I did it when I was six.
We lived in Toronto and we had a long, deep, narrow backyard. I decided to create a circus (which was extremely small and didn’t even have animals beyond our black dachsund, Henry Stook Bowser von Hound Dog) so I could invite all our neighbors. I think I wanted to charge admission (I wanted to buy a typewriter) but I can’t remember if I did.
But I look back at that crazy self-confidence and chutzpah and wonder — where on earth did that come from? What made me think it would work? I’m not sure it occurred to me that it wouldn’t.
And why do I keep wanting to erect a large striped tent and fill the seats with an appreciative audience? To bring a bunch of people together and send them away again happy?
(Why I love throwing parties and big dinners. Sort of like this blog, actually.)
Do you ever step back from your daily life, searching for the underlying, even invisible/unconscious, patterns within it?
Taking inventory, as it were, of what you do, and have done, that has filled you with joy and turned into the most satisfying successes — and the holyshitwhatwasIthinking moments that led to the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.
It’s challenging to step away from the non-stop everyday must-dos, from the brushing of teeth and preparing of food to caring for kids and pets to ask, in a non-narcissistic way:
Who am I? What fuels me? Am I really happy?
If not, now what?
It’s easier to sleepwalk through life, doing what our parents want and our friends think is cool and our teachers praise and our professors think well-done and our bosses agree with. Then we die.
So much easier to step aboard a moving conveyance and let it take us somewhere that looks sort of pretty than the terrifying notion of making it up as we go or questioning whether we’re even on the right train, bus or boat in the first place.
Since I was very young, my impulses have remained consistent: create, share it, connect with others, connect them to one another.
It hasn’t been easy, simple or smooth. I could certainly make a hell of a lot more money being less “creative” and more docile, that’s for sure.
I also became a lot more comfortable in my own skin — sad to say — after two hyper-critical voices in my life since childhood were stilled, my late step-mother, who died in 2007, and my 76-year-old mother, with whom I no longer have a relationship.
It’s my oxygen. I start to feel restless and bored if I’m not working on my own projects — usually three or more at once. They may be in totally different phases (vague idea, general outline, asking for advice and input) but without multiple irons in my fire, so to speak, I get so boooooored. I like being able to leap from dyeing and sewing a pillow cover to working on a book proposal to making butternut squash soup for dinner.
I’ll be lecturing at my old high school soon about writing, (Leaside High, Toronto, alma mater for Margaret Atwood), and I once compared writing without publishing to masturbation. I had no idea the principal was in the room! But I meant it. It’s too easy to clutch your work, Gollum-like, to your chest, terrified of others’ judgment. Go on! Creativity is a great gift and one best shared with others, whether on-line, in your backyard, sold on Etsy, donated to a local women’s shelter.
Truth be told, I do like to be paid for mine. I sold my own bead necklaces on the street when I was 12, hand-made envelopes at 15, my photos at 17 and my freelance writing starting at 20. If I’m not out there selling something, I feel a little lost.
Connect with others
The greatest value of my working retail for 27 months, the basis of my memoir, was finally understanding what I love most about my work as a journalist and author. Not writing. Not researching. Not travel. But connecting with others, people I would never have had the chance to meet or speak to otherwise. These have include convicted felons, Olympic athletes, royalty, politicians, a female Admiral, cops, a milliner and the parents of soldiers killed fighting in Iraq. I’ve wept at work (quietly) and suffered nightmares and insomnia from secondary trauma while researching my first book about women and guns.
But the more I learn about the world, the more it’s obvious to me that connecting with one another, with empathy and compassion whenever possible, is what it’s all about.
Connect them to one another
In 2008, I organized and planned, (with four hard-working volunteers’ help), a panel discussion in Toronto that required two writers I had never met to get on airplanes from New York and arrive at that room on time. They did. Whew! The room was SRO and the goal was to help Toronto-based writers sell to American editors. It was so satisfying to make this happen.
One of my favorite examples was getting to know a young, smart writer then in Vancouver, who I finally met and had dinner with on one of my visits there. He’s 30 years my junior (younger, I think), but a lovely guy with great manners. A former colleague from Montreal in 1988 then re-found me on LinkedIn — and needed a smart hire for his new political website in Ottawa. Cha-ching!
Now I’m trying something crazy-ambitious, creating a conference from scratch. The women I’ve reached out to so far for advice and input seem really excited, so let’s see if I can make this one fly. The goal, once more, is to put cool people together to spark ideas and create mutual support.
Do you know — yet — what drives you?
And are you OK with it?