Monday, May 23, 2016

A Winning Personality?

We hear a lot about "winning," don't we? We have winners on American Idol and The Voice and Dancing with the Stars. Contest winners take home loot from game shows. Some Presidential candidates think it's the only thing that matters. Some situations are said to be "Win-Win." Actors and directors and designers win awards. And even though the Academy Awards have toned down the "winning" rhetoric with their coy, PC announcements, "And the Oscar goes to…", we ALL know that the winners up there on stage giving their acceptance speeches are thinking, "I WON! I WON!" "It's a honor just to be nominated," the other nominees will say at their post-Oscars interview. Yeah, right. As if they won't be biting their pillows when they get home, muttering, "That no-good, hammy, scenery-chewer of an actor won MY Oscar!" 

I don't know how your brain works, but mine can frolic freely among fantasies of triumph at the mere outset of a project. I slash one streak of cobalt blue on a blank canvas and suddenly I'm the next Picasso. Away I'll go upon a wave of wild applause imagining a chic downtown gallery, accolades pouring over me like champagne in a bathtub. "There she is! She's 21st century's next creative genius!" I'll hear the crowd mutter. I stare, starry-eyed, into the bright lights, my No. 10 Filbert brush becomes my microphone, tears well up, and I lay it on thick — and I don't mean the acrylic paint — "No, really, you are so kind!" Then reality intervenes with the opposite and equally insistent message, "Who are you kidding? You're a hack!" Any of you in creative endeavors know exactly how this goes.

I do find it a darn shame, though, that I didn't win the Erma Bombeck Writer's Competition back in April. Those folks at the conference never got to hear my terrific "thank you" speech. The minute I pressed, "Send," on my contest entry, the Muse of Acceptance Speeches dropped in. The bon mots she visited upon me were way too good to be lost to memory. So, I wrote them down and tucked them into a notebook, you know, "just in case" I won.

My speech fluttered out onto the floor today. Want to hear it? Here it is:

Oh, no, please, no more applause! You are too kind! Really, thank you. Thank you so much. I am truly humbled to be here, today. Just to be nominated among so many famous and funny writers is thrill enough for me. Thank you, thank you for this tremendous honor.

(Pretty good so far, right?)

I'm delighted to have been invited to read my competition entry to you today. First, though, I'd like to share a brief anecdote about my very first public reading engagement. I was in second grade. We had been assigned to write a paragraph using the word, "Which." I handed in a brilliant, lyrical piece that began, "Which witch is which?" Pretty creative, right? My teacher was so impressed that she sent me down the hall to Mrs. Alexander's class where I was to read my opus aloud to the other second graders.

I marched down the hall, flung open the door to Mrs. A's class, breezed up to the front of the room with the confidence of an 8 year old who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, and began to read in a commanding voice, "WHICH WITCH IS WHICH?"

"Wait! What? Who are you? Why are you here?" Mrs. A blurted from the back of the room where she was helping some kid. She seemed startled. Every kid turned in their desk to look at her. Then they turned to look back at me. It was the most entertaining thing that had happened to them all day. 

"Mrs. Meyers said I should come read my paragraph," I choked, my voice now a pathetic whimper. My cheeks burned.

"Oh, she did, did she?" I got a distinct feeling that they didn't like each other. Maybe it was some kind of competitive thing. "Well, go ahead, then, make it snappy."

I read the my work as fast as I could in a monotone barely audible to human ears. A bunch of kids stared at me, dazed and confused. I fled down the hall back to my classroom.

So, today, you will be witnesses to my second ever attempt at reading my own work in front of an audience. I'm especially grateful for the moderator for introducing me. I'd just like to add that I am a unknown blogger with seven regular subscribers. And yes, I won the Writer's Competition. But I have to tell you that I was not about to breeze in here and just launch into reading my paragraph. I wasn't about to take the chance that I would have face an audience going, "Wait! What? Who are you? Why are you here?"

Alas, I did not get to share this speech with the conference folks. 

I'm not sure if this story rises to the stature of allegory; I searched my soul for the moral in it and even looked up quotes by celebrities, Olympic athletes, and the like to see if I could find something that would tie up loose ends or give me a snappy punch line. I didn't find anything that related directly to that crazy human impulse to write a thank you speech before actually winning anything. Nor did I conclude anything deep and meaningful about my little story about a nobody that comes from out of nowhere to wow the crowd.

The popular wisdom I found online falls into two camps: the "It matters not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game" group, and the "If you don't focus on winning, you won't" crowd. I'm not sure where I come out on that continuum. Both points of view could be driving at the same concept: Put the work in. Strive to do your very best. Be confident. Dream big. Maybe that's the point. We dream large dreams. We put our all into them. Sometimes it works out for the win. Sometimes it doesn't.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016


How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

The punch line of that old adage is well-known. The question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: Practice, practice, practice. Translation? If you want to be good: Practice.

The saying refers to budding concert pianists and violin wunderkinder for the main part, but in a similar vein, I've heard it said that writers NEED to write. Painters paint. Dancers dance. Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. Right? Right! Daily rigor. Strict discipline. That's what will get you there. 

And I'm here to give you some advice that nobody else has: Procrastinators gotta procrastinate. 

Yes. It's true. If you want to elevate your own delay tactics to an art form, you've got to put in the minutes and hours to get it right. I've spent my entire lifetime hampering my own progress, in, oh, I don't know, anything worthwhile. As a result, I have become an expert in putting things off. So, here are my tips on how to get yourself to the Procrastinators Hall of Fame.

  1. Cultivate your Excuses. Everyday, garden-variety excuses, such as, "Those dishes aren't going to wash themselves!"or, "Mm. A cup of tea would go down nicely right about now," and, "What ARE we going to have for dinner?" are strictly rookie territory. Truly honed procrastination skills will put you into the sphere of, "My gosh, when WAS the last time I clipped those nose hairs?" or, "If only my socks were lined up in rows by color gradation." Look for anything that you simply HAVE to do first. Pretty soon, you will have found enough distractions to take you all the way through your DVR'd episode of Dancing with the Stars right up to bedtime and you'll have done zip-a-dee-doo-dah related to the task that gives your life fulfillment.
  2. Ignore your Muse. Adopt a mantra, such as, "I have no idea what to…paint, write, draw, knit, play (insert your creative endeavor here.)" Repeat anytime you feel an urge to face the blank canvas or pick up your glue gun. Sure, so-called "creativity experts" will tell you that overcoming your block is simply a matter of doing the work. Smug, self-satisfied individuals are soooo helpful, aren't they? "Do the work and the work will take care of itself!" they chirp. You just want to strangle them.
  3. Forget to Practice. This is an advanced maneuver. Try this ONLY if you have mastered Steps 1 and 2. Not all of you have been born with this natural ability. Like me. I can take a painting class on a Thursday and it will slip my mind until the following Thursday that I had a canvas started. I understood from an early age that I had this gift. I started at age 6 to take dance classes on Saturday afternoons. I was a mediocre performer at best. But, practice? Me? Nah! I just didn't remember until Friday night rolled around, "Oh, yeah! I have dance class tomorrow. Guess I should have practiced. Oh, well." Not a great dancer. Brilliant at avoidance. "I want to take piano lessons, Mom!" "Oh, really? In what world would you ever practice?" "Practice what?" "We're not buying a piano for you to never play it!" What kind of encouragement is that from a parent? Couldn't they see they had a procrastinating prodigy on their hands?

In case you hadn't noticed, I haven't written a blog in awhile. See Step 2 above. Well, actually, see Steps 1 through 3 above. My sock drawer is looking good, though. Carnegie Hall, here I come!