“I know this now: I am inevitable. I sincerely believe the only thing that can stop me now is insanity, disease, or death. The plays I am going to write may not be suited to the tender bellies of old maids, sweet young girls, or Baptist Ministers but they will be true and honest and courageous, and the rest doesn’t matter. If my play goes on I want you to be prepared for execrations upon my head. I have stepped on toes right and left… I am not interested in writing what our pot-bellied members of the Rotary and Kiwanis call a “good show” — I want to know life and understand it and interpret it without fear or favor. This, I feel is a man’s work and worthy of a man’s dignity. For life is not made up of sugary, sticky, sickening Edgar A. Guest sentimentality, it is not made up of dishonest optimism, God is not always in his Heaven, all is not always right with the world. It is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life, life, life — the only thing that matters. It is savage, cruel, kind, noble, passionate, selfish, generous, stupid, ugly, beautiful, painful, joyous — it is all these, and more, and it’s all these I want to know and, by God, I shall, though they crucify me for it. I will go to the ends of the earth to find it, to understand it … and I will put it on paper, and make it true and beautiful.” –Thomas Wolfe (in a letter to his mom–swiped from brainpickings.org).
This quote is exactly how I feel. You and me, Tom. You and me. That’s also what I’m afraid (terrified) of. That’s also what inspires me, though.
We’re almost at the 15-day checkpoint, and my “being seen” goal feels off. Maybe it’s the wrong goal. Naomi’s feedback helped; maybe I have it as “too big.” She also posed the question of whether all my refining, perfecting, etc., of what I’m putting out there robs the exercise of who I truly am/my authenticity.
I don’t know. If we’re talking about writing, my answer to that is no, it doesn’t. I’ve got mastery with regard to writing (not because I’m special, but because I’ve spent substantial portions of my life being trained in reading and writing–10,000 hours +). Sometimes I don’t edit; it’s sloppy, like several of my posts on here. Sometimes I do edit. But, I believe both the edited and unedited posts are authentic; they’re both me, my “voice.” So, I believe my writing is authentic, whether polished or not. I just refuse to put it out there (whether polished or not). I will here, though, I’ve been writing here every damn day. That totally debunks all of my conversations about being burned out, too much resistance, not having enough time, etc. Why can’t I do what I do on here — out there? I guess that DOES go to “being seen.”
Maybe I am willing to “be seen” on my terms only. When I lose control of the conditions under which I am “seen” (who is seeing me, how much are they seeing), I can’t take it.
I know, you’re going to tell me that, with such controls in place, I’m actually not “being seen” at all.
But, is the practicing and refining about being in control? With music, yes. With music, that stuff is what makes me feel safe. It’s enough to be practiced, to have the song exactly right. That said, I don’t think it takes away the authenticity. The song is still my choice. The emotion is never not there; I in fact don’t know how to sing without it. I sometimes overpractice, overthink, overjudge. But, the end result I believe is authentic. That said, it could perhaps be more so. I could not be so self-conscious. I could post my 3rd try (if it’s a video) rather than my 15th. The quality, honestly, isn’t that different between the two; that’s where my perfectionism comes in. All right. I guess I will concede that, for music, perfecting affects my authenticity. Jimmy always acknowledges me when I “let go” during a song — I could “let go” more.
So, for music, it’s enough for me to be practiced (to feel sufficiently in control). As long as I’ve practiced enough — then, okay. I’ll go out there, I’ll do it. It’ll be uncomfortable, but I’ll do it. And I don’t actually believe, when I go out there, that I am in control just because I practiced. I’m nervous. I could forget everything. I could choke up on a high note. I have, in fact–more than once.
With writing, though, the refining, editing, etc. is not enough for me to feel safe or in control. And as I told you, it also does not, in my view, do anything to the “authenticity” of the piece. If I edit writing, it’s usually to make it more “true” — more raw, more accurate to the feeling I’m trying to evoke.
If what’s holding me back from writing is not about the editing and refining, then, what is it? I also know when I’m done with a piece of writing; it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to hit the note I want to hit, convey the meaning I want to convey. This is an exercise I’ve done multiple times, under aggressive deadlines (for work, for school, etc.). I know how to do it–how to get to a point of “finished” and put it out there, knowing it is still, of course, imperfect. So, why is a certain amount of practice enough for me to risk with music, but the years and years of practice and mastery I have with regard to writing is not enough for me to risk in that arena?
I think this is the reason why: because, with music, it’s not MY content (oh MAN — this is discouraging). Sometimes my song choice is esoteric. I know already it’s a song no one will know (or like). But, I usually try to find a happy medium — songs many people will know and like but that are also authentic to me. I love LOTS of music, so it’s not that hard. But, still, at the end of the day — it’s not my content. It’s a song someone else wrote. My performance is original, yes — and that part is the part that unnerves me. But, enough practice, and I can work through it. I get to a point where I know the song pretty well, I probably won’t mess up, and if anyone has a problem with the song, well — go talk to the songwriter. I’m just up here singing it, and maybe you didn’t like the choice, but, I won’t take it personally.
Anything I write is my content. Original. The epitome of “being seen” (for me). Now, the Flight Club 5-minute talk was my original content. I came up with a story about my life that I linked to a business idea (my idea). I talked about my struggle to discover my singing voice (which was linked to the pain of my first marriage ending). It was personal, the words were mine, the structure was mine, the story was mine. And I put a song into it (not mine, but my choice, a song that meant something to me, and my voice). This was what made it SO painful to do (and such a big breakthrough to follow through with it). This is me, on a plate, served to you.
And then I got acknowledged for it and I wanted to DIE. Like, DIE. I could not take it. It felt good–great, even–but, I also wanted to DIE.
I’ve shared my writing many times. In writing workshops, in classes. I’ve gotten acknowledgements and positive feedback. I’ve had professors tell me to enter my work in contests, and I won a few. I don’t think I’m the BEST writer who ever lived–I get insecure like anyone, I have room for improvement (I always will), and I know there are many writers who are much better than me. But, I would say I’m fairly confident in my ability.
So I think the issue truly is that with writing, the content is mine, and solely mine. In the classes and the workshops, it’s an “assignment.” It’s mine, yes, original, yes, but I have an “excuse” for the content. Someone TOLD me to write it. For the workshops I’ve attended here in New York as an adult, that’s less true — it’s very open-ended. Write whatever you want, this is just a chance to get feedback on it.
During those workshops, on the days when it was my turn to get feedback — ask me what state I was in. I’ll tell you: I was a nervous wreck. I’ve never, ever experienced my heart pound THAT hard and THAT fast. I was, like, afraid I’d actually have a stroke. Getting feedback was usually a good experience, too — not because no one had any notes for improvement (of course they did), but because I’d get to hear about how folks had connected to the piece. They related to it. They liked it. They wanted more of it. It made them cry. It feels awesome to hear stuff like that.
So WHAT is my PROBLEM?
I’ve put myself out there before. I’ve handled positive and negative feedback. I’m confident in myself as a writer; I’m fully developed. I’ve got mastery around it. I’ve got 10,000 hours (more). You may not like what I write about. You may not like my style at all, either. But, I wouldn’t take it personally; it’s just not your taste. That’s okay.
So WHAT is my PROBLEM?
Fear of failure? Fear I’m not really any good after all? Maybe. Fear of rejection? “Everyone hates what you write, they think it’s stupid and weird.” Maybe. But, why can’t I get through it? I can with music. And my “failure” conversation around music is like someone putting a bullhorn to my ear and screaming: “You SUUUUCK!”
I DO write on here, though, right? Mostly unedited. But whether edited or not, the feelings are not edited — they’ll all in here, as you can tell. I’m all over the damn place. There’s no clean-up here. But, there’s a “control” in place on here — it’s not the editing, it’s the audience. The audience is just you guys. And the public, but the public doesn’t notice our blog for the most part. Broaden the audience, and watch me crawl under a rock. And, honestly, my writing on here started out constrained; it was only over time that it became as free and open as it is now.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
Goal 1. I did one (1) thing this week that I think counts as “being seen.” At Jimmy’s suggestion, and thanks to my bad mindset that I needed to jar myself out of, I sang an old country song on video — and I posted the video to the private Flight Club group on Facebook. I also included a short talk about what the song means to me, and how it was supporting me with my bad mindset.
Self-feedback: I’m kind of pathetic. I posted this video (to a limited, “safe” audience), and then I turned off my Facebook notifications. I didn’t want to know if anyone commented (or if no one did), or if anyone “liked” it. I definitely did not want to know what they said. Why? I was convinced it was weird, it alienated everyone, no one likes me anyhow and this just solidified it, it was gratuitous, it was “showing off,” it was “too much” of me, “who does she think she is, like, why would we even want to see/hear that??,” and so on.
SO I just read the comments now (like, just now). They were all positive and encouraging and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I am bad at being a human. I should’ve been a bear, or some different being. I wanted to say a horse, but horses are herd animals, so they need “people” skills. Maybe a badger. I’d be really successful as a badger.
Now, what to do about Goal 1? I can revise it to say I will “be seen” once a week, not three (3) times a week. Three times is, clearly, too much (I’m not there yet). But, I also want to give some thought to Naomi’s suggestion that I am making my “being seen” tasks “too big.” I mean, I could do something (that I consider) smaller, but what? I never really post on Facebook anymore. Only a photo of Jimmy and I now and again so my mom doesn’t worry that we broke up (moms). Maybe 2 Facebook posts of original content a week (they can be anything; a dumb joke, a comment, whatever, just no photos, must be original written content), and 1 thing that stretches me a little? A video, busking, an open mic, etc. That’s achievable, I’m just not sure if it’s achievable in my current state of mind. I’ll give it a try, though. That’s what this group is about, right? Keep throwing spaghetti at the wall. Wait for something to STICK.
As to Goal 2, I’m doing great. Writing daily. Not always meeting the mark I set for myself, but always noticing, reflecting, considering, learning, growing. I give myself an A+ for Goal 2.
I wanted to cultivate humility with this goal (going GREAT so far, I literally just gave myself a grade of A+ <cue the joke drums>) — joke aside, I think slowly but surely, humility is happening. One of the main things I’ve realized with regard to contributing to other people is to listen. Like, genuinely listen. Not just to their words, but, where are they coming from? Where are they at? What can I do that will most support them in this moment? I also learned that this is (right now, at least) an EFFORT for me. I have a HARD TIME listening in this way. It definitely goes against some ingrained patterns. The problem-solver in me wants to get a superficial understanding of the problem and then jump to the solution, tell the person what I think, how I would handle that, what I would do, what they should do. Give a speech, show off my insights. I stop listening half-way through. The result is the person doesn’t receive what I say, they feel overwhelmed, they feel unheard, etc. What use are my insights if they’re delivered in a way that the person is not going to receive them? And (over) half the time, my insights are totally off-base anyway — because I didn’t listen.
With regard to contributing to myself, it’s been a “growing up” process, frankly. I described it as being akin to mothering myself, and it is. I don’t subscribe to any particular religion, but I feel fairly certain that this is a borrowed life. I have a borrowed body. It’s not mine. I have a higher purpose to serve, that’s why I’m here. So, am I going to discover or achieve that higher purpose by being self-destructive? What business do I have doing that–squandering the life I’ve been given, self-sabotaging? How does it dishonor people who are relying on me, who need to know they can count on me? How does it dishonor their love for me, their belief in me? You may think these thoughts would lead me to beat myself up for all my selfish ways and past transgressions, but, actually, no. Another thing that has come out of this process is that beat-up is a bad, bad thing to do to yourself — it (very effectively) keeps me from my greatness and serving the people I love. From the perspective of “mothering” myself, beat-up is NOT allowed.
Contributing to myself has brought all of this to the surface. It’s been about treating my body correctly. It’s been about managing my life responsibly. Set yourself up to win — not for you, but because this life isn’t actually for you. It’s been given to you as an opportunity to serve your purpose in the world, for others — meanwhile, you’re destroying it, wasting it, making it about you and whether you feel “comfortable” enough, etc. I don’t think it’s at all wrong to pursue your own pleasures in life — but, there’s a difference between pursuing passion, love, growth, vitality, etc. (all things that will serve you and everyone around you) and pursing instant gratification, comfort, etc. (typically stuff that serves only you, and then not really, because it’s often self-destructive). And I don’t mean to demonize “comfort,” I mean look — we all need a Sunday we spend on the couch watching a Lifetime movie marathon now and again (with such classics as: “Co-Ed Call Girl,” and “Killer Hair” [these are real Lifetime movie titles]). It’s more living a life RUN by the pursuit (and maintenance) of comfort and instant gratification that I’m talking about.
And I’ve believed all of this for a long time–I just haven’t taken it in, nor have I done much to conform my life to that inner belief. And, for the record, I’m speaking about my own experience, my own beliefs, my own inner thoughts, my own intuition — you very well may disagree with all of this, as I realize I’m forging into the territory of religion, spirituality, “how one should live,” etc. These are my truths based on my experience–I am not asserting they are, or should be, yours.
Anyway, these thoughts take me straight back to Goal 1. Because my answer to the question of “how can I best serve the world?” is <drum roll>: writing. I know that — like, KNOW it — in the CORE of my BEING. I know it as certain as I know that my eyes are brown. Kyla’s eyes are brown, her purpose in life is to write, she’s 5’4″, 32 years old (soon, 33 — Jimmy wants me to catch up to him, so I’m trying).
I have other talents. I have a career that I’ve become experienced in, and that I’m effective at, but the world doesn’t NEED me as a lawyer. Sure, I could end up winning a groundbreaking case one day, but, I don’t have the same inner certainty about that as I have about writing. Writing IS me. I AM writing. This is it. This is what I have to offer. Even in my career, writing is the best thing I can bring to the table (which every boss/mentor/peer I’ve ever encountered has immediately identified).
I’ll always sing. I’ll probably join a band at some point (once I find the right one). I sing because it brings me joy, and I hope it brings others joy, and comfort, and transcendence (that’s my goal, anyway, and maybe one day I’ll be good enough to have others experience that). I may even one day try writing a song or two. I’ll certainly sing to our child. But, singing is more a pure treat for myself; a way to open my heart, feel light and love be channeled through me. It may benefit others, as a side effect. Its main purpose, though, is probably to refuel my tanks for writing. And I love writing, but there IS a labor to it — one needs a break sometimes, and in particular, a break that involves connection (not isolation).
So what’s clear at the first 15-day check-point? My “being seen” goal is leading me back to the writing goal, because in the end, that’s a big part of what “being seen” IS for me. Putting my writing out there. It’s other stuff too, though, to be fair. It’s about showing my personality. Now, I’m not extraverted, and I never will be, and I don’t want to be (nothing against extraverts, it’s just not me–I enjoy my introverted existence and find I get a lot of value from it). But still, it’s about being willing to show my true self without all the cringing and the hiding and the fear. It’s about being able to get up and give my 5-minute talk, have everyone enjoy it, and receive that without extreme discomfort. I mean, I cringe first because I’m certain (like, CERTAIN) that everyone is going to be hateful toward me. They’re going to ridicule me, reject me, call me out as being “full of myself,” a “show off,” etc. And THEN — even if I get past all of that and actually put something out there, and my nightmare scenario DOESN’T HAPPEN — I cringe even WORSE. I, like, turn inside out. What is so painful about being WRONG about everyone hating me/my self-expression? That is a worthwhile question to sit with.
The other thing that’s coming into focus is that if I were to take my contribution goal to the next level, it would involve satisfying Goal 1. If writing (and “being seen” in general) is how I can best serve the world, then from a contribution standpoint, that’s what I should be doing — and I should start now, so I can start experimenting, adjusting to my audience, doing everything I can to determine how, exactly, my writing can best serve people. If I can truly connect to that, maybe it can support me in breaking through.