Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Password Question

When my children were small, my mother discouraged me from over-correcting their behavior, explaining: “the world will knock them down soon enough.” She encouraged me to be the one who picked them up. She was right.

Two of my children, schooled and equipped, are ready to be who they are. One is a musician and the other is a journalist. Both are passionate about what they do. Both have started to put themselves out there, meeting the world at its front door. As my mother promised, each has been knocked to the mat more than once. Because I understand what they're after, and what they're in for, I cheer them.  Rejection is passion’s bully, and artists – the most sensitive among us, who love nothing more than art-ing –experience rejection so personally, it often drives our passion underground.

I can talk about this.

Whether it’s me submitting a novel, or a twenty-something in an audition or interview, it’s tough to discover that passion alone won’t open doors because on the other side, stands rejection with its cynical smirk and world-weary gaze, its chewed up cigar and too-small baseball cap, asking a “secret” password question that must be answered correctly before it will step aside. It is a question others will be happy to answer for you, especially those who love-you-and-just-want-you-to-be-happy but only you know:

"Can you?"

And then, rejection, hands on hips, foot tapping, waits for the answer, which is hopefully not “I think so,” but:

“I have to.”

And rejection says, “Alright, close enough,” hands you a starter kit of fortitude, confidence and perseverance and then takes its big and foul self off to bother someone else which is likely me because rejection has its own parking space at my house.

It’s not for babies.

But, as my children can attest, the thing about passion is that there is no choice but to pursue it. Passion doesn’t die like good ideas do. You can’t dial it down, it’s not like changing majors, and it can’t be brought back to the store and exchanged for something more comfortable, like a hobby. Even if it doesn’t blow up into a career, passion must be honored. If it is not honored, it will turn into the voice of a nasally, whiney child and go to live in your head where it will pick fights with your good intentions and push all your hopes off their little chairs. 

So, before this becomes the re-blog of You Already Said That, I’ll end with this: Inside everyone, is a story. Inside everyone, is music. It is expected that we’ll be nice to animals, respect the elderly, smile at children, be productive at work, watch our weight, and use less make-up as we age. But it is a gift to the world we live in to share what the heart and mind have partnered to create. If you're an artist, even if you've closed more than a few wounds yourself, don’t keep it to yourself. Bang on the door. Eventually, rejection will be annoyed enough to open it and here's what will happen:

It really, really will.
It has to.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Apologies 101

This morning, I realized with a tiny stomach ache that December, the month I heart-venti,  is already half-over.  I don’t just heart December because it means holidays, and having children home, and eating crumb cake for no reason.  I like that December is a blank-inside card;  a month of being selfless and charitable, of “opening our shut up hearts to our fellow man.” It’s the time to say and do the things we would have over the past eleven months if we’d made the time or seized the moment. Relationship tune-up month, December is. 

So, while I turn on the lights and hang up my Serious coat here in the long-neglected blog of “Really? I knew that too but didn’t either!” I’ll share something relationship-y which I recently brought back to my own attention. 

Every so often, while my children were growing up we’d have a quiet stretch – in heavy traffic, walking through a mall, waiting for the appetizer – when they’d ask me my opinion.  When this happens in conversation with an older teenager, we parents-of-older-teenagers know there is a tiny window of opportunity to hold the floor before something more interesting happens. 

Once, after we discussed what color boots she should buy, my daughter asked what I thought it was that made relationships work. 

This one was easy.

Respect, affection and tenderness for starters, I told her.

“Okay, and…” said her face. 

“And, always, always be ready to say two things,” I said.

“I love you?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“And, I love you?”
“No. And, I forgive you.”

The super glue of relationships, these two little words.  Yet for all the power they  wield, even reasonable people, even people who know they’re in the wrong, even people who say “love you” at the end of every phonecall with a child or spouse, even people who need more than anything to be forgiven, choke on:

“I’m sorry, please forgive me.” 

People know when they’re wrong.  People regret things all the time that they will try to reconcile or make right or hope will be forgotten in time rather than apologize. I wonder, what it is we think we’re keeping by withholding an apology that is more important than the relationship we could be saving?  Why is it such an expensive thing to say: 

“I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

Or, the close second which is trickier because after we say it, we must shut up and listen: “Tell me how I hurt you.”

A genuine “I’m sorry,” should not be confused with the faux-apology:  “I’m sorry if I upset you,” which is only another way of saying, “I’m sorry you’re too much of a jerk to reason with.” Or the even less expensive, “I’m sorry if you’re upset,” which is just a waste of time. 

I have encountered two situations this month that involved the “I’m Sorry” aversion.  In one, I was the sorry party.  In the other, I wasn’t.   But with a seriously ill parent in my December life right now, I’ve become too aware of the opportunities in every day relationships to choose pride over love, and righteousness over intimacy.  My experience has shown me that the things we give up with an apology only shrink as we tighten our grip on them.  In the case where I was wrong, it took days, but I said so.  In the days since, I’ve gained something I still can’t find the word for but it’s making me sleep better and enjoy crumb cake more.

Life is short.  If you’re wrong, apologize. And if you’re on the other end of an apology, forgive.

But you already knew that.