Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Victory Isn't In The Song

Yes, I know. I haven't blogged in almost a month. My last post took a lot out of me. I try not to post about things quite that personally impactful--devastating, I should say. In fact, Sharon DeVita's death sucked me dry of words. All words. For a month, I have not written. I could not write.


I haven't even signed a check.

I think when writers get depressed, it's seriously feast or famine. Some writers pour everything into their work, and create these amazing magna opa that live for centuries. Others, like me, turn their faces to the wall and shut the laptops down. When I get into this state, it usually takes a fairly sizable breakdown to get me going again. Well, got that out of the way today, along with the early summer strep that always seems to find my house, and so here I am at four AM trying to figure out where my damn glasses are, where my last writing file went, and how to reignite my writer's mojo. 

Fortunately, I have a secret weapon.

Remember this? Spring, 2009? Britain's Got Talent?

Okay, let's be honest--and I certainly will be as well. When I first watched Susan Boyle walk out on stage, the cold-blooded professional actor side of me immediately began to tear her down before she even opened up her mouth. Yep. I catalogued her faults right down to her toes--frumpy, fussy, social misfit, bad hair, bad teeth, bad dress, stage fright, sensible shoes. I knew, because I used to thrive in the cutthroat world of auditioning, that this woman was about to emerge as one of the most spectacular failures in entertainment history. I knew that she could no more sing Les Mis than she could fly. I Dreamed a Dream is not an easy song. (Ask Anne Hathaway, whose own performance of the song was actually a brilliant way for an actress to reclaim the song from this particular video and association. Totally deserved the Oscar, in my opinion)And so, I settled back to watch Susan Boyle make an ass of herself. Ready to laugh. Just like that nasty-faced kid in the audience, I was waiting to...well...feel superior.

And then she opened her mouth. 

By the end of the first line, everyone watching (including me) didn't care that she was pudgy, or that she was forty-seven and never been kissed. By the end of the first verse, the audience was on its feet. By the end of the song, the most unlikely star imaginable had been born. 

By the end of the fourth time I'd watched it, in a row, all I could think of was "Thank God I wasn't that girl in that audience with the camera on my face before she sang." 

Now it's summer, 2015, and I'm the one who's in my forties, wearing sensible shoes, and confronting my dreams head on. Now I stand where she did six years ago. And in one of those authorial catharses that always end up on writers' blogs, I have to ask myself something vitally important. 

Am I willing, now, to stand up and chase my dreams? At my age? At my station in life? In sensible shoes? (I draw the line at frumpy or fussy, though. I have always been fashion forward. My shoes may be sensible, but they're hot.) 

Conventional wisdom dictates to our society that forty-seven-year old women don't go on a talent search and create superstardom for themselves. Only the twenty somethings can do that, or the fifteen-somethings if you're a home schooled old soul from a farm in NY. In writing, it's kind of the same thing. It' s hard to break in anymore without a real platform--a built-in audience/market for your work. The publishing world is so glutted by self-pubbed, indie pubbed, e-pubbed, and vanity pubbed books that even the traditionally pubbed books aren't exactly flying off the shelves--unless you're a Kardashian taking selfies of yourself. 

Amazing what can get people called "authors" these days. 

We all find ourselves in a moment where we're facing a mirror, trying to analyze ourselves and our chances. How many of us will take our courage and our dreams in hand and head to a nationally televised competition? How many of us are as out and out gutsy as Susan Boyle must have been? 

How many of us can supersede our own self-image, and dare to start over? 

Here's the most important thing, though, for all of us to take away from the Susan Boyle audition video. The salient moment happens at 4:48. Susan Boyle has finished singing, received her ovation, blown her kisses, and before the judges say a word, she turned and headed offstage. I wasn't as impressed by that then as I am now. She was there, ostensibly, to dream her own dream, right? To chase something no one had ever given her a chance to even try before. 

But she doesn't need validation from the cynics at the judges' table. She doesn't need those three yeses. Why? 

Because she'd gotten what she came for. Not the fame. Not the fortune. Not stardom or thirteen and a half million YouTube views. She came to sing. That's it. To prove that she could, to prove to no one but herself that her dreams were as important, as valid at 47 as they'd been at 27. I don't think Susan Boyle went to win Britain's Got Talent--as, in fact, she did not. Susan Boyle went to win Susan Boyle.

She went for no other reason than to prove that she could sing, and only to prove it to herself. So once she'd succeeded, once the audience had fallen in love with her and Simon Cowell had sighed like a fangirl, all she knew was that she'd done what she set out to do. She'd gotten what she wanted from herself, and no one else mattered.

God knows I wish I was more like that. 

As artists, we're always striving to please people-people we don't know. We have to entertain, to challenge, to tantalize, and do so in such a manner that makes total strangers want to know us or, in the case of writers, our worlds, our characters, our stories. As a result, we're so damn critical of what we do that we essentially handicap ourselves. I'm not talking about the large group of writers who are seeking a regular income, writing variants of trope stories or formulaic books designed to please readers who aren't looking for books that challenge them. I'm talking about the ones who have something different to say, who are trying new ideas and trying to create new audiences. I've been both, edited both, published both. I know, as most writers do not, how many authors cripple themselves with self-criticism and either kill off their books stillborn because they're not good enough ever, or that many just write re-visits of the same story with different character names/places/things but the same story elements because it worked and they don't want to mess up a winning formula. 

It's easy to sabotage yourself. What you have to learn, more than anything else, is how to pick yourself back up. How to force yourself to move forward, how to pack up and try something that terrifies you--not because you want to 'win' something, but because more than anything else you have to prove to yourself that you actually can do it. 

Let me put it to you this way. Susan Boyle's victory that day? It didn't happen on the stage. It happened that morning, when she woke up, put on her church dress, got on the bus and headed for the BGT audition taping. Nothing was guaranteed. Nothing was certain. Everything was terrifying. But she strapped on those sensible shoes, got in line, got her audition number, and managed to keep her courage up long enough to actually walk out on that stage. 

It wasn't the song that made her into a star. The victory isn't in the song. The victory was everything that led up to the first moment she felt the stage lights on her skin. The victory was before the song.

There's a lesson in that. For all of us. And then when you consider the actual words of the song, a little chill races down your spine.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream, I dreamed 

      --(I Dreamed A Dream, Les Miserables-composer:Claude-Michel Schonberg, Libretto: Alain Boubil, English lyrics:Herbert Kretzmer)

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed. 

How very easy it is for any of us to allow that to happen. As I said. Chills, man. Honest to God chills. Think about it.