WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

Originally published on December 2, 2002

What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

(Hint: It’s not blond hair.)

I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house. But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.

In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day. I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.

He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret….

I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go? “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.” Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.

My friend was astounded. He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….” He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’ I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too. So how did you turn it around?”

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually. I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.

Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices. I said I stopped listening to them.

It came about through a long, slow process. It wasn’t any one thing.

It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time. It was the birth of my oldest child. It was a workshop I took. It was trying to spiritually accommodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago. It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year. It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)

We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too. When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.

Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger. I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic. When we still hear that little voice, we may panic. Dang! It’s still there! Where did I go wrong??

One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power. You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–”You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!”

Then I get up and do it anyway.

Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice. I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices. I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out. I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them. But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go. They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.

So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common? In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act. And she answers

“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up. You get the cold feet. You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this? I don’t have to do this.’ It is something I confront at the beginning of everything. I have to start out with nothing each time.”

KB: And reinvent the wheel.

MS: “And reinvent the wheel. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard….”

There you have it. The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record. She’s actually won two Oscars. Her work ethic is legendary.

And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!

I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?

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17 Comments

Filed under art, courage, craft, fear of failing, mental attitude, perseverence

17 responses to “WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

  1. Jenny

    Thank you so much for this post this morning, it brought tears to my eyes. This sentence hit me really hard (in a good way): “…I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out. I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them. But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go. They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.” I have copied it and printed it out to paste on my wall (hope that’s okay :) )
    Blessings to you!

  2. Wow. You always know how to smack me upside the head with exactly what I need to hear. How do you do that? I have been listening to the voices lately. I had a little breakdown the other day and sat there sobbing. Then I picked myself up and walked over to my work table and just.kept.going. I am a big believer in power mantras and phrases of positivity. I am working on a line of jewelry right now that puts that to use. And having fun with new materials. And dang it, I like what I am doing. If no one else does, then so be it. Thank you for writing so eloquently what is all wrapped up in my head.
    Enjoy the day!
    Erin

    • As always, Erin, you got it, and you state it beautifully.
      I think I “know” what you’re going through because it’s what we ALL go through. We’re at the same point in our cycle. :^)

      Can’t wait to see where your new ideas will take you!

  3. Every single person in this entire world feels this way. Everyone. It is hardwired into us. Best-selling author, Steven Pressfield has written the best book I’ve ever read about this. In it he says “The thing that the little voice is trying to dissuade you from doing is in fact the very thing that you have to do, in fact you must do”. To not do it will hurt you and your dissatisfaction in not doing it will manifest in some unwanted negative behavior.
    His book is called “The War of Art” and it has profoundly changed my life. I highly recommend it to everyone.

  4. In the movie A Beautiful Mind – one of the things that stayed with me was that even though the main character (Russell Crowe) continued to see his demons (in the form of Ed Harris), he had to walk on by. He still saw them, but he couldn’t let himself interact with them, and that was the beginning of his healing.

  5. Perfect Luann, this was just what I needed today. My little voices, the ones I can normally ignore, were shouting especially loudly today. You have reminded me to stop listening … and I feel much better already.

  6. Now if only we could do that with tinnitus, we could conquer the world! :^D

    • I have tinitus 100% of the time and my hearing is crappy, but I don’t listen to the tinitus or the little voices! I always figured that those ‘voices’ are part of the “other” opinions that I dont give the power to affect me what they think. The epithet for my Dad is” he always did exactly want he wanted to” Though I might not take it that far in consideration of others; I refuse to hold myself back or downgrade the contributions I have wrought. I am enjoying your blog very much!

  7. Luann, this is the only comment I’ve ever made on anyone’s blog…
    Wow.
    That’s it. (c:

  8. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! To you Luann, for your courage to expose those deep dark secrets, I have them too…everyday…and to Meryl Streep for hers!! I needed the reminder in a big way; I’m struggling to break through another glass ceiling. I’d be interested in a list of the books you read that were helpful. Have you read Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit? I get a lot out of her straight forward, no bones approach.

  9. Fiona, I just purchased a copy of “The War of Art” & am enjoying it immensely.

    Laura, YES, I loved TT’s book. So much so that when I got to the part where she says, “Now go do your art”, I put the book down and went to the studio! In fact, I think I blogged about that…. So stay tuned, it may show up on the weekend posts. :^)

    All of these books tell us the same good thing–that we just have to do the work. My point is, being human, we have to revisit this over and over again. I “get it”, do the work, get bogged down in life, forget, don’t do the work, get the message again, do the work, etc.

    That’s why this message is just as powerful as when I wrote it eight years ago! And why I’m glad I get to reread it again today.

    Everyone–go to your studio and make stuff! :^)

    • Luann – I am so glad you bought the book. I would be so interested in your opinion of it when you have finished it. You are so right we have to revisit this often. I have The War of Art as an audio book and I actually listen to it once a month – the Resistance is just too powerful and it’s so easy to give in to it, so it’s a good thing for me to listen to it often!

      Seth Godin talks a lot about the Resistance in his book Linchpin – he got the idea from Steven Pressfield and has expanded on it.

      Now I must go and be a PRO!

  10. Charity

    Luann, you are so . . . just . . . I don’t have the words! How is it that something you wrote eight years ago can feel like a personal letter to me from a friend who’s known me since birth? I’m catching up on my email and I had four or five of your posts nestled in among the craft store coupon emails and fwds from friends. I saved your posts for last, and it’s like (cliche alert) opening a window into my soul every time! As corny as that sounds, it’s really true — I see so much of myself and my own struggles in your posts.

    I visited The Artist’s Way website you mentioned and got lost there for a while, and I’m starting to feel a little glimmer of hope that the creative funk I’ve been stuck in with my writing is something I could actually ACT to cure. I’m terrified and excited because I’m starting to feel like there might actually be something I can DO about it — some way to ignore those evil little voices and run my own life instead of allowing them to do it for me. The habit of listening is so ingrained, and I’m too old, it’s too late, it’s not worth it because I’ll never make it, and I’ve missed my chance anyway, blah blah blah… Stupid inner critic!! I love the idea of personifying that inner critic, of being able to visualize it, and learning to ignore it, to not take what it says as fact — I definitely need to get that book! The Artist’s Way, I mean. Then I can start on the other recommendations here. :)

    Anyway, thank you. For being you. For sharing. Thanks.

  11. Charity, now I’M the one with no words! :^D
    I’m so glad this post is helping you work through that inner critic to create your own unique art. The more I do this, the more I believe that simply knowing what we’re going through is NORMAL–and WORKABLE–the better the chance we get our artwork out into the world.
    You are not alone. I am not alone. Together, we can get there.

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