creativity, mfa, writing

Updates on everything; what’s next; letting go of fear; process over product; bottom-up over top-down

Hi loves,

I hope you’re all doing well. I’ve wanted to blog so many times recently, but I always have so much to say and don’t know where to start and want to make sure that first I organize it well and present a very nice, pretty, clear blog post–FUCK THAT. Have you heard of “analysis paralysis?” As an anxiety-prone person, I find myself getting stuck in it often. It’s a state where I think and think about something, but never take action because conditions aren’t exactly right, or I haven’t figured out the perfect thing to do. No more!

I just tweeted this, mostly as a reminder to myself:

Yep, that’s my motto these days, or at least it needs to be. I finally sent out my novel–the book I first started nearly six years ago–to an agent. Was it ready? I don’t know. I definitely could’ve made it even better with more time, but I felt like I’d sat on it for so long and run through it so many times, I had to just push it out there.

In a couple of weeks, I will send a very early, very messy draft of my new novel to my thesis director. It feels painful to share work that I know isn’t anywhere near my absolute best, but I’m learning to move my focus from product to process. Also, there’s no such thing as “absolute best.” I learn and grow every day, which means I could go back and revise my old work and find something to improve every day. Every single day! Nothing is ever finished.

The idea of nothing ever being finished is freeing when I embrace it. It’s frustrating first, however. Humans–me especially–want organization, want labels, want boxes, want nice clean lines and edges. We want to know where one thing ends and another begins. We want to know what something is, and how to analyze it, what to name it. Finished or unfinished? Good or bad? To let go of these concepts requires an embracing of imperfection, aka reality. There is no such thing as “perfection,” I’ve been trying to remind myself. Perfect is a concept people are drawn to because imperfection means uncertainty, and uncertainty is scary.

At the bottom of all my anxiety and analysis paralysis, I recognize I majorly need to embrace uncertainty and relinquish attempts to control outcomes.

I am trying to practice embracing uncertainty in all areas of my life. (A major area of uncertainty for me [and many rn] has to do with American society at large, but I’m going to save that topic for another post. In the meantime, check out who I’ve been retweeting and donate to the ACLU.)

This is my final year of the USF MFA program. Eek! I don’t plan on staying in Tampa after I graduate. Double eek!

That means: I don’t know where I’m going to live a year from now. I don’t know where I’m going to work. I don’t know how I will support myself financially. I don’t know how I will spend my time, or who I’ll hang out with. Everything feels uncertain.

As of now, I see myself moving to one of three places next year: Chicago, Southern California, or elsewhere in Florida (while I’d rather leave Tampa, I would stay in St. Pete or Miami, or if I magically got a free or cheap place to live, in a small beach town).

What I will do for work feels very up in the air. I know what I do not want to do: work a 9-5 office job or teach as an adjunct. I would love to work for a university in a full-time benefited position teaching creative writing, but I know those positions are very difficult to get when you haven’t yet published a book and aren’t willing to move just anywhere.

I’d also be interested in working in magazine, web, or book publishing, but a lot of those jobs are in NYC and I don’t want to move there. Also, I do not want to take a position that would require me to work over 40 hours/week as I need time for my own creative projects.

In the spring, as my graduation date looms closer and I (hopefully) have a clearer idea of what I want to do/where I want to go next, I will write a clearer, more concise, better organized post outlining what I’m looking for and seeing if there are any readers out there who can help me.

I think part of the reason I get into analysis paralysis with blogging (and, tbh, the reason my blog isn’t as “good” these days) is because I’m too focused on professionalism. Whenever I sit down to write a post, I ask myself things like, “Would this potentially keep me from getting hired by a university?” and “Could this turn an agent off from wanting to represent me?”

Ironic as it sounds considering I am currently on the job market, I am realizing it is short-sighted and misguided for me to allow professionalism concerns to influence the content I post on my blog. Focusing on professionalism is a fear-based approach. It is a trying-to-control-the-outcome-based approach. I must remember, if an employer doesn’t want me after reading blog posts in which I am being myself and speaking my mind, then that probably wouldn’t be a good place of employment for me.

I am more concerned about being a writer and artist (paid or unpaid) than with being an employee in any certain industry.

I first began blogging in 2004, and my relationship with blogging has been bittersweet and back-and-forth ever since. I’ve gone though the cycle of posting and then regretting what I post over and over. I’ve deleted many blogs over the years out of fear. Fear that potential boyfriends wouldn’t want to date me after reading my blog, fear that my family would disown me, fear that potential employers wouldn’t hire me, fear that I wouldn’t get elected to public office (yes, I once ran for a local position), etc.

That’s got to end. I’m 35. No more running around scared, looking to others for advice and then taking it even when it doesn’t jive with what I’m doing. No more allowing “rules” or traditions or others’ expectations to trump my own instinct. No more deleting blog posts (or podcasts) out of embarrassment or fear or shame. Yes, some people will look at what I write, create, say, and do, and think it’s stupid or bad or wrong or embarrassing. And I’ll probably care and feel hurt because I’m sensitive, but that isn’t reason to change course or do anything differently. Clearly I’m meant to be one of those rare ones who paves her own way. I need to just accept that and buckle down with it rather than continue taking one step forward and two steps back every year or two.

I recently read (and highly recommend) The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by musician Amanda Palmer. She is so cool and amazing I don’t even know where to begin. Basically, she built her audience from the bottom-up. She embraced a diy approach from day one and didn’t turn back, and it’s paid off wildly. She grew her “tribe” (to quote Seth Godin) authentically and organically. She doesn’t just have fans, she has a community. She maintains real relationships with many of her fans and has allowed them to help her greatly over the years. She is redefining what it means to be an artist in a capitalist society.

Reading The Art of Asking gave me hope, but also forced me to face some regret. I’ve begun to build a community many times, and each time I’ve destroyed it out of fear. I remember when my first blog, titled “elgin roots,” began consistently receiving over 100 visitors per day way back in 2005. I was overjoyed and then scared shitless. I used swear words (gasp!) and wrote about things that I feared could get me fired from my academic job as a research assistant, or could make my conservative Christian family gossip about me and act cold to me at Christmas. I eventually deleted the blog.

I followed this same pattern of creating and then deleting blogs in the years to follow, usually feeling the old anxiety rise up in me any time I shared anything that led to me feeling particularly vulnerable, or after reaching the 100+ visitors/day mark. I did the same thing with my podcast when it began to gain in popularity and receive ~100 downloads per episode. (I don’t know why, but apparently 100 is a scary number for me.)

Each time I deleted something I had created I, illogically, told myself it was because I wanted to pursue a creative career legitimately. I didn’t want to be a silly confessional blogger who wrote about her feelings online, I wanted to be an author who published books. I didn’t want to be a crazy podcaster who recorded herself talking to herself in the car, I wanted to be a real radio personality on a show that was funded and professionally edited.

Sadly, it’s as if once I began gaining in popularity and receiving some criticism,  I chose to agree with my critics instead of staying strong and listening to myself and my few fans. I said you’re right, what I’m doing is stupid, and small, and not “real,” and shouldn’t count because I just made it myself. I said yep, this is a dumb thing that I should get rid of because it embarrasses me, and I should pursue creativity through more legitimate means.

Even though deep down I have always believed in and admired the diy ethic, I felt too insecure to fully embrace it myself. I wanted that external stamp of approval coming from some sanctioned organization. It’s not that I was ashamed of swearing or posing nude or speaking my mind, but that I wanted to do those things through established channels so I could prove what I did was art. So I could prove what I created had value. So I could prove I was not just some pathetic girl trying to get attention on the internet, as my critics seemed to think.

(What I’m about to type could be controversial and further reflection on it will be reserved for a different post, buuut I sometimes wonder if this line of thinking, this desire for external validation, is what motivated me to pursue an MFA… While I’m grateful for all the MFA has afforded me and do not regret it, I do wonder if my decision to pursue an MFA was a fear-based, outcome-focused, top-down sort of decision.)

I’m not going to dwell on it, but I do regret this on-again-off-again courage/fear habit I engaged in for about eight years. I partially regret it for practical reasons–how many fans and followers would I have now if I hadn’t intentionally disappeared every time I began to develop a following online? How would my life and creative career be different if I had instead been like Amanda Palmer and embraced my small community of fans, if I’d been grateful for their support, if I had allowed people to help me instead of thinking I’d be better off ignoring them and trying to get “real” fans by going through more traditional channels?

My other source of regret is knowing that I not only hurt myself professionally by acting from fear and deleting shit, but I also let other people down. I remember deleting a shared poetry blog that I started and friends contributed to–they’d had fun with it and were upset. For many of them, I’d deleted the only copies of the poems they’d written. I remember when artist Derek Erdman contacted me to ask where my interview of him went, and I had to admit I’d deleted the whole blog in a fit of shame. I remember when I had to tell bloggers Tony Pierce and Raymi the Minx, multiple comedian friends of mine, and my cohost Erin that I’d deleted my podcast. I remember when I had to tell a professional photographer I’d deleted one of my blog posts that he’d been using for two years to acquaint new models with his approach to artistic nudes.

I’ve had a community–of artists, bloggers, writers, photographers, comedians–all the people I think are awesome, and I stupidly shut that shit down because I didn’t view it as valid. Because it wasn’t my “real job.” Because I didn’t have a big company paying me to do it. I shut it down because people did criticize me and gossip about me and I stupidly let their opinions count. Family did act weird–some deleted me on Facebook–and I cared. Too much. I caught wind of little things said here and there and allowed the resulting fear to drive my decisions.

I gave my fear more power than I gave my creative spark.

Today I am writing this post to promise myself and whatever audience I have left that I’m not going to do that any more.

I think a major part of this process has really just been getting to know myself better and being honest about who I am and what I want. No, writing blog posts where you use swear words and spill out all your emotions isn’t a good idea if you want to work a 9-5 office job in corporate America, but if you want to be a writer who gets paid for using swear words and spilling out all of her emotions, it is a pretty good fucking idea.

Posting artistic nudes online isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to attract a man who would feel threatened or jealous by your nudity, who would view you as a “slut” because of it and write you off as someone who is not wife material. Posting artistic nudes online is a good idea if you’re seeking a man who isn’t threatened by female nudity, who doesn’t believe in the concept of “sluts,” who enjoys art, and who would be more impressed by your risk taking involved in the photos than turned off by his potential jealousy.

I recognize now that I had it right all along. Those creative impulses that led to me writing blog posts and recording podcasts and modeling for all sorts of photos where right, and good, and real. Those fearful impulses that led me to feel ashamed and try to erase whatever I’d made public were wrong, and bad, and came from the voices of others, not from my own voice.

As I finish up my final year of school and face the uncertainty of “what’s next?,” I am keeping the ideas of love over fear, process over outcome, bottom up over top down at the forefront of my mind.

I will watch myself, observe how I feel. I will choose to follow those creative impulses, even when I’m afraid. I will stand by them. I won’t apologize for them, or delete them later, or talk bad about them, even if I outgrow them with time. I will honor them and delight in them and follow them and see where they lead me. I will have faith that the people who judge me or think what I do is stupid are the people I don’t want anything to do with anyway. I will trust that following my creative impulses without hesitation will lead to the best possible future for me.

It’s not easy, especially for an anxious person. It requires allowing uncertainty. It requires allowing things to remain ill-defined. It requires tolerating a little messiness here and there. The creative process is not clean or well-organized. Life is not clean or well-organized. Not everything needs to be perfectly branded or curated or designed. Not everything needs to be done with a clear goal or target identified in advance. Process over product/outcome. Bottom up over top down. Love over fear.

 

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