Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beating Yourself With a Feather

A lot of times I get letters from young people or people who have seen my work that want my esteemed advice. I don't know why on Earth they would want that garbage. My twenties have been spent in dingy basements, dating ex cons, and then there was that fugitive. I am hardly the wealth of good decisions. Okay, but at least my stories are colorful. But those are for a different day. That being said everyone wants advice on writing and how to do it if they can't focus, or how to make videos or how to pursue comedy or follow the dream and you name it.

Artists especially are easily frustrated. In an industry where one must get used to rejection and poverty, there are very few spots at the top starring in motion pictures and living in Posh Beverly Hills Pads. As a result everyone is just racing like a bunch of rats for the same cheese and is in a hurry to get it. But with every piece of cheese comes a glue trap. It's the pressure to succeed, to be at the top. It's the pressure to be recognized. It's the pressure to create worthwhile work. It's the pressure to be a good artist. It is the pressure to be happy.

I remember being a young comedian in the city and just felt overwhelmed. I was grabbing for my star and it looked like it was crashing down on my head. Being daring and unique I showed a lot of promise right away. I got on television without even trying it seemed. People paid me money. I was in a pilot. I was going to be a superstar. Putting my hands under my pits like Mary Katherine Gallagher I was ready to go.

But then it didnt happen. My TV appearance yielded nothing. As for the pilot, it didnt get picked up. I had a falling out with one booker, and then the market popped making people put on less live events. I had no money and felt extremely depressed. I had gone from the top of the world to rock bottom. I felt worthless and nothing in my life was sticking. When did I become a loser? And then someone gave me the best advice. They told me I was hard on myself and I wanted to rush things before I was ready. And then they told me the truth. I had a long way to go as a comedian and a person before I could be ready. Then they said something that stuck with me, "Be gentle with yourself. Beat yourself with a feather instead of a hammer."

I slowly began to change my whole outlook. Each set became a learning experience. With every tank there was not a pity party at the bar or bakery but rather an evaluation of why it didn't work and what I could do differently. And when I killed it, it was what worked and what could be improved upon, because the job was never done and one could never rest on their laurels. In addition, it was writing a book. Where instead of expecting the Great American Novel on the first draft I let the first draft be sloppy and then rewrite after rewrite I improved it, and at certain points even put it away. For my vidoes, I didnt expect to be a youtube sensation right away. Rather I saw what stuck and what didnt. As for criticism, I didnt take that so personally but rather took what I needed and left the rest.

Now I am at the same juncture I was when I was twenty four. I have been on TV several times. I have a project I am pitching. I have a book and projects based off of that. People tell me I am "taking off." While it scares me that it might evaporate again, I dont think it will this time. It is because this time I am ready for it. Success is one of those things you are ready for. It is like a ham in the oven, you don't want it before it's ready to eat.

In my travels I have seen people get success out of the gate. More often than not it is not long lasting. They don't know how to do the work to sustain it and they cannot handle it. The people who are successful for the longest are the people who have the foot work behind it and as a result can keep going. The crazy thing is, all the people I used to compare myself to back in the day and I used to envy because they seemingly took off with no work are no longer around. Bottom line, you are ready when you are ready.

The past two years I have been incredibly blessed to work with a lot of talented people. When I do I don't psych myself out by telling myself I will never be as good. Rather I see what I can learn from them. There are a great many things you can learn around people who are good. And if you beat yourself with a feather you can soak in that knowledge. Also, if you beat yourself with a feather, it is easier to accept when someone is extraordinary and not to get intimidated.

Chris Rock tells a story where he was fresh off of SNL and working in Chicago and was used to the openers sucking. Well a guy named Martin Lawrence got up and killed, and for once in Chris Rock's life he had to work to follow someone. Bottom line, a feather beating helps you with moments like that. Installing humility but being able to still do the job. Yes, while you can be good there is always someone beyond awesome. Translated, always work hard, keep your head down, and be on your game.

A feather beating can also help you deal with haters. Yes, haters come with this career. Beating yourself with a hammer is feeding into their nonsense trolling. A feather tells you to take them with a grain of salt and thank them for watching.

So what I tell everyone is in your process take your time. When you are meant to be ready you will be. Beat yourself with a feather, not with a hammer.

I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl
Available as a Kindle and Nook ebook
Portion of proceeds go to RAINN

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