I’m on the phone with professional jazz singer Amber Epp, arranging for her to perform at Wonderscape, when she poses the question.
“What do you do? What’s your thing?”
We’d been taking about the other guest artists on the roster, (the editor/author/storyteller, the founder of an art academy, the artist and block-printer) but her casual question throws me off guard. What do I do? What is my thing anyway? Feeling as if I should respond quickly, I scroll through the options that come to mind. Painter? Nope. Even though our walls are covered with canvases we’ve painted ourselves I know next to nothing about technique; I definitely can’t claim that one. Musician? I used to sing in public about 20 years ago but I don’t think that counts. Crafter? Photographer? I don’t scrapbook, don’t like fussing around with glue-guns, and the photos I take are generally blurry. I realize I’m left with only one possibility.
After what feels like a long time I say, “I like to write.”
The answer must sound plausible enough because the conversation moves on but after the call I re-play our conversation. I wish I could have replied, “Oh me? I’m a writer,” without feeling like a phony. I wish I could have told Self-doubt to quiet down instead of listening to her cackle, “Who do you think you are? Why are you planning a creative retreat when you’re not even qualified to attend one! Look what you’ve got into now, Tricia. How are you going to explain yourself when everyone shows up and discovers who you really are!”
I also think about my friends who have expressed interest in Wonderscape but who aren’t sure they are the “right type”. The first time it happened in a conversation with a friend I brushed her off, “Are you crazy? Of course you’re creative!” I told her. Then it happened again with another person. And another person. And that’s when I realize the famous poet Maya Angelou wasn’t off her rocker when she confessed, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “* It’s comforting to realize I’m not the only one who feels like a phony when it comes to sharing creative endeavors.
A few days later the word amateur comes up in conversation and Stan asks the girls about it, like we do with every French-sounding word we come across. “It means someone who loves something, right?” he prods the girls. They agree quickly without looking up from their books, likely so they can get back to reading without having to engage in a conversation about etymology and Latin roots with their father, but I’m struck by the perfectness of the word. Amateur. A lover. Someone who does something because they love it. I decide to claim the word for myself. I am an amateur writer. No matter how
much money many free magazines I make off my writing, I will always be a lover of words, of punctuation and pauses, of sentences that leave you wanting more. I am also an amateur wife. An amateur mother. An amateur paddler. An amateur cook. An amateur skier. An amateur swimmer. An amateur gardener. I do all these things not because of some external reward but because I love the process, the very act of doing them.
The next time someone tells me they would like to come to Wonderscape but aren’t sure they are artsy enough or talented enough or outdoorsy enough or unique enough or creative enough or anything enough, I will ask them one question. I will ask if they have a pulse. If they have a pulse it means two things; the first is confirmation of a beating heart and blood circulating through their body. The second implication is that they have a life-force within them, something that quickens during a good story, at the right chord played at just the right time, at a piece of wood or steel or wool or clay or food rendered into something beautiful. When the pulse quickens it is a signal to take note of the situation, to get ready for what comes next, to pay attention. And when you pay attention you can’t help but fall in love. And when you fall in love you become an amateur.
I know now what I should have said instead of giving Amber my feeble answer. Instead of saying, “I like writing” I could have come up with something more true, more courageous. I could have spoken like a real amateur and said, “I love writing.”
. . .
*from this NY Times article
**Belén and I went to one of Twila Napleoni’s painting parties recently and came home with a fall-ish looking painting; we decided to take it a step further and make a series.