Vanessa Csordas Jenkins
Vanessa is a director and writer with a sometimes dark, sometimes silly, usually clever (she hopes) sense of humor. She recently learned that laughter-induced asthma is a thing, and that she has it, which is perhaps the rudest trick of nature that makes it even tougher to not be overly cynical about the state of the world right now, but she's trying. She writes from personal experience and thinks it’s important to encapsulate real people in her work, often engaging social and political subject matter.
Let the Air Out
When I was younger, the breaks I took between periods of writing were few and far between, even if the only writing I did was in my personal journal, talking to myself about boys or girls or friends. My suspicion is that these more frequent lapses are because I’m growing more self-conscious about my writing, even in front of myself. I was less inhibited when I was younger, I felt freer to word-vomit onto the page. But now I can rarely shake the notion that everything I do needs to lead somewhere, do something for me, become a stepping stone towards a career. The effect can be a paralyzing inability to write anything at all; a fear of failure preventing action.
I think the reasons for this are, at the very least, two-fold. A symptom of the crushing productivity mindset most Americans are raised with, and a side effect of my being someone in the desperate throes of trying to begin a career, any career. There have been various moments in my life when I’ve believed that I could find fulfillment doing many different things, so long as I had the opportunity to be creative. I acknowledge the privilege afforded me in even being able to conceive of my future in this way.
But that imagined delta of possible future lives paused mid-flow in recent years when I went to graduate school for film directing. I felt I’d settled on what I wanted to do, and would singularly pursue that goal, though in the back of my mind nervous that I was inevitably leaving room only for disappointment and failure by having chosen so specific a profession (and also one so competitive). Yet during school and in my time since graduating, whenever I find myself glimpsing that old waterway of conceivable life paths, other possibilities beyond Being A Film Director that might make me “happy” – including, in more discouraged moments, running away to a remote North Eastern village to run a coffee shop, or book store, or live on a farm – it feels like I’m making excuses for myself. As though I’m unwilling to commit to this thing I am now deeply in debt for studying for three years, or am creating an easy out in case I find myself unable to succeed at it. I’d come to see my imaginings of different lives as an unacceptable veil of self-preservation that I started to sew early, in case I need it later on, rather than for what it really is: the typical and inevitable uncertainty of a young person trying to make a life for herself in a late capitalist world.
And now I find myself, along with the rest of the world, in a pandemic. On top of the difficulties that millenials entering the work force already face, such as fewer jobs offering full benefits and retirement plans, I am now in a world even more on fire and unable to see through the smoke to the other end of this. Will the industry that I’ve been having trouble breaking into be at all the same after COVID-19? Do I even want to participate in such a capitalistic venture? This latter was a question I had already asked myself pre-corona, believing that working in the film industry is worth it if I achieve the level of success that allows me to make the type of films or TV that really make a difference for its viewers. I want to make stuff that reflects real people and allows me to share very personal experiences to connect with others, to help folks feel seen. But now that preexisting uncertainty about the future is amplified inside my skull.
The vast insecurity of existing in a violently built nation struggling leaderless through a pandemic gives the lurching feeling that we have been living in a bouncy castle that is deflating at an ever accelerating rate. Crises, new and old, abound. Racism and anti-racist action are at the forefronts of many minds that have never before considered white privilege to be a real thing. The country grapples with monuments and historic sites built on stolen land by genocidal colonizers; living in a land that is at once the only home I’ve known and should never have belonged to me feels akin to dissociation. Siberia, a notoriously frozen land whose frigid temperatures have specifically been made use of as punishment, was more than balmy this summer. Those of us on unemployment as a result of the pandemic have no sense of whether or not the federal government will continue to assist our ability to buy groceries and pay rent – the CARES Act expired at the end of July and we are still waiting for further aid from a Congress that is now on recess until early September. It boggles my mind that legislators are even allowed to take recess during times like these, when millions of Americans are on the precipice of eviction, or face a decision between buying food and paying for necessary prescriptions. In recent months my constant companion is the hard spherical egg of anxiety that I feel directly behind my belly button. From it emanates the sense that I’ve done something wrong that I need to remember and apologize for, but to whom? Cortisol pumps through my veins, making my palms sweat, my fingers shake, my muscles tense.
Even as I write this I make the conscious effort over and over to unclench my muscles beneath me in my chair and to relax my jaw, only to feel myself doing so again minutes later. My feeling that I’ll accept any career opportunity remotely related to my skills and interests runs parallel to how I imagine fresh graduates and young people felt upon entering the job market in 2008. Feeling more compelled by a steady job than the risk entailed in waiting to find one that they studied for specifically, dreamt of as a child. Perhaps even being more likely to take a boring but consistent office job than enter into a field of uncertainty, like art.
My anxiety egg I blame wholly on the precarity baked into our systems, economic and societal; the struggle entailed by not being born into a position of power and connectedness, often made more difficult or dangerous when adding factors of Blackness, queerness, femaleness. My sense is that we need to let our American bouncy house deflate entirely. Just let all of the air out. I assume that others in favor of defunding the police would agree. We were never on stable ground in the first place, and living in perpetual delusion that our society is not built on insecurity, even for those in power, is to forever blow air into a bouncy castle rotten with holes.