Wednesday, January 25, 2012
At This Stage in My Life
One of the reasons I became a writer, besides the fact that it's the only thing I know how to do, is that I was certain I could never be in the "performing" arts. So acting, music and ice skating were all off limits to me (also, I was a terrible skater).
I had one acting role in high school (the scheming wife Beline in Moliere's "Imaginary Invalid" -- read it online, thanks to Project Gutenberg!) and I remember the terror that choked me during the three days I had to perform on stage. I had one shot at each word and each line, and I had to "act" while remembering these words.
Writers, by contrast, get to revise. If you are organized enough, you can write what you need to write well ahead of the deadline, giving yourself the chance to edit and polish and find potentially embarrassing mistakes.
Of course, to exclude writers from the "performing" arts is not a truthful move. Writers perform at readings and lectures. And this aspect of writing does not bother me. I have no problem talking in front of people, whether from notes or extemporaneously. Yes, I say "um" too much, but I try to say it with a little French accent, as if English isn't my first language.
For the past two years, I have been fulfilling a lifelong dream (and doing something I should have done ages ago) by learning the guitar. I have a wonderful teacher who has not only the musical and artistic ability but also a psychology background, so she is able to guide me through not just the mechanics of making a chord but also the brain work behind performance. I am not the same sixteen-year-old blinking in abject fright at the stage lights, but I also don't nail every note every time I play, and this bothers me. Nevermind that my attempts at being a musician have come more than twenty years apart.
Despite the fact that I have just revived the musical part of my brain, I am way more forgiving of my progress as a writer than as a musician (and clearly, this issue has been on my mind lately). Only recently has my fiction become something that I think is worthy of an audience, even though I have been writing fiction on and off since grade school. And while I wish I could have or would have spent more time trying to write novels in my twenties, I know that I was just not in a mental place to do so, and I don't flog myself with this realization.
So why can't I cut myself the same slack with the guitar? The explanation that makes sense to me is based on something I have often said as kind of an aside or a joke: that writing is my baby. I don't want children, but I want to write, and I hold my writing abilities close to me and protect them, giving them the time and sustenance needed to blossom. I can also throw the old cliched gardening metaphor in here too, but it is an apt comparison as well. I don't get mad at my tomatoes for taking their time to fruit and ripen. I don't hate myself for not having a book published yet. Spreading some of this patience around to my other activities sounds pretty good.