Sunday, August 19, 2012
On Being A Genius and How To Survive Not Being Nominated for Homecoming Queen
A couple weeks ago, a friend sent me this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert from 2009. This video has had over 4 million hits, so I know I'm late to the game on this one, but her ideas have been swirling in my head since just before the BlogHer conference. You see, I have this pattern of "losing interest" or "getting bored" or in more blunt terms "quitting" just when opportunity seems to strike. Even right now, with this blog, I have been failing it, letting down my own self with what I want to do with it after just investing a lot of time and energy in a blogging conference that once again presented opportunity. But I'm not sure it is even conscious, and definitely not active. Last night I sat down at the computer, feeling the anxiety of creating a new post for which I had nothing to say, even though all week I have thought of ideas that for one reason or another keep evading me. Nothing came, the post sat blank and the computer closed. Someone once asked me if I have a fear not of failure but of success. And I told them, I think I'm scared of both.
When I was seventeen a friend of mine who was very pretty but not very active in the school community and only hung out with older kids until they all graduated and then wanted to hang out with me, was nominated for Homecoming Queen my senior year of high school. Having my fair share of awkward years I was more than crushed, I was furious that my friend who had put little effort into becoming popular with our grade and had never suffered the agony of covering up a pustule for a school dance or felt the pain of ripping flesh when a soccer ball hit you square in your mouth shielding an arsenal of braces had been elected for homecoming queen of which I understood was based completely on her looks. I was right. The world was cruel and for girls, if you weren't pretty, you weren't seen. I only half believe this now, and I do take gratitude in coming into my own in my twenties and embracing my curves and that bump on my nose and that double chin I sometimes get around the holidays. But to make a long story short, I took the anger and wrote a play for the first time. I then shoved it under my bed where it stayed for the entire year until a friend showed me a flyer for a Young Playwrights Festival that she was submitting to. She encouraged me to submit that play I told her about in passing months before. On the last day of submission, I submitted my play called, Paintings, about a young girl who becomes obsessed with a lounge singer because she is pretty and sexy and powerful, only to learn that behind her beauty is a damaged woman with dashed hopes and dreams whose looks have cursed her more than helped her. (I know what you're thinking: Another Shakespeare. Nope. Just a Valley Girl.) But that play was picked as a winner and at seventeen I had a full production of the first play I had ever written. They cast Chrissy Seaver from Growing Pains who later played Mel Gibson's daughter in What Women Want. Noah Wiley congratulated me (something I supposed he had to do since he was an executive producer). And they had me on stage opening night to hand me an award. I was a big deal! And then this word "talent" began really getting tossed around. Soon after "brilliant." And not about me, but about the play, so naturally I thought it was about me. In one sense it gave me confidence. In other sense I began to really care what people thought about my writing. I wanted to always be "brilliant." I wanted to always be referred to as that genius 17 year-old who just wrote a play out of jealousy and got a theatre in LA to produce it.
While finishing up my freshman year of college, a friend came home for the holidays from NYU and handed me an application to the Tisch School of the Arts Dramatic Writing Program. She told me to just fill out. She'd even mail it if I was really going to be so difficult. I ended up mailing it, the same one with the popcorn grease from the movie Stuart Little where she had handed it to me. Months later I got the big envelope and a few months later I was sitting in a room on the 7th floor of 721 Broadway in New York City. I did well in college and well with my thesis. But ever since leaving those self-deprecating or self-applauding rooms where I was both criticized and praised, it has been a struggle to hold onto what I think about my own work. I have this idea that it should all be perfect. It should all be brilliant. And because I never feel any of it is, I hide it, I ignore submissions, I start things and don't follow through. I want perfection and instead have piles of abandoned projects. There is something inside me begging to get out and I think it's my artistic soul wanting desperately to get away from my enslaving ego. Or maybe it is just my soul wanting so badly to connect with that floating creative spirit we call "genius," you know that one we mistakenly confuse with ourselves or having come from within.
I love this talk because for the first time I felt the disappointment from my failures lift as well as the pressure for my successes. I felt like an artist who sometimes gets paid a visit by that tricky little spirit and sometimes just eats pizza and watches How I Met Your Mother. I am not a genius or brilliant or born with some god-given talent. I just have a soul that sometimes gets along real good with that creative soul flying around the world touching all of us when we least expect it. So tonight, I got out of bed and decided to write this post to not only forgive myself for not being brilliant on my blog lately, but to remind myself it ain't always up to me.
And with that thought, I say: Ole to you! (Watch the video)