Monday, June 18, 2012

Everybody Got Their Something

I often feel like I’m the last person in line to get the life changing memos.  I have no doubt we all feel that way sometimes.  This blog has been rolling around in my head for a long’s my most recent revelation that has been building steam for a few years now.  

In discussing this blog or any of my other writing projects with people, I often hear the same comments, mostly along the lines of I Used To Do XYZ But I Don’t Now, I Couldn’t Do XYZ If I Tried, or probably the most common response, I’m Not A Creative Person.  The last one truly speaks to me as that was my line for forty years.  When I was fourteen, I got a job flipping burgers and discovered my love of boys, music, and wine coolers all at once.  I had a boyfriend that was in a sparky Brit Pop inspired band; they played friends’ parties, small clubs, public parks and the like, until they managed to attract quite a following.  When the shows involved collecting money they would often ask me to work the door, assumedly because they trusted that I wouldn’t rip them off and they could concentrate on doing their thing.  I suppose I was a merch girl before there was such a term.  I had it in my head that being a merch girl type was most certainly my station in this life….that I was an ardent art enthusiast, at times getting lucky enough to be close and helpful to those who produced it.

When I started writing, I felt a slow but discernible shift in attitude.  I had enjoyed writing as a kid, which was my only criteria for starting there in attempts to figure out if I had any creative juju whatsoever.  Throwing myself into it, I started voraciously taking in information about how to be a better writer, storyteller, artistic type person....are you feeling my air quotes?  I wanted to be armed with information, God forbid I just do it and fall on my face.  I kept coming across the same message over and over again.  Simplified to a few concepts, it is as follows:

1) When you first start doing ANYTHING, you probably won’t be that good at it.
2)  You will get better, but only if you don’t give up.
3)  Even if you don't master it, there is much joy and satisfaction to be derived in learning.

These simple truths started coming at me from all sides. I'm sure the information was always present, but I didn't see it because I didn't think it applied to me. Ira Glass talks about the period of time it takes before your abilities catch up with your enthusiasm and your taste.  Anne Lamott celebrates shitty first drafts.  I recently discussed this with my friend Charles who directed me to his blog on the topic (  It’s a powerful message that applies to the bigger picture, beyond making art….that in order to learn, you must be willing to try and willing to accept the fact that you will most likely not be instantly successful in your attempts.  People aren't divided into creative and noncreative.…it’s just a matter of experimentation and patience with the results.  And being very careful about who you share your experiments with.  When I wrote my first story, I sent it to two respected writer friends who I trusted to help me.  When I read what I sent them now, I find it pretty cringeworthy, but they were supportive and encouraging and gave me tips on how to make the piece better.  I've improved my work through trial and error, heavy on the ERROR.  For every decent piece I've come up with, I have had a whole slew of ideas that went nowhere, that remain unfinished, or just plain sucked ass.  Every time I press POST on this blog, I am filled with self doubt about the worth, the message, the value, the spelling, the grammar, the punctuation. I just found out I'm the last asshole on the planet to put two spaces after the period, but so be it.  I want to give up every time things don't turn out the way I've planned (which for the record is almost EVERY TIME), but then I look at how far I've come and I realize I just wouldn't be satisfied going back to being a merch girl.

Any innate talent I have as a writer I attribute to the fact that writing involves paying attention.  It is my personal celebration of my observations of the world.  I have always been a very nervous type, hyper analyzing everyone around me in an attempt to fit in.  Not that uncommon, I suppose.  My crippling fear of being uncool combined with my desire to belong turned me into a social chameleon, a shape shifter, someone who could figure out how to act appropriately in any number of social situations….that combined with years of waiting tables and tending bar was a master class in the human condition.  Writing is helping to smooth out the rough road that is a recent quest to just accept myself for who I am, relinquishing the exhausting struggle that is changing myself to please others and related attempts to get others to change to suit my needs.  Writing has brought my life a piece that has always been missing, a bridge between the mad swirl that goes on inside my mind and the outside world where we all collide…a glimpse at self acceptance, a window into a sense of belonging.

I know there’s always work to do and bills to pay and Bravo marathons to watch and other etcetera to consider, but I encourage you to try your hand at being creative. If it feels uncomfortable and unnecessary and flat out stupid, you’re probably on the right track.  I'm exploring the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I just started tackling with a great group of new Chicago friends.  Every week I've committed to going on an “artist’s date”, something I do alone that’s pure play, any activity that exercises my imagination.  Even though I have plenty of time to do this and a plethora of interesting ideas, it has been surprisingly difficult to let myself just DO IT.  It feels like an indulgence and contrary to what responsible adults do with their time.  This week I’ve decided to canoodle with Garage Band on my Mac Air, even though I have never tried my hand at anything musical.  Just for fun.  Just to see.  I’m sure I will suck….but who knows, I could get better.  Even if I don’t (those of you who’ve heard me sing karaoke know this is a real possibility), if it’s fun, I might just continue to do it anyway.  Think of what you enjoyed as a kid.  Did you sing, did you dance, did you draw?  Everybody got their something....there's a time for every star to shine.  Take a moment to consider yours.  I've attached the Nikka Costa ditty that my iPod kept shuffling as a musical reminder to put this post together.

Still rebuilding from a breakup that was the emotional equivalent of playing catch with a hand grenade.  Applying the above philosophy to that as well….I tried, I loved, I lost, I learned. I arrived at the address of my first meeting of my writing group to unexpectedly find it was where I last had my heart smashed.  Actively shaking in my shoes from the visual, I had to convince myself that it was time to embrace new possibilities and focus on the doors that were opening instead of the ones that I had been slammed in my face.  Great thinkers like Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson (!) remind me that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  I may be on the fast track to bench pressing Volkswagons.

Leaving you with a Rumi reminder.  It's almost summer in Chicago, people.  LET THE GAMES BEGIN.

The Guest House 

                             This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house  empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

 The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.