It’s been a while since I’ve done an F.A.Q. post. I’ve been collecting questions and good conversations I’ve had with people for a while now and thought I’d put them together for a question-and-answer style post. I’ve also added some questions of my own and am slipping them in here because disguising questions I made up and want to write about—also known as “An Interview with Myself”—as “Things Pretend People Have Asked Me” sounds far less self-serving. Aren’t I nice? Picture two chairs side by side—interview-er and interview-ee—and I’m hopping back and forth between them, maybe changing my voice and throwing a wig on to switch things up and clarify roles. Let’s just say the interviewer has a British accent because, in my head, they always do. I say this because, yes, I’ve interviewed myself out loud. It was a favorite way to kill time, driving home from college on the weekends before Serial podcasts. I was usually an Oxford professor—Dr. Elizabeth Parker (pronounced “Dawk-tah Pahw-kah”) being interviewed by the BBC on all matters from philosophy to 17th Century British Literature. My accent was killer. My content, total bullshit. Which leads me to one more quick interview story before I actually take the chair(s). The worst interview of my life.
Shortly after Nella’s birth story went viral, I had several requests for interviews. One of these was on Rosie O’Donnell’s Sirius radio show. I loved that interview. I was neither pro- or anti-Rosie before that experience (do we really have to make a pro- or anti-person statement about everybody?), but I loved the genuine conversation we shared in that 15-minute segment, most likely encouraged by the way Rosie led the conversation and made me feel comfortable and true to myself. I was passionate about the things we were talking about (Nella’s birth, loving life, making the best of things, etc.) and felt not only free to express my emotions but fluid and confident in doing so. No blubbering, no awkward pauses, no “Oh my God, I said WHAT?” later. Within a couple hours after the interview aired, I received an e-mail from a talent booker in California who was doing very early screenings for hosts for an upcoming nationally-aired CBS talk show (which later became “The Talk”). And by early screenings, I mean the screening before the screening before the screening where I assume they were stopping random mail trucks and giving couriers a shot at making the next round of 50 to become a T.V. host. The talent booker wrote that she had just heard the Rosie interview in the car that morning and wanted to know if I was interested in answering a few questions over the phone to see if there was a smidge of possibility. I about puked but said yes. Then waited by the phone for six hours, not counting the sixteen times I ran to the bathroom to pee. When she finally called, I took the phone out in the garage and sat on the floor while I answered her questions, rocking back and forth to calm my shaking. About that interview—let me tell you this. Waking up in hell would be having to listen to myself on that call, over and over and over. I’d be mortified to hear it now and can only pray that there isn’t some audio chip saved in CBS archive files.
Calm and confident, I was nowhere near. I’d like to say that put me at vulnerable and real, but that’s not true either. All I thought about was what the talent booker might have been looking for, and I gagged and bound the true beautiful voice that is mine, locked her in a closet, and instead delivered a horrible performance of I-don’t-know-who-I-am-so-I’ll-try-to-be-what-you-want-me-to-be. She asked me questions from a series of random topics—the president, discipline, marriage, friends, my weaknesses, etc.—and, heart pounding, I folded in all my responses, madly scrounging in my head for “the right answer.” She must have been a very smart talent booker because she never wrote me back. Thank God. I hung up the phone, ran to my room and laid on my bed, crying hysterically and admitting to Brett that it was awful, that I said all the wrong things, that I was afraid I was going to lose myself if things kept moving at the speed they were moving and that I never wanted to do another interview again but instead raise my babies under the rock under which I’d be hiding.
And now look at Sharon Osbourne. See. All the best interviewers have British accents, and The Talk is much better without me. Moral of the Story? I learned such an important lesson about being true to myself—mainly that when I’m not, it feels awful. It’s unproductive, bears no good fruit and eventually catches up with you. I wish, just for the sake of feeling proud of how I handled that interview, that I would have poured my heart out, no matter how it sounded. That I would have talked loud and passionately about my beliefs; that I would have laughed and admitted the things I don’t know, that I wouldn’t have been afraid to tell the stories I do know, understanding that they’re important and worthy of telling. And that there’s no such thing as “the right answer.”
Today, I’m writing about creativity, tapping into that true self and finding inspiration—with genuine answers. It helps that the one asking them is also me, and if I’m worried about what the interviewer wants to hear, it’s still me so…voila…true self.
An Interview on Creativity, True Self and Finding Inspiration
Theresa in Toledo would like to know…(just kidding, I made that up)
What inspires you to create? (I’m going to use the word create meaning writing/photographing/crafting, but read it as it applies to you—choreographing, baking, designing, sculpting, painting, writing songs, writing poems, writing essays, knitting, etc.)
Creating inspires me to create. Good begets good, motivation leads to more motivation, a two mile run leads to a four mile run, and feeling that incredible surge of satisfaction—that deep mind stretch, that thrill from turning an idea into a real thing—it’s a natural hit, a high, and I want more. Reading really good words makes me want to create. Watching other women foster their passions and ideas, following their creative pulls, listening to their muses and making time to create beautiful things—that inspires me too. And my kids—I want to leave a creative legacy for them. I want them to know the value of making art, the self-therapy creating can be, and the power of contributing our voice and talents to the world. I’m paving a path I hope they follow—for their own happiness.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
With three kids, definitely making time for it. Lately, that means setting my alarm clock and waking up when it’s still dark because telling myself I’ll find time at night is no longer working—usually I’m too tired to be coherent. Actually sitting down to write is the hardest part. Once I start writing, I immediately feel like I’m accomplishing something–even it’s one sentence. The other never-ending challenge of creating for me is slaying the dragon of my inner censor. The story above of answering interview questions and wanting to give the “right answers” is the perfect example of our conditioning. To write something good, you have to get out of your head and just write—how you feel, how you saw it, how you interpret it. No “wait, that’s dumb” or “that sounds insecure” or “that sounds like I think I’m all that”. Edit later. Write now.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I make up interview questions and then answer them. Kidding. Writing is creative output and just like every other form of output, there has to be creative input first. A plant with no water or sunshine will wither and die. When I feel creatively blocked, I feed myself—read books, take walks, spend time observing and taking in the world, initiate good creative conversations (like this one) with my friends, evaluate my daily habits, etc. There’s no doubt that there is a wealth of things to write about—that river never runs dry. But equipping ourselves with the things we need to get to that river is another story. Move the river roadblocks—the bad habits, the distractions, the things that obscure our creative vision. We all know what those are for us. I also have to remind myself that not everything I write has to be tidy or make grand conclusions or be good enough to publish. In between symphony writing, I’m sure Beethoven practiced a lot of scales and plunked out notes that maybe weren’t composed on sheets and put into great works. But they were important, played heartfelt as a form of expression when he felt overwhelmed or sad or inspired and needed to get to a keyboard to let it all out. Those symphonies couldn’t exist without these sessions. I have a number of writing activities and prompts that keep me writing, regardless of whether it’s “share worthy” or not.
How have you evolved creatively in the past five years and how do you want to evolve creatively in the next five?
I’ve written all my life for all the good reasons one should write. And then I wrote a really honest post in 2010—the story of Nella’s birth that I wrote in the dark, without any thought to what anyone would say about the feelings I was experiencing. I’m so glad I wrote that post with such a small readership because I might have held back if I had known that it was going to blow up weeks later. Once the post went viral, everything else happened so quickly. In a matter of weeks, the blog grew, the comments multiplied, the book happened, the feedback came in—you suck as a mom, you’re superficial, you exploited your baby, you suck as a writer, you take too many pictures–and I was so new to the world of dealing with it. I often felt the need to defend the way I felt—both in my writing and in my head. I reread things through a billion different set of eyes and many times lost the strength of my words in the process. I’m so glad I stumbled through all of it though because the things I learned through it are valuable. I’ve creatively evolved in understanding that the best writing is bringing your bravest truest self, and standing out there boldly saying “This is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what I’m afraid of, this is how I love, this is what I believe” is brave and true. I know how good it feels to be myself—both in big important matters of life (backbone) like faith, raising children and deep insecurities, and in the frivolous things as well (cartilage cushion)—shades of lipstick, cute shoes, birthday party details, driveway cartwheels. I don’t hesitate to hug all of it now—so proud that it’s all uniquely mine—and the things I create (and the little people I love and raise) are better for that confidence. Where do I want to evolve in the next five years? I want to respond better to my creative voice, not quieting it or pushing it aside because I don’t have time to feed it. That makes the voice really grouchy and that grouchiness affects all areas of life (read The War of Art!). Finding new and different ways to feed the voice and weave it into the way I raise my family will, I know, lead to beautiful things. And, of course, digging deeper, asking the hard questions, listening for hard answers, exploring new ideas and writing about them (photographing them, creating them, etc.)—raw and messy—is a continued journey.
What are your favorite quotes for creative inspiration?
These are hymns for my creative soul, food for makin’ heart:
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” ~Steven Pressfield
“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~Barbara Kingsolver
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs
“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” ~Anne Sexton
“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” ~Kafka
“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” ~Joss Whedon
What book do you wish you could have written?
Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, both real and raw, imperfect and empowering and all up in my head–but funnier and more eloquent. They make me so proud to be a woman.
So you have an idea…where do you go from there?
I write it down. I write down all the little notes that come to me in the shower or in the middle of the night. I keep a notepad by my bed and record ramblings on my phone. Creativity, thinking, ideas–it’s all good. I might not use all of these ideas, but it creates a nice starting place not to mention a reserve bank on those writing block days. Think outside the box–maybe that idea doesn’t have to be an essay. Maybe it’s a poem or a song or a caption to a meaningful photo. If you’ve told yourself twice that you’re going to get around to that exciting idea in your head, you’ve told yourself one time too many. Do it. Make it happen. Jackie Collins said, “A lot of people talk about writing. The secret is to write, not talk.” My suggestion to give your nasty censor a name? Name your beautiful creative self too–the one with all the good ideas, the muse who’s buried deep within. Trust her. And don’t piss her off by pushing off her ideas. (mind you, I need to listen to this advice too)
How do you find time to write with three kids?
It’s not about finding time to write. It’s about creating time to write. I’m fighting the “time to write” dragon this year in the same way that women tackle their health and weight and fitness. I’m waking up early and saving money in other areas so I can spend it on weekly babysitters that allow me time to write alone, without distraction. Like Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” There’s a lot of things I know that I want to unearth this year, and I will create the time to make it happen because if I don’t…I’ll never know those things. How sad would that be?
What advice would you give other creators?
Don’t overthink. Trust yourself. Know your worth. Own your worth. Your words and your art triple in strength and power and beauty when you do.
You can be more than one thing. Don’t be boxed in by labels or themes. I used to be hesitant to write deeper, sad things or funny irreverent things because I’m glitter girl! I’m yellow! I’m Find Beauty in the Unexpected! Sometimes when I write about a hard day or honestly express sadness, frustration, etc. people respond with “You sound really sad lately” or “I don’t like seeing you not be your rainbow self.” I smile now, celebrating the freedom that perhaps those people don’t quite understand–we can be all of it! Happy and sad, kind and irreverent, inspirational and completely lacking answers all at the same time. Rainbows and rain scientifically exist together. Listening too much to “Be what we want you to be!” feedback is no different than delivering that shameful interview.
Build a community. Share your work, even if it’s with one friend and ask them to share their work too. Give meaningful feedback. Talk about your art, create ideas together, give each other challenges and hold each other responsible for those dreams you said you want to accomplish. Support each other’s art, celebrate it. Can the strong and determined make art on their own? Probably, but having support for your art–even if it’s just a voice that says “Have you written anything this week?” is such an important piece of the success puzzle.
Now this is the part of the interview where the interviewer shakes hands with the interviewee and says some kind of thank you. So, split screen here. It was my pleasure.
I wish we could expand this post in real life to a giant room with lots of pillows and hot tea and good background music. What a wonderful discussion that could continue–food for our creative souls. (If you’re coming to the retreat in two weeks, you’re in luck…)
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” ~Ray Bradbury
Also, if you’ve wanted to answer these questions but are waiting for someone to ask them, take this cue. Have an interview with yourself. Grab a sheet of paper and answer these same questions. You can learn a lot about your creativity journey. Plus, Theresa in Toledo is dying to know.