I painted this cat several years ago. It sucks. It’s really, really bad. But I had fun painting it, and it served its purpose.
I love to doodle. I draw all the time–faces, little cartoon animals, aliens, even my happy little elephant butt (see below).
I come from a family of artists, some of them professional, most of them wicked talented. For years, I never “did” art because, frankly, I didn’t want to put it against the work of family members who were much better than I was. So I just scribble little cartoons in the margins of my notebooks and have a good time with it.
This week I donated a six-string guitar my father gave me to the local LGBT Community Center. The official reason was that we didn’t have space to bring it with us in the car to Arizona. The underlying reason was that in the two years I’ve had the thing, I never learned to play. I would start, suck, stop, start again, suck some more, and stop. (Sorry, Dad.)
Things have always come pretty easily for me. I did well enough in school. I can carry a tune to the point where singing isn’t painful for those around me. I can write stories and blog posts. Yes, I worked at these things, and yes that effort improved my abilities over time. And yes, I have failed tests and bombed songs and written excruciatingly crappy stories.
In essence, I sucked.
So why do I persevere through the suck on some things while letting it defeat me on other things, like art and playing the guitar? What is it that causes us to continue in some situations while we give up on the others?
I am not sure why it doesn’t bother me that sometimes I suck as a writer. Everybody sucks, now and then. But I keep writing. I know that, to a certain extent, it’s a numbers game. For every sucky story I write, I’ll probably write a good one to balance it out. I think my sucky song ratio is about five to one on the good side, and dude–try to stop me from learning. No, I will never be an archaeologist or an astrophysicist, but that’s not going to stop me from learning about both subjects.
I think what really matters is how much you want to do the things that you suck at. While I enjoy doodling, it’s not important enough for me to work through the sucking part. And it was cool strumming the guitar and actually getting a chord to sound right, but not enough to get calloused fingers and put in the effort.
To truly excel at something, you have to be willing to suck at it–possibly for a good, long time. You have to be willing to get bad grades, reviews, feedback. Hell, you have to accept that you might even be made fun of from time to time.
This sucking is the price you pay for becoming really good at something. Every C-minus, every rejection letter, every painful wince as you struggle to reach that high note is a due you pay to get where you want to go. Every crappy drawing you crumble up (or stick under a fridge magnet as a reminder of your suckitude) will spur you on, if that is where you really want to go.
If you are not willing to fuck it up, and royally, you will never get through to where you truly become a master.
So, let’s fuck it up, ya’ll. Let’s make bad art, and bad music, and tell really really crappy stories. Let’s share them with the world, so everybody understands it’s okay to suck. And when we’ve done that, let’s do it again–only a little better this time. And do it again, a little better, the next time. Until we really have something worth sharing.
I’m going to keep posting, and I’m going to keep drawing, and I’m going to keep singing. I hope you will, too.
Good night, Dear Souls.
Today I was brave. Today I was very brave. It’s not the time yet to talk about the details, but I have to say–brave is scary.
You know the old truism: “Bravery is not the lack of fear. Bravery is feeling the fear and moving forward anyway.” For the last few weeks, I’ve been fighting enormous fear. I’ve been fighting dread and self-doubt.
I’ve been hovering near the edge of the cliff, skittering back and forth like a scared animal.
Today, I jumped off the cliff.
I’ve jumped off that cliff before, and I flew. But over the past few years, I’ve become very comfortable. I’ve become very sedentary.
I’ve forgotten what I’m made of, and I’ve allowed other people to tell me who and what I am.
That ends today.
Still petrified. But at least I’m not stuck on the ledge anymore.
Keep watching this space for more details.
Sweet dreams, fellow travelers.
Background Music: Sara Bareilles – Brave
I keep thinking about strength and endurance. The song currently stuck in my head is What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. It’s a pretty empowering song, with a good beat (and you can dance to it).
Gaining wisdom and strength through adversity is all well and good, but it doesn’t have to be the only way we do it. I know people who purposely seek out difficult situations in the backward desire to prove their strength. If you’re doing this as a marathon runner, that’s awesome. But if you’re constantly putting yourself in the path of hostile or sick people just to prove your strength of character, you’re going about it the wrong way.
A friend of mine had a very abusive father. He would always berate her, call her names, tell her she was worthless. Occasionally, he would physical hit her. And when asked, he always offered the same reasoning for his behavior – he was hoping she would “grow a spine,” fight him, and gain strength from the experience.
What a crock!
Sometimes, what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. What doesn’t kill you eats away at your core ability to trust yourself, saps your strength, and reduces your life to an ambulatory coma with no energy left for growth and exploration.
We all face adversity from time to time, and most of us have some serious scar tissue to show from it. But there are easier ways to gain strength: by standing up for yourself, by speaking out for others, by living your truth quietly and persistently. You don’t need a war to become a warrior, just a warrior’s soul and determination.
I hope that whatever adversity you face today makes you stronger instead of weaker. I hope that you find opportunities to strengthen yourself through love, compassion, and curiosity.
And I hope that you have a fantastic weekend and (in the U.S.) Labor Day holiday.
Can you imagine how great our lives would be if we were all endowed with endless supplies of determination? Not confidence, not self-esteem, not genius or great ideas, but raw, stubborn, straight-forward determination?
As I look over my life, I realize that pretty much all of the disappointments and regrets I have stem from giving up. While every choice I’ve made has ultimately led me to the person I have become (who is, by the way, pretty darned awesome), there will always be a part of me that wonders what might have happened if I’d just stuck things out through the hard times.
But this goal I have now, this need to be part of the solution to the problems facing our world? This is one thing I can’t give up on. I can’t back out, even when things get hard.
None of us can.
I know it gets hard sometimes, dealing with the hate and the Stoopid and the waste we see every day. It gets hard fighting the good fight, when most people around you seem to be just coasting through on the status quo.
How easy it would be to just let go, ignore the problems of our world, and leave it to somebody else, right?
But I am not that person, and neither I suspect are you. You wouldn’t be reading this post if your Give-A-Damn was busted (as the song goes). You wouldn’t have made it this far without rolling your eyes and going back to your Candy Crush addiction.
So, we’re not those people. We can’t help but push towards a better world through whatever means we have at our disposal. It may seem uphill all the way, but we keep slogging forward.
And when the climb seems too steep and too long, just remember the only step that matters is the one you’re about to take.
Keep fighting the good fight, my friends.
P.S. If you know somebody who may need a bit of encouragement, please feel free to share this post with them. Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga….