High Beams, Heckling & No Tidy Takeaway

Painting by Pandi

Painting by Pandi

All my life I’ve been goofy, loud, and throwing myself into risky creative endeavors without a whole lot of planning. I’m like, “Let’s put on a show!

This has led to me writing a bunch of books and creating a ton of stuff – and it has led to a ton of embarrassing failures. Like the 6th grade talent show. I did an Edith Ann (a Lily Tomlin character from the 1970’s) impression. I worshiped Lily Tomlin when I was little.

There I was, my underweight plucky self, dressed like Edith Ann, sitting in a slightly over-sized rocking chair, doing a passable job of Lily Tomlin’s high-pitched pseudo kid voice.

Only one problem. You could see my erect nipples through my white shirt. I was terrified. Clearly.

About halfway through the routine, someone yelled, “Girl’s got high beams.” Someone else called out, “I see high beams! I see high beams!” I’ve blocked out the rest  – did I finish or run off the stage? Did my teacher comfort me? Did I tell my parents? (I bet not; I knew even then to hide my discomfort.) All I remember, clearly enough to make me feel sick to my stomach right now, is hot shame.

Heckled for high beams in front of the whole school. And I barely had breasts!

***

I have lots of stories like this – stories of me trying something creatively stretchy and things Not. Going. So. Well. A lot of the time. Wrong more than right.

So? That’s what it means to be creative, right?

Of course, face plants are a fact of life unless you never risk anything. But lingering malignant creative shame is not.

Turns out, I didn’t know that. Not until the last year or so. I thought that a sense of impending doom was part of every creative person’s daily experience. I thought every artist, writer, business person – okay, everybody! – was certain they were about to be humiliated. Big time.

I also increased my creative shame with my own stories that, because creating is hard for me, I really shouldn’t be doing it. I secretly wondered if my college friend was right when she said, “You shouldn’t be a writer; it’s too hard for you.” I was usually overcome with envy when a friend told me how easy it was for her to write or paint or teach.

Here is where I bring in a pithy lesson, maybe 7 ways to overcome creative shame. Only I’m not because, when getting to this part when I started trying to come up pithy take-aways, I realized that’s another way I collude with my creative shame.

I believe(d) I have (had) to earn the right to express myself by delivering market value. That self-expression, story, and connection is not valuable enough in its own right. That if I don’t give you value, I shouldn’t be allowed to create.

That makes me weep warm salty tears because far more than those kids back in the Port Salerno Elementary School heckling my tiny high beams, my story that I have to give value, serve!, do good, make it worth your while, too often kept me away from what I most deeply desire: to create deeply, truly, wildly, and share it freely with you.

But hey, I just did.

May creative freedom reign. For us all.

Love,

Jen

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Tricia Bath - October 8, 2014

I LOVE THIS POST! And the compassion, empathy and wisdom that is threaded through it. I’m sure I’m not alone when I express that this is the place I’ve been living in for a long time with my creativity, especially my writing. So thank you for putting words to it, and sharing your beautiful awesome self with us. Hugs!

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    jenlouden - October 8, 2014

    thanks friend, I so appreciate that!!

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Jennifer Hofmann - October 8, 2014

YES! Yes to all of it! Thank you so much for sharing this story, Jen.

And drat on whoever thought up commenting on bodies as if they’re a reflection of our worth. No one remembers the shoe-thower’s name. Risking, showing up, putting it all out there is where it’s at. That’s what people remember.

Yay for showing up despite the fear and reminding us we can do it too – and overcome!

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    jenlouden - October 10, 2014

    hey Jennifer, thank you!

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Hilary LeRoy-Gauthier - October 8, 2014

Love, love, love this post. Thank you for not being tidy and for creating wildly, deeply and modeling vulnerability like so few do. I am inspired.

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    jenlouden - October 10, 2014

    thank you so much Hilary.

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Kendalle Cobb - October 8, 2014

Jen, the connection and sharing are true gifts and are priceless. Thank you for trusting that your truths are worth sharing. So often, they resonate and help me achieve some clarity. Thank you.

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    jenlouden - October 10, 2014

    ta dear one.

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Sue - October 8, 2014

YAY!!!! NO PITHY! NO PITHY! AWESOME

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    jenlouden - October 10, 2014

    no pithy – maybe a tattoo for me!

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sara - October 10, 2014

This story really hurts, and I am sorry you lived such meanness. I have seen this word, the beam thing, but did not know what it was, only that it felt creepy. Amazing really that even tiny children look at surfaces, and avoid souls. I did not know the college writing slander! Easy! What arrogance! So sorry that fell on you!!! If I said that, I can only hope I was drunk! Yet all these mean, ignorant, attempts to subjugate, instead kindled your spirit. Somewhere on the way searching for this place to respond, I found your note about 5 books fast, then lots of years, and hello! Go back and read your website as a reminder when you don’t feel that each class is a book! A living book! And how much more energy and mental control it takes to appear and teach! You have more command in the moment than I can muster in weeks, or months!

The pith, maybe, is the way we try to hang onto the moment of crystalization, when days or weeks or years of trying come together. But for me, the only hope of hanging onto it, is to write it, long, detailed, in the moment. Who is the poet who said you must get up at 3 am or whenever the words come? Like your savory post, full of sadness, taking anyone who reads it onto that stage with you. And none of us will forget!

Love, me, slo

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    jenlouden - October 12, 2014

    thanks sLO!

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      jenlouden - October 12, 2014

      it wasn’t you, it was Nicole D.

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        sara - October 14, 2014

        Why do we believe words we KNOW are not true, from unreliable sources?!?! Because we feel (felt in that moment) need for approval, however absurd, if we’d been able to jump into logic-land. Or better, if we could see in the painful moment our pain, and as you now know so well and TEACH so well, hug our self, comfort ourself, and whether out loud or to ourself say, “Geesh what a casbah!” And laugh instead of hurting! (Sorry for the verbosity, but I didn’t think I should write mean things! I’m sure people say mean things in total ignorance all the time! Our job is to learn/teach how to see this instead of believing.)

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KJ Sassypants - October 10, 2014

Oh Dear God, you didn’t sell us anything, not even pithiness. You realized you didn’t have to. We’re showing up and just experiencing your creativity, and loving it.

I honestly did not realize I was sitting on a volcano of this until I read this post. I love serving people, but I am SO TIRED of being told that EVERYTHING – every post, every class, every session, apparently every stroke of the toothbrush – has to be concluded with pithiness. Tell them why this is relevant! Tell them how this will help them solve their problems! Tell them why they should care!

I feel like a dancing bear, terrified that if I stop waving my paws the right way there will be no more food.

I know why we do that stuff, and how important it is, and that it’s effective. But damn. When “self-expression, story, and connection is not valuable enough in its own right”, we have definitely gone off the rails.

Is it because we are not squarely in the world of “art”, where people do get support for “just because I thought it was cool and it’s OK if you don’t agree?” Is there something about the world of serving people that means that creativity must be a slave to value? I know what you describe applies to so many of us in this world (and in many others) and I’m curious why…

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    jenlouden - October 12, 2014

    your comment means the world to me, thank you KJ!! I think I will write my next post to answer your question!

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      KJ Sassypants - November 9, 2014

      Wow, Jen. I just saw this and I’m kind of blown away. OK, not kind of. Must remember to sign into Disqus more often so I don’t miss gorgeous conversations! I will be very keen to follow how you unfold this, and thank you. Again and again.

      Reply
    jenlouden - October 20, 2014

    I wrote a newsletter to the TeachNow list about this. Do you subscirbe there? If not i can send it to you.

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      Heather Koshiol - October 21, 2014

      Jen, thank you for sending your response to this discussion to TeachNow and for sharing ALL of this. My work is all about discovering and honoring my truth and helping others discover theirs … and yet I feel like I can’t get people to see (or, heaven forbid, *participate in*) what I have to offer them (for themselves!) without jumping through hoops and waving my arms, etc. Whew. I will be pondering these thoughts and ideas for a while … especially as I plan my 2015 offerings. Cheers!

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        jenlouden - November 2, 2014

        thanks Heather!

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      KJ Sassypants - November 9, 2014

      Jen, I’m not on that list but fixing that now. 🙂 Would be so grateful if you would send me the newsletter – this was a galvanizing piece for me and I want more!

      Reply
        jenlouden - November 10, 2014

        Casey will get it to you! 🙂

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Cristy Coates - October 13, 2014

Brilliant, Jen. Brilliant. Thank you xx

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    Jennifer - October 13, 2014

    hey thanks!

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    jenlouden - November 2, 2014

    belated thank you Cristy.

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Alida Zweidler-McKay - October 17, 2014

I love that you are telling this story and giving us the space to take away the lessons we will take from it — co-creating the experience instead of waiting for you to do all the work to come up with the pithy next steps. Feels beautifully aligned with your messages about teaching and not doing all of the work for your students.

What I’m taking away is permission – to start something creative without feeling like it isn’t good enough or finished enough or doesn’t count till it’s wrapped up with a tidy bow. Thank you!

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An Open Letter to All Teachers - October 23, 2014

[…] few weeks ago I wrote a post about my history around creative shame and a wonderful reader named KJ left this […]

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Nicole Wolf - October 23, 2014

Thank you Jen! I loved this post and the followup An Open Letter to All Teachers. Just what I needed to hear.

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    jenlouden - November 2, 2014

    thanks Nicole, I appreciate the love. 🙂

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Kate - November 1, 2014

thank you! and I loved the teachnow post as well. (thanks for being the impetus KJ) I was also a huge Edith Ann fan. 🙂

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    jenlouden - November 2, 2014

    I might have to find her on YouTube!

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    KJ Sassypants - November 9, 2014

    Most welcome, Kate – I feel foolishly late to the party but still really looking forward to seeing that followup!

    Reply
High Beams, Heckling & No Tidy Takeaway - Eusophi - February 10, 2016

[…] Originally published at JenniferLouden.com […]

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