Where to begin with this?
Let’s start it as a typical Wednesday, up before the sun, in a good mood, crawling from the bed to the shower. I press, dress and even get to school 15 minutes early, even with traffic. Not bad for me! Walked into my first class at 8:15, even before Doc Fish arrived. Kudos to me for staying the course in my quest for punctuality and fighting my temporal challenges. As far as my first class goes, everything seemed to be going good, the lecture topic of “Globalization” in Global Media went well…then the 15 minute walk across campus to Personal Growth.
Getting near White Hall for class, I bump into a fellow student along the way, the chit-chat is cheerful and I’m just in the mode to get Personal Growth over with so that I can go on to the rest of the business of life as usual. I took my seat at 9:55, ready to roll.
Today in Personal Growth we covered “Awareness.” Ah yes, the wonderful topic of noticing things about yourself, the world around you AND how the world affects you and how you affect the world around you.
As we know, I’m very aware of everyone around me. I notice small details, I even notice mood changes or even down to the simplest little piece of body language from the people who pass my way. I do not lack in being aware of the people, noises, sights, sounds and so forth of the world around me. Heck, I’m even looking up and noticing the blue sky when I’m out in the world along with noticing the people. I’m ok there.
Now, here comes the hard part and the reason that I’m spending tuition money for my class. Yes, Doc Cat, for all of her unorthodox, seemingly uncaring style, she’s decided to pull out the big guns. I’m guessing she makes light of the class so that the students don’t actually realize that they’re going to have to actually work.
Doc Cat went through all different sorts of awareness building tools, how they’re put in psych-speak and so forth. We do a few awareness exercises: “Take a moment to notice everything around you,” then it was, “Close your eyes and notice what’s happening with your body. If you feel a tense muscle, make it tighter; if you have a sensation, make it stronger.” After an hour’s worth of lecturing, she stopped us and said, “Did you bring a lot of stuff with you today? Grab something and hold it up.” I grabbed my five-subject notebook and held it up. She said, “Keep holding it up.” She circled the lecture hall before saying, “Come on guys, keep holding it up!” At which one young man seated two rows in front of me was holding up his very sizable and very heavy looking book bag said, “I can’t.” She asked the class, “How does it feel? Your arm getting tired?” My response was one that yes, my arm was having a slight burning sensation in the muscle, but not too uncomfortable, so I just shrugged and said that holding it up wasn’t bothering me. She circled the room for another three minutes having us hold up whatever it was that we chose to hold up in the first place.
Students started to moan and groan. She egged a few more people on before saying, “You know it’s the hardest thing to get across to people what they’re not very aware of, we all carry things around inside of us that we would be much happier if we just put them down and let it go.” At that point, she let us put the things down that we were holding. She asked very bluntly, “Doesn’t it feel good to put it down?”
Tears started pooling in my eyes. It felt like someone had just shoved another stake through my chest, pinning me into the seat. I fought with everything I had not to just sit there and start blubbering my head off. Anyone who knows me will without a doubt understand why I was sitting there on the verge of wailing my head off. Even though I try not to and I thought I had put a lot of stuff down, the truth is, I carry around a lot. I carry around anger over my childhood, I carry around other people’s expectations, I can’t even begin to express everything I carry around, but sufficed to say, it’s a lot.
I sat in the chair, mortified to even move, knowing if I even budged, I’d start leaking from the face and become my own irrigation system. I took a few deep breaths, Doc Cat dismissed the class and I got the hell out of there so fast I must have left a vapor trail. I hate crying in front of people, especially if they don’t know what’s going on. I hate explaining how I feel when I’m weeping my fool head off.
Here’s the problem. I carry a lot of crap around, most of it I should have put down years ago, put simply, I don’t know how, and don’t sit there and tell me it’s as easy as putting down my notebook. I’ve tried meditation, I’ve tried mental exercises, I’ve tried everything and it’s DOG to put it all down and get over it and I still end up holding on to a lot of it.
As we know, I have a 33-year-old Teddy Bear. I’d rush into a burning building to save it. As I drove home from school, weeping my fool head off, I realized I hold onto all of my problems just like I do that silly stuffed animal because I don’t know what would happen to me if I put it all down.
My creativity stems from the fact that I have to keep my mind occupied or I will spiral out of control with my depression and anxiety. It’s a trick I learned a long time ago to keep myself from hurting. “If the mind is occupied, it doesn’t have time to hurt.” So, if I feel myself getting edgy, I occupy myself with something creative or highly mentally taxing. Some of my best ideas have come out of moments of complete and total soul-decimating circumstances. What would happen to that creativity if what it stems from goes away? I won’t lie, it’s a terrifying thought.
Case in point: Intro to IMC. I got my assignment, my two partners and myself have to come up with an ad campaign for a ready-to-eat cereal. You know that, I told you about it the other day…well, within 48 hours of getting the news of what my product was, I came up with three pages worth of ideas for cereal ads. I had Kung-Fu spoons running around, the beautiful little “Story of a Spoon” with it going from the foundry, to it proudly being purchased and carried home, to the disappointment of being placed in jar of baby food (to which it sighs and falls out of), into a garbage disposal (yes, shriek in terror “Oh SPOON!” when the garbage disposal gets turned on accidentally) then finally being placed into a bowl of the cereal, finally relaxing with a contented and relieved, “Ahhhhh.” (Yes, that’s a 30 second spot…) From there it was Spoon Spas and all sorts of other ideas, and they all went onto the pages of my notebook.
One of my partners, after seeing all of the ad ideas I had, (trust me, the list above are just some of the ideas I don’t mind letting go…there are some that I’m holding close to the chest) she looked at me and said, “When it comes to this stuff, you are a genius!” I looked at her and said, “Meh. I don’t think so. I’ll have 1000 great ideas but I know that each and every one of them can and will be shot down, so I always have another 1000 to replace them. Out of the thousands of ideas I’ll have, there will be only ONE that’s good enough.” That is the truth inside advertising, to hit the “sweet spot”, the odds are astronomical. When you’re a creative, you have no choice, you have to keep popping those ideas out. They have to be hashed out, tweaked, used as a doormat for your partners dirty tennis shoes, reworked, retooled, etc., ad nauseum. It always amazes me how much it takes to go from concept to finished product.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been consumed by the cereal ad. Luke Sullivan said something to the effect of, “If you can retool the marketing for the most mundane of products and execute well, you’re doing good.” So cereal has become my life. The local grocery store’s Berlin Wall of Boxes (a.k.a. the cereal aisle) has been looming over me in my dreams, desperately begging me to break it down…but I digress, point of the story is that instead of being screwed up by my depression and anxiety, I’ve had cereal instead. Feel me?
Now, here’s the hard part for me, what happens to me when I put all of the things I’m carrying down? I will say without a shadow of a doubt that it sucks to high heaven to carry all this crap around in my head. I’d love nothing more than to put it down, but at what cost? Here’s one we all know, “Which is better, the devil you know or the devil you don’t know?” It’s a risky proposition because I have no earthly clue what I would find if I put it all down. I’m afraid it’ll hurt and to be honest, I’m tired of hurting, so that’s not really an option I’m prepared to pursue because I’ve grown accustomed to what I have and what I live with on a daily basis.
Another hard part is that I don’t know who I would be without it. Would my creativity take a nose dive? Where would my inspiration come from? What would happen to the thousands of ideas I seem to spew (like a toppled fire hydrant), while everyone else struggles for even one idea? I’m driven relentlessly by my pain and my need to beat it back and prove that I can survive no matter the odds. It manifests itself in my unwillingness to be mediocre. It shows up in my lust for life because my passions allow me an escape mechanism. If I put down all the crap I’m carrying, would it all vanish? I guess what I’m asking is, who am I without all of it? I guess I’m kind of like Captain Kirk in Star Trek V. Remember that horrible piece of the franchise? It’s where Kirk looks at McCoy and says,
“Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”
Ok, so here’s where I over-analyze a bit and bring my addiction problem. Am I addicted to pain? Am I addicted to the hurts that were inflicted on me or hurts that I perceived or both? Am I holding onto them like I hold my 33-year-old Teddy Bear that comforts me in the dark?
Who am I without it? The answer to that question is what truly terrifies me. I’m so afraid I’ll look in the mirror and find that I’m not worthwhile and I have no nutritional value to share. I’m afraid I’ll find I have no substance and the people around me will find that it’s an “Ignore the woman behind the curtain” kind of thing.
What I’m finding is that I’m standing on the edge of KP’s proverbial bridge which looks remarkably like the one that Kathleen Turner was faced with in “Romancing the Stone.” The same bridge that Michael Douglas’ character looks at (the bridge that is decayed and beyond repair, covered in vines with rotting beams) and says, “That’s no bridge, that’s Pre-Columbian art.” Yeah…KP never said that sometimes you have to NAVIGATE the larger bridges. He made it sound so easy…now we’re finding that the larger bridges are somewhat harder to cross than the small ones.
And I’m sitting here, kleenex box at the ready, picturing the yoke and the heavy buckets that I’ve been carrying so long and desperately trying to figure out what I’m going to do with them. If some smart-ass comes along with the very Captain Obvious moment of “just put them down…” someone is losing their head. It’s a lot more work than that.
Oh and I’ll leave you with this. Today, I got the news that my high school band director, the man who labeled both my sister and I “walking tardies,” Mr. Wayne Tucker, died on January 14th. He was 68. For being a walking tardy, he only sent me to detention once…and that was for missing the band picture because I forgot parts of my uniform. Hats off to him because he was a major influence during my youth. Imagine the character of Mr. Holland in “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” That was Mr. Tucker all the way. I look at it like this, in my mind, he’s still alive and well, looking at me and saying, “Late again, huh?”
So, here’s today’s song of the day…Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”