Higher Education: Kicking Self-Doubt’s… Booty

Barbara Jwanouskos is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And she’s all out of bubble gum.

Summer’s winding down for me. I head back to Pittsburgh in just under two weeks and classes start just five days after that. I’ve been concentrating on finishing the projects that I’ve committed to finishing and starting to cultivate the former good habits that used to be a part of my every day.

Non-sequitur here! I’ve been thinking a lot about tai chi because once I go back, I will be directing my own practice again. I won’t have regular classes to attend. I won’t have guidance from senior students or my instructor anymore. It’s actually a lot like how I went into summer – only with the writing being the activity upon which I had to be more self-directed.

I’m not exactly nervous that I’ll fail to practice. Even though last year was difficult, tai chi was a great way for me to calm down, get centered and move around a little bit. I think the hang-up comes from some kind of thought that goes a little something like this, (HIT IT!) What if when I’m practicing on my own, I end up letting myself off the hook too much and my practice becomes lazy?

I worry about this with writing too. I worry that even my sometimes minimal attempts to work on my play or do free-writing are not enough. But then I read this blog article, “Yes, Virginia, You Can Totally Force Art” by Chuck Wendig and I had sort of a huh, how ‘bout that? moment because I totally agree with him about the idea that when you have a daily practice goal – length of time, words, pages, etc. – cranking out those last couple of words, minutes, fractions of pages do make a difference in the long run. Even if you do end up throwing out all of it. I feel like more often, I have the same experience that Wendig describes, where you read over the what you wrote, and realize, hey, this isn’t nearly as awful as I thought it was…

I had a thought while teaching tai chi to the cast of Nancy Frank’s Inexpressibly Blue directed by Robert Estes for the Bay Area One-Acts Festival. Robert asked me to go through some tai chi and qi gong postures with the cast since I practice and assistant teach tai chi at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi (over in Chinatown). I went through the beginning section of the Yang Family tai chi form up in a beautiful, sunny park yesterday. It was interesting for me to go through the postures and the philosophy behind tai chi with them because you can really go deep down the rabbit hole.

The cast was mostly fixated on the postures of the form because of the blocking they would need to figure out for the performance of the play. Beyond the choreography and memorization of movements, there’s a whole endless string of other considerations to put into the practice. I think writing has been the same way for me this summer. Whenever I get stuck or frustrated with one piece of the play, I just go to another section I think I know about. Sometimes I try to power through a section I’m working on, and just have faith that something might pop up or that I could throw it away if it really sucks.

Tai chi is the same way. I think any practice is. Ultimately, you do have to have faith in yourself that you can go further than you think you can. You have to have faith that you’ll come up with something if you don’t remember what to do next or if you can’t think of where the story goes to. And, you know, tomorrow is another day. Every sucky thing that happened yesterday when you were writing or tai chi-ing just is a total wash the next time you decide to give it time.

There’s this book I’m reading right now about tai chi energetics called Juice: Radical Taiji Energetics, which probably sounds like fake magic BS to a lot of people, but the thing is, even with a feat that seems impossible, the two things he says that you have to do in order to reach these advanced levels are practice every day and believe that it will happen. There’s something to that. I don’t care if it’s radical or if it’s common sense. They work together too. Maybe you don’t always believe in what you’re doing but, ef it! You’re gonna practice anyway. And maybe you don’t always feel like you have time to practice, but hey, if you don’t, then how will you ever develop?

One of the screenwriting books Save The Cat Strikes Back! says basically the same thing that in order for him to find success with his writing, he had to be disciplined, focused and positive with his work. Those are hard things to remember to do sometimes, but it sure beats kicking your own booty with self-doubt. I’m trying to remember these small ideas that count when I come back to my thesis play to write, as I prepare to teach a whole group of students creative writing for the first time, and as I try to keep my tai chi practice this year. I’m confident something will come out of it if I can just wade through the muck. Did anyone ever regret taking the time to put a few more crappy sentences upon the screen? Probably not… Who knows where they will lead!