The False in Our Starts (part I)

BXP135660

Starting Blocks at Vacant Starting Line Before Event

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

“The try and the fail, the two things I hate…”   -Jay Z

It starts off small.  Sea monkeys.  Remember those sea monkey kits?  I never could get my sea monkeys to hatch.  All I ever managed to get was a tiny aquarium of murky, stink water, where all I ever managed to see were my tiny hopes and dreams dashed.  I believed in sea monkeys!!!  I tried several times to witness the wonders of a mini under sea world come to life before my eyes.   I followed all the instructions, but all I ever got was murky, stink water.  They made it look so simple, so I must have done something wrong.  I must have failed some how, right?

It starts off small, but it can expand quickly.

The try: auditioning for theater company in high school.  The fail: getting rejected two years in a row.

The try: starting college and double majoring in English and Speech Communications. The fail: having to drop out thousands of dollars in debt.

The try: feeling empowered to start my own small business.  The fail: worrying excessively about start up money and possible failure, then not following through.

The try: earning a livable wage while pursuing my dreams.  The Fail?

Free Trial Period

I have tried and failed many things.  Until fairly recently, I believed that made me a failure.  Trying and failing, it doesn’t feel good.  And no matter how many times it happens, it never gets any easier.  It always sucks.  If I may borrow from Jay-Z, trying and failing are two things I hate.

Correction:  Now that I think about it, I don’t hate trying.  There’s a reason I’ve tried all the things I have tried.  To try, is to take a risk.  To try, is to be willing.  To try, is to hope, to experiment, and to learn something new.  I have tried a lot of things, and many of those things failed miserably, but I don’t regret trying.  As long as I learned something, none of my efforts are wasted.

If I apply the same grace to my failures as I do my attempts, then every so-called failure is actually a teachable moment.  Scientist have to do experiments in order to test their hypothesis.  If the outcome disproves their theory, they adjust the experiment and test a new hypothesis.  I love to learn (I am a proud nerd), so, really… I can no longer consciously hate “The fail” either.

Should I even label the things I’ve tried, that did not go the way I planned, as failures?  And if my failures aren’t really failures, then how can I think of myself as one?

You see, I get these residual failure pains.  Whenever something I attempt doesn’t come out the way I planned, I internalize it as a character defect, and the pain lingers long after the loss.  I have spent so much of my life feeling like a “constant screw up”, “the family disappointment”, and other colorful self-deprecating titles.  And I played the roles dutifully.  However, the real truth is I am not a screw up: I am a person who tries many things; I am willing to risk; and I dare to hope.

Try Outs

In Spring 2015, I took part in this crazy 5k called WipeOut Run that involves an obstacle course of ridiculous proportion.  There is foam, and swings, and inflatables, and big red balls galore, including the unforgiving wrecking ball.  This event can be made even more epic when participants fully commit to the foolishness by wearing costumes.  Being a book nerd, I decided to create a costume inspired by one of my favorite books.  I started a team for friends and fellow book nerds, and I gave us an awesome name befitting our love of words.  The team name, you ask?  The False In Our Starts.

The team name was an homage to a great book I adore, “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.  Even more perfect, Green’s title was already an homage… to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet!  (Do I get double points for literary cleverness?)  What is less obvious about the name choice is that it is also a metaphor, influenced by the idea of the false start in the creative process.  The concept was first introduced to me by a great guy named John Pluecker.

Tried and True

Allow me to introduce you to John.  We met while I was working for an art, culture, and community organization called Project Row Houses.  John Pluecker, with his organization Antena created an installation at PRH.  As part of the installation, John was the creator and facilitator of a read/write club.  He created a space and an experience where students, community members, and artist could buy and read books, talk about them, then create our own words inspired by them, and share them.  He introduced me to experimental poetry, several daring new writers of color, and to small-press and handcrafted DIY works from independent presses.  We got to meet with, or skype, some of the authors whose work we read.  John supplemented each session with audio recordings from the authors, music, and visual media made by or which influenced the works we studied.  My fellow participants made authentic connections by relating to the works we read and sharing our own personal experiences.

My favorite part was the writing sessions.  I started taking myself and my writing more seriously after being a part of Antena’s read/write club.  At first, I felt intimidated, because I didn’t think I was a “real writer” or a “true artist”, and I was afraid I had no talent and that everyone would realize that I didn’t belong.  However, John created an environment of inclusion, support, and encouragement that allowed me to break out of my timid shell and be less fearful about sharing my work.  As a matter of fact, it was John’s words that helped me have words to share in the first place, when he introduced me to the concept of the creative false start.

After each writing session, John would open the floor for us to share what we had written.  We could have called it a read/write/show & tell club.  He noticed that I was usually reluctant to share.  I hesitated to share, because my work was often so incomplete.  I always felt like I was just getting started when it was time to end.  As he looked at the pages I had written, he noticed all the scratch outs, all the starts and stops, and all the editing.  I opened up with John about my work being incomplete, and I told him about how I felt compelled to constantly begin again.  I was unproductively trying to process my thoughts, capture my ideas, and improve them all at the same time.  I would decide that something wasn’t working, then I’d get a better idea, or the thoughts would finally come together, and I would be compelled to rewrite.

John told me, “Each false start has meaning and value.  You could go with it.  You can use them”.  His words were simple yet powerful to me.  Immediately, it was as if they created new synaptic pathways in my brain: the work I had already done was useful; it could lead me to what I really wanted to say and do.  John even found me a book in which the author repurposed his various false starts.  It was an entire book of false starts!  Before John rewired my brain, I had only ever associated false starts with racing.

As a kid, my friends and I were very serious about racing.  We would quickly disqualify anyone whose toes went over the starting line or started running before “GO!” was called out.  In racing, false starts get you in trouble; they get you disqualified.  Now the definition of a false start has expanded to include any unsuccessful attempt to begin something.  The idea of a false start having value and meaning was therefore revolutionary to me.  It’s been a few years since I learned this from John, but it has stuck with me ever since.

As an overly critical, self-inhibited writer/creative artist, false starts happen.  Our minds are a wealth of ideas, a playground of projects, but all these possibilities can lead to starting things but not finishing them.  Especially if we have perfectionist issues!  (For instance, that last sentence isn’t a complete one.  Don’t tell the Grammar Nazis.)  This is an important paradigm shift for me, as a recovering self-destructive who viewed every mistake as, not only a failure but, a personal character flaw and evidence  that I was a screw up and family disappointment.

Try, Try Again!

“My life has been long, and believing that LIFE LOVES THE LIVER OF IT, I have dared to try many things, sometimes trembling, but daring still”.

-Maya Angelou

In effect, John Pluecker rescued me from myself, with his insights.  Every false start/misstep/mistake is usable, not punishable.  They are experiential learning opportunities.  This new perspective is especially valuable to other writers and creatives, who constantly struggle with an inner resistance that keeps us from creating and completing our work.   Ultimately though, it is helpful to anyone grappling with The Try and The Fail.

Maybe you are a blogger, like me, having trouble completing and sharing posts.  Perhaps you are a creative artist struggling to complete and share your work.  Perhaps you messed up at work.  Perhaps you screwed up in a relationship.  Or maybe you are having trouble forgiving yourself for all the time you feel has been wasted, trying things and not succeeding at them, on the road less traveled, yet full of obstacles and detours, and making mistakes while figuring things out.  None of it is time wasted.  It has meaning and value… if we allow it to teach us.  

 

________________________

I really enjoy reading your comments, and would love to hear from you.  What’s one of your try and fail experiences?  How are you redifining what failure and success mean to you?

If you’d like to learn more about the amazing work John Pluecker and Antena are doing, please visit them at antenaantena.org.

________________________

20160124_094110

 

The Ice Truck Cometh

Where I am from, I don’t see a lot of snow, and when I do… the city pretty much shuts down in response to the slightest flurry.

I am in Washington, DC now, and it is Winter time.  It’s been a mostly mild Winter, void of any extreme cold temperatures.  Which is exactly how I like my Winters to be: void of any cold.  Despite this, I am still fascinated by snow.  It’s still a novality and mystery to me.

The first time I drove in the snow was last night.  I felt wonder and uncertainty in equal measures.  The snow seemed both magic and dangerous, as I made my way to my evening class.  In some places the snow cover was so complete, I couldn’t see the lines on the road.  At other times, the snow seemed as delicate and weightless as smoke, dancing in vortex on the surface of the road.  The falling snow swirled all around me everywhere and came directly at my windshield, reminding me of a 3-D movie experience.  I genuinely felt like I was inside of a snow globe.

Being behind the wheel did not make me feel anymore in control; although I was comfortable and warm, I kept wishing I had taken public transportation.  I didn’t want to be the reason something bad happened.  I was acutely aware that I was driving on ice, and it made me hyper vigilant about being safe.

At some moments, traffic speeds reduced to less than 15 miles per hour.  I ended up arriving late to class.  When I got out of class at 10pm, the roads were still teaming with commuters trying to get home.  My normal 30 min drive took me an hour and thirty minutes.  I began celebrating as I passed under the green stoplights of the next to last intersection right before my final turns home.  Normally after passing that intersection, I travel a short distance to the next intersection, where I make one final turn left onto the street my complex is located on, then one last right turn onto the road leading directly home; it normally takes me no more than 3 to 5 mins.

As it turns out, my celebration was a bit early and short lived.  20 mins out of the entire time it took me to get home was spent traveling that small distance, stalled between two major intersections, stuck on the other side of a greenlight that ironically did not mean “go”.

Being so close to home, made the stall more unbearable.  I played myself music to relax into the uncertainty.  It was a song titled “In the Meantime”.  I sat and let the music and the warmth from my car’s heater wash over me.  As the fatigue of the long day, which began at 4am, and the strange exhaustion of sitting still for so long, began to set in, I began to fall asleep at the wheel.  My head bobbed up and down as if agreeing with something, yet actually in a tug of war to remain conscious and alert.  It was about thirty minutes until midnight; I was losing the war.

Then suddenly, a space opened up.  The gridlocked cars in the center lanes were suddenly not gridlocked.  I don’t remember seeing them move out of the way.  I just remember the opaque road being visible.  Then I heard a mechanical noise stirring behind me.  Pulling up next to me, taking up probably three lanes, was what looked to me like a massive yet much speedier Zamboni.  Behind it, a powerful shower of white crystals was propelled across the road.  Not more snow… it was salt!  The sprinkling of salt managed to reach each lane.  I imagined a person throwing salt over their shoulder for good luck.  And I felt my fortunes change.

The truck became an immediate symbol of hope and freedom to me.  The salt truck literally paved my way home.  A little salt transformed the stalled and stranded into a slow moving victory parade, with the snow still falling like ticker tape and the salt truck as the premier float.

At least that’s what it felt like.  I was so relieved to be moving forward.  It felt so good to be going home.

20160122_012920

Here I Go!

I am waiting for my train, unable to sit still, as I make my way to my first day of class.  You see, I have recently been accepted into an acting conservatory, and today is the very first day of the program.

I had to submit an application, get letters of recommendation, write an essay, and audition.  I was so nervous about getting in; they only accept ten people into the program every year, and I was worried my audition wasn’t… enough.  It was a fun audition though, I was given notes and a chance to deepen my performance.  I also learned a lot about what not to do… like, just because you’re nervous, don’t apologize at the beginning of your audition, that puts the auditioners off, and makes them think you’re an unprepared amateur.  Despite that slip up, I got in!

I am now about to embark on a year of intensive professional actor training.  I am so grateful, excited, and anxious at the same time.  It’s been a long time since I’ve trained formally, and I’ve never trained on a professional level before.  This is huge for me.  I had to first admit that I have been afraid all these years but that I still really want it.  The desire to perform and tell stories has never gone away.  No matter how much I tried to follow a “normal” path and get a “real” job.

So here I am, riding the subway train toward my new beginning.  Here I go…

 

By the way, you’re coming with me.  #FieldTrip  I’ll  be sharing my experiences along the way.

2015 in review

FB_IMG_1451193899212The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for my blog.

This tool was a great way to see how far I’ve come, and I’m motivated to do more in 2016.  The first things I did were reorganized the past post and planned for the future ones.

Thank you to all the readers who have stuck around to see where this thing goes.  I appreciate your support so far, and I can’t wait to share more.

Keep Reading!

-Bry

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 810 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 14 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

While the Rest of the World Sleeps

Even In Our Sleep…

I am human.  This statement admits both fact and fault.  I am human, ergo, I make mistakes (Mistakes like using ergo in your blog?  I promise I am not pretentious; I just love words, and I never get to use that one enough).  It really frustrates me that I make so many mistakes.  For instance, last week I didn’t deliver on the Freestyle Friday post that I promised.  I starting writing it, midnight came and went, I missed my deadline, and felt defeated.  Today was Tuesday, but by the time this gets published, it will no longer be Tuesday, and I will have broken yet another goal that I set for myself.  I am feeling like a mistake making factory over here, producing a high quantity of long-lasting mistakes at a pretty consistent rate.  I remember this quote, although I don’t know who to attribute it to, it reads, “only in our sleep, do we make no mistakes”.  That was such a comforting sentiment to me at one time, but then I started making mistakes in my sleep.  Ever get a crick in your neck?  Oops, slept wrong.  Ever woke up late because you slept through your alarm?  Ah yes, over sleeping, it’s my least favorite common mistake; we basically start off our day already having made a huge mistake.  Missing the deadlines I set for myself, feels very much like over sleeping.  I am getting started already having made a huge mistake.  Even in our sleep, mistakes are inevitable.  Perhaps, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself then.  Whether I wake up late or not, I’ve still got the whole day ahead of me.

Sleeping Beauty

My mind is most active in the midnight hours, while most others are sleeping, and I have the world to myself.  Unfortunately, because I work so much, I find it necessary to stay awake to get stuff done.  I play a lot of catch up at night time.  I am constantly annexing the hours dedicated for rest and rejuvenation.  If beauty sleep were an actual thing you needed to maintain beauty, I would look like a troll.  By day, I am a barista slash child care phenom slash educator slash caped crusader slash student, but when the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light you see… oops, wait those are song lyrics!  (Slip ups like that happen, when you get little to no sleep)… at night I create.  I have not figured out a way to make writing a part of my normal working day.  That is my new mission: to get a good night’s rest and also create things.  I want sleeping and beauty.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

That being said, it is taking me entirely too long to write and edit this post.  At this point, if I go to sleep right now, I might be able to get a whole 45 minutes of sleep before it’s time to go to work.  I know I promised you an update, but I want that cat nap.  This is not the post I started out writing, but this is the one I was able to finish.  I make mistakes; I am human remember.  “To err is human, to forgive is divine”.  I hope you can forgive me for sleeping on the job.


Consider this an I.O.U.  I still owe you a proper update.  I will not keep you waiting for long.  In the meantime, please share with me how you manage it all?  Is writing your day job?  Do you juggle school, work, and family?  Are you like me and get no beauty rest?

The Importance of Controlled Brything

If you’re reading this, you have inadvertently signed up for a field trip.  Let’s go!

At first all you hear is the sound of tires screeching, as you jolt into consciousness.  Your eyelids remain tightly shut, fighting against the overbearing sunlight flooding in through the passenger-side window.  It takes you several seconds to realize that the car has stopped, and that I am yelling at you to get out of the car.  “Run!” I admonish you, “we’ve got to get to the finish line!”  It’s all coming back to you now; I’ve signed us up on the Amazing Race!!!  You gather your barrings and join me in a sprint.  After a while, the chase leaves our lungs starved for oxygen and our feet begging to be amputated.  We carry on.  That’s how important it is to us that we reach our goal.  We have a single-minded determination to persist past pain and every obstacle.  Our brains focus on our most immediate need, oxygen.  In order to keep moving forward, we need a constant supply of fresh oxygen to every muscle in motion.  We control our breathing to keep us calm and to keep us moving forward.

Field trip over!  Oh, but you’re wondering about the finish line, aren’t you?  Just so you know, it was never about the finish line.  That whole trip was a ruse.  I was using you; I’m sorry.  It was all a metaphor.  Let me explain.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I am chasing after my dreams, and that I am finally recognizing the obstacles that have hindered my pursuit.  Chasing dreams sounds romantic, doesn’t it?  The imagery it stirs up, of a cops-n-robbers type caper however, is misleading.  It’s not as simple as running as fast as you can, and it is not as stable as finally catching your target and locking it away.  Following our dreams is a dogged pursuit of a target which masterfully escapes its confines each evening.  Chasing misrepresents what creative people actually do to become a professional.  Pursuing our dreams actually requires more measured steps; following our dreams is therefore a daily practice.  Constantly stepping towards our dreams sounds less romantic, but it gives us a far more accurate description of what to expect.

I started this blog as a challenge.  A wise and creative soul told me that it was time to share my passions with the world, and that perhaps the way to begin was by blogging.  Having a blog is not the finish line though (remember, it was never about the finish line).  It’s about learning all the skills and completing the work that move me toward the finish line.  It started with a challenge, so it naturally makes since to continue that practice.

Each week I will seek and complete an exercise, which I endearingly refer to as “Brything Exercises”, that allow me to grow as a creative artist, share my passions, and promote my work.  Each challenge is designed to move me forward in the direction of my dreams.


 

Remember that field trip, from the beginning of this post?  That’s not the only one you signed up for.  I am inviting you to tag along with me on all my adventures.  As you share in my experiences, you are welcome to share your own and/or suggest additional challenges I should do.  Let’s go!


-Bry

 

What Took You So Long

When I first realized I loved to write, I was 10 years old.  I was suffering from early on-set adulthood (my childhood began to erode years before it should have), I felt unheard and invisible, and I needed a place to keep all the thoughts, secrets, and events I could not say aloud. It was easy to write then; I wrote for my survival and sanity; I never questioned whether it was good.

Writing became increasingly more important to me.  Several teachers told me I had talent, yet when I first started college, as an English Major, I failed several courses.  I could not produce the written work by the deadline. I accepted failing grades rather than turn in assignments I viewed as mediocre. I did the work but never received credit for it, because I was so fixated on editing out all the perceived imperfections.  I spend hours, days, and weeks perfecting my work, going over it with a fine-tooth comb, restyling it, and constantly critiquing it for worthiness.  I edit myself before the words ever reach the page, and then again after I have written a paragraph or a page, and several times more once the first draft is complete.  Because my process is so tedious, I hardly have anything to show for my effort.

I have another, very different passion.  In a studio, the full length reflection of vibrant tribal patterns clash each other like waves, sweat drips heavily from every orifice of my body, my lungs protest adamantly for more air, and even so, I wear a smile as wide as my face, ignoring discomfort to focus solely on the rhythm which calls to me from the drums.  I am dancing, and when I dance, I am free.  Writing and dancing are two very differing passions of mine, and I thought I approached them differently, however, like the lapas worn for West African Dance, there is a pattern.

At the end of many African dance classes, there is a drum circle.  Dancers and drummers create a circle, and individual dancers enter it to have a conversation, in movement, with the drums.  As a novice, this was most intimidating for me.  I would worry about remembering what I had just learned, staying on rhythm, and whether I was skilled enough to dance in the spotlight.  Usually, I would forfeit the opportunity to step forward.  From my spot in the circle, I remained animated, sharing my joy and mirroring steps.  As long as I did not feel pressure, I could perform.  An intuitive and observant drummer discerned my hesitation, and gave me advice that I now apply to my passions and life.  He told me that I was missed in the conversation, that as a drummer he needed my energy, that my spirit, the joy I exude while dancing, motivated and compelled him in his drumming.  He advised me to never hesitate.

I am capable of dancing with reckless abandon and writing in the flow.  How is it then that I can experience complete creative paralysis?  I think back to the missed classroom assignments and missed conversations on the dance floor.  I hesitate.  I fixate on perfection.  I fail to produce or neglect to engage.  Ultimately, they are all forms of fear.  And the only way to conquer fear is to face it.  Never hesitate.

It took me a long time to publish a second post, because it took me a long time to connect the dots.  I thought starting this blog was the difficult part: navigating the technical elements, developing content, sharing the first post.  I was naive.  What I recently realized is that the truly difficult part of becoming a professional creative artist is constantly silencing the inner critic and soberly facing fears.  Now that I am familiar with the pattern, and I am aware of what is really holding me back…  you won’t have to wait so long between reads.


What area of your life are you most critical about?  What obstacles are stealing your time and keeping you from creating?  What dreams and ambitions have you been hesitating on?  What’s taking you so long?


-Bry