Monday, September 26, 2011

MY PLEA TO ALL ARTISTS: GIVE THEM THE FORM (Largely Inspired by George James)

In addition to being a poet, novelist, and editor/proofreader, I’m a motivational speaker. Last Friday night, after attending The Definitive Soapbox open-mic venue in Long Beach, I was encouraging some of my colleagues about the responsibility of being an artist. It started off with one person in particular. I had asked him how the demo CD I had encouraged him to put out by the end of this year, was coming along. He admitted that it wasn’t going too well, and that he was having a difficult time getting the things done needed to produce the CD. He mentioned that there were aspects of the project that only needed “one more thing” done before they were complete, but he just couldn’t seem to conquer those last things. I chuckled, because I recognized what was going on with him. I’d seen it countless times and also experienced it myself—and I still do at times. I then informed him of his “backwards” fear of success. This is not about fearing NOT becoming successful, as in, “I don’t think I can make it happen”; it’s fearing the responsibility that comes when you do. You see, once you decide to give your gift to the world, things change. Right now, I’m talking about everyone who provides a service or product for the public, not just artists. The moment you invite the world to partake in, enjoy, be inspired by, and benefit from your gift, or life mission (I’ll discuss that terminology in a bit), you have now opened yourself all the way up to be sought after, talked about, investigated, criticized, and most of all…NEEDED. Being “needed” is a huge responsibility. I put the word in quotes because technically, if one is tapped into his/her highest power within, or that which he/she calls his/her highest power (God, Spirit, Source, etc.), it is not that often that one truly needs anything from anyone. Of course, we often need things from people in order to keep our lives running smoothly. If your roof caves in, and you don’t know how to fix it, well…you need some help, and you’d better call someone who can. You get my point. But the kind of need I’m speaking of is more on a spiritual level, and in reference to this, I wanna get back to the artist.

In my career guide You Are What You Say You Are: Claiming Your Life’s Mission & Living Your Dream, there is a chapter called “Life Mission: The True Definition.” In it, I discuss the difference between a life mission and a hobby. One passage states: But the entire idea of a life mission is for you to find something you enjoy and that benefits you spiritually and financially, but that also continuously affects and benefits the lives of others in a positive way. In short, your life’s mission is not all about you. It’s about adding to the well-being and happiness of others’ lives on a regular basis through your heartfelt efforts. Understand that if you’re immersed in something that you and only you will benefit from, that’s not a life mission, that’s a hobby. Hobbies are things we do for fun, relaxation, or leisure. This means the intention is not to share it with others; it’s just for us. That is the crucial difference between the two. One is for us to give to ourselves, and the other is for us to give to everyone. Dentists don’t become dentists so they can drill on their own teeth; they do it so they can help us maintain ours. Singers don’t put out CDs so they can sit at home and listen to their own music day in and day out; they do it for our entertainment and enjoyment. And they certainly don’t have concerts and go on tour for themselves; it’s all for us. The same goes for actors, plumbers, exterminators, teachers, chauffeurs, hair stylists, and so on. They [hopefully] do it because they enjoy it, but they’re also doing it so we can benefit from it in the end, not just them.

I mentioned being needed earlier. When you allow the public to experience your gift, people latch on to you and your art; they get attached to what you’re offering. In whatever way they have come to benefit from you and your work, people’s tendency is to want more of it, on a regular basis, because you’ve touched their lives in a special way. They literally come to think and feel that they need your gift. If what you do helps them through hard times, makes them smile, laugh, cry tears of joy, and overall effects positive change in their lives—in ways that they have not yet found to provide for themselves—then rest assured, they will be seeking you out for more and more and more of your gift, your energy, your time. They will wait with baited breath for your next installment of works, so they can dive in with the anticipation that you will once again move their spirit, help them grow, rock their world. I know this to be true because I’ve done it too many times to count with artists. I’ve been attached. I’ve impatiently waited for more. I’ve cried from being uplifted by their work. I’ve even been mildly upset when I can’t get what I “need” from them because it’s not available. (Don’t lie; you know you have too!) With this in mind, if you’re not ready to give of yourself fully as an artist, this can seem daunting and burdensome. This is why so many people have, even without their conscious knowing, this backwards fear of success. Deep down, they know what will happen if they really give their all: If they’re received well, people will expect them to continue to produce. And sometimes we as artists wonder: Will I always be able to give the public what they want? What if I can’t? What then?

Case in point: I have two novels, One Man’s Treasure, and the sequel, And They’ll Come Home. Both novels have been received very well. After the first one, I had not intended to do a sequel; I had another novel I was looking at working on. But although I had anticipated OMT to do well, something unexpected happened: people assumed there would be a sequel, and they started asking me when it was coming out. I was a bit confused…and thrown off…because I honestly thought that I had wrapped everything up nice and tight by the end of the book, and readers would be happy with what they had gotten. Not so. Yes, they were happy—so happy that they wanted more; and to my chagrin, I had no more, at least not where those characters were concerned. I told the first lot of people that I was sorry, but there would be no sequel. I had no more story to tell about Weston and Katrice. But just as I told the group standing outside the venue on Friday night: “You can’t give people beautiful work and not expect them to want more,” I saw clear evidence of that statement. Readers continued to ask me about the release of the sequel, as if I had already begun writing it. To be honest, I started getting a little annoyed that people wouldn’t “leave me alone” about a damn sequel. LOL! I just didn’t understand what else they expected to get from me. Then, fortunately, a brilliant answer was given to me from Angela Brown, an avid reader whom I had met at one of my book signings, whom I’d invited to call me when she was done with OMT to let me know what she thought. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but the first thing she said to me when she got me on the phone was, “Let’s talk about the sequel.” I laughed and shook my head, then told her, like I had told dozens of others, that there wouldn’t be one. And I meant what I said…that is…until she told me exactly why there should be one. And she did so in great detail. For two hours we discussed the sequel, and by the time we got off the phone, I was super excited about getting it done. And get it done, I did. It turned out to be the most exhilarating project I’ve ever done (to date); and I’m truly grateful that Angela took the time to explain to me what the other readers didn’t, so that I could give all of them what they wanted. Here’s the thing though. The sequel turned out so well that now there’s a third novel in production. But that project is moving really slow. I think I only have about two chapters written; and although I fully intend to get it written, I just don’t know when I will…because my backwards fear of success has crept up on me…a little bit. I say a little because part of the reason the book is not finished is that I’m still toiling over some of the plot and characters. Another reason is that I’m also focused on my poetry & motivational speaking; and to be honest, right now, they’re top priority for me, for several reasons. The hidden reason, though, is that I see how serious this artistry thing really is. I have now stepped into the shoes of all the artists I’ve latched on to in the past, wanting, craving, waiting for their work. Now it’s me. And now it’s a little scary. I’m being looked upon to produce something [else] for a large part of the world. Something that’s still not complete. Something that I have to make time to do, and make sure I do it well, better than the other two books, if I can. Something that people want from me now, when I’m focused on a different part of my career at the moment. The responsibility of choosing to share my gift with the world has kicked in full force. It’s sobering. But I appreciate every bit of support I’ve garnered since I began my career with words, and I will continue to give of myself, as long as the public asks me to, and as long as it resonates with me to do it.

And so…back to the venue on Friday night. The discussion turned to artists putting out product. Now, I’m about to make a bold statement, here. In my opinion, a lot of you artists out there are not as serious as you think you are or as you claim to be about fully sharing yourselves & your gifts with the world. You’re still slaving away at a 9-5 that has nothing to do with your true passion, allowing someone else to profit off your time and energy, not letting go of that job because you fear the unknown about your real career. My suggestion is that if you really intend to dedicate yourself to your life’s mission, you might wanna work on getting out of that situation, even temporarily, so you can put all your energy into what’s really important to you. I can speak on it because I’ve left the corporate world twice in my quest to do what I love. The first time, I just straight resigned; the second time, I literally prayed to be relieved of my position so I could get back to doing my mission. I got relieved. And I was fully supported financially both times. But in addition, not only do many of you not have product for the public, you don’t even have business cards, web sites, video footage, or even a blog. These things are important if you really wanna present yourself as an artist for the public. Otherwise, you might wanna ask yourself if what you’re doing is a hobby. Know that if you do decide to only do your art as a hobby, that’s totally fine. But if you know in your heart that you want people to partake in what you do, then it’s time that you kick fear in the ass, send it on its way, and start really putting yourself out there.

One of the last nuggets I left the group with, in regards to putting out product, particularly those who are dealing with the backwards fear of success, was to give the people what they’re asking you for, even if you just give them a little bit. In other words, give them something tangible that they can enjoy, take with them, touch, look at, watch, read, listen to, whatever. Just give them the form, even a small one. You don’t have to do everything at once, or even give anything huge right now. But if people are asking you to share your work in more than just a live setting, where they can’t take what you did home with them, and you’re serious about giving your gift, then find a way to give them the form. These people respect your work enough to ask you for it and wanna purchase it. Out of appreciation for that alone, the least you can do is fulfill their request. Then, while they’re busy and content with that, you can go figure out how and when you’re gonna get the rest of the forms in their entirety, out there to them.

Lastly, to bring home the importance of giving a form (and the real reason I’m writing this blog post), when I got home from the venue, I got a text from one of the members of my long-running spoken word showcase, Urban Legends, telling me that one of our cast mates, George James, aka Depth Perception, had died days earlier in a motorcycle accident. I was, and still am, crushed and very disturbed about this news. I won’t go into why his death bothers me so deeply (that’s a whole other blog post), but what I will say is this: 23-year-old George James left his work in tangible form, for all of his fans and supporters. I’m not sure how many forms he left, but the one that I do know of is video. George has a number of his performances recorded and uploaded to the YouTube site. You can find him at There, those who know and love him can always turn to his videos when they want to experience his extraordinary gift. And for those who never got to meet him, now you can, as he has left himself behind, in form, for the world to enjoy and learn from. That is what a true, dedicated artist for the masses, does. His unexpected death is evidence of why it’s crucial to be diligent about getting your work out there. You have no idea when your time will come. When it does, the question is/will be: What form have you left behind for those who know and love you, and who support and respect your gift?

Rest in beautiful peace, George James, aka Depth Perception. You lived fully, you loved hard, and you did the damn thing with your art. Thank you for sharing your life with us through your magnificent gift.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Emotional Turmoil, Part One: Self-Preservation

Don’t let us motivational speakers fool you, not for one minute. We’re not superheroes; we’re human. That being said, you should know that we actually do have challenges in our lives. Everything is not smooth every day. Occurrences are happening all the time, some of them very uncomfortable; but we have a job to do, and that is to encourage all of you. A good portion of the time, that encouragement takes place in person, sometimes on the phone. And while it is not our job to put on airs and pretend to be perfect, what’s important is that when we are in front of you, you don’t see our world falling apart, so to speak. Job = professionalism (at least it should), and having a meltdown on stage, in the middle of a workshop or in-person encouragement session, or over the phone, does not qualify as professional. Yes, a good and honest motivational speaker should be using his or her own personal examples of how he or she overcame XYZ obstacles; without personal stories and victories, people would be less than inclined to take our advice. But freaking out in front of people we’re supposed to be encouraging, when an occurrence is fresh and in motion, is generally the last thing we want to have happen. There have been several times that I was on the mic, pre- or mid-meltdown, and pulled out every bit of my professionalism to get my job done without incident, and then was relieved to be able to let my guard down in the car on the way home.

My motivational-speaking subject is self-love and self-reflection. I’m a constant work in progress, checking myself daily, whether I want to or not, trying to make sure that I’m treating myself right and putting my situations in the proper perspective. It’s not easy all the time. In fact, sometimes I find myself wanting to send myself to my own room because I’ve fallen off the self-love/reflection meter a bit. But then I remember that I’m human, and it’s okay, as long as I make sure to pick myself up, dust myself off really well, and get back on the meter—as high as possible—as soon as I can. More importantly, I remember that in order for me to be an effective motivator, I have to work through my own occurrences successfully so that I can be ready to encourage people who are in the same situation. Part of being a well-rounded speaker in your realm is to have an array of experiences with which to use as encouragement fodder. The subject of self-love is probably the biggest and most important subject there is, because contrary to popular belief, you can’t really lead a successful life without it.

Last night, I found myself dealing with a recurrent occurrence, and in my moment of oversensitivity, I allowed it to break me down. I mean way down…swimming-in-tears down. Now, I’m no crybaby, but I am a firm believer in a good cry every now and then; for me, it helps alleviate a certain amount of stress. And I have them sometimes. But boy, when I do, they are very serious, probably because I don’t do it that often. I’ve gotten pretty good at “sucking it up” during times when I know I just really need to calm down and refocus my energies. Then, there are the times when my system overloads; I’ve sucked up one too many frustrating, hurtful, or disappointing moments, and the dam bursts heavily. And I let it flow. At that point, I know there’s no need in trying to run from what’s happening. The important thing is what I do after it’s over. This is where the self-love comes in, and where the fodder enters the picture.

I know from countless firsthand experiences that wallowing is the absolute worst move you can make after a breakdown. It does nothing but crush all your self-esteem and exacerbate any feelings of hopelessness you may already have. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve allowed myself to “lie down and die,” thinking that if I could just go to sleep for a while, I could get away from the pain, maybe dream up a great solution in the process of my wallow-nap. No such luck. I would wake up just as depressed or even more, realizing that the problem had not packed up and bounced while I snored and drooled for 3 or 4 hours. Not only was the problem still there, but I also I felt crappy about myself on a really deep level for some reason, every single time. I was never sure what that was about, but I soon learned.

Many years ago, in one of the countless self-help books that I’ve read (I apologize that I can’t name it right now), I came across the idea that instead of allowing ourselves to curl up in a ball and wither away at the hands of our problems, the first thing we should do is show ourselves some kind of love. The moments right after a breakdown are so crucial. They’re the precursor for either our overall victory or failure in the situation. Once the tears and tantrum end, it’s what we do next that will make or break us. I can tell you that as an ex-first-class wallower, that will break you. Going to sleep, getting drunk or high, going out and beating someone up to “let off some steam,” or doing anything other than turning your attention to yourself in a loving, caring way, will always lead you to a shoddier place emotionally. The reason is that you have completely abandoned yourself at your worst time. Going to sleep right after a breakdown may not seem like a bad idea, and it’s actually not bad. I mean, sleep is necessary, and it’s not destructive like the other options, right? No, but what it is, is an easy way to avoid looking at your life and dealing with your pain; and in times of crisis, that is the first thing we should do if we want to bring the issue to a close as soon as possible: deal with it—no drugs, alcohol, violence, or convenient escape mechanisms.

You know how when a friend calls you up in a panic and wants you to help them with a problem? You usually do it without hesitation, because you care about that person. You take time out to focus on their issue, show them that you care, dig in and come up with some encouraging words, find a [hopefully healthy] way to make them feel better, if you can. That’s the same thing we should be doing with ourselves in our own time of need. You don’t skip out on your friends when they’re down, so why would you do that to yourself? In times of emotional turmoil, the best counteraction is to find a way to do something loving for yourself, to take care of your life. Typically, after a meltdown, the first thing we forego is our “normal routine.” For example, maybe the dishes won’t get done; the laundry won’t get folded; your teeth may not get brushed and flossed that night; you may skip your exercise routine; if you’re in school, you might not get that homework done; maybe you’ll postpone that prayer session you had planned; or you had cooking a healthy 3-course meal on your agenda, but now you’ll just opt for some greasy fast food. Whatever it is that we normally do when we’re okay, those things are usually the first to go by the wayside when we’re distraught. It’s just too much. We’re too broken down. We’ll do it later, after we ruminate for 18 more hours on the issue at hand. The reality is, it’s how you care for yourself in moments of crisis that show how deep your love for yourself really is. After a breakdown is precisely the time to put extra focus on taking care of your life, even in the smallest way. I don’t care if you just go take out the trash, clip your fingernails, dust the shelves, or go walk around the block once; do any healthy thing that you know will make you feel better or feel good about yourself, even relax you. Any move you can make towards showing yourself that you care about yourself, and even your immediate surroundings, is a great start. You may not think it’s worth much at the time, but I can’t stress enough how showing yourself love and care when you feel bad will boost your self-esteem, and, dare I say, allow you to feel a glimmer of hope about getting through your situation. I can’t begin to explain how it works; it just does. Being your own friend and motivator first, changes things; it gives you incredible strength and resilience. It says, “I love myself enough to not let myself sink into the abyss of hell.” It helps preserve your sanity.

After my hissy fit, of course, I wanted to crawl under my bed and stay there for a week. But I knew better. Since it was nighttime, and there were things I needed to take care of before bed, I knew that those needed to be my first love-myself moves. After calming down and drying my eyes, I sat for a bit, tooling around on the Internet. I was still hurting, which is normal, but I wasn’t about to let myself fall off the meter. So, I got up, went and washed my face and brushed my teeth; then, once that was done and I started feeling better about myself, I got busy washing my dinner dishes in the sink, straightening up my couch area in the living room, and tidying up in the bedroom. These things are not major…when all is right in my world. When all is not, I want no part of the routine. I just wanna scrap everything and mope. But once again, by pushing myself to tend to my well-being, I saw the amazing results of caring for myself when it was hardest to do. My spirits rose; I began to have hope that the situation would get better soon (while in tantrum mode, I had pretty much lost all hope); and the best thing that happened was that I got the idea for this blog post, which instantly excited me because all that hoopla did was lead me right back to doing what I love: writing and motivating. Fodder. Boom. Case closed.

So here I am, at 4:23 a.m., eyes puffy and tired, but happily doing my job. Does my issue still exist? Yep. Do I wanna lie down and die over it? Nope. So guess what, people? I WIN. I loved myself through yet another trying moment, and that’s what it’s all about. Remember: wallowing is reactive; self-care is proactive.

Now…I can go to sleep.

From my book Building Faith and Character Through Life Challenges. For more info and to order, click here.

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