I had a weird experience at the airport as I was waiting on my flight from L.A. due to some vagaries of packing and space and the rules of carry-ons, I had no less than three yoga mats and two water bottles among the items I was carrying around the airport. I looked, in short, like a yoga bum, with a long tube slung over one shoulder and a large folding flat mat in my other hand as I filled my shaker bottle at the water refilling point.
It was false advertising, of course. I make no secret about how I feel about yoga; it is something I enjoy having done, never something I enjoy doing and that I certainly don’t look forward to. But I could see in the way people looked at me that not only was I sending out the message of “yogi”, I was interesting, because I don’t look like your usual yoga bum. I’m not slender, I don’t have a man-bun, and I was wearing combat boots, not sandals.
Eccentric yoga bum. I’m sure people thought I was making my way to Esalen or Goa or some other retreat. In reality, I was heading to Chicago to pick up my car and drive overnight back home to Madison.
But…what if I pretended?
The Subtle Seduction of Rock & Brew
I went to a brew pub – one I’ve been to before with my partner Natasha, in fact, called “Rock & Brews” in the terminal. I sat down, looked at the menu, ready to order my usual big hamburger and fries and maybe a lava cake for dessert…and suddenly this weird feeling came over me.
This isn’t what a yoga bum would eat.
I ended up ordering a Cobb salad.
I was going to go and sit and watch a movie on my iPad…but instead I found myself looking for an open space to do some inconspicuous standing stretches. I found myself checking my activity level on my watch. I drank more water.
In short, I acted like a yoga bum would act at an airport, short of actually unrolling my mat and going through asanas. Hell, I even had a freakin’ banana for dessert instead of Cinnabon!
I stood up during the flight to stretch my legs. That never happens.
It was weird. It was like a strange kind of cover identity, a secret agent disguise that didn’t let people know I was the real me who didn’t like yoga and ate his feelings.
It was kind of useful, to be honest. And when I landed, and went to the car, I picked up a monster energy drink to keep me company on the way home, and listened to 90’s pop songs with the bass turned up.
Because that’s how I roll, when I’m not in disguise.
Pick Your Cover
At the same time it was not lost on me that I ate more effectively at the airport than I really ever have before. I was better hydrated, I was less stiff, and in general I took better care of my body than normal.
Because I was wearing the disguise of someone who did that. It was quite useful.
It makes me wonder what other “lives” we can try on, just for a while, when we need to face a challenge. How would a scholar approach a research project? How would a hotshot entrepreneur approach making a budget? How would Mr. Rogers approach handling the kids tonight at dinner?
It’s all a projection, of course. A story we tell ourselves about how those people act. But sometimes it may be useful to borrow someone else’s story, for a while, so that you can give your own a rest.
The Writer’s Life for Me!
Recently I set a goal for myself. It was a fairly arbitrary goal: I wanted to get seven different pieces accepted for publication in one month. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds; I’ve had individual pieces accepted fairly regularly, and this was just upping the ante by focusing my efforts. It had a side motivation which was that if I could successfully sell seven stories (say that 5 times fast!) I would be paying my rent with writing. Putting a roof over my head with nothing more than the words my brain created. That, my friends, is job security.
I found several publications that had “calls for submissions”. I laid out a calendar grid of each story’s deadline. The month started, the month when I was going to be “Mr. Productive Writer.”
I love writing, especially when I can sit down and just plug into the muse. I start typing, the words flow and the ideas churn and an hour or two later there are several thousand words on my screen. Some of them are even worth keeping! This goal I’d set would be an easy way to turn “doing what I love” into “doing what supports me.” It’s the dream of every creative, right?
Since I’m a writer, I’ve thought long and hard about how to exactly describe for you what it was like trying to write under that schedule. Pay attention, now, this is my craft and my art:
It sucked. Big time.
Other phrases come to mind – “It was like chewing razor blades,” I told one of my partners. I got one story done and submitted it, and started a second, and had rough outlines for a third and fourth. But it was immensely difficult to get any traction. Suddenly it was work. There was no flow.
Right about the time the first story was rejected, about two weeks into the project, I made a realization: I enjoyed writing this kind of thing, occasionally. But I’d basically fallen into it – someone had said “Hey, you’re a good writer, ever think of submitting an article to this magazine?” The key element was this: I didn’t think of it first. It was externally motivated. When the editors told me how much they loved my work, how much they wanted to see more, I had enjoyed the flattery and attention. It was something I was capable of doing, but not something I was passionate about.
I rarely read their magazines. Or even related books on the subject. I wasn’t a fan.
Fool Me Once…
Many years ago, when I was still trying to make my first marriage work, I remember the frustration of telling myself “You should just be happy with what you have.” I tried to point out to myself all the reasons that the marriage could work, all the things that I hadn’t yet tried, all the “shoulds“.
It never worked. It reached a point where I couldn’t look myself in the mirror because that man there had an accusing glare of “you are lying to me.“
Setting up this project for myself was a microcosm of that same kind of lie. I told myself I should be passionate about this project because it could pay my rent! Because people would tell me I was a good writer! Because I would get rich and famous and…and…and…
You can’t fake passion in the secret rooms of your soul. You know when you are fooling yourself, and the best you can do is ignore that knowledge for as long as possible.
I cancelled the project. I started looking at the magazines I did read, at the books I do feel passionate about. Gradually I am coming around to the opinion “I could do that. And in some ways I can do it better.“
There’s a part of the spiel I do at the start of every Open Space where I’m trying to trigger the generation of topics for the day’s agenda. It goes something like this:
I’d like you all to think about that one thing you feel passionate about. It’s the thing that makes you catch your breath, that makes your heart beat faster, that makes your stomach feel like it’s on a rollercoaster, that makes that lizard brain in the back of your head go “Oh, yeahhh…”
It won’t take long to think of it. You know what it is. The trick will be refusing to let yourself get talked out of it. You’ll try to think of all kinds of other things that you wish you were passionate about. All kinds of things you think you should be passionate about.
Forget wishes. Forget shoulds. Passion is another word for love, and love is easy: you either love something, or you don’t. You know the answer. So have the courage to be honest with yourself.
This is your passion. This is what you love. You deserve it.