Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I went to hear Twyla Tharp speak last week. I came away thinking, "That woman is fearless."

I'm sure she's not. She's driven, which is a different thing. When you're driven toward a goal, things that might otherwise feel like sinkholes are easier to see as the bumps in the road they really are. Whatever Twyla Tharp's fears are, she can drive through most of them. And whatever Twyla Tharp's fears are, they seem invisible to me because they aren't the same as mine. We're driven by (and to) different things.

Then again, I think she probably drives faster. And harder.

As the lecture broke up and I was walking toward the door, a student behind me commented to a friend, "It's interesting how differently people of that generation think. We feel our way through, spending time pondering all the possibilities. She sees her goal and just goes toward it."

I doubt that's a generational thing. That's a meet-a-creative-genius thing. Still, the how-I-feel-about-it aspect of life does get overemphasized today. During the Q&A someone asked, "How do you work through the times when you need down time?"

Twyla blinked, as if trying to comprehend this, then said briskly, "I am always working. If I get up and don't feel like working, I work anyway. Because, you know, I might feel like working the next day, and that's what you do if you want to stay in shape."

*         *          *          *  

Last week I chatted with a woman from my building on the subway. I am not sure exactly what we were talking about. Life, in a general way.

At one point I mentioned that I'd read that a lot of people don't like to rent to actors, because of the perception that their income is unstable. Yet actors are really, really good at scrambling for jobs, and they know how to patchwork a subsistence together. This gives them a huge advantage in times of economic insecurity. You'd probably be better off renting to a resourceful actor than to a middle manager in a big firm, because if the middle manager loses his or her job, it's a crisis. The salaried person often doesn't know how to cope with not having a regular paycheck.

So the question is: does security=steady paycheck? Or does security=ability to scramble and pay the rent if you lose your job?

Is it what you already have that makes you safe... or your resilience and adaptability?

*         *          *         *

The discussion of security led to other things, and at one point my interlocutor paused and said, as if to herself, "I think I have a lower tolerance for discomfort than other people."

Her voice held regret; she clearly felt she'd missed out on important things because she'd moved away from difficulties too quickly. The A Train was not the place for a discussion about how tolerance for discomfort is something one builds rather than carries in one's DNA -- it's work.

But I can think of two things that provide the motivation to do the hard work of overcoming fears:

1) You become so sick-to-death of the limitations your fears impose that you're willing to put in the effort to change, or

2) You are so passionate about something that you plow through the rough stuff because it lies in the way of progress.

Generally speaking, passion for something bigger that yourself is the more compelling path. Just sayin'.

But it's still work.


  1. I will ponder this issue. I believe we too often put off difficult things until we "feel" like tackling them, while other things on a much shorter list we work on because we must. Lately, I believe I've moved too many things to the longer list, waiting for feelings that may never come at all.

    Time I got off this computer and got to work. Even if it's hard.

    1. Oh, yes! The difficult things are easily avoided! Perhaps part of that is because when we look through the lens of "hard things" those things look bigger. It's as if they grow as soon as we label them as difficult.

      The only thing I know of that works(for me) in that situation is to break the big things down into smaller, less intimidating chunks. "Call to make and appointment" is do-able, even if it's only one tiny step.

      Actually, the other thing that sometimes works for me is to allocate a chunk of time -- like a whopping 10 minutes a day -- to getting the big, distasteful thing done.

      And asking myself, point-blank, "What are you afraid of?" almost always helps. Forcing myself to verbalize the vague distaste or dis-ease somehow makes it more concrete, which makes it smaller, which makes it easier to manage.


  2. What do you do when you are 52 and finally have time and some money to pursue a passion, but cannot get excited about anything.

  3. I think the thing to do is work at dabbling in vastly different kinds of things until passions emerge. Take an online course at EdX or Coursera, find a volunteer activity, learn a new craft, get involved in a community group, pick up and read a couple of unlikely magazines, listen to a new type of music. Unless you absolutely loathe an activity, stick with it for six months. Then swap out for something entirely new.

    1. Thank you for taking time out of your busy life to help me. I am very hearing impaired and live in a rural area with not much going on. I'm trying to figure out now whether there really is nothing for me or I have a bad case of excusitis. : ( I have the utmost respect for you and the fact that you replied means a lot to me!

  4. This thread is right where I am. And Julia, I remember reading that book a few years ago, specifically while riding the M79 from the UES to UWS. She really does talk about self-discipline in creativity, and it's good advice.

    Anonymous, I'm in your shoes with the age and stage of life. Somehow I've inadvertently done exactly what Julia recommends, but I must confess that I was pushed there, in such a way that trying something new was really the only option. It's definitely not easy or pain-free, and I haven't yet found a niche, but hers is still good advice and beats the heck out of curling up in a ball and staying there.

    Creative people are often sensitive. But also, it takes a lot of work and risk to be creative. So really, the discomfort is inevitable, and the key is learning what to do with it.