Dating the Talent

I was actually serious with this.

I was actually serious with this.


I was first introduced to the work of Brené Brown when I read her introduction to ‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer. Ms. Brown is a researcher-storyteller who focuses on shame and our inability to connect. Ms. Palmer is a rock musician who lives her life asking and giving and being vulnerable in a way I never could. The theses of both these writers compliment each other and I wanted to learn more.

In a completely unrelated event, with him not privy to any of this information, my boyfriend sent me a link to Brené Brown’s TED talk about the power of vulnerability. We’re on the same page that way.

There’s one important page in our book, however, on which we are on different pages. Different chapters. Nearly different stories.

I have shame. I have vulnerability. I have inability to connect.

And I have no talent. He has it by swollen handfuls. 

At least, these are all things my head tells me. Granted, my head can be a right brutal bastard. Others might not say so about me. They might have nice works and compliments and proof to the contrary. But for me, today, behind the computer, fighting the words, I have no talent.

But if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it. I can’t sing. Or play any instrument. I can’t paint or draw. Truly. My worst grade my freshman year of high school was in art. You can see why. And aside from doing,  I can’t speak about art or history or art history. I don’t know photographers or understand lighting design concepts.

That’s hard medicine to choke down, no matter how much honey you add to the spoon or how strong a chaser that follows it.

I hate not being talented. That’s obvious to the point of hyperbole. But I really, really hate it because I really, really want it. Again, giant obvious.  We all want talent. To be good at something. To be sought after and seen. To feel contributory and valued.

I love creativity and artistry. I will flock to it and stare. I will flirt with it as much as my social anxiety allows. I once gawked and had absurd and inappropriate romantic thoughts about a dossier at the Corcorn Gallery of Art in D.C, not because of anything he looked like or who he was as a person, but because he spoke with nerd-zeal compassion and authority on Stanley Kubrick’s use of facial distortion as a societal commentary in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Entrancing.

The gripping attraction is  because I want to be physically near it.  Feel it. Pretend as much as I  wish with my green-tinged little heart that I had it. Not just faking it. Real goods. The talent that takes up space and air as much as another body in the booth next to you. Maybe I just want some of its skin flakes to entangle with me so give me a bit of something. Because up close, seeing how it’s made, makes it even more beautiful.

My lovely boy is talented. Extremely talented. A photographer. A writer of poems and novels and maker of worlds. A painter. A musician and crafter of songs.  He might say I exaggerate. I care about him, so maybe. But maybe not. I don’t have the goods to participate in the art so I try to facilitate. I buy booze. I make food.  I try to help think of the right verb that means ‘to ask strongly’ but isn’t the word ‘ask strongly’. I provide space and distance and understanding. Well, I always provide space and the sundries to allow creation. It’s as close as I get to artistry some days. To my own disappointment, I have struggled with distance and understanding. With enough conversation and openness from him and more trust by me,  I’m getting it. Getting better at being his audience, listener, problem-tinkering lab assistant. But part of me will  still always selfishly wish it was me as creator. 

Maybe I’m just hard on myself. Not appreciating the work I do accomplish in my possible world. 

Why does it bother me?  Why am I not just immediately thrilled when he reaches a watershed word count or does gorgeous shading work on a charcoal portrait? Is is simple jealousy? Why do I immediately reverse and compare that to myself, with strong and hard criticism. Yelling in my mind that I’m not the one writing. I’m always so humbled and thankful that he shares his work with me. That he thinks enough of me and my instincts and opinions to let me have the first look. Because I want to connect. And I love that he makes himself vulnerable to my gaze and giving me permission for deeper dissection. But so often I’m too busy listening to my own thoughts belittling me and my attempts that I can’t give the time and focus that his work deserves. It’s gorgeous work and I am so thankful he brings me into his fantastical worlds and lets me play.

But in real life, why aren’t I  enough? I’m crazy about this man. Why do I feel like if I’m not keeping up with his every creative beat that it’s not enough? It’s not him saying it. He has read my pieces and sat through my plays and offered not only commentary but heaped praise. Not generic lauding. Thoughtful, honest verbal applause when and where it was deserved. It’s an incredible feeling. To have someone you care about, in turn, care about what you love and what you do. Maybe time to do the same, consistently, intentionally, sincerely for him. Less grousing in my anxious brain about how everyone is better than me, especially the unafraid writer in front of me asking me to listen. How about I shut up and get to work. Stopping lamenting how some of my life choices prevent me from writing and use what I do have.  Actually get better at what I love, instead of wishing I could do what he does.  Keep pushing to  give him, and me,  things to look at, not because I want to prove or compete or to silence an inner doubter, but because I just love it. And I want to share that excited ‘look-what-I-did’ with him.

This is my new, big want. Not just to be a better artist, or any artist for that matter. But to be better at trusting. Trusting that being someone’s first, constant audience is necessary art work. That listening and supporting is a vital gift that I can give. Something I can be good at, even if it means being vulnerable or ashamed of my own lack of work or my perception of its lack of quality. That being genuinely proud and excited for his success can only make him and me and us better. I need to work at being a better artist. Always. But right now, I want to work on being better backstage, taking care of the talent.  Because doing that, also takes care of me.

 (Addendum: He read this last night, while I read the latest chapter of his novel. He liked what I wrote and also disagreed with bits.  He told me I’m talented. He  told me some of what I think is bullshit. He reminded me of what I am and what I can do. We talked and listened and shared and,  for a moment, he was dating the talent. Then he told the talent to put her phone down and go to bed. )


No Crying Over Spilled Ink

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I’m not good at art. At all.

Not ink. Not charcoal. Not finger paints.

Not any kind. Not any presentation. Not any medium.

And I’m not good at saying no. Gives me more responsibility, anxiety and heartache than a girl can handle somedays.

Problem is, I’m also really god damn bad at saying yes.

“Hey, you want to grab a drink after the show?”

No.

“You want to get the girls together for a-”

Probably not. No, on second thought,  you know what? Absolutely not.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if we-”

Never.  Could not refuse harder.

For me, there is something so safe and comfortable about being tucked away alone. You can’t embarrass yourself. Well, you can but at least no one can see it. It’s easy.

So,  trying something new? With others?

The painful, saccharine, no-way-in-hell, kitsch of that is so gross and full of sticky treacle it’s almost adorable in its irony. New things? That’s the hard stuff. And there’s no way I’d even consider such a horrible idea.

But today, for some inexplicable reason, I did. Well, actually I can explain, but it’s boring.

I was invited to buy nibs and ink and gorgeous sleek paper so that I could take a shot at calligraphy. For no other reason than it seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon. Me. Arting.

My initial instinct? No. Fat, stoic, austere no. Why? I can’t do that. Notion like that could surely only bring pain and gutting of what residual self-esteem a Sunday night has to offer.

But, I didn’t say no. Because I wanted to be nice. I wanted to make happy. I wanted to show that I’m not a constant and perpetual drag full of mope and pessimism. I mean, I usually am, but we don’t need to advertise that.

To my surprise, I said yes. We bought the pretty things and went home and sat and drew bold, black, gothic letters.

It was silly. My work was a jumbled mess. I’ve seen neater letters on a preschooler’s letter to Santa.

But it wasn’t bad. I sat and tried and tried again. I played along. Then I pretended to be Mary Shelley, writing for the Monster. That was actually lots of fun. Those incredible women suffered this inky pain and wrote this magic words while strangled and erect in corsets, not slouched kyphotic in yoga pants and a blanket scarf.

The pattern of mine, the unexpected yes,  is starting to repeat and those acceptances and their reasons are starting sharpen into focus. No long ago, instead of hiding away in a room, I said yes to sitting and talking and had a lovely night with some lovely girls. This same culprit also asked me once to stay for pasta. Something told me to fight my instinct and say yes to that as well. I’m so glad I did. Been staying ever since and I’m better and so happy for it.

This afternoon turned into a good night. Lots of letters on pretty paper. Slanted, uneven, sloppy, lines and curves with perk when they should relax and malaise when they should  assert their point. Objectively speaking, I’m not going to get work in a print shop anytime soon. I won’t get hired to write the addresses on your cousins’ wedding invitations.  But I did something better.

One more time, I said yes.

And then dripped ink across everything.

So now the writing says vjcc.

But I’m still saying yes.

 

Inhale

While researching for a piece of writing work  (all right, let’s be honest, I was scrolling through Twitter because I was stuck on a plot point) I came across a lovely thesis on how an artist might possibly maintain  sanity and harmony of family and one’s own soul during the ebbs and flows of making their art. Whatever process and  eventual form that may  take. It was not a fluffy piece of dumbed-down psycho-analysis, but a simple offering of inspiration and reassurance. As much as one can find on social media, anyway.

Credit for this smart little nodule of zen  goes either to Henry Rollins, who is the alleged practitioner of this wisdom, or Amanda Palmer who is spreading the gospel of this practice on his behalf, while she herself has had her own artistic gears grind to a halt because of a little sand in the cogs called motherhood.

The premise is simple.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Artists must go through periods of flux. We are fluid, mercurial creatures.  The specific terminology I found accredited to Mr. Rollins was inhale and exhale. We will have times of exhalation. Touring. Frantic creation. Continuous giving and sharing and exposing of every piece of us and our work. The time to finally unveil and present what has been scavenged from the recesses of the mind of the artist, after it has been honed and hammered and released into the wild. These breathings out may be days for reaping accolades from those luck enough to receive the newly minted fascinations. And  if by some lucky star, the gods of the dance are good, the holder of the tools and ideas may also receive some remuneration for the labors of love, and the days and hours and painstaking seconds spent chasing the muse.  But beyond compensation, maybe just a moment  to step back and smile at what we as  dream facilitators have brought into being.

But, it can’t be all exhale. That can go one for a while, of course. Longer than we might imagine or expect, but eventually, the face will flush, the lungs will burn and the mind will take over the body in the interest of preservation of both. Only so much can put out, before there must be an exchange.

There must be an inhale. A time to think, and not put forth. To discover and refresh, without the demand for results.

I am on a inhale.

Might not be fully by my own choosing. But, here it is. Air aplenty for the breathing in here in my world, so that’s what there is to do. So it’s what I’m doing.

I’m knitting an adorable grey scarf. Slowly.

I’m reading without my own  pressure to produce my own content and any rapid or prolific pace. (On that subject, Addiction to Perfection – The Still Unravished Bride by Marion Woodman is just beautiful. It is nourishing my soul and brain is so many ways.)

I”m watching documentaries and silly television.

I’m  having challenging but fulfilling conversations with challenging but fulfilling people.

And best of all, I’m being a mom. To an unbelievable kid.

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After seeing Star Wars (again) we went to a Doctor Who themed birthday party (Yes, I’m a nerd, raising a nerd and I couldn’t be happier) and he saw the piano. He didn’t specifically ask me if he could play, he just sort of wandered over and glanced in my direction just to be sure I was on board with him getting down with some unsolicited music playing.

I was down.

I’m a realistic mama. We’re not applying to Juilliard or hauling our cookies to Boston in hopes of admission to Berkeley. What happened today was some right-hand-only tinkling of a Christmas song or two. But, to me, it was Beethoven.

Huge, lung-filling inhale for me.  While my boy slowly exhaled during his own brand of sonorous story-telling.

Am I still bummed that I’m not doing any specific artistic work of my own right now? Sure. I wouldn’t trust it if I wasn’t. But with some anxiety issues only recently contained, it’s a lovely time to focus on breathing. Not specifically preparing for the next big exhale, but I can breath easier knowing that will certainly be one again.

Until then, I’m remembering to just enjoy the air.

 

It Gets Better?

 

I mean, it does get better, right? Has to. I had to spend part of the night here, for Juno’s sake, with emerging filmmakers doing their new and wonderful things.

Poor me.

Art happens.

Art happens.

 

Poor, poor me.

(This is the condescending, self-centered conversation that I have with my brain. See, my brain can be a conceited ass that can’t see beyond its own sulcus/gyrus convolutions of pretend need and importance. )

Shut up, brain. Shut the fuck up.

It’s not really that bad.

Even that is offensive.  It’s not bad at all. Not even remotely close to resembling bad.

What do I need, line ticks, check marks, a tally marker?

Fine, brain. Have it your way.

I was at the mall today (1) where I was spending money from the job that I have (2) to buy Christmas gifts (3) for the people I am lucky to have in my life (4). After parking my car, that I don’t own but can manage the payments (5), I saw another mother shopping. Perched jauntily on my high horse, I judged her for letting her kindergarden-ish kid jump about outside the car in the busy parking lot. I couldn’t figure out what this broad was doing, bent and wiggling in and out of the doors and seats. Until I saw her unload the transport wheelchair from where it had been folded in that back seat. And then, I watched her fully alone, dead lift her teenage son from the car, and cradling him in her arms, transfer his to his wheelchair. I choked on the giant slab of crow that was caught in my throat. As well I should have. (Tally of things I was stupidly lucky and unworthy to have stands at 6 and carries through to infinity.)

Planted and locked in my own disbelief at her capacity, I held the door for this trio as she steered the chair into the mall. Meanwhile, she was just doing her daily life. I was agog and she was just handling Friday afternoon. (Run the world, girls.) She laughed, and so did her younger son as they misjudged the clearance and banged off the frame. And then her youngest and I had a game of hide-and-seek/monkey in the middle/musical doors where he and I debated on who was the official door holder of the day. He was better at the job, frankly.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of jobs I have mucked up in a magnificent way lately. Magnificent. Like, as good as the dialogue in His Girl Friday, magnificent. Jobs more important than holding doors. Now, I have yelled at my kid for spilling a drink, for getting peanut butter on a sweater, for not getting his shoes laced in time. I expect far too much from him, just to make the hours pass more easily for me. The irony of my own young man having an immediately eminent first penance is not lost on this usually guilt-ridden ex-ish Catholic.

It’s bullshit and I more precisely I am bullshit. Might blame my brain, and that’s fine. But someone here is definitely magnificent bullshit.

I was mortified at myself, watching that mother. The 20 yards from the pavement to the linoleum looked harder that anything I have faced in a long, long time. And that’s just my narrow, ignorant perception and presumption. I have no idea what that family’s days are like. I won’t pander to them and pretend to know their hards or easies. She handled her business and I walked in after them, feeling like a grade A schmuck. They seemed to feel fine. As well they should. Me feeling that things in my life should get better? That’s my bullshit.

Courtesy of this great team.

Courtesy of this great team.

Tonight was a premiere night. It’s always a kick to finally get to see on screen what so many people have worked on for so very long. I was thrilled for our director and producer (Both ladies. I won’t let that slide. Run the world, girls. ) A chance to be part of the thing I love. The artists involved were pleased with what I contributed to their project (Bringing to tally of good to infinity plus one)

This one was especially poignant. This was the film that I was in with my son. This was the one where, while the audience laughed at the humor of the script and the acting, I sat with tears in my eyes, watching my baby on screen. I watched him make a theater full of people laugh with a look. And, I melted.

I have this boy that I love. He’s fine. I have what I need. Every now and then I get to do the littlest bit of what I love. (There’s no meter reading for that tally. Infinity times infinity and then square that. Then do that all again.)

But things get better, right?

Oh brain. Go to sleep and get over it, already. Stop thinking and look.

Today was my reminder that things don’t need to get better.

They are better.