Since I published The Forgetting Flower, I’ve done two video interviews, one for TV, one for a podcast. While I was thrilled to be invited to do the coveted publicity of video promotion, I was plagued by an emotion I felt for days before each interview. A feeling I hadn’t felt in many years and hoped to never feel again: pure anxiety.
Certainly I’d felt anxiety in the past. And I’d actually felt worse than anxiety. I’d felt utterly terrified during my husband’s cancer treatment years ago (he’s doing great by the way, knock on wood). I’d felt super nervous when I’d taught my first horticulture class, literally jittery at my first public reading. My stomach had always knotted up when I’d met famous writers I respected. But nothing resembled the potently vulnerable anxiety I felt at being on camera.
A Double Whammy Test
I think what was uniquely trying for me was knowing that not only I had to speak well spontaneously but also had to look good while doing so. I mean hey, I’m middle-aged, I’m probably 15 pounds overweight, I have a Chicago accent that comes out when I’m nervous. I even have weird freckles on my face that I didn’t have five years ago. It all added up to me feeling extremely disappointed and critical of myself.
That self-criticism fed my worry. If only I was younger, slimmer, prettier, etc. My brain went nuts during the days leading up to the interview. Especially for the TV spot. I vacillated from obsessing about little things like what to wear or how much make up to put on to big things like what the hell to say that made sense and was useful. It got to the point where, during the day, I consciously compartmentalized my worry, acting like it didn’t exist, so I could interact with my kids and husband and function like a normal person.
Nighttime Was the Worst
But at night, while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, the worry would return. Should I buy a new sweater? Should I talk about that one weird plant that was hard to find? Were people actually interested in my book at all? Who was I to be on television? The only solution was writing a long to-do list and taking a half-Advil p.m. Otherwise, I would have gotten no sleep during the weeks leading up to the interviews.
Still, knocking off the items on the to-do list every day helped. For the TV segment, I needed to repot several plants that I would talk about during the segment. I needed to buy a couple of new containers. I had to buy a new blouse to wear. I needed to get a haircut and a make up lesson from my hair stylist. In the podcast case, I had to clean the main floor of my house (where sometimes my old cat peed in odd places). The tasks went on and on.
But every time I crossed off a task, I felt a bit better. More in control. I worked up to feeling fairly prepared. On the day before both interviews, I felt like I knew what I had to do to look good and knew, more or less, what I would say. On the night before each recording, I took a whole Advil and went to bed, knowing I’d done the best I could.
Anxiety Haunts You
But I couldn’t fall asleep. I breathed, I meditated, tried not to think, did everything I could to feel comfortable and relaxed. But sleep didn’t come. Like a cruel master, the drowsiness came on but then subsided. Thoughts returned. Worries about what might go wrong popped in my head one by one. What if I got tongue-tied? What if I forgot a botanical name? What if I got food in my teeth? Or just passed out? Unfortunately, I barely slept.
Like It or Not, the Event Happens
Well, both interviews were what they were. Thankfully, my dear friend (and amazing container designer) Angela cleared her schedule and came with me to the TV segment. I mean thank effing God. She helped me carry plants in and straightened my blouse and offered a reassuring pep talk. I couldn’t have done it without her. Also, I’d published a blog post about the featured plants and I reread that while I was waiting, so I didn’t have to reach too far for my thoughts during the segment.
Before I knew it, I was standing behind a counter staring at two cameras and the whole thing flashed by in eight minutes. I looked like a goofy fool who talked with a hard Chicago accent, but whatever. It was done. Angela and I went to a brewpub afterward and, while coincidentally watching myself on TV (which was bizarre to say the least), I celebrated by eating french fries and drinking Coke.
For the podcast (called Must Read Fiction), the interviewer, the lovely Erin Popelka, was energetic and so supportive. She warmly shared her gratitude at doing the interview in my house and didn’t seem to worry about the smelly cat. Thanks to her, I felt at ease and ready to go. During the interview, I did look old and overweight and babbled, losing my train of thought here and there. Erin didn’t mind any of that. She’s a gem. A gem who loves books and is a forthcoming author herself.
An Unexpected Outcome
So would I do video, this medium, that seems incredibly at odds with my introverted sensitive self, again? Yeah, I would. I felt good that I actually went through with it. I didn’t cancel. I didn’t hide under the bed like I could have — although that might have been a good place to actually fall asleep! I showed up and got it done. There’s value in that. And a lesson.
What I learned is that video wasn’t that difficult. I didn’t die. Yes, there’s now a record of me looking silly and sounding silly. But surprisingly, it gave me more confidence. I could actually do it again. And do it better next time because I know what I’d do differently.
This sounds strange, and probably not what you thought I’d say, but now I’ve proved I can do video. I feel stronger. In fact, I’ve been considering practicing video just for fun. Perhaps, on my own to get comfortable in front of a camera. If I do it enough, maybe I won’t feel so anxious and nervous, or see myself as goofy, and maybe I can even smooth over my Chicago accent!
Have you ever dealt with anxiety before speaking or an interview? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your story.
Showing up is so important. Do you know that quote by a famous film director (whose name I won’t mention) about how 80% of success in life is just showing up? It’s so true. I’ve seen it over and over again. Someone got an opportunity not because they were the best but because they were there. Someone proved their worth by enduring an event they really didn’t want to be at. And the examples go on.
My husband I have taught that lesson to our kids their entire lives. When you show up, even if you don’t want to take that test or go to camp with that annoying kid or babysit your sister, you send a message that you care, that you’re willing to try, that you’re able to suffer through the painful parts of life.
In some ways, I can’t think of a more important lesson in life. Kindness, persistence, honesty. Those are all important too. But showing up bonds you to others in good times and bad. It shows serious character.
Showing up as an Introvert Artist
So as artists, how do we show up? The first way of course is to show up to our desk, our easel, our counter, whatever, and create art. But afterward, when we’ve made the art, what do we do?
Well, we can show up to performances or gatherings or meetings. And showing up socially often goes against our introverted instincts. Artists tend to be shy. Not always, but often. A lot of artists are artists because we enjoy solitude, right? Because interacting with people makes us nervous or self-conscious or plain exhausted. We like to live inside the imagination, not necessarily in harsh or dull reality.
But in today’s internet-connected world, we have an advantage. We can show up online. Join groups, discuss ideas via social media or post about what excites us via a blog or website. We don’t have to shower and dress well and put on our more patient, happy public face. We can share ideas and inspiration from the comfort of a couch. Not a bad compromise.
What Venue Is Right For You?
In terms of social media, I’ve always been partial to Twitter. I like it for two reasons: a) I learn stuff and b) I laugh. There’s information on there that educates me and witty or sarcastic commentary. Also, I have attracted real-life friends on Twitter. Those friendships have blossomed based on shared interests, not some sense of us being friends because we once worked or went to school together (though that has a worthy bond too), but because we share a passion or interest.
This is why Facebook and Instagram don’t charge my battery like Twitter. Those platforms are more about social causes, random memes, and personal photos. My husband calls it a glorified address book — which is fine, that can be useful too. Instagram, of course, is the glam version of Facebook, with an expected polished presentation of users’ kids, vacations, sunsets, and milestones. Shrug. I don’t have the energy to constantly present my most glossy perfect self.
Also, the company that owns those two platforms has refused to curb false political propaganda. Twitter is at least making an attempt. So while I still use those last two platforms, they don’t spark joy for me at all.
What If You’re Not Into Social Media?
What if, like many authors I know, you aren’t interested in posting about your life or sharing content? Well, this brings me to what I think is the most important way to show up as an artist: on your website.
When you create an online home base, you’re opening yourself professionally to the world. People know where to find you. You’re offering up your art and perhaps the inspiration behind that art. If visitors like it, great, if not, they can click away. But I think a website, and more potently, blogging, brings about connection. It brings the artist and those who like the art closer. It’s virtually showing up for whoever would like to engage.
The Seth Godin Philosophy
Marketing guru Seth Godin talk a lot about this. He thinks the most important thing an artist can do to promote their work is to “show up with generosity and intent.” In other words, he says, if you’re an artist, don’t just show up online shouting about your book or movie, show up as a real person and give us a glimpse of who you are.
Even more importantly, be prepared to be generous, intentional. How can you help others? Why are you there? Know what your mission online is about. If you do, I believe you’ll find at least some like-minds who will be interested in your work.
If You Have Ideas About This Blog, Let Me Know!
And so, for me, I’ll be blogging more often. I’ll be showing up. If you don’t want to show up, you can always unsubscribe from my blog, I won’t be hurt. But for those who are interested, or even want to have a conversation, I’ll be showing up at this website almost every day, on my couch, ready to help those in whatever way I can.
With that in mind, if you have ideas about what I should write about, please let me know in the comments!! My areas of expertise and passion are writing, books, gardening, plants, inspiration, France and Europe, music, motherhood, and the environment. I’ll be writing about those unless I hear otherwise from you! Cheers.
Photo by Arnal Hasanovic.
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Now that I’ve started a gratitude journal, I’ve been worried that its effects may wear off after a while. If I repeat myself regularly, I may lose the quality of happiness I’ll feel when counting my blessings. I mean, how many times can you feel grateful for a spouse, child, pet, etc?
The Various Approaches
So I did a little research. A super helpful article in Greater Good Magazine talks about the various techniques for getting the most bang for your blessings buck. They advise to go deep in your entries, elaborating on your grateful experiences with a lot of details. This makes sense as the more you imagine and relive the situation you’re grateful for, the better you’ll feel. Also, they advise focusing on people, what your life would be like without the thing you’re grateful for, and recording surprising events.
The Various Benefits
I also discovered that the scientific studies conducted by psychologist Robert A. Emmons showed people getting a plethora of psychological benefits. These included more restful sleep, lower blood pressure, higher alertness, and more willingness to connect with others. Other benefits surfaced as well. All provable and data driven. If you’d like to read an easy overview of the science, check out this article from the University of California at Davis.
The One Most Effective Thing You Can Do
Also, in my research I learned that the most important thing you can do to create an effective gratitude journal was not what I’d guessed. It’s much simpler and obvious. And that is to only journal once or twice a week. Studies show that those who wrote in the journal three times or more a week, lost the psychological benefits. The mind adjusted to the positive events too quickly and they lost their positive impact. Subjects became numb to the happiness. Interesting, huh.
I was actually happy to read this because in truth I’m kind of lax with journals and don’t trust myself to log in what I’m grateful for every day anyway. Hee.
So if you’re like I am and want an excuse to journal every week rather than every day, gratitude journaling may be the path for you too.
An Inspirational Book
During this process, I’ve been thinking of the poet Ross Gay. His book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, sings with beautiful verse about all that is difficult and painful and unjust and yet worthwhile in this wild thing we call life. I highly recommend it for inspiration!
As we get into the new year, I’ve decided to start a gratitude journal. I’m not sure why, I just had an impulse. But I think the impulse comes from where I was at the end of last year. In late fall, the press I published The Forgetting Flower through, went on indefinite hiatus due to the publisher’s medical issues. That hurt. Then, a close loved one was in financial trouble, also hard. But I think worst, my dog died. You know how people say, “What’s the matter? You look like your dog just died.” Yeah, well, that was me.
A New Year Brings New Beginnings
Still, despite all that, I knew I still had a good life. I had a supportive husband, three great kids, and three sweet animals. I had a house and a garden and enough money. Once, I started mentally listing what I did have, I felt better.
Buddhist philosophers believe that to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have creates happiness. When you focus on what you want, you will suffer. It’s such a simple concept and yet so true. Modern psychological tests back this up. People who focus on what they’re grateful for are happier than those who don’t. I realized I was grateful for what I had but needed to keep better track of those blessings. Like in writing. So I wouldn’t take them for granted.
Artifacts That Spark Joy
I procrastinated getting the journal because I wasn’t sure if I should use my old Ideas & Journal notebook for this or a fresh notebook. And what kind? A composition book? A beautifully bound journal? Something recyclable? Before I knew it, I was paralyzed by the indecision that came with finding the silly notebook that I needed to start. So I left the task alone.
Then, the other day, I went to my local garden nursery. While shopping for a pot for a houseplant, I noticed a basket on display. It had several small journals inside, all decorated on the outside with plants. One even had the leaves of tropical plants and they’re accompanying botanical names. The cover was beautiful. And without a plastic or glossy cover, it was recyclable. Boom! Done!
I’d found the pure inspiration I’d needed at a plant nursery. Of course, I did. It was almost too predictable. But in the end, a regular notebook would have worked. Even a bunch of paper stapled together. The physical object doesn’t really matter that much, does it?
How to Create a Gratitude Journal
As my first entry I wrote that I was grateful for garden nurseries and botanical journals that had drawings of plant leaves with accompanying Latin names. My second was the thanks I felt for my family. The third was for having a good place to live. But from then on, where did I go? I didn’t want to just repeat the same things over and over again.
I wanted to go deeper, get more detailed. Get in touch with what was happening in my life. So I looked around the interwebs and found this great article from Shutterfly. It has an outstanding list of prompts to get your thoughts flowing. Like: Pick a random photo and write about why you’re grateful for that memory. Or: List three people who helped you through a tough situation.
I like the idea of mining my memories and experiences for detailed imaginative material
Getting Acquainted With Gratitude
Keeping this journal is still new to my life. I’m not really a self-help type. However, I’ve found articulating what is so good about my life makes me instantly and extremely happy. Despite our political situation in the U.S., I still have a lot to be grateful for. And that gratitude super-charges my soul so that I can be available and present to others. That may be the best gift out of this whole endeavor.
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It was late afternoon in St. Petersburg, Russia. A cloudy day but warm. I was walking back to the inn where I was staying for a writer’s workshop through the Summer Literary Seminars program. Soon, I came to a strange dried puddle on the sidewalk and almost stepped in it. I had to take a wide turn into the street to go around. Red and crusted, about a two-foot-wide blob, I thought it was paint. I looked up at the line of apartment windows, wondering where the scaffolding or ladders were. There were no workers in overalls or any such thing, so I walked on, wondering where the paint had come from but ultimately thinking nothing of it.
A Friend’s Story
Later that evening, after a group of us writers had had dinner and were chatting, my friend Adrian said he’d seen the craziest scene earlier that day. He was in a nearby bar having lunch when he saw a man beat up another man across the street. “Oh God, the one guy just kept pounding the other guy, so viciously, over and over and over,” he said. He shook his head as if to clear it. “Ugh. It was like the sound of a club hitting raw meat.”
Apparently, a woman had been at the fight too, trying to pull off the aggressor from the victim. After the guy beat the hell out of his nemesis, Adrian said, he did something that struck Adrian as funny. “He went over to his car, unlocked the trunk, and took off his T-shirt. It was soaked in blood. Then, he took out a fresh T-shirt, put it on, closed the trunk, and walked across the street into the bar,” Adrian said. “He just sat down and ordered a drink like what he’d done was no big deal.”
Shocked, we laughed and shook our heads. We’d all seen intense, crazy things in St. Petersburg but this was truly the story that epitomized Russia. It could be a mean nasty place where somehow life went on. A few minutes later, I realized something. I asked Adrian where the fight had happened. He said about 50 feet from the inn, on the same side of the street. Where I’d been earlier. It dawned on me: that dried stain on the sidewalk hadn’t been paint. It was blood.
A Lasting Image in My Mind
That realization stayed with me for years. The image of the dried blood on the sidewalk that had drained into the street. It was so big! The brutality of it was extraordinary. Still, I’ve always wondered how I could have mistaken blood for paint. It was so obvious after Adrian told the story. But the dark stain looked exactly like scarlet paint. As if someone had accidentally kicked over a bucket. I didn’t think in a million years it could be blood.
So when I started outlining The Forgetting Flower, I had this experience sitting in the back of my mind. And when I started drafting the first chapter, it just came out in the story. Renia walks by a building, sees a streak of red liquid rolling down a building. She thinks it’s paint. What else could it be, right? Well, she figures out soon enough that it’s not, and when she figures out what it is and where it’s from, her entire world turns upside down. It’s not from a fight, it’s from a different kind of event. And the rest, of course, is the unraveling of events that make up her story. If you’d like to read it, click here.
If you’d like information on the Summer Literary Seminars, which is a fantastic, supportive program for writers, go here. I highly recommend it!