It’s a strange thing, being in front of an audience instead of in it.
I’m not sure if my cohorts on last week’s panel (or stages everywhere) agree, but I’ll wager that no matter how much you know, it’s rare that you feel you know enough to stand where Mrs. Kent or Professor Schwartz did, teaching the people facing you about what you know.
Parents must feel this way all the time, especially when their kids get old enough to start asking questions. I know enough to give reasonable explanations for various basic physical phenomena, but after that, I tend to fall back on reciting stuff from the latest issue of Modern Jackass. I blame the great gaps in my education, which were mainly self-created: there are a lot of classes I never paid attention in, and a lot of things I never bothered learning because either I wasn’t interested or I figured I could ask someone else, later. Maybe in the back of my mind I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be making any biological question machines; more likely, I just preferred not to think of anything at all.
My coach, Ilise, who helps me more than you all can know, and who, like my shrink is and my beloved paternal grandmother was, one of the more patient folks I’ve met in my life, says you only have to know more than the people you’re helping. At first, I felt this was borderline, if not flagrant, fraudulence; the more I slog along, though, the more I realize that in my own fields of interest, communication, mostly, and propagation of ideas, I’ll never know enough to know more than most of the people I’m with, unless I decide to limit my “speechifyin’,” as The BF calls it, to classes of 7- and 8-year-olds. And even then, they’re bound to be one up on me when it comes to some of the Crazy Things Kids Are Saying.
I bring up this appalling and shameful lack in me because, for whatever reason, I’ve had a few worrisome (but nice!) compliments lobbed in over the transom recently. People saying very nice things to me somehow vaguely at the expense of themselves, mostly along the lines of how much they like the way I say this or that (and thank you! I thank you, from the bottom of my heart!), but with a sort of wistful ache, as though I had used up the awesome or gotten an inside track on something or there was just no way they could do it, too, have things come out on paper (or screen) the way they floated around in their heads and hearts and dreams.
I say this next bit gently, but say it I must: Stuff! And nonsense!
Whatever your dream of perfect expression, I’m here to tell you that: (a), it does not exist; and (b), if you knuckle down and DO, what eventually comes out will make your dream beside the point.
Don’t believe (a)? I grapple with Right Expression all the time. EVERY time. No, really: every single time I greet the blank page or sit down with an actual, live human bean, I think, “Nope! This isn’t going to come out at all right.” And somewhere in the middle (several times in the middle, usually), I think, “Nope! This is not at all it, not at all! I will not be able to connect in a meaningful way and express these ideas at all, nope, not at all!” Positively White Rabbit-like, I am. (For the record, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I actually know when I’m going to. That last happens so rarely, I could count it off on toes and fingers, and I’ve never worked with a lot of heavy machinery.)
As for (b), there’s a reason I leave the archives to this site up in their entirety: I SUCKED. And everyone should know it, myself included. The only way to get from there to here is one goddamned step at a time, and brother, I’ve taken them all, even if not as publicly as Internet publishing has allowed. (What you can’t see, the years and years of me toiling away like an asshole, trying to sound like Hemingway or Dorothy Parker or whomever I had a big writer-crush on at the moment, I’ve spared you thus far. But I’m gonna find it, and I’m gonna put it up, too.)
I will add one buzzkill caveat: just because you want to be the Greatest Writer in the World doesn’t mean you can or will. You might not be wired for it. Or you might get however many days/months/years down the path and lose your taste for it, something that happened to me with acting. Which, for the record, I did all right at, but never with the ease of my early forays into writing. Like I said, wiring, plus all that other outliers stuff, circumstances, opportunity, logging hours. Although, to paraphrase my Secret BF, Malcolm, again, just because your early contexts weren’t the most fertile for growing literary genius doesn’t mean you can’t become one.
What I do know is that everyone, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E, has a story, and a passion, and can be moving and affecting if she opens her arms and drops her drawers for it. On my trip, I read a wildly gripping story by a writer whose amateur status mattered not one whit. Arms opened, panties dropped. (More soon on that.)
It won’t come to you, though: you need to meet it more than halfway. You need to hunker down and give it time and love and effort. If your Truth needs to come out with writing, you must write every day; if your Way In is something else, replace “writing” and “write” with the words that suit you. Just don’t fart around. I farted around for years, which probably didn’t hurt, but nothing really started happening until I started writing every day, with purpose and intent and a certain amount of gravity.
And finally, where the hell is it, exactly, that I’ve “gotten”? Who the hell am I? Famous? Wealthy? Weighted down with awards and accolades? No. I’m just someone who’s finally fairly happy with myself, a medium-sized part of which is probably my way with words. Which just shows to go you I have a long way to go dealing with this attachment stuff.
If you’re a writer, write. (And read.) If you’re poet, po. (And also, read.) Alone in your garret, or out loud on the WordPress.
Blather. Rinse. Repeat…