10:21 AM – Much needed slothfulness this morning. Played with Chicken Dinner. Read the online papers: already found the greatest story of the approaching week. Made coffee. Drank coffee. Read Anne Lamott. Reread Anne Lamott. Decided, while lounging with Lamott and Chicken on the back patio, Kiki Mornings will serve as a repository of responses to each chapter in Bird By Bird for a season.
“What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” – Anne Lamott
I have a ridiculously bright student this semester who reads voraciously. She also has impressive taste in film, although I’m not sure she’s hip with the B-grade horror. (We can’t all be perfect.) Lucy (not her real name) and I have had several great conversations about books, films, music, and our mutual hope to create stories both on paper and on the screen. Lucy’s young. She’s bright. She’s got way better tastes in art than I did at her age – arguably, even better than I do at my age. I tend to believe that a student this young and this open to ideas and this full of energy will create great things. I both love and hate her for this.
This past Tuesday I saw Lucy sitting in the hallway typing on her laptop. I see Lucy every Tuesday and Thursday morning reading a book, usually different than the last book I saw her reading. I asked Lucy what she was doing. “I’m writing a story, “ she said excitedly, a giant smile sweeping across her face. We high-fived because I’m still into that, and I asked her what her story was about. She gave me a quick blurb, scrunched her face, and said she was nervous about the subject matter. It was violent material. Dark material. She said she didn’t want to write anything that would offend anyone or that would feel gross in its timeliness with recent headlines. That’s when I went all Anne Lamott on her.
I told her not to worry about it. I told her to write what was in her head and heart to write. I told her, “You’re just drafting right now. Who’s going to see this? Just tell your story and don’t worry about it. Get the story down, reread it, and then make decisions on your audience.” She smiled and said thanks and we parted ways, me feeling like a Dead Poet and her typing furiously. “You did good, kid,” I told myself. “You did good.”
And then I remembered Sarah Silverman.
It was 2004 when I began having celebrity dreams on a regular basis. Nothing sexual. Just dreams about me and Britney Spears as siblings, me and Courtney Love as old friends, me and Rob Zombie as college roommates, always me and some celebrity in an intimate, platonic relationship doing totally ordinary things. For a laugh, I told these dreams to friends over beers, but secretly I held to them to myself as indicative of something potentially prophetic in a spiritual sense or inspirational in a narrative sense.
My celebrity dreams have endured with jacked-up consistency for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until this past year that I began writing my celebrity dreams as actual stories. So far I have three dreams written down in shitty first draft form:
1. I’m playing water volleyball with the Kardashians and they ask me to scrape their teeth with my thumbnail to check their breath.
2. I find myself grocery shopping with Rashida Jones at an outdoor market on the beach where the check-out lanes are in the water and Rashida is ripping on my dietary choices the entire time. Also, her father, Quincy, snubs me.
3. I dated Sarah Silverman in college. She broke up with me when I tried to advance our relationship too soon. There’s stuff in there about talent shows and exploding produce. Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammet and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead make cameo appearances.
I love these dreams. I think these dreams are funny, especially as they develop across the page in utter what-the-crap fashion. But I fear writing them, or spending time writing them, for the exact same reasons that Lucy feared her own story:
What if nobody wants to read my dreams? What if nobody finds them funny? What if somebody is offended by the Jew joke in the Sarah Silverman dream even though it’s clearly a linguistic joke and not an anti-Semitic joke?
I’ve halted major production on these stories because I’ve amplified the critical voices in my head over my own enjoyment of the stories, over my own hope to read my dreams in a finalized, exaggerated, well-narrated fashion.
My friend the musician, Ian C. Nelson (real name), told me recently, “You never know what can happen with silly dream-stories like those. You write them up. You collect a dozen or more of them. You find a friend to illustrate them. And one day they fall into the hands of someone who has the same sense of humor as you, but who also works for HBO. Suddenly, you’re making a show that rivals Lena Dunham’s.”
Let’s not get insane, but Ian’s got one major point: as creative people, we never know where our stories are going unless we write them for the sheer sake of them and then release them into the universe. I’ve never edited or labored over a single sneeze, but I’ve released countless shitty drafts of those buggers into the world. And, surprisingly, most of those shitty sneeze drafts get met with earnest blessings. Sometimes even G0d blessings.
So I thank Thee, Lord, for Anne Lamott who proved my own advice the best advice to take. May she never reach her final bird. And I thank Thee for Lucy and bless her shitty first drafts. May they become the loveliest of fourth or fifth or sixth drafts. And I thank Thee for Sarah Silverman, that she’s so dreamy in her hoodie sweatshirts and potty mouth. May she see that Jesus is better than magic. And I thank Thee for laying waste to my enemies, even when my greatest enemy is my own dang head. Selah and amen.