(There is much cynicism out in the blogosphere about pets in blogs. This is the first time one of my pets has appeared in one of mine. Apologize? Huh-uh. For further explanation, you can listen to my song Four Legs Good. Two Legs Bad.)
I used to live in a cabin on top of a big hill. The driveway was long, straight up, and steep. Every morning, my cat, Atticus, would wander down the driveway. He loved going that way. (I imagined various Wind in the Willows scenes, where he was lazily canoeing with his best friend, the badger.)
Late in the afternoon I’d stand at the top of the driveway and call his name. (Atticus likes the sound of his own name.) After a minute or so, he’d usually appear at the bottom of the driveway and begin his ascent, looking directly at me with great anticipation. He’d walk about six feet like that. Then something to his right would catch his attention. He’d turn his head to the woods. You could almost hear his little cat thoughts “My goodness. What’s that?”
Then, in the same exact pace, with the same look of determination, he’d start to walk in that direction. I’d sigh. I’d call his name again. He’d look back up at me, startled. His cat thoughts would go, “Oh! The female human! I wonder what she wants” And he’d start in my direction. He’d walk about five more feet. A sound in the woods would turn his head to the left. He’d forget me again and walk toward the sound. I’d call his name. He’d look up. “Oh yea,” went the cat thoughts. And he’d head back toward me. This pattern would continue until finally he made it to the top. Then he’d fall down on his side a few feet away from me and look up. “Whew!” he would say, “That was exhausting! Rub my stomach!”
Atticus walked up the hill the way I start to write a song. I get distracted by just about anything. I try to be gentle and guide myself back to the song. But occasionally, the distractions come in the form of big ugly monsters disguised as well-intentioned music critics. They say things like, “Yea. Not so much here,” before I’ve even begun the song.
My song No Such Thing As Girls Like That began late at night in a hotel room when I clicked on the television to an MTV video. It was one of those “cool guy plays his electric guitar in a grassy field while many scantily clad babes writhe in awe of his hotness” videos. (To which you say, “Oh yea. That one.”) The first line of my song came pretty instantly “The woman on the TV set is clutching both her great big breasts and she sure looks like she is having fun.” No melody. Just a rhythm. I giggled a little. Then I watched the video, and I pondered writing a song about women on MTV. I pondered it during the rest of the tour. I wrote a snippet or two down in the little notebook I carry everywhere. When I got home, I sat down for a writing session with my guitar, and within 15 minutes, I had decided that the topic of women in the media was over done and prosaic, and that no one really cared, and that nothing I wrote about it would be very good or funny. I had a million reasons why this song would be a waste of time.
I called my friend Kathy. Kathy’s a potter. She knows all of those same voices and all of those reasons why we give up on our ideas. When she answered the phone, I said, “Hey, you know, I’m thinking of writing this song about how women are portrayed on TV, and it could be sort of funny,” and I launched into all of the well-founded reasons why I shouldn’t write it and how it’s all been said before. I concluded by saying, “Don’t you think that whole topic is just trite by now and that it won’t be a very good song?”
Luckily, Kathy knows me way too well. She didn’t even waste time discussing all of my reasons. She just sighed and said, “I’ll tell you what, Christine. You go write it. And then we’ll decide if it’s good.”
I think I said something like, “I hate you” before I hung up.
The bad news is that there are no guarantees in any project, song, book, blog, or painting you create. You do it first and then you decide if you like it, want to perform it, post it, or sell it. The good news is that, without fail, the doing and the learning from the doing is the best part anyway. Writing No Such Thing As Girls Like That took me months. There were many edits and many times I just wanted to toss it out. I learned about myself as a writer. I had fun.
Not everyone who reads my blog is an artist or writer, so I want to say that this idea applies well pretty much to everything. Whatever it is, it’s worth doing because it’s worth doing. Decide if it’s good after you do it.
In his book Career Intensity, entrepreneur and fellow blogger, David Lorenzo, writes about this exact same idea, but in a corporate setting. He encourages professionals to face the challenge of completing difficult tasks that require lots of alone time.
I’ve read many books by various business/entrepreneur authors, but Career Intensity goes into much more depth than most, especially with an idea like this one. Lorenzo says, “You will learn more about yourself during this strenuous alone time than you would after hours spent on a psychologist’s couch. When you focus your alone time on difficult tasks, you battle every vice you have.” He adds that this is a key to gaining confidence.
It’s true. I no longer need to call Kathy when I resist writing a song. I know my distractions all too well. I am the queen of finding obstacles, even ones that don’t exist. Then I try to wriggle my way out of doing this thing that I love so much because it makes me so insecure and uncomfortable at first. The critic (the ego) would have you believe that you should avoid this discomfort at all costs and therefore not even begin. Now, I can see this voice for what it is: scared. And I begin anyway.
In an earlier post, I encourage people to become their own expert. This is what happens when you challenge yourself to begin a project, to write something, to spend time alone with a creation. You slowly become the expert of this moment and this creation and this life of yours.
When DJ’s or newspaper writers interview me, they often ask, “So, what’s your favorite song that you’ve written?” I hesitate to answer because often the implication is that I’d choose a song because of how it turned out – the end product. Though this is true to an extent, most of my favorite songs (of mine) are the ones that challenged me or that I almost gave up on. The songs that taught me something about me, or that required that I let go of some line that didn’t serve the song even though my puffy ego thought the line was “brilliant.”
This doesn’t make it sound like much fun. Oddly though, it is. I call it getting out of my own way. One of my favorite books on writing is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In it she says, “Writing is its own reward.”
And here’s where I admit that the title of this post is a little deceptive. Lots of times, deciding if it’s good ceases to be an issue. It doesn’t matter as much. Because the whole thought of “deciding if it’s good” is an ego construct anyway, usually translating as Will I make any money? Will I gain any recognition? And when you’ve gone deep enough over and over again with the project or song or painting, the ego is no longer in the driver’s seat. And questions of recognition and money become less of a big emotional deal.
And lastly, you realize that there’s never a point where you decide it’s not good enough. There’s only a point where you decide not to work on it anymore.