It’s been 9 months since I last blogged for LA FPI and the world feels like a drastically different place…a terrifyingly absurd place…the kind of place that I used to think only existed in dark, independent foreign films (a favorite to watch, though less favored to live in). Through all the political cacophony and “alternative facts,” one real, indisputable fact has emerged: Fear creates action like a motherf*cker. Advertisers, politicians, and religious zealots have harnessed this power for decades…but I’m not here to talk about any of that…I’m here to talk about creating.
It’s a story-line we’re all familiar with: A person has a near-death experience, survives and realizes what really matters to them. They quit their job, get out of that toxic relationship, sell the clutter, and live more simply in pursuit of their legacy. That may mean investing more time into your relationships with your family, or it could mean spending more time creating that masterpiece–or both! Or neither! Or something else entirely! Only your heart knows. The question is: If we all know the story, why aren’t we able to extrapolate the lesson of it without the near-death part?
Fear gets a negative connotation, some of which is justified, but fear is also adrenaline, it is motivation, and it can be the cold, hard hand of reality that slaps you across the face when you’ve tuned out on your life.
If you’re terrified of ending up as the person who always said, “I’m a _____,” or “I’m working on______,” or “I’m going to ________,” and then never became, never did, never got there…then you will do something. When the fear of not doing the thing becomes greater than the fear of trying and failing, you will do the thing. And when you do the thing, you’ll buck head-on with that fear of trying and failing like never before, and finally be forced to confront (ie. breakthrough) that fear. The good news is that the more times you breakthrough that fear, the further you’ll be able to go.
So, my advice? Be afraid, be very, very afraid. And do it anyway. Set yourself up to confront scary situations on the regular. Go take that stand-up routine you’ve got tucked in your pocket up on a stage in front of people and fill the space with your weird ass humor. Don’t just finish that book, put it out in the world–tell people, ask them to read it and tell you what they really think…then, send it to your idols–why not? Produce that play that you’re the most proud of but that no one has said, “yes” to yet. Start that business you’ve been dreaming about for 20 years.
In other words: LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING (because you are).
True: You might “fail.” You might fall flat on your face in the most humiliating way. Maybe no one laughs when they’re supposed to…maybe everyone laughs when they’re not. You will cry and there will be sleepless nights. You might go bankrupt. Maybe you go for it with all you’ve got and come up short. Maybe you’ll be forced to realize that you’re not capable of doing what you’ve always wanted to…yet. You could perish mid-pursuit…but, more terrifyingly, you could die never having tried at all–never having spoken your thoughts–never having shared your he(art)–never knowing what could have been…and then, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
It’s not hyperbole to say these decisions are life and death. Your life and your death…it’s your legacy in your hands, your decisions plotting your path. It’s a lot of responsibility to admit that to yourself. While “success” is a personally defined moving target–much of which involves timing and luck that is out of your hands…your effort, your output, and your action…well, that’s all on you, kid. Life is so, so weird and no one knows half of what they seem to know…rather than try to make sense of it, embrace the absurdity. Rather than wait for someone else’s validation, proclaim it for yourself: you belong. You’re voice, experience and perspective are the rarest, most valuable assets you have.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! There’s just one catch: You have to try.
I promise you, if you let it, fear can be the biggest gift you give yourself (along with a hardy dose of kindness).
My Top 4 List of Scary Things From The Last 9 Months
1. True Confessions: Goldilocks & the Three Dildos
Back in September I had the opportunity (ie. volunteered) to get up on a mic in front of people and tell a true story from my life. True Confessions is a local storytelling event in the vein of The Moth and provided the perfect opportunity to scare myself shitless. It’s one thing going up in front of people under the illusion of character, costume and set, and another thing entirely to speak truthfully about truly embarrassing parts of your life that you think might be funny and poignant, but that could also just be quietly unacceptable to utter out-loud. I did it though (you can listen at the link above!) and the most surprising thing came from it…I was able to own my story in a way I never was before–always worried what others would think if I shared it…suddenly, that fear had no power over me anymore. I let go of shame and learned, by doing, how to be grateful for every odd, painful quirk of my story…for giving me such a great story to tell.
2. Art Hung on Gallery Walls
Art was always my Mom’s thing. She’s the professional artist. I was the artistic hippie who did all artistic things, but left the “serious” artistic pursuits in my Mom’s lane. I’ve always made art but rarely placed much value on it. It’s “my Mom’s thing.” As if my placing value on my work could in any way take anything away from my Mom–but I so clearly recall an incident in my childhood with a competitive friend when one of us crossed into the other’s artistic lanes and sparks flied. “Hey, that’s my thing!” To my Mom’s credit, she’s never been anything but supportive of my art. She’s even bought (ie. paid real dollar bills, yo) for my art (which is crazy to me–LOVE YOU, MOM). It’s completely my own neurosis. In the last two years, however, I’ve made more art than I have had space for and people started inquiring about buying, so I re-activated my Etsy shop and started reaching out to galleries to do shows. This makes me feel boarder-line legitimate artistically…and that means being vulnerable for my work to be judged through that lens as well…which is scary. In the last 9 months through to the next 9 months my work has shown at (for judgement and purchase) or will be shown at: BookMarx, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield Regional Arts Council, Tea Bar & Bites, and Arts & Letters.
3. LET’S TALK About My Poetry Book
I’ve been writing poetry as far back as I can remember, but like my art I never took it “seriously.” In the last few years, I have become more and more cognizant of the power of representation. The #BodyPositive movement, the #BlackGirlMagic movement, and #effyourbeautystandards among others are powerful because they provide much needed examples of strong, confident, successful, and beautiful that aren’t being shown as regularly in mainstream media and advertising. I’ve realized that my voice and perspective could add to the chorus of voices that have re-shaped my mind and my perspective on others and myself in monumental ways. And what if those people had never seen the value in their voices? My life, undoubtedly, would be vastly different today. This collection, LET’S TALK, has been in the works for the last 2 years and will be available on Amazon later this year through their self-publishing platform CreateSpace. It’s scary putting this book out there–it’s an expense–no, an investment. What if no one buys it? Or what if they do? What if they leave really awful reviews? But, more importantly, what if it helps? Anyone at all, even just a little…to feel less alone in life?
4. SEEK HELP & Seeking Funds
This was the biggest leap. This one was and is the scariest. No question. I wrote a web-series called Seek Help way back in 2012. It came out of me in a huge, easy burst of inspiration and I really loved it–which, if you write, you know how rarely that outcome occurs! I wanted to make it, but it required a specific set and a few other things that I didn’t have access to at the time. Every few years I would pull it out, re-read it and proclaim, “I want to make this!”
Then, this last year I was reading it with my friend Matt and it SPARKED. This was it. The time was now. We talked and decided to do a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to make it–and make it right. I was so scared to do a kickstarter…imagine asking for money for a project you really believe in and finding out just how many people find you or your he(art) project unworthy of giving to. But then I thought about all my friends who had had successful campaigns and how I had happily donated to many of them and I thought…okay, we can do this! People do this!
I made a plan, we made a video, we made a kickstarter, I researched, I submitted, I PR’d and I posted and posted and emailed…and then, I started to panic…like, dry-heaving, crying actual tears, out of my mind SCARED that because not enough people were responding that it meant that no one believed in me. I felt betrayed. I felt embarrassed for trying. I felt briefly like I was not worthwhile. Then, right in the middle of it, the election happened. To be clear, we were not on target for meeting our goal before the election happened, but once it happened, all progress slowed to a complete stop. Understandably people had bigger concerns–as did I.
In a weird sort of way, I found my perspective again. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started feeling so grateful for everyone who did support me when there are so many other very worthy causes to support. When we failed to make our goal, I wasn’t yet ready to relinquish defeat. When I thought about making it any way we could scrape it together, I felt excitement and peace. When I thought about giving up, I felt depressed and incapable. So, it was simple. I didn’t want to feel depressed and incapable…I wanted to feel excitement and peace. Amazingly, some of the people who’d donated wanted to keep their pledges and help us make it. So, we reconfigured, re-cast, and re-committed. There have been no less than 5 major set-backs (all SCARY) since that decision was made, but this week I finished the rough cut of the first full episode which we shot this past weekend and I haven’t been able to sleep un-medicated since. I’m so incredibly giddy with excitement. I go to bed late and wake up early and don’t feel cranky about it…and this is the thing, guys…
THIS IS THE WHOLE ENCHILADA…
The joy you get from doing the thing? When it’s your thing–whatever that may be–is more than enough to absorb the fear and the setbacks. You only live once (probably)–SO GO FOR IT! And don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments if you want an accountability partner, or someone to bounce ideas off of. I love being an accountability and encouragement partner–especially for other strong, creative women! <3
Saturday, I took the Red Eye home to see my mother. My sisters were not sure what was going on with her – one minute she was fine, the next she was disoriented and feverish. I could hear nurses in the background, uneasiness in my sister’s voice and when I finally got to say hello to my mother she made absolutely no sense at all. By the third call, I was looking online for a cheap flight – with all my almost points, that miraculously expire before I can use them, I was left to the mercy of Priceline and not much choice. So, I flew in for Mother’s Day, surprising my mother who was up and dressed – for a while. By 6:30 pm we were on our way to the hospital where we stayed till about 2 am the next day when we put her in a room. Getting Mother somewhat situated, thankful to the doctors and nurses at Methodist for connecting dots, ruling out, and genuinely caring, I was able to think about keeping the flight plan to return to LA. Before my mother went to her room, she told me I looked like a “thug” with my scarf on my head, my leather jacket and the way I was standing, which made everyone laugh. To that she exclaimed she didn’t know I was so short. More laughter. She was “in” again. She told me to come back later and stay longer.
I got to see nieces and nephews, all my sisters, the new baby and the green of Indiana. Concrete filled Los Angeles seemed like a prison sentence and I was out on parole. Air without exhaust fumes – who knew? The speed limit is 55 mph on the highway, there are about four of them, a few overlap – 465 circles the city. Go either way, you’ll get there eventually. Not a lot of traffic – none if you compare it to the 405.
Spent the night (wee hours of the morning till my flight back to LA on Monday) talking with one of my sisters; got to see her new grandson. Got to have some White Castle burgers, wish I had gotten to go to the (farmers) Market. Sleep deprived, I drove off into the sunlight, promptly missed my exits had to turnaround three times, turned into incoming traffic, had to drive over the center divider because I couldn’t back up. A miracle, I got to the airport on time and safe.
The whole three days of travel, I kept getting “that would make a good play” thoughts in response to something I saw or heard. I had a chore staying present to visit with family while waiting on results of tests for my mother. But, I’m a writer so I am aware of story even when I am preoccupied. Story can be triggered by anything – the visual, sounds, emotions…
My mother always asks me what I am working on. She gets real excited when I say I am researching things. She has every confidence in my gift. My regret is that she wasn’t well enough and there wasn’t enough “in” time for me to read her some poetry.
I found story on my journey, none of which will pass the “b” test but if I, as playwright – because I am female, am not only limited by the male dominated theater-world but also by the female constituency because of the content of my work, who gains? Art should not be held under dictatorship. I have a distinct voice and my stories are universal in scope. I am a playwright, I am of color and I am a woman and I tell damn good stories. I face racism daily – in America – and must shake it off like sand continually. Truth be told, when I send out my work, I don’t think I may not get picked because I am a female, I think “I hope they don’t ask for a picture then they will know I am of color”. I have to decide whether or not to send a play that would be considered too ethnic. I have to say on conference submissions whether or not the characters have to be played by ethnic actors which in some cases can limit or put one out of the running altogether. I count yellow/brown/red faces on theater company rosters to see if my work will even be looked at in the first place. I had an actress read a page from one of my works who was shocked when I told her I wrote it for a blond-haired blue-eyed woman, just like her. She liked the universal story but had assumed the character was written as a woman of color because I am a woman of color.
I want to tell my stories as I find them, how I hear and see them and be able to take them straight through to the next level based on their substance and craft, not my lack of a dick and my failing of the “b” test no matter how many times I take it.
As a habit, I write through the night, so in a sense, I am always riding the Red Eye…
I’m looking forward to Tuesday. That’s when I’m stepping on a plane to Rhode Island where yet another college is producing my war crimes play “A Patch of Earth.” I’m looking forward to the talkback session with the students. They always ask the hard questions.
I’ve been very fortunate with this particular play to find exactly the right audience. It premiered at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, where it won the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition. But it’s not exactly the most commercial thing I’ve ever written. As my pal who runs MetroStage in Alexandria puts it, “it’s hard to sell tickets to a show about slaughtering Bosnians at Srebrenica.”
But it’s exactly the right play for colleges, a place where young people spend hours debating moral questions. The play is the true story of Drazen Erdemovic, a Bosnian Croat who ended up fighting for all three sides during the Yugoslav war. He says he never killed anybody until his unit was sent to a farm outside of Srebrenica where they were instructed to kill busloads of men. He said he didn’t want to shoot, but was told if he felt so sorry for the victims he could stand up there with them and be shot himself. And then his compadres would go back to his village and shoot his wife and child.
It’s a story with characters around the age of college students, a story that happened in most of these students’ lifetime. The play has a big cast (at least 9, as many as 30) with lots of good female roles. Perfect for college productions.
And it’s had those college productions in Detroit, Pretoria, Costa Mesa, New Jersey, and now Rhode Island. (It even had one high school production last year in England!) “A Patch of Earth” was even published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
I don’t write all this to brag on myself, but to remind myself that not everything I write is destined for the Taper. Or the Geffen. Or the Pasadena Playhouse. That doesn’t mean the script doesn’t have value. In fact, it might affect more lives by being the perfect script for colleges. Or for community theatres. Or for young audiences.
Write the play that’s calling you to be written today. Worry about the audience it’s written for after you’re done. Because plays that need to be written seem to find their own audiences.
Chrisette Michele, a phenomenal singer/songwriter, has a new album out titled LET FREEDOM REIGN and on the album there is a song called “If Nobody Sang Along.” In this song, she discusses having an audience to appreciate her work and wondering if the absence of that audience would affect her desire to tell her story… She resolves that when everything is said and done, it’s about the possibility of affecting someone’s world simply because she told her story that drives her to sing regardless…
As a playwright, the answer has to be ‘yes’, as well, otherwise, we would hardly get anything done. What determines art – productions, readings or simply creating it? How much stuff going wrong stops or trips you up? For most of us, we write because we must and the obstacles work their way into and through our stories. We answer those questions again and again as we endure… We stand and fight for ourselves as we press through those moments of weakness. Exhaustion wrapped ‘round our shoulders, we sit once more at the computer or pad and pen and write — something, anything, as long as it is story…
Years ago, at a church that I attended in the Midwest, the young ministers were given time on Sundays to preach from 3 – 5 pm (in the basement of the church). Service attendance at that time of the day was usually slack; it was in the middle of the day when everyone was at home relaxing before returning for the 7 pm evening service or if they did return to the church early, they would be upstairs talking to other church members. Most of the time the young ministers would cancel their service because no one showed up or if there were less than 5 people. There was one minister, a Minister Tom Carey, however, who would start preaching to an empty room. He would preach as if the room was full, as if there was no tomorrow. And, this brother who stuttered sometimes would preach stutter free. You could hear him from the stairwell; it would draw you right down those stairs and into a seat. We asked him why he would preach to an empty room and he would say, “God’s here. I had something to say.” or “The Word is good all the time, even in a room with no people.” (I paraphrase from memory.) After a while, his services would be packed; his gift had made room for him even when nobody was singing along…
I think about Minister Carey when I am up in the wee hours of the morning typing away at a story knowing my gift is making room for me, knowing God’s here and I have something to say, knowing that even in an empty room, my story is relevant and that I will always sing regardless of whether or not anyone sings along…
Everyone does it: sometimes in a restroom, in a corner of a park, in your bedroom, hell – some people even do it in a public cafe.
We all steal time to write.
I say steal time because it feels selfish, inward, private.
And it just feels so good. Especially when it feels horrible during the process, it feels so good when you’re done. Writing is very much like spinning class in that way.
The true reason we steal time to write, though, is because we find it so easy not to write.
There’s laundry, the dog, the kids, the love interest, the season finale we could consider research, the day job, sleep, Facebook, Twitter, blogs about writing – no matter how you add, multiply or divide the time, these only equal procrastination.
I recently learned the hardest part about being self-employed: when deadlines aren’t met, you mostly disappoint yourself.
When I don’t write, I only disappoint myself.
Time to stop talking about it and start doing it! See you later………
It’s a funny game, this game of time, writing away the hours to creative and adventurous ends. I’ve enjoyed spending some of it with you this week as I bounce forth, furiously toiling away at my current list of projects; a rewrite, a new play, a screenplay hot off the treatment treadmill and (finally) into pages, an outline – alright, a dozen – as I try to wrangle the story ideas pounding down my door into some sort of tangible form until I can give them the attention they so deserve…
And I’m a bit tired, a lot excited, 50% amazed, and 100% thankful that I’ve got so much in the creative crock pot and that I keep on going… keep on writing… in the face of all that flies at me.
Because it ain’t easy.
Wait, let me rephrase that- (clearing throat) – Becaaaaauuuuuuse….
IT AIN’T EASY.
Yeah, that looks better. That looks more accurate. If I could include thundering drums and brass, a host of angels flapping their mighty wings, and a lusty Sallie Mae recoupment officer cackling at you from under a pile of Visa, Discover, and Mastercard bills, it would be closer to the point, but you get the idea.
Because why? (say it with me now) It ain’t easy.
And yet we work, and pound away, to birth these stories haunting us, treating us to a mysterious kind of rapture that only artists understand – the drug of the creators; I made this.
And when I stare down upon those beautiful pages, those curvaceous words and fat happy brads… I feel high.
I love it when people ask me “How do you do this?!”
I love it even more when it is coming from someone who does something I can’t fathom or make sense of (firemen, doctors, people who run charity organizations or fly to Ghana to teach kids…)
There are so many people in the world doing so many amazing things, and yet… we wonder at one another’s ability to do the things we ourselves simply can’t.
And to me, this is the universal proof that we are each of us meant to follow our own path… in the hopes of arriving at (perhaps) some collective betterment of mankind.
Which is why, as when those very same people ask me about the theater process, I tell them that, much like any grand accomplishment, it takes a village.
It’s not enough to have an idea, you need the encouragement to pursue it.
It’s not enough to put words to page, you need the mentorship to help you sculpt it.
It’s not enough to write a thing, you need eyes and ears to experience it.
And then you sit down and get to work at making that thing better.
Because if you’re patient, if you’re tenacious, if you keep at it and keep at it and keep at it… that thing of yours just might come to life.
A painter might get an exhibition, a cellist might get a concert, and a playwright might get a production…
…Which is when all the other villagers truly roll up their sleeves; all believing in the magic of your imagination. This is when they commit to helping deliver this egg of yours to the masses (be it twelve noble ticket holders or hordes of Broadway die-hards)
And you sit in awe and wonder of this living, breathing, writhing beast of theater taking shape before you – a beautiful exquisite beast…
Yes, it takes a friggin’ village.
And this is why I’m so excited to be a part of the LAFPI movement.
A word with implied resistance to stagnancy. It infers, no in fact, demands change…
The LAFPI is an opportunity for revelation of thought, practice, and life…
But it will take the whole village… can you hear the shirtsleeves rolling?