I needed to get into the doorway, but the closer I got, the harder the wind blew. I leaned forward, my body angling steeply, my feet struggling for purchase. The thought occurred to me, “Relax” and as it did, I allowed the wind to push me back from the doorway, and a feeling so sweet rushed over me. It was relief.
I woke up. And I made the decision to quit stand up comedy.
I never questioned that decision. It was the right thing to do. It was 1995, and I had been on the road for 13 years, making my entire living as a stand up comic. It was how I defined myself. But it hadn’t been satisfying for a long time. I kept doing it because it seemed easier – it was how I’d set up my life.
As I pondered my decision, I had misgivings. Leaving my career as a stand up meant going into the unknown, finding a new definition of self, possibly enduring hardship – all things I thought I was unwilling to do. But continuing as a standup was like walking into the wind – forcing myself to move forward against the flow. Letting it go was easier than continuing to do it.
I recently counseled a friend who had been working out in a new way, and with much younger people, and had pushed herself so hard she ended up with a back injury. She admitted that her need to learn a new skill and to not be surpassed by the others had driven her to pushing past her own very reasonable limits.
It caused me to consider even more closely the powerful messages of the body, that longing for relief. It has been a month since I moved out of my live/work theater in Manhattan, and stopped being a venue manager. And every day I have experienced the relief I longed for the last two years that I ran the space. In continuing to run it, I followed that same path I did as a stand up – I walked against the wind, denied my needs, mainly because I was obliged by my lease to continue until the end of July 2015, but also because I didn’t know what would be next – how I would make a living.
I find myself pondering the need to “make a living.” I am quintessentially American –I have a powerful drive to work. I have always worked, because I have to pay the bills, but also because I define myself by what I do. “I run a theater,” has been my reason for doing or not doing things, for a long time.. For the past 26 years I have also defined myself by where I live, saying, “I am a New Yorker.” It has been a source of pride for me to define myself in that way. But for the past two years, walking the streets of New York City has been a form of walking against the wind. I’ve been walking against heedless cell phone users texting their way down the sidewalks, forcing myself to look past the trash in the streets, the noise and light pollution, the crazy nonstop activity that is Manhattan.
Now I find a sweet relief in waking up in quiet suburbia. As I pack for my road trip, which begins tomorrow, I am grateful for the lack of pressure driving my choices. And I anticipate the potent silence I will experience atop a mesa in New Mexico, where the wind will be a companion, not a foe.