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?