February 20, 2012

Insight. Powerful Powerful Insight

Some people like "How To" books. They buy "How to be a better ____" books over and over again when to me they so often repeat the same information or contradict one another. Sometimes they read like the person read the other book and decided to do his best "this isn't really plagiarism" impersonation. Needless to say, I had a few bad experiences with such books early on and have for the most part given up on them. (I follow Donald Maass on Twitter, where he posts insightful tweets to make a person a better author, which I find to be an adequate middle ground.)

Then there are magicians. I never wanted to be a magician, but who doesn't love a good magic trick? I grew up during Penn and Teller's rise to fame, which means I hit the tail end of quality magic. More popular magicians who got on TV for not eating were stupid and ruined the profession for people with genuine talent. Give me Ricky Jay any day of the week rather than some asshole in tight pants dancing around a stage hyping up something that doesn't offer a beginning much less an ending.

So, with my curmudgeonly devotion to older magic, I've never heard of Brian Brushwood. I only know of him now because someone linked me to his blog on Google+. On his blog, he's posted a letter exchange with Teller (yes, the one that doesn't talk; that doesn't mean he can't write).

I offer you the entire post because the context makes Teller's words all the more powerful. His closing paragraphs are what got me. His talk about being something other than a magician. Over the years I've often met people who were truly gifted at something other than writing who so badly wanted to be a writer. It reminded me of how much I wanted to be a soldier when I'm very clearly not built for soldiering. Sometimes, when I'm down and worried that I won't ever cut it at being a writer (even though I've been writing longer than I've done anything else), I think, maybe I'm better at something else. Maybe I'm not supposed to be a writer. I'm supposed to be a ______, and I'm wasting all these years writing novels when I should be _____ing.

But Teller should have been something other than a magician, and it's that something that makes him so great at what he does. For the first time ever, that lingering insecurity feels like a blazing torch, I'm carrying to my own professional olympics. Holy shit, I should have been a _______ which is why I'm going to be such a great writer!!!

Thank you, Teller, for your wisdom. And thank you, Brian, for sharing.



    I am still digesting everything Teller said, but man that really spoke to me.

  2. This has started a Rocky-esque training montage in my head where my self-confidence is running around Philadelphia and punching onlookers in the face.

    That happened in Rocky the Director's Cut, for all you purists who don't remember Stallone punching that old guy that was trying to cross the street. Suck it, gramps. He's going to fight Apollo Creed!

  3. That didn't actually happen in the director's cut. I lied just then.

  4. Thanks, Joe, for sharing Teller's letter to his bastard son Brian. Excellent stuff. And it rings true: I wanted to be a computer animator, in part, for the story-telling. Without that outlet, however, it was back to the drawing board for me. Only, instead of drawing, I decided to write.

  5. I've wanted to be so many things other than writer that lead me down many dead-end paths. Sometimes when I'm frustrated with not being the next amazing, oh my god his work is so amazing, writer, that deep rooted fear creeps up to the surface. I wonder if it's just another dead-end path and I am fooling myself yet again. Math was always my strongest subject and there are meteorological theories that are currently dismissed that I sometimes want to throw myself into because I think they're true (global dynamic weather patterns and forecasting based on transglobal events--supposedly not possible because of air currents crossing the oceans). The problem with that is twofold:

    A) Nothing about my education has dealt with meteorology since my freshman year in high school.

    B) Bad things happen to me psychologically when I don't write. Nightmares, mood swings, and so on.

    I have often said that it's a person's own doubts that present the largest speed bump to success. So I trust that being a writer rather than a weatherman is the right choice for me and that I'm just on the wrong side of the speed bump.

  6. Wait, what do you mean you WANTED to be a computer animator. I thought that's what you did. I remember watching your senior project you posted to your blog.

  7. Well, yes, I made that one computer animation. But I expected it would be my career. For me, doing a thing once isn't enough to make me comfortable taking on a title, even if others might think of me as such.