“It’s like a hot coal inside my brain. And if I don’t get it out, I will go crazy.”
That’s how I described my obsession with certain projects, to a friend of mine recently. He had originally asked me how and why I write. What was the impetus? What was the reason? Why did I keep doing it? The hot coal analogy was the most accurate one I could come up with. And I think a lot of writers can probably relate.
I started writing poetry at around seven or eight. I’ve got some books of it, somewhere. Every other decade or so (when we clean out the storage room) I read back over my scribblings and wonder how and why my nine or ten or eleven-year-old self was so concerned about so many heavy things. But this – a writer – is who I was supposed to be.
I never said, “I want to be a writer.” I just always wrote. I never “decided” to do any of what I do. I just always did it. That’s what I always tell people who ask me how to start doing this or that. If you want to be a singer …sing. If you want to be an actor …act. If you want to be a writer …write. It has never been more complicated than that. The complication only comes when you start trying to turn those things into money and a living and a mortgage payment and so on.
But usually your gift (and everybody has one) shows itself throughout your life. Often, early on. The meaning of life, in my view, is to simply figure out what that gift is and act on it with all of your spiritual force. Sometimes, it’s about accepting your gift for what it is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I was a great athlete or wished I had wealth building skills. Being what I am is not all it’s cracked up to be. And now that I’m older, I can name several things I would rather have steered my younger self into rather than chasing down words and music.
But I keep getting ideas. So I keep running with them. And here’s why …
My grandmother recently passed away, at 92. But she was a huge influence on me and imprinted a lot of my early development. She told me several things I will never forget. But the main thing she always told me, that continually haunts me, was this: “if you are given an idea, you are also given the responsibility for that idea. It’s yours. And you are its care taker. YOU – not someone else – have to get it to the finish line.”
That thought spurs me on when I don’t feel like being spurred on. And, in a weird way, comforts me when I’m questioning myself. There are so many times when I think to myself, “surely someone else has thought about this or has had this idea.” But then I remember what my grandmother said and I don’t worry about that. I just continue on.
And there are also many times when some idea or project of mine doesn’t make any business sense. That happens A LOT. But my grandmother’s admonition still applies. And I press on. Because I always believe that if something is stirring me about a certain song or record or book or piece of art, then it will stir someone else. If it doesn’t stir me, it probably won’t stir you either. And so I lean into the the things that are burning me up inside …like that hot coal. And I feel responsible for them.
I recently finished my latest offering, One Silent Night. It’s a Christmas story that is full of songs and performances. And just as I was about to sing the last song and send it all off to my mixer, my studio computer failed and ultimately self-destructed. It was old and on its last legs for some time. Now, it is digital heaven somewhere, surrounded by angels of ones and zeros and streets of code. But it left me in a difficult situation.
A dear friend brought a computer over for me to finish on. But we had some issues with licenses of certain plug-ins and we had a headphone mystery we couldn’t solve, etc. These are all bugs that are usually worked out with time and attention. But Thanksgiving shut both of those concepts down. And I was bumping my head on a dead line. So, I sang the last song of the project – the TITLE cut, in fact – without being able to hear myself at all. I just took one “can” off and listened myself in the room, while listening to the piano track in one ear phone. And there was no vocal tuning plug-in available. So, I actually had to sing in tune (what a concept).
Honestly, it was one of the most difficult vocal performances of my life. But I remembered what my grandmother told me. And I pressed on. And I sang it until I got it right. And when it was all said and done …it’s one of my favorite performances. Because I had to focus on what I was doing and I couldn’t rely on fixes after the fact. It was old school. The way we used to make records when I was a kid. I also felt that I was being responsible to the idea I was given. I hope my grandmother was proud.
I hear people talk about things they would like to do, all the time. “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” is a common start to millions of conversations. But how many things actually get finished? How many ideas fall by the way side? How many life changers are gathering dust, in the bottom of a junk drawer?
The doing of something brings power to it. You learn things and discover things and re-work things based on your discoveries. You get somewhere. Whatever idea you’ve been thinking about doing, do it …now. Whatever action you’ve been planning on taking, take it …now. It’s yours. You are responsible to get it over the finish line.
It’s going to be harder than you think and more frustrating than you can imagine. It’s going to require more of you than you want to give. It might cause you to make some new friends and lose some old ones. It might cost more money than was budgeted. It might cost more time than you can spare. But it will get you closer to who you’re supposed to actually be. It might take you to the edge of yourself. But it’s yours to curate and cultivate.
I love the movie The Natural. Mainly because it’s not about baseball. It’s about a man being who he was born to be …if for only one moment. Through all of his missteps and mistakes and meanderings, he finally comes back to himself and his purpose. And in one, last, righteous act, he’s able to use his thunderous bat to rain down sparks and thunderbolts of justice upon the corrupt. He reverses fortunes and curses and sets the world right …by being his true self.
If you keep pressing on and following that little voice – the one telling you you’re on the right path, you never know where it might lead. If the time is right and the stage is set and everything is looking like it’s about to fall apart, you might just step into the pitch and swing …and shoot out the lights.