By TRACEY MICHAE’L LEWIS-GIGGETTS
I have a short film, called The Reunion, in post-production right now and I’m scared.
There. I said it.
I’m scared that I will write films and no one will like them. Scared that there is some awful mistake halfway through this project that will make people turn up their noses or talk about how terrible I am. I’m even more scared that my work is technically perfect but no one is moved by the story. No one will care enough about the characters. No one will get it.
What if no one loves it? And consequently, what if no one loves me?
On the other hand, what if everyone loves it?! What if I’m so overwhelmed by the love that I’m unable to do anything else? What if my other roles as mom or wife or friend or human being who needs to sleep some days will become just a blip on the horizon of my ambition? What if everyone loves my work but hates me?
There’s a thread here, I see.
As writers, we tell stories. Some of us illuminate the lives of real people in real circumstances with real issues. Others of us spend hours with fictional characters getting to know them, unveiling their truths, discovering their motivations. All of that is wonderful when our stories stay on the page. But things turn real nasty, real fast when we aim our storytelling gifts at ourselves. See, there are the stories we tell and there are the stories we tell ourselves. And these two things are very different.
Way too often and way too easily, creatives can find themselves inventing false or incomplete narratives about our own lives, our possibilities, our dreams. We make up stories about how good we are or aren’t. We make up stories about what people might be saying about us or what they might be doing to us. For me, the thread in both of my “fear scenarios” above is that I’m prone to create narratives where my self-worth is inextricably linked to my performance.
And yes, intellectually, I know it is not.
I mean, isn’t this what I tell my little girl all the time? I go the extra mile to make sure she is aware of her inherent worth. But here’s what I know for sure: lessons to our children are caught faster than they are taught. I can scream her worth until I’m blue in the face but she will likely only believe what she sees. And sometimes what she sees is a mother who is so wrapped up in how others perceive her work that it affects how she perceives herself. A mother whose tendency to give one too many damns gets in the way of her ability to give herself room to breathe and learn and grow.
These stories, these made up narratives about who we are or how we are seen can be detrimental to our mental health. Those voices in our head love spinning awful tales and alternative facts about what all might be coming down the road. And these tales will sink us if we let them. These stories will also take up all the space we need in our minds and hearts to actually do the creative work we are ultimately trying to accomplish.
Real talk though: some of these stories are born from the truth. We remember that time when were under time constraints and maybe what we turned in to the editor or the fellowship or the festival wasn’t our best work. We really aren’t the best at work/life balance so it’s certainly possible that something amazing happening to us at a particular moment in time will create tons of added stress. But these truths are simply part of the journey; they are what we encounter as we navigate life and uncover what it means to be a creator plus human. But the problem comes when we make the gigantic leap between these very specific, sometimes isolated bumps in the road to our being a complete and utter failure with no chance of redemption.
What we forget, I think, when we make up these stories, when we feed the negative internal dialogue, is that these stories—even with their elements of truth—are incomplete. They don’t consider the other factors that determine where we land; how our work and our person is received in the world. In my faith tradition, I could refer to the principle of sowing and reaping, a concept that other folks simply call karma. Paulo Coelho in his book, The Alchemist, refers to the universe conspiring to help us find our personal legend. The Quakers at my daughter’s elementary school talk about acknowledging the spark of divine in all of us. My Pentecostal peeps say the Holy Ghost is moooooooving on our behalf.There's a chapter in these stories we tell ourselves about ourselves that can’t be written by us. Click To Tweet
However you see it, there is a chapter in these stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves that can’t be written by us directly. We certainly have influence based on the work we are willing to put in to be better people and better creators. But that thing I’m talking about is similar to the thing that makes you cry at the movies or when you read a book—seemingly for no reason. It’s that thing that is the catalyst for a million online essays when the collective consciousness is triggered and provoked to discourse. It’s that thing that lies just beneath your insecurities and a bit deeper then your uncertainty. I don’t have a name for it. I just know that when it shows up, it takes precedence over any negative story I can tell myself about myself. So yes, today, as I’m learning how to tell stories in this new (to me) medium called film, I’m a little scared. And maybe tomorrow, I won’t be. And then maybe the next day, I’ll be super-confident. And then next week, maybe I’ll be back to my fetal position in the corner of my office. Lol. None of that matters as long as I understand that these little narratives I’m prone to tell about what’s true about me and my work and what isn’t, are in submission to the greater Story of my life. And at the end of that tale, everything works out for my good.
I hope. 😉
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Tracey Lewis-Giggetts, a former columnist for MyBrownBaby, currently has a crowd-funding campaign for her short film project, The Reunion. Please consider donating toward her project and helping her “change the narrative” in her head about the creative work she is doing. No gift is too small. Click here for the link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-reunion-a-short-film-a-philly-film-project – /
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.