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.
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.