Last week I posted a slide from my Pecha Kucha speech. I posted it because I can’t not quote it. That’s the state of my world and my ego: I quote myself and I do so on a daily basis, because this thing I’ve said needs to be said. Over and over again.
And so I say it over and over again. Over and over again I tell people – my clients, folks in the bank line-up, my children, hapless event-attendees (1,500 of them!), and now you – that the conditions for creativity will never be ideal. And that’s why that point made it into a speech slide and a blog post. (And many a lecture, solicited or not.)
And please trust and believe I’ve learned this by walking – and resting – on the hot coals of inaction and artistic non-production for oh, eight-to-ten years.
Excuse me while I kiss the sky. And the ground. And anything else that will show my gratitude that I’m not there any more.
(Need a kiss? C’mere lover boy.)
Because all those not-ideal conditions are life. And if you let life be an excuse for not living life, then you’re going to watch a lot of television but you’re not going to do much else. And I’ve got stuff to do. And you do too.
And so does Kate Harding, who leveraged a successful blog into a popular book (Lessons from the Fatosphere, with Marianne Kirby) and is now a political commentator at Salon. And in my piece last week I linked to her essay, The Fantasy of Being Thin. Reading that essay was a long sigh of yesssssssssssss for me. You don’t have to be fat or even not-thin to appreciate it. In it, she writes:
Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.” See also:
- When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
- When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
- When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
- When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
- When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
- When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.
….To someone fully wrapped up in The Fantasy of Being Thin, that doesn’t just mean, “All the best evidence suggests you will be fat for the rest of your life, but that’s really not a terrible thing.” It means, “You will NEVER be the person you want to be! All the evidence suggests you will never find a satisfying relationship or get a promotion or make more friends or feel confident trying new things!”
….Because I didn’t just have to accept the size of my thighs; I had to accept who I am, rather than continuing to wait until I magically became the person I’d always imagined being. Ouch.
That is, of course, a pretty normal part of getting older. You start to realize that yeah, this actually is it, and although you can still try enough new things to keep anyone busy for two lifetimes, you’re pretty much stuck with a basic context. There are skills, experiences, and material things you will almost certainly never have, period. It’s a challenge for all of us to understand that accepting this fact of life does not necessarily mean cutting off options or giving up dreams, but simply — as in the proverbial story about the creation of the David — chipping away all that is not you.
…Accepting my fat really wasn’t the hard part. Accepting my personality — and my many limitations that have jack shit to do with my thighs — was. But oddly enough, once I started to do that, my life became about a zillion times more satisfying. I found the right guy, I took up yoga, I started taking my writing more seriously, I stopped apologizing for taking vacations in the U.S. and Canada instead of somewhere more exotic, etc. And lo and behold, things got a lot more fun around here.
The Fantasy of Being Thin is about waiting for ideal conditions. And the conditions for creativity will never be ideal, dammit.
And, of course, it is a fantasy about being thin.
Let me tell you about Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha is the weird viral event that no one really owns but that takes place in many cities across the world. Organizers in each city invite a handful of people – creatives, cultural influencers, artists – to speak about their work and what inspires them. Each speech consists of 20 images that display for 20 seconds.
In Vancouver, where I live, Pecha Kucha is wildly successful. There’s an event every month and it almost always sells out. This is quite a feat, because the Vogue theatre, where Pecha Kucha is held, holds 1,500 people.
And at the end of last year, thanks to the generous and flattering recommendation of Danielle LaPorte, I was invited to speak at Pecha Kucha. I was honoured. I was flattered. I was terrified. I wasn’t thin enough to stand on stage in front of 1,500 people.
So I didn’t respond. For days. Until the understandably frustrated but still gracious organizer sent me a crisp ‘are you in or out’ message.
I said yes but I almost said no.
What stopped me from saying yes right away, as I should have? That persistent, perditious fantasy of being thin makes me believe I should wait to make public appearances until I am skinny.
What stopped me from saying no?
Imagine if Oprah turned down her talk show until she was thin. She would have spent twenty years waiting for her career to begin instead of working on that career and becoming truly excellent at what she does.
I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to wait to create. I’m not going to let my fear of some uninvited body commentary stop me from growing and glowing. I’m going to – and I did – accept my fears as legitimate and then do what I need to do. Instead of fighting my fear, saying it is unreasonable, and then fighting with myself because I’m such a flawed, fearful creature, I love and accept my fear. And here’s the thing: in the society we live in, weight commentary is the norm rather than the exception, even for people within the range of “acceptable” body shapes (which I am not). So my fear was reasonable. What’s not reasonable is waiting to be acceptable to other people to be acceptable to myself. So I accepted my fear and I wrote an incredible speech and I practiced it in the bathtub, in the car, in bed. Because, as Danielle LaPorte writes, preparation is love. Because I knew that even if someone says something awful, there are other people in that audience who need to hear me and who will be lit up by what I have to say.
And there were and they rewarded me with whoops and cheers. It was incredible. I was incredible. I could feel the floor through my five inch heels. I was one with that stage.
And, at the after-party, there was some uninvited body commentary. It went like this:
Well-meaning and strangely charming dude with beer in-hand: You know, I get what you said about cleavage being the space between, and that’s literally what it means, but when you were up there explaining your definition of cleavage, did you ever wonder if maybe people were just staring at your breasts?
Me: I certainly hoped so.
I’m all about making room for your fear. Accepting it and acting in concert with it. Fear-loving, not fear-busting.
And I’ve written a (free) chapter about fear-loving. It has 39 pages + 5 exercises. You can download it here and I’ll be delighted if you do.