Benedictions! This week’s intro paragraph has a Biblical theme. Thou art welcome back unto the Fruit Salad Testament [Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes], a weekly liturgical sermon [interactive newsletter/notebook project] from his Holiness [comedian?] Joz Norris. If thou art awearied of the sermon [had enough of the newsletter], thou art welcome to depart unto the wilderness [unsubscribe] at a time of thy choosing. And if thou art still a part of God’s flock [subscribed to the newsletter, urgh, getting a bit obnoxious, this], then here beginneth the lesson [read on. Feel unhappy about this week’s themed intro paragraph, to be honest. Am I God? Is that the implication? Or the Pope? Not great. Oh well, done now]
It’s going to be a slightly shorter Therapy Tape this week, because I’ve started this week on a note of total burnout (I write these on Mondays and revise them on Thursdays) and I’d like to talk about that and then refill the tank. My question for you guys, if you’d like to share your thoughts on it with me, is:
What is the balance between input and output in your working life? Could you quantify it as a percentage? What do you have to do in order to shift from one to the other?
For the majority of my working life I’ve been obsessively focused on output – at the end of any given working day, I could only be satisfied with the work I’d done that day if I had produced something tangible – a script, a treatment, a stand-up routine, a sketch, a press release, whatever it might be. That preoccupation with output and production over input and reflection meant that I really struggled to delineate between working hours and leisure hours, which is another hazard that comes with freelancing. I never used to give myself days off or weekends in the purest sense, because pretty much every day of my life involved a fair few hours of pottering about, then a couple of intense hours of work that resulted in me producing something that I could show for my work. My observance of weekends and working hours only really started last year in lockdown. I realised that up until Covid my working life had been varied enough that I could get away with that total lack of structure without it noticeably taking its toll on me. There would be a meeting this day, a casting that day, a shoot the other day, and so on and so on, and I could skip and dash between them all and go to a picnic at the weekend then go home to write up a treatment without this severe bleeding between my personal and professional lives ever becoming truly dysfunctional. That all disappeared with Covid, and the sudden lack of event and variety meant I had to draw lines between what was for work and what was for pleasure, and observe weekends and 9-5 hours.
This sudden and very novel imposing of professional boundaries on myself also shifted my understanding of what work was, and steered me towards the realisation that input is as key a part of my working life as output. I realised that pre-lockdown I had never had to worry about where the next bit of cultural or intellectual stimulation was going to come from, the next bit of input. Every gig was an opportunity to explore a bunch of ideas in the company of others, and to then see other people exploring their own ideas in their own unique ways, and I would always go home with my head fizzing and keen to transform the new thoughts I was having into a new tangible product – to rewrite the bit of stand-up I’d performed, or to write a sketch about a new idea that had occurred to me while performing it, and so on. That doesn’t just hold for gigs, either, it was how my brain responded to more or less everything – music, films, conversation, accidents, surprises, everything tended to fill up the tank in a way that made me excited to keep on creating new things, and all that contributed to a fairly toxic attitude towards productivity whereby if I didn’t manage to keep generating new stuff, regardless of whether that stuff was particularly good or unique or would even ever see the light of day, then I had in some way failed. I had found ways to take the obsession that society as a whole has with growth and product and profit and map them onto a creative career, a place which in theory at least should be a refuge from those pressures.
The tank emptied totally during lockdown, and there was a point about two months in where I just went online and spent a bunch of money on random books I liked the titles of because I was desperate to get some new thoughts into my head, and TV and livestreams just weren’t providing them. Gradually, over the course of the last year, I began to understand that “input days” had become an important part of my working practice – days where I didn’t pressure myself to produce something that I could look at and go “That’s what I made today,” days where I would take in and reflect on new ideas and try to explore them, perhaps on paper, perhaps out loud, perhaps just in my head, in order to generate new thoughts that might one day become tangible. I no longer beat myself up at the end of such days and lament the wasted time, I try to be kinder to myself than that.
Of course, I’m talking specifically here about working in the arts, but I think the same principles apply to the world of work in general, and would be keen to hear from any readers who can cast more light on worlds outside of my own experience! My conversations with friends in sectors like charity and teaching and the like would suggest that generally people’s productivity increases when their employers focus more on the happiness and wellbeing of their staff than focusing on their productivity itself, so I think the same idea holds true whether you’re talking about work in or out of the arts, but as ever I’m very keen to hear what all your takes on these thoughts might be!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – There are not one but TWO online comedy Eurovision parodies happening over the next week. The first is Sean Morley’s Morlvision, which happens this Saturday and is co-hosted by Ben Alborough as Terry Wogan. I have contributed a Latvian song about rats to it. The second is Pinata’s Euroision on the 21st May, which includes contributions from such legends as Sooz Kempner, Helen Duff, Siblings and Eldest Child.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Every single one of the replies to this tweet about Leonardo DiCaprio being “unrecognisable” in Martin Scorsese’s new film.
Book Of The Week – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. I don’t know why Patrick DeWitt’s writing makes me laugh so much. I had the same experience reading Undermajordomo Minor a couple of years ago. I’ll read a passage and it’ll crack me up and then I’ll read it out loud to someone and they’ll stare blankly at me. I think it’s something to do with his insistence on using “it is” instead of “it’s” in dialogue. The way he writes is really uncanny. I love his stuff.
Album Of The Week – Cripple Crow by Devendra Banhart. Been aware of Banhart for years because of his collaborations with Anohni and CocoRosie, but only just started listening to him. He’s great. This album is long, but it’s really weird and strange and fun. It reminds me a bit of the Incredible String Band and the soundtrack to The Wicker Man. Freak-folk, psychedelic weirdness. Good stuff.
Film Of The Week – Nomadland. I loved this. Give it an Oscar, I say. It has a really interesting semi-documentary style, with Frances McDormand playing a fictional character interacting with real nomads from across America playing slightly fictionalised versions of themselves as they talk about their own experiences. There’s a bit about bird eggs that made me cry.
That’s it for this week! It’s my birthday on Friday and next week I’m away in Scotland for a walking holiday (all Covid-secure, I promise, we rang around all the B&Bs to make sure we were complying with their regulations!) so I’ll be back in your inboxes in a couple of weeks. Have a lovely fortnight!