightmare hiding in plain sight.
I see it more as a plague. Monsters are made in the ugly mirror-image of holding space, the circles now poisoned – I am monstrous to you, so you become monstrous to someone else, and so on. Monsters are made by permissions, both taken without consent and freely granted by others. Knowingly or unknowing, we hold space for monstrousness. Even those of us who control such a small corner of our kingdom are drawn to recreating the conditions where monstrousness thrives, and then wonder what that dark patch growing on our bodies might be.
But no matter how it happened, we deserve justice. And some monsters are undeniable. So we react. We rush towards proclamatory sentences about “men” and “women,” forgetting, for now, that we are supposed to be in the process of destroying the exact binaries that polarize and toxify us and started this whole damn mess.
Because what if everyone is, or could be, monstrous?
I felt a profound, nameless reaction to a testimony I heard in which an actor said that they knew that by smiling and laughing along with their harassment, they would be judged in the eyes of their colleagues. Let’s be clear – the blame in this situation is on the harasser. But the idea of someone being alone, right in front of everyone – that is what makes us keep our secrets. I felt desolate, hearing that. I wanted to hold this person in my arms, look them in the eye and tell them that I’d never judge. But I don’t know. This sounds like the kind of monstrous I could have been.
My fucking app keeps sending me sad emojis as I respond to text after text, email after email, phone calls from friends. The wound is fresh, and it’s immediate, and it’s all consuming, and there’s no break because life is work and work is life and it’s on the TV the radio the twitter the facebook the breakroom the company newsletter the text messages the phone calls the emails and I hear the words “I can’t sleep” and “it’s like it’s happening again” and “maybe the monster was me.”
Now is the time to hold each other up. Whether it’s with flat palms on shoulder blades, “I got you” or tight fist shaking scruff of the neck, “Do better. Be better.”
I wanted to write some neat fucking listicle about how indie artists/companies can stop abuse, but I can’t be linear right now. I’m tired, distracted, all my energy is going into holding space and spitting out this bad taste in my mouth and wondering how much monstrousness I just swallowed because someone told me to, or because it was easier, or it felt necessary. I don’t know. I have seen monstrousness and had it used against me, and those moments feel fresh and terrifying. But I don’t want to feel blameless right now. I want to know that I tried my absolute best and failed, sometimes. That there is a fight that’s in my power to win.
My arms shake but I hold the space. Triage. Penance. Love.
I’m over my time limit for today. ☹