Parades and Memories

November 29, 2013

by Deborah Atherton

Image

Today is Black Friday in America, and as you can see, I am not out shopping. The truth is, I can hardly stand shopping any more, except for a few places where I know it will be quiet—and I am not sure there are any quiet places left to shop on Black Friday, which has become so frenzied in recent years it is on the verge of overtaking Thanksgiving as a national holiday. 

In past years I have posted about not getting too frantic or depressed over the holidays, and not letting the memories of the past—or the ideal American holiday as presented by Hallmark—take over our minds and creative energy too entirely. (And for our readers who live in somewhat less holiday-and-sales-consumed countries, you have probably seen pictures of how crazy and sometimes violent our stores get today—and they aren’t kidding.)  But this year, maybe because the holiday responsibilities were taken over by other, generous relatives, I am in a more relaxed frame of mind. I really enjoyed little jaunt through Manhattan to Thanksgiving dinner, seeing the streets completely abandoned, and thinking about how compelling the holiday is for us—how everyone finds or invents a place to go and be, with family or friends, and how this one day a year extraordinary efforts are made to see that no one is alone and hungry.  The television is filled with images of volunteers at homeless shelters and soup kitchens.  And then today, we jump back into our consumer culture with abandon, except for those of us, of course, who seize it as an actual day off, and if not too exhausted from Thanksgiving festivities, retreat into our attics or basements or studios or closets.

One thing the holidays give us is a unique window to the future and the past—our memories of holidays tend to be sharp, as they are each different, and tend to stick in our minds as markers of a certain time of our lives.  We have our memories as children—many of us have our first memories from holidays—and then from each year of our adolescence and adulthood.  Perhaps we have our own children, and then begin to mark the years through their quick attainment of adulthood. And we might remember what year Macy’s added a new balloon to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, or a movie came out that we enjoyed or hated, or the day we finally made it to Rockefeller Center to see the tree.  These can be gateway memories, that provide us with guides to our own lives and the procession of our creative ideas—our internal time machines, a handy tool for any writer or artist. 

What hit me most strongly yesterday, though, as I was watching the Thanksgiving Parade on TV, was how quaint it was all going to seem in 100 years.  As the announcers were extolling the virtues of the sponsors of each balloon or float, I realized that although some of the characters would survive (I would put money on Mickey Mouse still being a household name in the next century, although I am unlikely to be here to collect) the products would not. In some ways the parade I was watching was very different than the one my father and grandmother saw earlier in the 20th century. And one of my esteemed relatives brought this up during the football game later in the day—“most of these products weren’t around to be advertised fifty years ago.”

 So we are fortunate that our memories give us a time machine to a past that seems immediate and not quaint, that is in color and not in black and white, and that those memories are often sharpened and deepened by the holidays.  If we have a moment to pause and reflect (before or after shopping and eating) they might offer us a little creative energy to fly—or at least float in a dignified manner—all the way into the New Year.   

Photo of the Mickey Mouse Balloon from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1934. Courtesy of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.


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Not Good Enough?

November 10, 2013

by Deborah Atherton

Oscar

Oscar


Most people I know in the midst of a creative (or in fact almost any kind of) project pause at some moment, whether they have just started or are almost done, to tell themselves, “It’s not good enough.” Sometimes they keep this to themselves, and sometimes they immediately post it on Facebook. (I’ve noticed a lot of posts this month especially, since we’re in the midst of NaNoWriMo.)

Of course, sometimes it’s true—you’ve tried your hardest, and it really isn’t good enough. You started too soon or too late, or with an incomplete vision, and the essential idea, the thing that inspired you, has somehow been lost. But more often, it’s not about your novel or sketch or film or song or poem at all; it’s about the impossible and elusive standard we set ourselves—the standard we can never, ever meet, but one that somehow that guy we once encountered in college or at a party or on Twitter has not only met and surpassed—and has subsequently been rewarded with a bestseller or an Oscar nomination or at least an invitation to a much cooler party.

We won’t go too much into the many evils of social comparison—how we make ourselves unhappy by comparing our lives to those of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues—we all do it, and we all suffer for it. But the question is, how do we know, when we take that moment to examine and ask ourselves—is it good enough—whether we are using our own actual best judgment, or asking ourselves from the depths of our fear of never ever making something good enough—or even as good as what we’ve done before?

Our best bet, I think, is to take ourselves out of the moment, and examine what exactly sparked it. Was it really the way we captured the light, or worded a phrase—or was it that review of our acquaintance’s work that just popped up in our newsfeed or, even more shattering, a casual comment from a passing friend or relative? Are we actually having a dialog with our work or with our own sense—or someone else’s sense—of exactly where we ought to be in our lives right now?

Because really, the only voice in the room should be yours—unless of course your work is talking to you, and we always want to listen to what our work has to say. If your work is begging to be re-booted and re-vamped, then go to it. But if it’s really that everyone else seems to be getting deals and awards and reviews—kick them all out. Because how can they know? Only you had the idea, and only you can see it through.

Photo courtesy of daverugby33 at Flickr via Creative Commons license