Act II: Self By Karlton A. Laster
I remember the first play that I saw in person. It was Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Ohio Theatre at Cleveland Playhouse Square for a school field trip. I do not remember much else from that experience; but, I do remember the plot of the play, specifically the second act. In Act II, the events are put into place that causes the mishaps or confusion that is central to the story; and, most importantly, we are introduced to Puck – one of the most mischievous and well-known characters in literary history. Similarly, I am starting to view life – my life – as a three-act play as well; and, it seems like I’m in the thick of Act II.
Act I, for me, was that period of adolescence and young adulthood where everything was done or perceived through the externally-applied expectations of others. It was that time when I sought to “fit in” with folks who I thought were cool by wearing popular clothes, attempting to participate in sports and extracurriculars to build relationships, dumbing myself down in order to avoid standing out academically or be called an “oreo,” trying everything to minimize the effects of acne and being overweight, and hiding my depression and anxiety in the hopes of being liked by others. Or, perhaps was it acceptance I was seeking? Nonetheless, it also included living up to what I thought my parents and grandmother expected of me – go to a good college, get scholarships, graduate, get a job in a field that makes a lot of money, and take care of them. Act I was a phase that required a lot of trial and error (and therapy) in order to move beyond it. However, it really required time – to grow (physically and emotionally), maturation through experience, and to develop a trust and understanding of who I am and who I want to become.
And, that segues into today – Act II – which is seemingly all about self. It operates similarly to how Act I was about others. However, Act II began concurrently with Act I, because as I grew and matured I was inherently shaping myself and my internally-applied expectations while learning to disregard the expectations of others and the need to “fit in” in Act I. It was once I began to trust myself, my abilities, and understood who I am while establishing the core principles of who I want to become was when I entered Act II. This point in time was roughly around 28 years old when I was jobless and living with my parents whose home was being foreclosed on and a progressing terminal illness in my Dad. In that time, and the next 2 ½ years to follow, I began to deconstruct the idea of who I was supposed to be by others and build a new me based on who I am and what I can do. As a result, I began to write again; I grew my beard and hair (even dyed it too); I came out as bisexual; I regularly attend therapy; I stopped chasing money and doing things I did not have a passion to do, and instead I sought to be my whole self at work and advocate for equity; I stopped worrying about being overweight and instead am working to find a healthy & sustainable lifestyle that I can manage.
However, all of that does not mean that I’m out of Act II, in fact, I still feel like Im’m in the thick of it. Act II feels like this is the “make it or break it” period of life, and I’m unsure where I’m going to land on a minute-to-minute basis. The greatest mischief-maker, like Puck, seems to be myself through the decisions made and choices faced and their subsequent consequences. Despite having more confidence in who I am and what I can do, I seem debilitated by the regret of missing out on possible opportunities or choices I do not select, and the fear of having made the wrong choice and being overwhelmed by the work that lies ahead. This is very true now as I am looking to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy to clear my credit card debt, recently exhausted my unemployment benefits, and start a new job in April after being out of work for nearly 9 months. Add in that I am learning to live with high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety, and it feels like Act II will be an unending battle with myself. And, I bet some of you feel the same.
I’m here to tell you that I may have some good news, a light at the end of the tunnel, if you will. It’s that Act II is completely dependent on the person themself. I will determine how long my Act II lasts through my ability to keep learning, maturing, and being willing to bet on myself. That does not mean I will always get it perfect or even right; but, it does mean that I am willing to try in addition to accepting the consequences and learning from it. I have to learn to get out of my own way while accepting accountability for who I am, and what I do and believe. And, unlike Act I where others set my expectations, I can learn to eliminate my own expectations and self-pressures in exchange for living and doing. The expectations, or standards, for myself will inherently evolve and change as I grow and do more. So, it’s no need to try to begin setting expectations before I’ve done anything – that will only lead to disappointment. Also, Act II is about self, but that does not mean that it’s achieved alone and it’s imperative to find the right support for the whole of my life to move out of Act II and achieve in all aspects of my life.
Lastly, despite not being there yet, I often think about and am starting to operate now with Act III in mind. There are 5 acts in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but in the end of Act III, Puck is able to utilize the potion that restores the couples to their rightful mate anticipating the ripple effect of what had occurred previously, and hoping for the best possible outcome. For me, Act III is the legacy, or I prefer stewardship, which is about leaving behind foundations, principles, and lessons for the next generation based on my life (Acts I & II). I want to be content with what I’ve accomplished without being too wistful of what wasn’t or too satisfied as to not continuing to learn and try new things. I cannot wait for my Act III, but I also want to embrace and make the most of my Act II.