The audacity of a creative life

Today is the last day of my academic career, and the first day of my new creative life. I’m staring into the unknown, a dark cave….no, an ocean horizon. Yes. That’s a more positive image. And it gives me the feeling of possibility that I had in my twenties, except with less fear and self-doubt. Instead, there is a somewhat surprising calm and self-assuredness accompanying me on this leap that I’ve perhaps never had before — as a neurotic, anxiety-attack prone, overly analytical person. I hit the mirror of 40 in which my reflection told me a few basic truths:

(1) No one is going to give me approval, or permission, or assurances. That’s up to me. I have no one to answer to but myself, I am surprised to find all of a sudden.

(2) The worst that could happen is that I could fail after trying really hard, except that no. The worst that could happen is failing by not trying at all, as in making no attempt due to fear (see number 3). Both area failures.

(3) So fear. It’s an interesting thing, fear. What do we fear? Death. Insects. Rejection. Mortification. What is the worst outcome? If I think about it, failing to achieve my goals would actually result in a scenario that does not really warrant fear. I would not die, be bathed in insects. People wont stand around to laugh at me. And I will surely face rejection along the way, but I’ve been rejected before. What was his name?

As I sit in the library of the university where I have been an Assistant Professor for the past six years, I feel sure. It’s time to move on. My little university on the beautiful central California coast has been wonderful, and I will miss my students most of all. But after ten years, the path of research and teaching has run its course. For now.

Here’s the audacious part. I’ve resigned in order to pursue a creative life. To stage my play. To finish my novel. To perform with my theater company. To make films. To devote myself full time to writing and telling stories.

It might seem that these are quite varied pursuits, and that I’m spreading myself thin. To that I would say that there is no rule that says you can’t have varied pursuits, or that you can’t have multiple careers, or multiple partners, or change your sexuality or gender as your life goes on. We change every day, and what was right for us once, may not be right for us anymore. As Artie Wu would say, you have to live your bliss. I credit him with gaining the inner calm and courage to do this, by the way.

Having a sense of a path, and putting structure into your work life is important, but rules are about fear. This is what I tell my students. I would also say that all of the things I love to do — writing, performing, filmmaking — are about storytelling. As Mira Nair said in an interview on KQEDs Forum this morning, “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will.”

As I am writing this (while listening to some chaotic Charles Mingus) I just got an email telling me that I got into Theater Bay Area’s ATLAS Program for Playwrights and Generative Artists. The universe is clearly telling me that I made the right choice. Good juju. Stay tuned!

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