I sat with my feet in the pool, trying to cool down my ankles and calves after an intense interval workout. I tried to relax, reading a compilation of fantasy and short stories. One of the stories reminded me of something I was going to write a long time ago. I dreamed it up and even wrote down an outline for it. Then I remembered another story I started writing but never finished many years ago. I even had a journal full of nothing but story ideas that was lost at a Barnes and Noble coffee shop fifteen years ago. It pisses me off when I see a movie released based on one of the ideas in that journal. So many stories that I never wrote, and my great regret will be dying having never told them in a way that only I can. These stories are in my mind, as real as a dream that you can’t wake up from but no one has heard them.
When I was a little girl, I’d come up with a story and start writing. I’d just write to write and oftentimes, my teachers couldn’t wait to see what I’d come up with. I’d turn a mundane writing assignment into an out of the box fantasy with monsters, parallel universe travel, curses and dreams that come to life.
In the seventh grade, it all ended. I had a teacher who saw no merit in fantasy and horror and she put down everything I wrote. I tried to appease her by writing something with a well thought out, realistic theme but none of my themes were good enough for her. After all, I was just thirteen years old. What could I teach her old, jaded soul?
No one knew what she wanted. A classmate complained that she didn’t know what to write. I asked her, “What do you like to read?”
“Mysteries,” she said.
“So write a mystery.”
“She won’t let me. Mysteries don’t have meaning.”
I just gave her a look of helplessness. What else could I do? I trusted my teachers and saw them as a great authority. I didn’t realize yet that one person’s opinion doesn’t have to mean so much. For every one person who doesn’t like mysteries or horror novels, there are thousands of raving fans.
When I look back, I keep seeing the seventh grade as the time when writer’s block became chronic. Never before that time did I have to question my inspirational ideas. I simply wrote whatever I wanted. I can’t blame my teacher. I allowed her to do this to me. If she hadn’t done it, someone else would have stepped in and played the critic.
We think we need to learn the rules of the game and we want to gain more knowledge as we grow up. We try to be the person the experts tell us we should be, but at some point, we end up looking for that child deep down inside who wasn’t afraid to create something. We want to be that playful sprite that took joy in her craft, before it was her duty to fulfill a role and follow the rules of convention.
“Fireflies” was a sordid piece, my attempt at screwing all people who wanted me to write something scholarly and civil. I’m amazed at how easily it sold. Then I published “Enlightened Ones” because it was a story that meant something to me, something I had to sweat blood to write.
But there’s still the day job and the responsibilities at home and I can’t live in a world of fiction all the time. And maybe that is also my fault. I wanted to have a career outside of writing to fall back on and most of the time, that career has taken first priority. After all, one must provide for one’s own
When reading the biography of Walt Disney, I’m amazed at how much debt he was willing to go into just to make his dreams into a reality. Through the depression and WWII, his studio struggled, yet he still went all out and spared no expense to be the first cartoonist to use music, the first cartoonist to make his cartoons talk, the first cartoonist to make his animations move fluidly, the first man to make a movie with surround sound, the first man to make an animated feature film and so much more. Disney owed money for two decades or more but he never succumbed to mediocrity, even though cheap cartoons were more economical. Due to the changing times, many great classics like Fantasia, Bambi and Sleeping Beauty turned out to be commercial failures. Yet, no animated creation could match those films for another forty or fifty years.
Walt Disney followed his passions no matter how many people around him told him to cut back. We all need someone like Disney, someone who seems to be a dreamer but in reality, it’s our insecurities and our slavish choice to put boundaries on ourselves that isn’t real.
Just the other day a friend of mine said, “And as I'm sure you realize, taking everybody else's advice isn't the way to greatness.” He’s so right. Why do we live, trying to be someone else’s vision of what we should be? People create formats and roles for life, for writing, for art. It’s the great pioneers who shatter these formulas, break down those boundaries and shock us with something greater than anything they could ever imagine.
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with any other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You don’t even have to believe in yourself and your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.” –Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer