Can I admit something?
When I was in middle and high school I used to want to cry when I saw Country Time Lemonade commercials. Little Debbie sometimes also got to me.
There was a long time when I couldn’t really articulate why. But every time that farmhouse with the grandfather and little kid sitting on the porch staring off into the sunset came on, I’d start to well up. They’d stare out into the sunset drinking from that frosty yellow glass and I’d start to get this panicky feeling like I was losing something. This anxiety would rise from my stomach into the back of my throat until I could actually taste the lump like acid.
Those commercials are intended to elicit a false nostalgia to make one wistful. Ostensibly we could catch a glimpse of the former simpler time by buying some over-sweet juice mix. I saw that purpose behind the scene played out. I knew what they were doing with that lens fuzziness and sad music. Still, it just made me sad. Really really sad.
If you asked me why I was upset I would say, “It’s Sunday afternoon. That commercial just makes me think of Sunday afternoon.”
I don’t know that anyone in the commercials explicitly says that the long angle sunlight porch sitting is taking place on Sunday, but in my heart I knew it must be true. It just felt like a Sunday, knowing that this moment couldn’t last, that everything was about to change. And not simply any Sunday – end of the summer Sunday, Sunday just before school starts.
This is what Country Time was doing: Making me face the end of potentiality. To confront the idea of perfection with the reality of what actually is.
If you’re thinking, “What are you talking about?” let me put it this way:
Friday afternoon has always been a symbol of everything in life that is possible. On Friday afternoon in high school, one could feel the tangible finish of a long week’s work. One had earned the right for mystery and intrigue of the weekend. Friday night held the possibility of infinity potential energy. In those intervening days before Monday morning, I might create an amazing piece of artwork, I might get far ahead on my studies, I might go on an adventure with friends that I would never forget. I dreamed about Fridays because I loved the idea of standing at the precipice. It was the blank canvas about to be brushed with the very first stroke of paint.
On Friday evening ANYTHING was possible and in a strange way, imagining all that potential it almost seemed like ALL of them might be achievable. I didn’t really even need to do any thing, I just liked the idea that I could.
Sunday is the opposite of Friday. Friday is the promise of perfection. Sunday is always a let down. Sunday is the time when you look back at the weekend and compare what has happened to what might have been. It’s a bit of an impossible demand on Sunday to live up to all those Friday maybes, but I did it nonetheless. It was a rare Sunday afternoon that I took stock of the rehearsal, family outing, or friend hang out that I’d taken part in and found it to be as big and full as the mirage that Friday had dangled in front of me.
Sunday afternoon is especially desperate. Unlike the evening when one has finally acquiesced to buckling down and working on through to next Friday, Sunday afternoon one can’t quite let go of the weekend. It is like the last ravioli in what was once a beautifully full bowl of delicious pasta. There’s so little left of what you once had, and once you take this last bite, it’s all over. Sunday afternoon still leaves me staring at a pile of work left undone, knowing that it must be finished in the next few hours, and resenting it for jailing the last remaining freedom that the weekend holds.
That Country Time commercial made me cry because I felt that is said this: Life ahead is a promise of infinite potential. Life lived is an unsatisfying catalogue of the actual work that one has gotten down and done. It made me confront my mortality. It made me feel small. It made me imagine that I could do many things, but I couldn’t do all of them, and I probably would do many of them imperfectly.
As a product of German and Scandinavian heritage, one thing that both of my ancestors share is a drive to work hard and be productive. There are few aspects of a Midwestern upbringing that I can specifically point to as an obvious influence on my art making, but this one I know:
I need to feel like I’m making progress.
I need to believe that hard work will make me better.
I want to have done a job to the best of my ability. I want to feel that I have made good use of my time and that I’ve been productive. In friendship, in artistic work, in love, I want to be moving forward. And to move forward with progress one needs to believe their best work is still in front of them.
But is it? Is the best yet to come? Or am I sitting on a porch with grandpa?
I know that sounds melodramatic. But I do think that my most radical notions, my most openness to truly new ways of thinking feel like they are harder to hold onto as I age. I fight it. Hard. I consider and weigh these questions often and to me it is the way I make sure I am still doing the hard work. But some days it just feels like the potential energy of my earliest questions about theater are slowly dissipating with time. It feels like I need another height to lift it up to.
It feels like I need another Friday.
Is that a new art form entirely? Is it throwing away most of what I know about how I do things? Is it picking up a new canvas so that I have to start over?
I don’t know. But I want it.
I want it badly.