Jackhammers and hummingbirds

Last week, I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic. At one point, someone from the audience asked a question I’ve been asking myself for years. What if you just aren’t the type of person who is going to be obsessive and committed and dedicated to one thing, your whole life? Does that make you any less of an artist, writer, poet, painter, baker, banker, etc.? What if you’re good at a few things but not great at any one? Should I give up now and save myself the trouble?

One of the things the Live Your Legend group requires via self-exploration is to find the thing at which you are an expert, and be an expert at the thing you are passionate about. When Elizabeth received the question, she gave a great analogy. She explained that she is a jackhammer. For as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a writer. She announced it at a young age, and pursued it relentlessly, obsessively, admitting that this often made her unaware of many people, feelings, and things around her. She became the great writer she wanted to be. But then there are the hummingbirds. Those who bring nectar and curiosity from one blossom to the next, who find things beautiful that she might have missed. The cross-pollinators, who are inspiring in their own right, trying new things along the way. It was a kind way to answer the young woman’s question. The truth, of course, is that if this woman wanted to BE any one of those things, she probably would have pursued it by now. Or maybe she’s just flitting, floating and years from now she’ll discover she really loves knitting and open an online shop selling her wares. Or not. The percentage of people who fully commit to their craft, their business, their talent, is small – relative to the population of the human race. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, that’s not what I’m saying. Most of us are working hard, maybe even loving what we do, but we’re not all capable of being geniuses, of being the next Elon Musk or a Pulitzer Prize winner. I know – I sound like Debbie Downer but I think a healthy dose of realism wouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t have to be a depressing fact. It might actually be liberating to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves that because we live in America, we must innovate/create or die – each and every one of us. Maybe its alright to just enjoy a bottle of wine and a good meal with the people you love, talk about what’s going on in the world, plan a trip here and there, learn something new, and age healthfully. Maybe the only thing I will ever be an expert at is loving my son and my husband, or how to find the best desserts while traveling.  And that doesn’t feel like defeat, it feels like acceptance. Maybe even relief.

Day 7

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried keeping a blog or writing as a habit. Its not that I don’t write, I just write sporadically. I’ve kept a journal since I was about eight years old. In the last decade, I write in a journal on two different occasions… on planes, and when I’m super super stressed out about something and can’t sleep. Now, because I have traveled every 4-6 weeks for the last decade or so, I have plenty of entries. It’s a mechanism to deal with anxiety I might feel about flying and it’s also a way to reflect on what’s going on in my life at that time. Separately, I’ve taken numerous writing classes – memoir, screenplay, dramatic writing. I’ve done the Artist’s Way, taken workshops in writing + yoga, and free writing flings. In the moment, when I am working on my writing, I feel challenged and if I’m lucky, inspired. Sometimes, I even write good shit. The problem, of course, is consistency. I have spent most of my life believing that I am not a writer because hello, writers write. Every day. All the time. It’s the work they can’t not do, as Scott Dinsmore says. Or said. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that what defines a writer?

For me, though, I sometimes hate it. Yes yes, the blank page, the fear, the doubt. Moreover, though, am I wasting my time? Shouldn’t I know already? Shouldn’t I feel a deep compulsion, every day, to tell my stories? I think I used to. I have suppressed those feelings for the last 20 years. When I was young, I dreamed of telling stories through film and books, not being able to dream yet of an internet connecting me to the world. I had an active imagination, I had fun with my stories, and I moved to California believing without a doubt that I would make it in Hollywood. Boy, was I dumb. And thank god because if I hadn’t taken the leap, I wouldn’t have had such a wonderful, adventurous life. More fodder for the page, I guess.

Maybe I am more afraid that this isn’t the work I can’t not do (note: as a grammar nerd, this sentence tortures me.) But it’s the work I can do now. I’m in a position in my life where I finally have the time to find out. I am not trying to figure out how to avoid a late notice from the electric company. I’m not worrying about bouncing checks to my ex for rent and wondering how much interest he’ll charge me. I have stability despite the fact that I’m not working, because my supportive, generous husband wants me to take this time to figure out what’s next for me. And I do, too. Which is terrifying, of course, but also liberating – and I still need to find a way to see that I deserve it. That I don’t need to be suffering. And that just because I am white and educated and privileged, doesn’t mean I can’t also complain from time to time. I know who I am inside and what I believe, I know my level of compassion. Maybe the problem is that the work I can’t not do is work I actually can’t do. Humanitarian work? Diplomatic work? Or is it writing screenplays and memoirs about my life which I think is extraordinary but honestly it’s not. And isn’t that the point? That my stories will resonate, that despite our obvious differences, we are fundamentally the same?

So, today is day 7 of the writing challenge. I’m not ready to find out how to monetize my blog or get 100,000 followers by this time next year. I’m not ready to say this is the work I can’t not do. I feel that this work, this expression, much like my journaling, actually just allows me to get the spinning mind down on paper and frees it up for what’s next. I have to remind myself, every morning, that today is a new day, a new opportunity. I only need to see the 10 feet in front of me, I don’t need to know where the road ends.