Thursday, February 3, 2011

creatives, learn from history : write the story yourself.

(this is a picture of david gandy in the shower.  it has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but it got you to look.)
(which is part of the lesson, too.)
“history is written by the victors”.  i remember reading this in high school in the middle of a class about meta-fiction, and before diving into john gardner’s GRENDEL.  for those of you who haven’t had the fun of reading it, the book takes the beowulf legend and turns it on it’s head by taking the monster’s point of view, and forcing you to rethink from then on what the REAL truth behind any story is … to at times even question your own motives in telling a tale.
as part of a creative life, you are constantly struggling with this exact issue.  ”who am I” is less critical to the tale at times than “what do i do”.  even in that definition you run into the danger of allowing the story to define you, and thereby your happiness.  words have power, and as we know, they can either elevate or wound.  so the words that you use about yourself are at times the most important, and the most difficult.
when fashioning a personal history, you have to accept certain facts about life in the creative sphere:
1) EVERYONE DOES NOT LIKE YOU.  in fact, there are a suprising number of people out there who will openly despise you … at times when you have never even met them.  as a creative, you have to get used to this.  you have to put it away.  in order to really succeed at whatever you are trying to do, you have to learn the delicate art of listening to the critiques (remember the lessons from grendel, you might BE the monster, not the hero in any given situation), and then decide how to incorporate the incident into your personal story.  negative press, as we see time and again, can actually grow your story larger than you can on your own, and you don’t have to seek it.  if you do well, if you put yourself out there, you will get it.  remember, that it IS balanced by those who will see and respect you.  but they won’t tell you.  cruel fact. 
2) YOU HAVE TO TELL THE STORY FIRST.  i started blogging years ago.  i did it before i even got to a high profile part of my career because i realized that when you “google” someone, there’s a lot of content you can’t control out there.  content that is good.  content that is bad.  so you have to contribute to the dialog.  blogging was the first way i found to enter the discussion about “landis”.  it was simply about the dogs, about tim, about our life.  it was a public diary, but i thought no more information than i would include in any email to our friends and family every few weeks.
i discovered, however, that it was far far more than that.  for years after, every job interview i went on, every new client i met with, every person in a bar i ran into … they either knew me, or found out about me with far greater intimacy than they ever had in the past.  and it was positive.  it was “oh, i LOVE your dogs”.  or “i’m going to hong kong soon, where would you recommend i stay?”.  connections from a personal story before we even knew each other.  because i told my story, publicly, first.
3) BE PROUD.  BE MODEST.  when telling the story in today’s culture there is far far too much self-congratulations going on.  believe me, i am a big believer in having a strong ego.  i am not a shy flower.  i like attention and the leo in me seeks it.  and i’m good with that.  but the cancerian in me would also like to buffer that with a healthy dose of thanks for the things i have been allowed to do, the people who have helped get me to where i am, the importance of home and the simple things like my husband and my pets and good food and family.  balance is what makes a story relatable, but it also keeps YOU grounded in the reality vs. the myth of what you are putting out there.
4) PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW THAT YOUR STORY IS JUST THAT.  A STORY.  i am continuously amazed that people who know me very very well think that my life IS my blog.  or my facebook page.  or even that my website is the way all my work experiences turn out. when i write it like this, of course, it seems ridiculous. we all have our sadness, our heartbreak, our wretched days when nothing in our closet matches and we feel fat.  but keep in mind that what you craft of your story is more than just a story to most people.  it is a glimpse into your life, inside your mind.  it is permission.  to be a friend.  to be a compatriot.  to hope for something they might want to pursue or experience.  and that is both a responsibility on some levels, and a power.  if you want to sleep at night, make sure you keep the rest of your life as transparent as your myth.  that you connect with your true friends and family on all levels, good AND awful.  and that occasionally, you let the story tell the real story as well, so others can know a fuller, more real you.
5) ACCEPT “THE NEW PRIVACY”.  there are generations younger than me who get this.  there are generations older than me who deny this.  and there is my generation, somewhere between the internet and “snail mail”, between faxes and cell phones, between television and “content”, who is just grappling with it.  it comes down to this.  if you put yourself out there, you immediately are a public figure.  THIS IS A GOOD THING. yes, you may have people knowing things about you, or finding things you don’t want found out.  but that simply is the new order.  a sex tape makes a mogul these days.  not that you need that to succeed, but a keen understanding of the fact that there is a new code of conduct when it comes to privacy (nudity is second nature, personal relationships are openly discussed in gory detail, opinions are a free floating as they should be … only more powerful.   and louder.) entering the arena is the basic currency of having a creatively connected life.  just prepare for the give and take that it requires.
and finally, try to live without fear.  history in the end is something that we will not live in.  it is a tale that is told to people who are studying us, not living alongside us.  and in the end, the discussion is richer for your participation in your own story.
(see?  you made it all the way through.  good faithful readers.)

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