:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

COFFEE Project Post One: Getting Naked (Tawni)

"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all." ~E.B. White

Being invited to be a part the COFFEE Project felt like a gentle nudge from the universe to step out of my comfort zone and grow a little bit. With much appreciation to Patresa for the invite, and some nervous anticipation of psychological discomfort, I accepted.

I am not quite sure what I should call the fear I would like to tackle; paradoxically, fear of failure and fear of success both seem appropriate. I feel like I’m subconsciously blocking myself from pursuing my goals for these reasons, and I’d really like to knock it off.

Because this problem is too psychologically complex to discuss here, I would like to focus on eliminating these self-sabotaging tendencies specifically in relation to writing.

In short: I have wanted to focus more on writing for years, and when the opportunity finally presented itself a few months ago, I clammed up. And I’ve been hiding in my shell, afraid to peek out into the vast, unknown ocean of my talent ever since.

I’m so disappointed in myself.

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." ~Maya Angelou

The last few years of my life have been dedicated to taking care of my young son, but as he slowly becomes more independent, I am finding myself with more time for personal endeavors. And now we get to the source of my Profound Irritation: I can’t seem to remember how it felt to pursue personal endeavors. I can’t seem to get back in touch with my creativity.

I used to write stories, and songs, and dabble in artsy-craftsy projects constantly… but my books full of lyrics have gathered dust, and my paints and sparkly things remain in their sad little storage boxes, praying for glue. I really miss creating things and expressing myself. A lot.

Maybe I’m just out of practice, or older, and more tired than I used to be from being the mommy all day, but those reasons reek of whiny excuses to me. There are plenty of people my age, with children, who still find time for creative expression.

I think it’s more likely that we become completely different people when we become parents, and I am still trying to figure out how to marry Mommy Me with Pre-Mommy Me. Having a child is a huge transition into a new world, and it changes you profoundly. I am so completely out-of-touch with the creative, determined, motivated girl who once chased after her musician dreams that I don’t even know where to start anymore.

And I was motivated, once, too. I was. My first band had to hire a manager after I left, and that was no coincidence. I handled everything: I booked the shows, set up practices, talked to the A & R people from the labels that were courting us, mailed the music where it needed to go, made and distributed the show fliers, and played a few rock shows a month; all while working awful restaurant day jobs, and running to the gym to lift weights for an hour every day. Back then, I Took Care of Business with a capital TCB… and now I’m being productive if I get a shower. This needs to change.

I know I have it in me. I’m older, and a mom now, so I know my output can’t physically be the full force of youthful strength I used to display, but damn it. I’ve got more than this to offer. I know I do. I really want to make writing, and my goals and dreams in general, a priority again. I've completely lost the motivation to be creative that propelled me through life before I got pregnant, and I would really like to get it back.

"Becoming a writer means being creative enough to find the time and the place in your life for writing." ~Heather Sellers

To begin, I need to eliminate some of the distraction from my life. This will be my first step.

I am very organized. I like my world and my brain to be orderly. I attribute this need for routine and order to plenty of chaos in my early life. I don’t thrive on excitement and I am not a thrill-seeker. If this makes me boring, then I give boredom a big, platonic hug and take it out on a safe afternoon coffee date in a good part of town. One of the nice things about getting older is the self-acceptance. I’m not fighting my need for structure in the name of being extreme or exciting. I’m neither. I shrug. It’s cool.

When I mentally review my “weekly time spent” schedule, books are my first thought. One of the biggest distractions in my life is reading. I know it seems silly for someone who wants to focus on writing to stop reading, but I think I actually spend too much time looking at the sentences of other people, and not enough time forming my own. This will be my first step toward my main goal of writing more often.

*Why Books Are So Time Consuming For Me:

I read at least one book, but more often two books a week. The ladies at the library know me by name. They let me fill my giant oilcloth bag with twenty books at a time, because they know how fast I read.

I read online book reviews and immediately check the library website for them.

I have various publishers send me assorted email updates about their latest books, and immediately check the library website for them.

I rip the “book reviews” page out of every magazine I read so that I can immediately check the library website for them.

I have 50+ online blogs bookmarked into their own folder, and I read them all constantly.

Friends and relatives know that the best gift they can possibly give me is a book store gift card.

It’s a bit excessive, my fascination with reading, my obsession with having other people’s words filling my head. I have a theory:

*Why I Love Books:

Books have always been my favorite escape, and I read more fiction than anything. Throughout my life, when my reality has been less than stellar, I could always turn to a book to take me out of my world, and out of my head.

I have a really inquisitive brain that starts with a subject and wrings every possible question and scenario out of it. If I vocalize this mental process, I exhaust the people around me who are forced to listen to the squirrels running. (Trust me, exasperated past boyfriends, and incredibly patient present husband, this ridiculous brain wears me out even more than any of you can begin to fathom.) Reading is the only thing I’ve ever found that slows the wheels. When I’m living in the head of another person, I get a break from my own. It helps.

I was reading and comprehending the newspaper to amazed adults at age four. I was taken out of my classes to learn English with grades above my own. I read at the speed of light, have a good vocabulary and spell like a champion. So now we get to the source of my Really Profound Irritation: Why am I feeling insecure in the one area in which my brain has always excelled? It makes no sense.

All I can figure is that I’ve just never really tried, and the fear of failure is what is freezing me in place. Because if I can’t be good at using the English language, at utilizing one of my lifelong strengths, I am afraid I can’t be good at anything. Maybe I’m so scared to find out if I can do this, because if I fail, it will break me.

Or maybe it’s even darker than that. Maybe the part of me that doesn’t think I deserve good things won’t even let me try.

Whatever its name, this fear is holding me back. Big time. And I’m so tired of it that it makes me ache with anger and my eyes well up with tears of frustration. I want to crush these chains the ghost of my insecurity wraps around me, and finally be free. Yes, I want to be haunted by bravery. I said it.

"The writer's job is to get naked. To hide nothing." ~Harry Crews

My second step will be working on not judging myself so harshly, and not editing so much.

I am a raging perfectionist. I edit the life out of every tiny piece I write. I shut myself down creatively, and instead of just letting the thoughts flow, I use up my limited-by-motherhood writing time obsessively nitpicking.

My husband pointed this out to me, or I wouldn’t have noticed. He said, “You just need to let yourself write,” which is an uncannily spot-on description of my mental roadblock.

This observation ties into doubts I have about me as a writer. I am so afraid of looking stupid, that rather than allowing my stream-of-consciousness to flow freely, I build a million little dams to stop it short. It’s a dirty, sneaky little form of self-sabotage, and I want to stop it.

When I used to play guitar and sing in bands, I didn’t care what people thought of my songs or my lyrics. I believed in them. I believed in what I was saying. Any time I started to get nervous before I got on a stage, I would give myself an inner pep talk that if they didn’t like it, it didn’t matter, because I was being true to myself and my thoughts are worthy and valid. (Cue Jerri Blank from Strangers With Candy: “I’ve got something to SAY!”)

I got on the stage believing in myself, my self-esteem untouchable. Despite the fact that I am extremely shy, I could play a show with no stage fright, because it was the one place in the world I truly believed in what I was doing.

So why is it so terrifying for me to now admit that I want to write? I feel like I’m a joke for thinking I’m good enough to be a real writer; like how dare I even make such a claim. I have no idea whence this fear comes. I didn’t feel this way about writing lyrics and sharing my songs. Where did that brave girl go?

"If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing." ~ Kingsley Amis

In summation, I will:

1. Give myself a big hug and accept that I’m human and imperfect, and imperfect humans get scared sometimes. And that’s okay.

2. Give myself a big kick in the ass to start fighting whatever is causing me to be an unmotivated chicken-sloth, even if what’s causing it is my own crazy brain.

3. Eliminate the huge distraction of constantly reading books.

4. Stop over-editing everything I write until I suck the life out of it, like Bunnicula on a juicy carrot.

5. Stop caring so much about what others think of my creative input, because I believe in myself and that’s all that matters. (Plus I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.)

Next week: Tawni tries to create a concrete writing schedule around a hyper four-year-old boy, daily physical therapy sessions, being old and tired, housework, and a vicious mental block. Watch her duke it out with the clock! It's a battle of the wills! Only one can win! You'll pay for the whole seat, but you'll only need the edge!


patresa said...

oh, tawni. i confess that i read this last night when it was hanging out in the scheduled line-up. what a great post.

you have such big talent, lady. and i totally feel your pain when it gets all clogged up. i'm glad you're here and you're going to knock it off. because you have lots to say! lots to share.

can't wait to read the rest!

Wendy Jans said...

I read a piece of advice yesterday that said "write drunk. edit sober." and I think (not literally taken) that's actually great advice. Nobody wants to hear finally-tuned, passive, perfectly sentenced words, they just want to hear YOU. It's liberating! Think about that and just GO! You obviously have the talent and we believe in you...

Stephany said...

WOWZA... Once again, I'm humbled to be in the company of a COFFEE chick.
You definitely have the chops, Tawni Coffee, and I can't wait to see the fruit of all this!!!
GIDDYUP, girl!

T-Free said...

@Patresa: YES. Writerly praise from a huge talent like you always absolutely makes my day. Thank youuuuuu! *bows down*

@Wendy: "write drunk. edit sober." That. Is. AWESOME. I get it, too. Write "drunk" with emotion; create from the part of your soul that feels things, and then later, the "sober" and logical side can straighten up the room you've built. Great advice. Thank you for sharing!

@Stephany: Thank you so much, and back at you. We can DO it! We ALL can! YEE-HAW! :)

Michelle said...

Fuck YES. (oh, I hope I can say that here, didn't get the impression this was a G-rated joint or anything...)
Tawni it's awesome to see you writing again!!

Great post, I can relate to every bit, except for the having a kid part. But I do have 2 dogs so that's a little similar? *shrug*

FYI: I give boredom big hugs all the time! Three cheers for boredom!! And that is to say, fun's ok yes, but NO drama. Hell.

So I just want to say Thank You for giving yourself the big hug and the big kick in the ass. And that you are an inspiration.
Rock on.

Tanner May said...

You - are - amazing! I am so excited to be along for this! Basically, no pressure, but you are a creative Goddess in my "book." No pun intended.

ROCK ON.... and that's no pun intended too!!! :)

T-Free said...

@Michelle: I sure hope this isn't a G-rated joint, or I'm not going to fit in very well with my potty mouth, am I? Tee-hee.

I can tell you that having a hyperactive little boy is almost exactly like having a puppy. I'm being totally serious. The similarities are amazing. They both chase balls (and scratch their own balls), try to escape out the front door if it is left open, chew things they aren't supposed to, live for treats, follow you around, have accidents on the carpet until they are properly house-trained, jump on you, etc. I could go on and on. Let me just say that if you have dogs, you have kids. And we all know that pets count as family members too. :)

Yes, good old boredom beats drama and chaos ANY day, doesn't it? *hugs boredom*

Awww... thank you for being an inspiration too, strong woman. xoxo.

@Tanya: I think you are amazing too! I still can't believe you are excited about jumping out of an airplane. You officially achieved superhero status in my eyes when I learned that about you, brave lady. I can't wait to hear about your adventures in emboldenment! :)

Ann said...

Your post is awesome! And I can't wait to read more *thank you Patresa for sharing this site on FB* as the mother of 3 (2 boys and one girl)I can identify with your need to find out who you are, not the person before mom and yet not "just" a mom. Although you didn't ask for any advice I hope you don't mind this one piece, if your son was at the same place you are now, what advice would you give him to help propel him toward living out his greatness? Good luck and keep writing! :)

amy said...

"haunted by bravery"...I LOVED that, Tawni! Man, I have so many moments (as recently as Saturday) in which I deeply wish I were haunted by bravery.

And I so get exactly where you're coming from on the "where the heck did I place my pre-mommy creative self?" questions. Parenthood changes everything, specifically regarding: time. I know I'm currently down to about 1 hour a night I could churn out a bad poem or short story. Which is why I hang out on facebook and do random, bizarre google searches instead. No brain cells.

I'm excited to watch your project take hold and gain momentum! You can DO it, T-Free!

From one fellow chicken-sloth (ha! loved that, too!) to another: Goooo Tawni!

T-Free said...

@Ann: I absolutely LOVE that advice. What a great way to look at tackling fear. I love the idea of advising my "inner child" the same way I'd advise my actual living child. Brilliant. Thanks for relating and reading! :)

@Amy: Yes, wouldn't it be so much better to be haunted by bravery instead of fear? We'd be like, "Hey, selves, tone it down a little with all this courage. We don't want to act TOO brave, right?" What a nice problem to have.

I knew that having a child would change my life, but I had no idea how much. I took all of my pre-child free time SO for granted. And now, when my single, childless people whine about how busy they've been, or how tired they are, I just think, "Shut it. YOU can go take a nap when you really need one. And I don't wanna hear about it!" Haha.

Thank you so much for the fellow chicken-sloth encouragement. :) xoxo.

Richard said...

Hi Tawni!

I'm excited for you. You always leave such well-written and well-reasoned comments over at TNB and I kept thinking you should be a contributor. You're very talented.

The biggest challenge I see with good writers who decide to take on a project is they believe they have to up the ante, that they must do more to be a "real" writer. And then they get in their own way. There's no need for that. You're already an awesome writer.

Good luck! I'll be watching for more.


T-Free said...

Hi Richard!

Thanks for your comments. So appreciated. You know you are my number one "real life" example of a "real" writer, so, you know. No pressure. :)

I agree that I have been getting in my own way. And I think I could probably use some serious self-discipline lessons all up in here. I'm hoping the accountability of people reading this blog will be the kick in the ass I so clearly need.

Thanks for the positive feedback, my friend.


Richard said...

Well, specifically I mean the writing itself. Like, I'll have a friend on TNB or wherever who is a good writer, and they'll decide they want to write a book. Then they'll send it to me, and something is all wrong with their writing. They try to dress it up and make it "writerly" or something more than their normal style, which is already great. There isn't any need to drastically change what you're already doing. I mean, yes, we all grow as writers, over time, but changing your style from one day to the next because you're writing formally instead of simple comments, that's not really necessary. To any person out there who decides to write formally, that's all I mean. Don't change your writing because of the format or medium. Be who you are. :-)

T-Free said...

Is what you're describing what people mean when they tell you that you have a good "voice" as a writer? Is trying to be something you're not the same thing as losing your written voice?

I think that is some really excellent advice up there, Richard. Thanks for taking the time to give it to me. :) xoxo.