Thursday, March 22, 2012

Searching for Courage

Several years ago, a friend of mine, a marathon runner, gave me a copy of John "The Penguin" Bingham's book The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life

Seriously. She wanted me to start running. For fun. With these boobs. 

Delusional, I say, as nicely as possible.

However, since the gift was given with the best intentions, I read it...eventually...reluctantly. Turns out, it's a pretty good read. I enjoyed it from a theoretical, inspirational standpoint - mostly because I knew I had no intention of ever running. Not even for my life. Seriously. If the Zombie Apocalypse happens, I will be one of the first to go because I think I'd rather just go ahead and offer up my sweet meats to the living dead than lace up my shoes and outpace their shuffling with anything remotely resembling a jog. I shall consider this sacrifice of myself my last altruistic gift to my more survivalist and fleet-footed friends to give them more time to get away.

You're welcome.

Note: I won't even hold it against you when you smash my zombie brains in with a baseball bat. Promise. Just...uh...make sure I'm a zombie first and not just really super duper hungover, OK?

Anyway! The premise of the book is, surprise, that the first step is always the hardest. It takes courage to put your shoes on, step outside your front door, where all the neighbors can see...and point...and laugh as you waddle out into the world declaring "Look at me! See what I can do?"

Substitute "runner" for anything else we want to start, do, be (doo bee doo bee doo) and the message is the same: it takes a hell of a lot of courage to take that first step. A LOT of courage!

Courage, of course, has been on my mind a great deal since the start of the year given that it was the word I chose to manifest for 2012. The courage to start, to do, to be, to love, to live has been a mantra of sorts. I do my best to keep the concept at the fore lest I forget and lapse into complacency. It's working thus far.

But I haven't gotten as far as I would have liked as it pertains to writing. I've poked my nose out the front door, sneakers tied tight, taken a whiff of the air, and promptly slammed the door shut in Courage's face.

I've been reading Tangled Lou now for several months and, as she's gotten more courageous herself about describing her writing goals, asking How Do You Do That Thing We Do, I've begun, once again, to compare my writing to hers, to Uncle Typewriter's, and to a whole slew of other people's work and I lacked courage to continue. I felt stuck, blocked, bored with myself. If I'm bored with myself, how can I possibly manage to entertain anyone else? My funny bone's been broken, I think to myself, and if I can't write funny, I don't want to write at all.

But that's an excuse. It's not that I don't want to write. My problem is I think people come here because they want funny and I haven't been delivering. I've been letting everyone down and *gasp* we can't have that, now can we? Because meeting everyone else's expectations is what I'm here for...right? RIGHT?! Heh.

And then, because sometimes we really do get the *THWAP* of the zen stick - especially me - at precisely the moment we need it, I read several blog posts tonight from different sources that spoke to me about courage and my dilemma.

First, Single Dad Laughing wrote How I Lost 25,000 Followers On My Blog. For anyone who blogs and is concerned with statistics and growing blog audience, this is totally worth the read! In the post, Dan talks about his fear of losing precious readers every time he posts something he feels will be controversial or upsetting to his readers. He goes on to talk about how, literally, every time that fear has gripped his heart as he's clicked "Publish", he did lose a few readers...and gained thousands more. Every time he's faced his fear, gathered up his courage, and spoke his mind - no matter the consequence - his post has gone viral.

Then, because this is how the Universe works, I read a re-post by Mlle. Lapin of Neil Gaiman's Tumblr post regarding John Steinbeck's Six Tips on Writing. Namely, I was captivated by this one: Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person - a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

Finally, I read Are you Sorry You Asked Yet?: Thanks For Asking, The Third & Final Part by Masked Mom in response to Tangled Lou's inquiry about how we do what we do and I was relieved. Her words echoed what I'd been thinking and feeling. I couldn't answer Lou's question because I don't understand my own process. I what I do.

I can tell you how I began to write. I can tell you, and this ties into the Pet Peevery Lane post from last night and why the need to speak and not being allowed to do so is such a hot spot for me, is that, as the youngest of four in an unhappy home where monsters were very real and the one message I received often and in whispers was "Keep yourself hidden. Don't wake the dragon. Don't make waves," writing was my only outlet, my only voice.

I can tell you why I write now. In essence, I write because I must. Not to write would mean to allow the words to congregate, accumulate, and push against my better judgment - not unlike backed up sewage against a tree-root blocked pipe.

But I cannot tell anyone my process because I don't know or understand my process other than this...

I start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. It usually begins with a title. A spark of imagination. A thought. It begins with courage to speak. And, once the first step is taken, my waddle out into the world shouts, "Look at me! See what I can do?"


Gaelyn said...

Thanks for volunteering not to run.

But really, there's always an excuse. Fuck expectations! Listen to Steinbeck. Start making waves, your not a child any more. You do great! Keep it coming.

Peaceful Warrior said...

You are not that much different from any of us Jane. (Well perhaps the boobs in my case)
We are full of conflicting thoughts and fears, and unless we can get to a state of Zen, we will probably remain here for some time to come.

Oh but you are funny... I assure you.

I read between the lines and see a caring soul, someone afraid to go out running sure (you don't need black eyes too) but someone who shares the trivial but important thoughts of her world and views so that we can all benefit from her imaginative perspective.

Keep us wanting more.. (But seriously, don't make it your life's work to feed us, even if you may feel obliged sometimes. Do it because it is what YOU want to do...)

Big hugs and loads of love.

Lucy said...

I am glad you do what you do and I like the mix of funny,thought provoking and you revealing parts of yourself but I hope you are writing for you and not because you think it is what is expected of you? But, I do understand sometimes worrying about hitting that Publish button, I think that is a normal feeling.
Oh, and goodness I have no idea what my process is, maybe that is my problem LOL

cdnkaro said...

Thank you for posting this. I sort of felt the same way (both about comparing myself to others and also because I wasn't sure I could adequately explain my process) as you did, which is why I didn't write a post about my process either. Two things here: I would never run either, so if the zombie apocalypse comes, you and I can meet up and have a great time drinking as they try to break into wherever we are, ok? And also, dear Jane, we come here for you. For your funny, for your serious, for your sad...for all of it, because it's you. And we'll be here no matter what you feel like writing:)

alienbody said...

Running a 5K is on my bucket list! Kid. You. Not! And modern undergarments are amazingly good at keeping the girls in check and preventing black eyes. I've got the bra and the shoes, I'm just waiting for desire to kick in.

Your humor is one...ONE...of the things that drew me to you. However, it is the package deal that keeps me seeking you out. Your sincerity, honesty, ability to make me feel your emotions, to make me laugh or ponder or...sometimes both at the same time. I'm glad you do what you do and how you do it. No pressure to be anything or anyone than what you already are.

Gina Gao said...

This is a great post. For the most part, I need to find the courage to do things that I would not normally do.

TangledLou said...

Listen to Steinbeck and all of these other lovelies.
I completely relate to the courage aspect of writing - it's one thing to sit and scribble in your unicorn diary, another thing entirely to know that people are reading, and a completely hideous beast of a thing to actually ask people to read it.
Your voice is clear and unique and brilliant whether it's funny or sad or grouchy. If it were all one thing all the time, it would ring inauthentic bells with me and I would grow bored and stop reading.

Julie DeMille said...

Running? Blech. Do you ever hear a runner say, 'I run because I must'? NO.
I agree with everything you said. It's hard to explain the process, which I think is comforting to all of us trying to do it.

Railgap said...

What about walking? S'what I'm doing. See you tonight? I'm leaving the house!

a.eye said...

Your writing is still great even when it is not comedic in nature.

Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

The 'Ah Bra' or other off guarantees uni-boob flattening. Saw a the three pack at Marshalls last week... Jogging every other block counts as running in by book.

I've been meaning to compile my journals into a book for years. I have almost 15 years of material I'd like to compile into a nonfiction novella. According to Neil Gaiman I can figure out the premise as I go along.

I'm glad we can share inspiration! Run and write Sweet Jane.

Anonymous said...

...or other off [sic] brands... Saw a [sic] three pack...
(sorry Swype issues) ;)

Deb Stevens said...

Just found your blog from various other people I follow. Love it.

Obviously I need to go back in your archives to find out what you're talking about with the whole lacking-in-humor bit. Cause, uh, this was lightly sprinkled in funny. Lightly was perfect, though, because you had all these other beautiful, insightful things to say, and if you'd pushed the laugh stuff it would have distracted from the deeper stuff.

I'm very much enjoying your writing voice and style, though. You interweave your more informational stuff so well with your storytelling, it's all easy and worthwhile to read.

Thanks for having the courage to write this.

Masked Mom said...

Jane, I loved this. And I love the funny you and the not-so-funny you. I think it is your utter realness that brings me and so many others back--whether it's really funny or really sad or really pissed or really whatever. Thanks for the link and the compliment and thanks for scraping up the courage to keep doing it all.

Bon said...

I've been letting everyone down and *gasp* we can't have that, now can we? Because meeting everyone else's expectations is what I'm here for...right? RIGHT?! Heh.

Just recently I was told that I have a serious problem. That whole being a perfectionist thing.

"No, way." I returned. "There is nothing wrong with wanting your work to be perfect."

"There is," she said "When it impedes the work."


She continued. "The problem is that you so badly want your work to be perfect. You want people to react to it;to laugh, to cry, to get angry, to feel."

"Well, what's wrong with that?" I shot back.

"Because you aren't writing. You're doing a chapter and then you stay in continual edits. That constant tweaking? You've gotta let it go, hon. Write first. Finish the work. THEN edit."

Then she hugged me, 'cause I was crying.
Because she was right.
And I?
I was not write.

So - yes, because that IS how the Universe works - I read your post and am reminded that we must

we must

Write. First.



I hope you DO know that I am watching. I see those wings. You can't fool me.