Productivity

By Meghan Grover

Posted on Thursday, April 23, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

I put on my Teaching-Artist-Casual garb: yoga pants, a flowy shirt, and purple combat boots.

The Franklin Ave 4-5 train is 4 min away – huzzah!  

I finish writing a lesson plan in google docs, send my mom a ❤️ (I should call her, but I don’t have time!!), and I eat my breakfast burrito.

The train arrives. 

I get a seat! Yas!

I listen to Up First, The Daily, and the beginning of Pod Save the People on 1.5 speed.    

I feel furious at the news as I pop out of the 86th Street subway. 

To calm myself I listen to showtunes (Spongebob Squarepants the Musical’s “Best Day Ever” or Follies’ “Broadway Baby” usually does the trick).  

I carry three heavy bags of crafts, props, and Bluetooth speakers as I swarm through hundreds of people.  

I show my ID to the security guard of the first school, and make my way to my first class.

I take my first full breath of the day and finally relax as I make eye contact with twenty four-year-olds. We laugh as we go on an imaginary adventure in the forest where we help various puppet-animals in need. As we reflect at the end of class, the young people describe how much they loved “giving the mouse a magic blanket” or “showing the frog their Elsa freeze power.” I feel so happy.

After two classes of this forest-themed residency, I must move on to my next thing!

 I jog to the 4-5 train to go back to Brooklyn. I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I listen to the second half of Pod Save America, on 2.0 speed this time. I feel informed. And even angrier. 

I send more emails and try to get more teaching gigs on the subway because being still feels unproductive. 

After an hour on the train and walking, I show my ID to the security guard in the temporary housing facility, and I enter a classroom of twenty more young people.

I take that full breath and relax and smile! We read the book Dancing in the Wings and learn about Sassy, a young person who becomes a successful ballerina. After we read the book, we imagine that we are in a time machine, and we travel to the year 2080 where we draw pictures of the awards we will receive for all of our own life achievements. The young people giggle as they pretend to be old and share their successes on our pretend award show. I feel so happy.

But as I walk back to the subway station, I feel furious at the stark difference of opportunity between the morning private school and the afternoon temporary housing facility.

I try to push that anger away as I eat my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich while taking the B train to go back into Manhattan. I respond to more emails on the train and then on the subway platform of Herald Square.  

I take an improv class, or I rehearse a play, or I see a play… something like that…  

And then I take the 2-3 back to Franklin Ave. Still emailing, writing lesson plans, applying for jobs. 

I consider making plans with some friends but I feel too busy and exhausted.

I was productive, though, wasn’t I? I am ready to wake up at 6AM the next day and continue to be a part of the ever-moving machine. 

 

 

….

But then the machine stopped. 

On Sunday March 15, 2020, everything was cancelled, paused, sheltered-in-place.

I tried to keep my ever-moving machine “on” as I sheltered in Crown Heights. I was privileged to still have a few virtual jobs and endless zoom activities. So I facilitated synchronous and asynchronous zoom drama sessions, devised theater online, read the news and twitter, delivered people groceries, listened to podcasts…

But I didn’t feel the “productive” movement that I desperately wanted.

I just felt overwhelmed and flustered with each zoom meeting, news story, and email. 

What was I trying to produce!? What would make me feel USEFUL!!? I WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING MORE!!!! 

Then

                      After five weeks

                                                                 I walked to Prospect Park 

                                                                                                                            Without headphones. 

I walked up the steps to Lookout Hill where I could see 5-mile stretches of the city.

I took a breath through my masked face: that rare, long breath that I had not felt since entering a classroom to teach.

The ambulances, blossoms, and birds moved all around my very still body. 

I felt uncomfortable, but I kept breathing until I did not feel the fury and anxiety that made me want to move. 

I was still. 

I felt pain. 

Pain that I so often denied myself. 

I took out my journal that is usually filled with to-do lists, ideas for plays, and lesson plans. 

And I wrote. 

I wrote about teaching artistry: In this time of crisis as I teach virtually, emotional check-ins and just chatting with students are vital. It is not about “getting things done” but about connecting with one another. In addition to zooming with students, the most impactful zoom interactions have been with fellow educators. These interactions have not been about lesson plans and curriculum goals, but about how we are feeling: about Schitt’s Creek & Tiger King, Marie’s Crisis Cafe, and our favorite books, recipes, and scrabble words. Our conversations have been about who we are: not about what we are doing and accomplishing. 

I wrote about social change: Takiema Bunhe-Smith was a keynote speaker for the virtual Face to Face conference on April 15. She said that supporting individuals going through trauma is vital to work as a teaching artist, but we also have to think about the systems in place that affect trauma. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities of the social, political and economic machine that determine people’s worth through their “productivity” and profit. This machine perpetuates white supremacy and oppression that determines who gets to live and die: Black people in New York City are dying at twice the rate of white people. Latinx people are also dying from the virus at much higher rates than white people. The same can be seen through infection rates and hospitalization too.

Sometimes it feels like the ever-moving disparities of our society will never stop. Especially now.

But this machine is made up of people, and I truly have hope that people can change when they begin to see one another as human: when people can reflect on how the system actively dehumanizes some and humanizes others.

Change means our work with individuals: mutual aid, donations, the practice of teaching artistry (where we get to support people to develop their unique creativity in this world!). And change means work on the systemic level: phone calls to government officials, virtual and in-person protests, petitions. People demanding what they need and electing people to dismantle these inequitable systems.

Change means constantly learning and questioning what I think I know.

Instead of being angry, how can I use my agitation and energy to act and take responsibility?

So then I wrote about myself: How I sometimes live in contradiction to the practices of teaching artistry. Teaching artistry can open people to recognize that they do not need to act within the confines of this “productive” machine. With the exception of the joy I felt in a classroom, most of my days were “moving on to the next thing” and not really connecting with other people or myself. Self-care does not involve me only doing Yoga with Adriene, but taking myself into real stillness so that I can reflect on who I am. I spend all this time trying to be productive sometimes without thinking about what I am truly trying to produce. 

At this point in my writing, I closed my journal and my eyes.

And I wept.

I wept for the sick people, for the deaths, for the loneliness, for the hardship, and for our current system that perpetuates this harm. I wept for the cuts to social services, to education, to the arts, for our current leaders, and for a future that feels so bleak. 

But then I wept for resilience.

Because the very essence of teaching artistry is adapting so that we can continue to create, imagine and act on our current circumstance: to problem-solve and explore multiple solutions. 

We specialize in creating stories that we want to see enacted in this world! 

We can use our capacities to produce new machines of love, humanity, and freedom, not only in our classrooms and on zoom, but in our neighborhood, our country, and our world.

 

*****

Meghan Grover is a Brooklyn-based theater artist and educator originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She is passionate about creating original theater with people of all ages. Meghan works with New York City Children’s Theater, Park Avenue Youth Theater, DOROT, Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, CAT Youth Theatre, Bluelaces Theater Company, AMIOS and Hook & Eye Theater Company. Meghan is also a co-founding member and facilitator of the Defrost Project where she creates community-based art with residents of small towns in Minnesota. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and GrandSLAM performer. Meghan graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program and is currently getting her MA in Applied Theatre at CUNY. She is extremely grateful to be a part of the Roundtable family and the amazing arts education community!

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