I am a very competitive person. Only play Scrabble with me if you really want to play. I do not abide by creative rules for word games. But I have learned to let competition go by in almost every other quarter of my life. It is just not worth measuring up or with or to any other standard than my own internal reckoning. If something feels right, then it is right, even the daring and exciting things–I have a barometer within me that says, "hell yes, go for it" even when something is scary.
It has not always been this way. I began my life as an actor. There are a limited number of roles in any play, often fewer for women, though that is beginning to change. But 30 years ago, you could count on one or two good roles for women in a play. Or you could be cast as a maid or a dancing girl. I have played those. In such an atmosphere, every detail counted towards the chance of me getting one of those coveted lead roles.
The competiveness of theatre wore me down. There was little joy in hardly ever being the chosen one. And the dynamics between the chosen and the not-chosen skewed good friends in to uncomfortable silences.
Behind every solid competitor is an even more solid hunger.
Olympic Gold, the lead role in a play, your mother's attention–we all want something. And measurement is the way we can tell if we get it. When I was cleaning in the kitchen, I found the height chart we kept taped to a doorjamb for years and years. My tall kids used to be not so tall. How can I tell? I measured them and wrote it down. No competition, just measuring.
But still, counting things up to answer the questions of enough-ness is dicey business.
Are there enough eggs? Have I captured your Queen? Did I cross the finish line first? How full is my savings account? Do I even have a savings account? Are there enough followers on this blog? Are there enough people in the seats? Do I have enough friends to people a party or should I tone it down to a picnic?
Between the personal and the professional, we are always measuring something.
For four years I produced an event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writer's called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. You can read all about it here. Invariably, in the week leading up to the event, I would begin to get emails and calls tinged with apology, telling me that some other event would prevent the sender from attending. My event did not measure up to their decision to be present. They sent a note, which was nice, but this avalanche (it always feels like an avalanche) caused me to feel so unsure of having an audience. I did not sell tickets of course; I wanted people to make a good will donation at the door. This meant I had no way of measuring ahead of time how many chairs to set up.
Then, my co-producer Lynette Najimy shared wise words by Anne Lamott, my she-ro. Anne said she used to worry over who would show up for her readings, especially since publishers pay great attention to numbers, (does she have the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, on her blog, they ask? Can she fill a room? These inquires can shrink confidence for any person looking to get paid for creative work today.) After years of doing readings in bookstores and concert halls, Anne concluded that always, always, always, even if it was three people and two dogs, the perfect people showed up, the people who were meant to hear her words.
This took me a little effort to accept. How would I pay for the photographer if only three perfect people filled the seats? How, if there were nine people in the audience, would the nine performers feel celebrated and heard?
How we lift each other up.
Well, it always worked out. I would cover my cost. We would have an audience; big audiences and things would rise from the offering. Out of the Mouths of Babes is an ongoing blog series on motherhood and creativity that has a current call for submissions here. I published one collection of that work and you can purchase it here. Many of the women who have contributed to the series are doing really important work in the world. My event helped lift them up. They helped lift the event up. We lift each other.
That is how the Future is Female works. That is how change will come. In this blog series, we stand for the worth of women's stories. And by doing so, in a grounded manner, we make the way possible for other women to tell their stories. We will undo centuries of silent women by accepting that change starts within our own lives.
That is why I work in Armenia with women in a very patriarchic society. You can read all about my project, called New Illuminations, here.
That is why I teach a free writing program at the Ramsdell Public Library which meets three Wednesdays a month from 6:30 to 8:00 PM. I am devoted to women having the tools necessary to tell their own stories. Will I measure up when it comes time to publish my manuscript? I almost don't care. Will helping other women tell their stories mean that more people will purchase my books or enroll in my classes or buy my products? I don't know.
What I do know, from experience, is that the perfect people do find my work.
And if you are one of them, please join my mailing list here. That way you will know when an opportunity comes knocking.
Thank you so much for reading this series.
Thanks to Crispina for inviting me to take part.
I am interested to see where we go from here.
With all my unmeasured love,