The rosy-cheeked child came bounding out of her bedroom with a piece of paper clutched in her happy little hand. It was the title page of her very first illustrated story, “The Buny Egg” (spelling lessons would come later).
The child exploded with glee, eager to share her creation with the big people in the living room.
“When I grow up, I’m gonna be an artist and writer,” she beamed, holding up the paper for all to see.
“That’s wonderful, honey,” said one of the big people. “But what are you going to do for money?”
Thus ended my writing and art career – before it even began.
From that moment forward, it was ingrained in my brain that writing and art were things you did for fun, not money. That meant things you did for money must be non-fun.
The idea merrily escalated in my head over the years. The things you did for fun will never make you money. The things you do for fun aren’t worth any money.
Don’t tell anyone you’re a writer or artist. They’ll know you don’t make money.
The things you do for money must contain no hint of creativity. All money-making jobs must be boring, tedious and involve restocking a salad bar with garbanzo beans.
The more tortuous your job, the more money you’ll make. Based on the string of jobs I took, I was destined to become a millionaire.
Gas station attendant. Movie theater ticket booth seller. Pet store worker specializing in bird perch scraping. Lovebirds bite. Hard.
My tortuous-job bottom came after grad school while working in a Madison Avenue life insurance firm. The pay was good. My boss was great. My coworkers were friendly and cool.
But the work itself involved filling out forms and dealing with the dress code memo someone left on my desk every Monday.
I knew if I stayed, my creative soul would wither and die (albeit with a pretty good chunk of savings in the bank). But even worse, I’d never be able to wear flip-flops to work again.
So I answered an ad for a “storyteller” for a rural New Mexico newspaper. My first assignment was covering the annual prairie chicken festival in Milnesand. I had arrived!
I’ve been writing (and making art) for a living ever since.
Whew. It was tough, but I did it. Broke out from under the years’ worth of self-sabotaging stories I had told myself, stories perpetuated by a single question from a big person when I was a kid.
It just shows us the power of words, and stories. And how one little phrase from a big person can make a little person go work in a gas station or ticket booth ad infinitum. Or at least until their soul begins to scream that it needs to unleash its creativity – while wearing their favorite pair of flip-flops.
Hey Creatives: Have the stories in your own head ever blocked you from doing what you loved? How did you rise above? Love to hear about it for possible inclusion in a future column: [email protected].