I love to tell stories. I don’t mean the made-up kind but the “I had that experience with this person and it impacted my life in these ways.” Those that sit down with me, even across screens, know that I may at any unpredictable time drift off into some seemingly random story that (hopefully) ultimately connects back to the topic at hand. Sharing my life in this way is easy, affirming and a wonderful experience.
But writing, oh boy, that’s a totally different experience for me. Writing is difficult, frustrating, and not-at-all-fun. It is a full on wrestling match with a slippery smoke monster who happens to share my name. Stories that might flow fluently in person feel clunky and self-indulgent on the page. I’m kind-of a headspace person to begin with and writing seems to bring forward every self-doubt, impostor syndrome, and cringe-worthy memory. Ever hear your own voice on a recording and just go, eww? Yea, that’s me writing.
And yet when the process is finished, when the stomach churning and teeth grinding and vacant staring and occasional loud swearing are all done and the final word is put down… I am proud of what I created. And I look back, chiding myself for taking it all so seriously, getting so worked up, and really enjoy what I’ve put out into the world. Until I have another writing assignment…
But of course, it’s only peripherally about the writing; it’s about the creating. Creating is hard. The myth of the easy genius is just that, a myth. Every “talented” person I’ve ever known has worked hard, often for years, on their craft. They have practiced and shaped and honed the tools of their expression. Even the process of practice is messy. The brush, the phrase or the chord that was so out of place yesterday sometimes finds a great expression in today’s work. And what worked yesterday sometimes has to be discarded as one grows and changes. In the end, what looks like easy genius is the culmination of countless hours of work.
In the play Red by John Logan, the actor playing Mark Rothko sits, smoking a cigarette and staring off into space. His young, brash assistant Ken enters and after a very long, uncomfortable silence demands “What are you doing?!?” “Painting,” replies Rothko. Reflecting on this scene helps me to remember that creating is so much more than doing. While the expression is in the act, the art, perhaps, resides most fully in the space inside.
* Growing up in Texas, there was “wrestling”—the Olympic sport and what you did at school in Phys. Ed.; and “wraslin”—the wildly popular “sport” with stars like Pedro Morales, Mil Mascaras, and Pretty Boy Ric Flair.