WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

This is the very first blog post I wrote, on Sunday, December 1, 2002.
And it’s still true today. Except Walt is gone now, may his gentle heart and fevered brain rest in peace.  And if it gives YOUR fevered brain a little peace today, well, that’s good, too!

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 accomodate 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’thave 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.  And that 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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7 thoughts on “WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

  1. I just wanted to thank you, Luann, and let you know that your posts, especially the Haters Gonna Hate series on Fine Art America, are finding their way into my heart and mind and giving me the courage to take ownership of my identity as an artist, a voice and a piece of me that has been stifled – by others and by myself – for over 4 decades. Thank you for helping me to confront those defeatist and self-defeating influences. It’s a slow, rocky road, but the progress is in a forward sense. And Happy Birthday.

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    • Paula, you may not know how much your comment moved me today. I received some blow-back for that series, criticism, some well-intentioned, some simply mean-spirited. I wrote an article about some of those people proving my point–something I said angered them deeply, and so they reached out to smack me down. FASO staff were reluctant to publish that column, and I so I agreed (reluctantly) to set it aside. (Look for it here on my blog sometime in the future.)
      Your comments remind me the power of speaking our truth, and creating the work of our hearts. YOU have restored ME today! THAT is the beauty of what art does in the world, all forms of art. When we speak OUR truth, it encourages others to do it, too. THANK YOU for writing today, I am so grateful!

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  2. Hi Luanna,

    Happy belated birthday wishes to you! Thank you for your inspirational thoughts and insights.

    Over the last couple of years I’ve followed your blog. You have an amazing way of capturing nuggets of truth relating to creative people. Similar to you we have moved a couple of hundred miles away from where we were and although there are many opportunities we still have the little voices beavering away inside us telling “us how stupid we are, you can’t do it, go back to where you came from, why would anybody want to buy our art, you aren’t good enough to teach.”
    Thank you for putting our fears into words. Its reassuring to know that it is not just us but even successful people like Meryl Streep have similar thoughts.

    The important thing is to follow your purpose, you dream and aim for the stars and ignore those little demons sitting on your shoulders telling you why you can’t do something. Just create better and harder. I wish you well.

    Thank you,
    Mark

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    • Why, thank you, Mark, for letting me know!
      Sometimes I feel sorry for that little demon. I think it’s a sad creature that wants to “help” by treating everything as a real problem to be solved.
      Years ago, I was walking with a friend and complaining about a series of unfortunate events in my life. When I stopped for air, she said in a rich, emotive voice, “There, there, Eeyore!”
      I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. And that story still makes ME chuckle, every time I think of it.
      Perhaps I should rename my lizard brain/monkey mind “Eeyore”….? :^D

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