There’s a terror in doing something for the first time, of course.
Will I do well? Will I do it “right”? Will I even make it through to the end in one piece? Will they like me?
What is more terrifying, by far, is to do the next thing. Even if you do well. Especially if you happen to do it well.
There are no expectations the first time around; if there are, they’re served up with a healthy side of slack. Or an outright escape hatch. It was her first time; she didn’t know what she was doing. What’s your excuse the second time, though? Or the third, or the fourth?
Or do you just quit while you’re ahead?
The technical term for it is sophomore slump: the almost-inevitable let-down of the follow-up. After all, you have your whole life to make your first album, and 12 months to make the next. God help you if you break world records out of the gate, because what next? Do you break your own record? Do you jump into a new game?
I go through a minor version of this every time I write a post that goes over fairly well; after a series that goes well, my performance anxiety becomes almost crippling. And this is me, writing for (at most) a thousand or so souls. What is it like to be Stephen King? Or even Anne Lamott? No wonder Heather Armstrong feels like pulling down the shades and crawling under the table sometimes.
The deeper I get into doing any kind of “real” writing, the more I understand the need for a daily practice for anyone passionate about his work. You’ve got to keep the gears oiled, yes, but it’s also about not getting precious with your output. No, lightning may not strike twice in the same place, but were you doing it for that flash that lights up the sky and disappears just as quickly, or were you doing it because it was something in you that needed expressing, even better, was it something outside of you that needed to move through you to find expression in that moment, in that way.
My job, just like your job, just like everyone’s job, is to keep myself oiled and ready, flexible and light on my feet, in the best possible shape to let the spirit (or whatever) move freely through me. I’m only human, and just like the next gal, I get hung up on stats and kudos and other public endorsements of my fabulosity (which really isn’t mine at all). But that is frippery; it’s not a job.
Buddhists sit every day not to achieve a state of enlightenment or bliss, but because it is good practice to sit every day. The learning comes through the sitting, but the learning is also the sitting itself: the sitting down to practice, the discipline of doing it daily, the humility of seeing a string of days, stretching out into infinity.
Well, your idea of infinity; we’re all of us pretty damned finite, when you get down to it.
Before the nudges among you get all fired up, no, this does not mean I will be writing in here every day from now on. I am thinking, however, that it’s time to get much more disciplined about writing every day from now on. Finite time, limited resources.
Some days, I will hit the bullseye. Most days, I will most likely truck along, holding my own, doing fine.
What I pray for, or would, if I was a prayin’ woman, is the courage to fail gloriously.
Then? I’d know I was getting somewhere…