There is an article I read recently about how this generation that has grown up on the internet has a real problem creating art for art’s sake. You can read the entire thing here but for now let’s just look at this:
“Hobbies are now necessarily productive. If you’re learning piano, you must try to record the jingle for that commercial your friend directed. If you develop a curiosity about a niche topic, you must start an online newsletter dedicated to it, work to build your audience, and then try to monetize the newsletter. If you have a nice speaking voice, you must start a podcast. We’re encouraged to be “goal-oriented” and rewarded with outsize praise for everything we’ve accomplished, and so we feel that we need to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one.”
When I read that, I not only recognized a creativity trap I’d fallen into, but one I’d set for my kids as well. Not a proud moment, but a true one.
When my son was about nine, he got into making things out of duct tape. He sat forever watching YouTube videos on how to make wallets, belts, book covers, etc. At the time, lots of kids were doing this.
I thought he was brilliant.
And I wanted him to know I thought he was brilliant. I thought that was part of my job.
I bought a bag full of duct tape and shared pictures I’d found online of cool duct tape stuff. I swooned over every new object that rolled off his assembly line and commissioned a cell-phone case in colors that matched my purse.
Now he was an entrepreneur and it was totally his idea! (Kind of.)
He was proud when he made his first sale and, of course, he was having fun. He loved
my praise I mean, my attention I mean, making stuff out of duct tape.
A few years later, he attended a week long day camp where a little rock band was formed. The kids, middle schoolers at the time, had a blast playing Joan Jet covers and writing their own songs. When they shared their music with us, the other parents and I could hardly contain ourselves. They were The Beatles and The Stones rolled into one. We clapped and cheered like groupies for our little musicians.
Then their teacher set them up with a free gig at a pre-school fundraiser. The band loved it— who wouldn’t? Lots of applause and free snow-cones, after all.
Next, their fan base (read: parents) made t-shirts and they played at a local Mexican joint, opening for their band teacher, a talented guy who’s devotion to music was total and who, by the way, had worked his ass off for decades as a musician.
The kids were so proud of themselves. We could see it in their faces. Well, we would have seen it, if we weren’t so busy schlepping their shit, selling their merch and buying them burritos.
One night after playing a few sets at a bowling alley, the band broke up in a blaze of hormonally driven pre-teen glory.
I stood over a box of now worthless t-shirts and stickers feeling, I’ll admit, just a little bit pissed.
My son said he just wasn’t into it anymore, but I couldn’t help but think he was making a mistake. Maybe after years of having me as his personal concierge, he took it all for granted.
Didn’t he get how lucky he was?
Later, driving home, I got to thinking about the summer of 1980. I was fourteen and wanted, with a red hot passion that fueled all kinds of shenanigans, to be an actor.
After reading about an open call for the sitcom The Facts of Life in the Sunday paper, I called Alex, a friend from school and the only guy I knew who had his own camera. In exchange for a pack of clove cigarettes, he set up a makeshift studio in his basement and took a picture of me wearing my best peasant skirt and tube top. I heard somewhere that you needed a resume, so I pounded one out on my typewriter that consisted of summer camp drama classes, baton twirling and, knowing me, a bunch of made up shit. I stapled that sucker to my picture and caught the bus to meet my destiny.
The producers were in Nashville looking for a southern teenager to add to the regular cast, and the waiting room at Talent and Model Land was packed with girls like me. Not knowing the drill, I did what they did: signed in, looked at my script, and checked out the competition. Most of the girls were dressed a little better, some had professional photos and hair done up with hot rollers. When my name was called I teetered into the room on my sister’s hand-me-down Candie’s, said my lines to the camera while blushing scarlet, and caught the bus home.
I waited by the phone for days, but they never called. I was crushed.
And I couldn’t wait to do it again.
A snapshot of that day might have shown a girl who needed a grownup’s help (maybe rethink the three inch heels, Mag), but pan out and it’s a different story.
I’m as proud of that Facts of Life audition as I am of anything I accomplished in my twenty years as a working actor and it happened without an enterage. It marked the beginning of a long rocky road and even though I’m no longer interested in acting, I still call on that sovereign girl with her yellow highlighter and harebrained schemes whenever I want to try something new. (She’s the one who started this blog.)
I’m not saying I’m done supporting my kids when they’re going for something. I’m just done doing it without being asked. And I’m definitely done being the one who does the most work.
I shared my (better late than never) epiphany with a good friend who has raised a couple of kids of her own. She told me that when her daughters were growing up and in that “look at me” phase, she would watch and smile and say, “I’ll watch once, then you need to do it for yourself.” Wow.
Do it for yourself.
That actually used to be a thing.
The other night I was walking by my son’s bedroom and from behind the door that is so often closed these days came the sound of him playing a song on his guitar that I’d never heard.
It was so beautiful. Did he make it up himself? Were there lyrics? Wait, let me get your Dad…
And that was my cue
to keep on walking.