When I let my friends know I'd be blogging again, I asked for questions that I could use as writing prompts throughout the winter. A few friends indulged me, and while I'm excited to answer each of them, I've been turning one particular question over in my brain all week:
My friend Lisa asked, "How do you muster the gumption to just DO these amazing, huge things? Where do you find the courage and the energy?"
Thank you for the question Lisa! Here I go!
To start, the words "amazing" and "huge" are pretty intimidating, and also "things" as plural. How many huge things have I done? Are my projects really so impressive? I'm not famous. I'm still *pretty* poor. What is the outside appeal to my choices? And if they DO stand out, then yes, how and why have I done them? What are my motivations? Am I broken? Am I odd?
Introspection is a seductive thing. It goes further and deeper than self-awareness, and while it can feel revelatory and enriching at first, if a person lingers in it for too long, it can easily mutate into blind self-absorption and prohibitive narcissism. I've often thought there should be a "Bechdel test" for narcissism, measuring how many times an artist or writer uses the words "me", "my", and "I" in their work. Obviously, the first-person point of view is valuable throughout art and literature, and there are some perspectives we absolutely need to hear, but again, I think there's a line between telling your own story and exalting it. I've made a lot of autobiographical work in the past, and most of what I wrote in my 20s was cringe-worthy. In fact, almost everything I look back on now, I wince at. This is normal, right? Pretty much every declaration I've ever made, or every point I've ever posted confidently and passionately, I now look back on and go "weeell... I mean...". And I honestly don't think that's a bad thing. If anything, I'm learning to slow my ideological roll a tad, become a bit more tolerant of views outside my bubble, and get a better grasp on why other people are the way they are. I hope that's what's happening, anyway. Maybe I just give less fucks, which I hear comes with age. I'll take it.
So while I'm genuinely puzzling over why and how I do what I do, I'm also hesitant to dissect it too conclusively. I can take some guesses, but all told I don't know if it'll be especially helpful to anyone else. I started making a list of what I've done over the past 20 years, but it gave me memory vertigo. So as a quick sum up, I've:
- Baked professionally, ran a small cake business for a while
- Been married a couple times
- Had a visual art practice and wrote critically about art
- Had two great kids
- Performed as a comedian for about 5 years
- Built a career in non-profit communications and marketing
- Co-founded a safer-spaces initiative, gave activism a go
- Bought a farm, turned it into a business
I will fully acknowledge that ditching my city life and spontaneously buying a remote acreage to build a market-scale cut flower farm was a pretty epic jump. Countless business plans, securing loans, growing as many dang flowers as I could in the first year, running workshops, writing a book... and it all worked. If I'm being honest, I still don't know how I did it. I was well supported, and still am. Maybe that's really what it came down to. It's winter now, and after life hit my family in the face like a phone book glued to a baseball bat (more on that another time), I've been forced to slow down. I'm tired. I'm demotivated. All I want to do is eat and write. I'm trusting this downtime is what I need, and when it's done I'll carry on as I always have; with the gumption, courage and energy others claim I possess. Which means I'll need to find it all again. So we're back to Lisa's question: where do I find it?
I have a lot of time with my thoughts these days, and I think I've landed on some core mapping that explains why I'm able to spring back, adapt, and leap without too much lag time in between.
Growing up (oh, here we go), my dad was a Greek-Egyptian immigrant who lived with severe mental imbalances that prevented us from having any sort of stability, financial or otherwise. We moved at least every two years; different cities, provinces, whatever. As a result of this, I'm very good at letting go. But not too good. Like, I'm not a sociopath (pretty sure). I try my best, but when it comes time to move on, it's never been difficult. As I've aged, had kids, experienced deep love, I've learned how to attach to others in a long term sense, but in terms of my own creations or projects, nothing is precious. I'm still kinda programmed to wonder what's next.
My dad was muscular, intelligent, and handsome, but he was transfixed on the idea of being famous. The American Dream™ was his poison, and he believed he was owed. Despite his ambitions, his mental imbalances, combined with the racism he faced regularly, prevented him from being able to hold down a job or get ahead in any way. So we moved around a lot. We lived in the poor "ethnic" neighbourhoods, and I wasn't exposed to the middle class lifestyle until grade 5, when my best friend's family invited me to have dinner with them at White Spot. I ordered a steak sandwich and when the waitress asked how I wanted it done I froze, until my friend's mom leaned over and whispered "well done". They had a basic suburban house that seemed like a mansion to me. They had pogo balls and strawberry shortcake figurines and video games and a pool. It was absolutely lavish to my eyes.
And then we left my dad, and moved to a small Northeastern Alberta hamlet to be closer to my mother's family. The rural middle class is very different from its urban equivalent. Everyone worked very hard, gardened, tended a few animals, but they still had houses. Clean, decorated houses. And stuff. Toys, snowmobiles, quads, fishing gear... and most of it they bought new! My family was this motley gang of six mixed-race, anxious kids and a single mom who literally survived via the charity of others. We had a house eventually, and my mother worked extremely hard to find her footing, but to this day, I've never been able to comprehend the middle class. Why do they complain so much? They have everything. (Obviously I know how many reasons there are to be miserable. I'm just poking fun. But also why am I worried about offending the middle class right now. Lol.)
So all that to say, my natural mode is to work very hard and never expect hand outs or miracles. I would suspect that many others raised in similar circumstances function in a similar way. When you're poor, you're simply motivated by survival.
Out of that li'l backstory re: my dad, I think I also learned to be very suspicious of ego. I watched it destroy him. Now, anytime I realize my primary motivation is ego, ie: desire for fame, popularity, or widespread acknowledgment, I back away. I can't be around people motivated by it either. It's too uncomfortable for me.
But without veering too far into altruism, I'll readily admit I've also been motivated by spite, heartbreak, and booze more than once. Those are all the main reasons I did comedy. It started as a quest to become more vulnerable than I felt my art practice allowed, but eventually... yeah mostly spite. And ego. Hence my stepping away.
Heartbreak was a pretty key motivator when I bought my farm too. The relationship before it had been the closest I'd ever come to "living the middle class dream". When it fell apart abruptly, I spent the following year letting go of the idea that I could ever exist in that world. When the farm appeared, putting an offer in was me shaking it all off for good. The Sarah I thought I could be –a youthful, contented wife and mother living in a charming (owned) house, a gorgeous garden, bills paid, a tidy budget, wine and board game nights with friends, a fulfilling career with time for hobbies – no one was going to give that to me, and I was tired of waiting for it. The mythical promise of it was blinding me, clouding my judgement, stalling me. MY dream, the one I'd always shelved because I thought it was stupid or impractical compared to a comfy middle class married life, was to own a productive acreage. That was always the end goal. But why did it have to be at the end? Why was I putting my dreams behind bullshit social expectations? Like it or not, I had to accept that I was the boss of my life. It was weird at first, but it's incredibly freeing now.
And my relationship with ego has had some benefits. I'm aware of my capabilities and advantages, especially coming from an underprivileged upbringing. When you don't have money, you learn to compensate, for better or worse. In my case, I've been gifted with the ability to hyperfocus, analyze from various perspectives, and strategize. I also carry the privilege of being healthy and conventionally attractive. I find communicating genuinely exciting, and can do so through several mediums. All these things add up to a gal who can stomp out there and get things done.
I also get bored with homogeneity, always have. I sincerely want to have fun at all times. I define "fun" as explorative, inspirational, interesting, challenging, and providing a sense of satisfaction. I've always felt that this life is all there is, and it passes so goddamn fast, why wouldn't you explore every bit of intrigue or adventure that comes your way? Can't climb mountains? Write a book! Can't travel? Take a class! Send a letter! Make something cool! No excuses! Adventure can exist on so many different levels. What else are you going to do?
As far as where my energy comes from, I've often wondered if I have some sort of high-functioning ADHD. It comes and goes, especially as I get older, but my mom and her siblings are all incredibly energetic people, so maybe I just got the energy gene. Or maybe it all just comes out of some deep seated fear of mortality? Ah to be human.
Anyway, all this talking about having boundless energy has really wiped me out. This was fun, and I'm sure more thoughts on the subject will come to me after I've shared it, and if you feel moved to, feel free to ask more questions in the comments.
Next post I'm going to be talking about city life vs rural life! Thanks to Erin for asking! If you're curious about anything I'm up to (except how to grow stuff, this isn't a growing tutorial blog sorry!) pls send me a note!