Anatomy of a breakthrough, Part 2

helium-filled balloons caught in trolley wires

This is the second installment of a two-part post about a recent writerly performance (or perform-y writingness). You can read the first installment here.

At some point in your travels, when you've traveled long enough, you're able to recognize what maybe you couldn't in the moment as turning points.

That night in the Westwood movie house some 25 years ago, eating contraband falafel, watching some movie I've long since forgotten, that was one of those events. That morning on a Santa Monica stage was another. Certainly, the afternoon in a West Hollywood hospital bed was another, and one that actually announced itself as such at the time.

It will be time's call whether my experience last Thursday evening proves a turning point or not. In the moment, though, or here and there during the series of moments that made up last Thursday evening, I noted a number of things that were for me, as I hinted earlier, extraordinary.

Me, talking to people

I don't know when I crossed over from faking it till I made it to actually making it, but somewhere, somehow over the past four or five years, my introverted self hit critical mass with playing extrovert.

If I was a betting woman, I'd put money on my two-year stint with Toastmasters; then again, something in me wanted to speak more than something else feared walking into a roomful of strangers, so there were probably a number of factors operating to get me over the hump and into a once-weekly meetup with a never-ending stream of new people: years of having to sell overpriced commercial productions to underwhelmed business school graduates with nothing more than charm, pantomime and a few key frames of marker art had to have helped. Moving from a class of 40 girls I'd known since I was six years old to a brand new public high school, with boys, and during the ugliest years of my life, that probably helped build up some callouses, too.

And then there were three years of hard-core business networking as I worked furiously to build up my tiny design and consulting brand. I didn't turn out to be much of a designer (the jury's still out on the consulting), but boyoboyoboy, did I log some hours walking up to complete strangers and saying "Hi!"

I am still exhausted after too much time with groups of people, and still require borderline-antisocial amounts of private time, period, but not only can I get out and about by myself, I actually do enjoy it, once the fear has passed.

Me, telling a plain, old story-story

You will laugh (I hope), but I never thought much of myself as a writer. I wanted to be good enough to think of myself as a writer; I hoped that if I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote (and wrote and, well, you get the idea), I'd eventually become good enough at it to win the jobs that would allow me to say, out loud, "I'm a writer" when the inevitable question arose as to my vocation. Now I'm starting to see that in the same way as it goes for actors, the first step is tilling and fertilizing adequate headspace so that one can self-identify as such, after which work, and several dozen-to-hundreds of cycles of submission/rejection, the pro stuff just falls into place eventually.

Again, you will laugh (I hope), but I had ideas of stories in my head that I couldn't get out. Probably because I thought of them as "pieces" and separate from me. Anytime I wrote something, even as I wrote it, I'd compare it to that ideal (unwritten, of course) in my head, and of course, I found it wanting, and of course, I either stopped dead or somehow sabotaged myself.

The exceptions were humdrum things like letters, journal entries, proposals, evaluations. You know, non-arty writing. And doing vast quantities of non-arty writing is probably what helped me log enough hours to see some results. At a certain point if you do anything enough times with enough focused attention, you get better at it; it's almost impossible not to. I didn't get good enough at short stories or poetry or plays because I never worked through the horrible stage, but between all the pedestrian writing I did as a civilian and the insane quantities of time I spent on the blerg, here, I became good enough to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Oh, and once you give up the idea that you will ever be an artiste or that a soapbox is a reasonable place from which to deliver your two cents and just roll with being a Smurf, it gets a lot easier to tell stories that work.

Me, asking for stuff

I'm really at the beginning of this asking-for-stuff trajectory. My modus operandi up until now has been to drop more and increasingly larger hints, working ever harder to be content with even less as I simultaneously hope for a miracle. For me, even acknowledging there's such a thing as an ask and that it can not only save time and sanity but actual relationships is a huge gain.

And really, I will probably always prefer being asked to having to ask. I accept that it's my wiring, like "introvert" and/or my years of training as an ACoA rearing one or the other (or both) of their wearisome heads.

But when my new friend Bill and his wife started talking about the Moth, I drew them out, asking questions and advice, accepting such help and guidance as was offered. While I will not be the one battering down the gates anytime soon, I am becoming bold enough to raise my hand to request a day pass.


Image by michale via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.