Putting Yourself Out There

American Idol is a depressing show and that is a depressing opening statement, but stay with me here. I know what I’m doing.

Oh, I was on board at the beginning– the deluded singers, the occasional star performer, the fun of figuring out which judge was the most drunk. But after a few seasons, seeing literally thousands of people get their dreams systematically annihilated for something as fleeting as the inability to generate a zazz moment on one’s very first time being on national television, I grew sour. I was bothered by the fact that the people who very obviously knew how to work a crowd never won. I was bothered by the product placement in every judges’ hands. But what bothered me most were the singers that walked out onto that stage and gave it all they got for three people who had been sitting there for way too long to respect the preciousness of that singer’s moment in front of them. (One could argue that the singers did it of their own volition; but for a homeless teenager living in a car, that audition is pretty much the ONLY way they’d get in front of a powerful music representative.)

How could anyone be expected to create a genuine special moment in such a sterile, manufactured environment? And if you do manage your moment, you are immediately shoved into a world of bright lights and expectations. As most of the past AI winners have demonstrated, stardom just doesn’t work like that. Most people’s success comes to a boil like a pot of pasta– after a few years, a bubble rises to the surface. After a decade, if you’re lucky, you achieve a rolling boil, and, from there it all happens so quickly: your pot’s boiling over and you’re hoping the world will at least keep you on its burner.

A week before my poem recitation. I would drop some major cash to be able to go back to this dude and tell him a few things. (I'm the dude on the left. Doing my best Chandler Bing Impression.)
A week before my poem recitation. Funny what we remember. (I’m the dude on the left, doing my best Chandler Bing impression.)

It all reminded me of the time back in college that I’d won a second-place award for a poem I wrote. I was a standard creative writing major. The guy that won first place was a sort of nemesis of mine. He’d entered the contest on a whim; he was an engineering major. He was part of the Honors College at the university and lorded it over people. As part of the “reward,” I got to recite my poem to a room full of people, including the snobbish guy who had won. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life. My rib cage was shaking. My stomach was roiling. The cankers of being emotionally naked in front of my nemesis, not to mention the other strangers in the room. No one booed; no one hissed. The guy even complimented my reading. But I was wrecked. I couldn’t just be happy with the award I’d received; I had to compare what I had done with my nemesis’s accomplishment. I couldn’t see past the fact that he was a dabbler of writing and he beat me. And it’s taken me 18 years to want to risk the comparisons again.

Now what roils is my frustration from all of that time I wasted. Like any of that matters anymore. Or that guy whose name I can’t even remember is sitting in an office somewhere evil-laughing at thwarting me. Another case of “Needless Obstacle Courses We Put Ourselves Through In Our Heads.”

A few days ago, I read an article in a genealogy magazine that said 63 million blogs pertaining to genealogy exist just on this site alone and I immediately felt myself deflate. So much discouragement. 63 million people on just one site.  I was not Mary Benn riding up into the mountains to kill myself a bear. I was just another sidewalk vendor on a city street. I wallowed in that feeling for a few days.

Then I remembered some of the rejected American Idol hopefuls who came out of their auditions, looked right into the camera, and said, “It doesn’t matter. This is what I want to do. I’ll keep trying till I get a chance.”

So, it doesn’t matter if I’m any good at this. My moments of insecurity about what I’m doing here are normal and show that I care. My effing numbers on this blog site’s statistics page do not matter. It’s just a blog. Many people have them and don’t make it a source of angst. I post things all the time on Facebook without fussing over who’s reading, who’s judging, or the quality of my output. Why would this blog be any different?

What matters is that I showed up for the audition. I got out of my own way. What matters is I’m not hiding from any drunk, jaded judges, real or imaginary. What matters is the asshole voice in my head has stopped nagging me constantly about not writing. Why aren’t you writing? Why are you avoiding it? Chickenshit. The voice has stopped nagging me about letting my fear of failure stop me. It’s fine you’re not writing anyway, because it’s all been said before. There’s nothing new under the sun. The inanity of not even trying to do what I love and have always loved doing.

Instead, I’m walking through my city’s streets mapping out in my head, like a star chart of constellations, the things I want to tell you. I’m waking up excited to research my story and find my voice in telling it. To introduce you to the cast of characters whose names I didn’t even know until a few years ago. I’m back to doing what I love. Researching my family motivates me to write. I’m finding answers to my questions. I’m creating.

And only good things can come from that.

So, fear or not, the stories are coming. I have the title of this blog to reassure me of my power, because the name of that guy’s first place poem all those years ago was The Cartographer. And now I have this note to myself to read when I get discouraged. And I will get discouraged again. I will change course or fall down. It all doesn’t matter.

At least I’m on stage.

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30 thoughts on “Putting Yourself Out There

  1. James, we are kindred spirits. Before he died, my grandpa told me “don’t hide your light under a bushel” no matter how hard I try I can never truly shake the shyness of childhood. Although, as I’m told, you’d never know it if you met me. This makes it worse; frustrating even! Keep going, I really enjoy your posts. Heck, I’m even going to use that word that bloggers say they hate to receive in comments….”great” posts.

  2. For me, it’s usually the posts that come after my self doubt phases that receive the most feedback and attention. Just goes to show that when I have the right attitude, in other words, care less about what others think and more about my own stories to tell, the rewards follow. The most vulnerable pieces I have written stay at the top of my stats. Not that that should matter but…

  3. I can relate for sure. I started my blog as just a personal outlet with no aspirations of any kind other than to feel better. But, after a short period of time, I started caring about my site stats and my blog follows and then it sort of combusted into an obsession and I have to remind myself that it’s not worth all the angst. I should just do it to make me happy and if others enjoy it, so be it.

  4. That’s right! When I think about how many aspiring writers are out there, it’s deflating. But then I remember that I have to try. There is no glory in giving up before even trying.

  5. I watched that show with my family the first season and I just got over how mean spirited and terrible the judges were on the show.
    I mean yes they should have been critiquing but it was like it was their mission in life sometimes to just say the most horrible things they could think of!

    1. I’m fine with telling it like it is; but they weren’t constructive at all in their feedback which is why I think they sounded so horrible. “I didn’t feel it.” is not feedback anyone can use, Randy Jackson.

  6. In my best Randy Jackson voice, “Yeah dog! Way to go dog! Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.”

    In other words, I loved your post. 🙂

    1. So glad this was the impetus for you. You can see that I wrote it a few months back. I’m in a much better place now thanks to yeah write, which includes you!

  7. I love this. It is so well-written and the ending…..where we find out the name of that guy’s poem….is just the cherry on top. Excellent poetic justice. The only downside…I finally have a name for that thing I think I’ve been pursuing a doctorate in….“Needless Obstacle Courses We Put Ourselves Through In Our Heads.” 😉

  8. Hi Nate, I just finished reading all your posts, and I have to say you are bringing memories of grandma, grandpa, and our great-grandparents back to me, as well as providing background of them that I never knew so, Thank You!!

      1. I’d say keep at it. The stories put to paper (digital or otherwise) separate the writer from the madman who cackles at tales in his head that no one can hear. People look at you funny when you laugh to yourself all the time, trust me.

  9. I know we talked about this, but what strikes me when reading it is how well you expressed the exact thing I think I experience with everything I try. I jump in, all excited and passionate. And then I inevitably hit a point of comparing myself to others. Who knows what their story is, but how good they are gives me pause. I think that’s when the procrastination begins, and some other distraction enters.

    I think being self-aware is half the battle on this, and you have that in spades. And a wonderful voice.

  10. I’ll take “Needless Obstacle Courses We Put Ourselves Through In Our Heads” for $500, Alex.

    Seriously, that could be the story of my life, right there. People tell me I seem fearless about things, but when it comes to stuff that actually matters to me? Right there with you on the rib-shaking. And the damnedest part is, I *know* it’s all in my head. But somehow that only makes it more of an obstacle, not less. And then factoring in the guilt over avoiding it for years at a time…yeah. I feel you.

    Here’s to our both getting our butts out on the stage. 🙂

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