Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nothing Special - a childhood memory turned life lesson

Yesterday, I had a random memory pop into my head out of nowhere. When I was about nine years-old, I remember that my dream was to become a cartoonist. The idea of being a writer wasn't even on my radar, despite having written several short stories at that time. No, I wanted to draw cartoons, and I remember sitting in class and spending a lot of time drawing random things, cartoon characters and superheroes and the like. I had several books on how to draw that I would work from when I was home, and I loved drawing so much that my favorite game as a child was Pictionary.

One day, I was sitting on the living room floor, doodling, and I drew what I thought was a great picture of Roger Klotz, the bully from the cartoon show Doug. I drew it hastily from memory, which was not something I often did. I usually drew from trying to copy some form of source material, very rarely just from my own head. Well, anyway, I was so proud of this drawing that I wanted to show it off to my dad. So, I did. And he gives me a slightly puzzled look and says "Who is this supposed to be?"

Of course, I thought, Dad's not familiar with that show, I need to show him the original character. I happened to have a pack of Doug trading cards and one of them was of Roger, so I ran to my room and got it and excitedly hurried back to show my dad. And I was like, "See? Doesn't it look just like him?"

He looked back and forth between the trading card and my drawing, and then with a sort of "meh" expression on his face, he says, "Eh, I guess it kind of looks like him." He then handed me back the card and my drawing, and that was it.

For him.

For me, I was crushed. It may seem silly now. After all, it was just a quick doodle from memory and years later I found it, and Dad was right. It wasn't very good. But at the time, being nine years-old and having spent so much time practicing drawing and having a dream of one day working on the Simpsons or Disney movies or even on a Nicktoon like Doug, that feedback had a huge impact on me and planted a rather large seed of doubt. Dad was oblivious, as he often was. I know he didn't intend to hurt my feelings or cause any irreparable damage. After all, I was the one who asked for his opinion. But I wasn't really asking for his opinion. I thought what I had done was brilliant and wanted it recognized. Instead my so-called brilliance was met with a "meh".

I continued to draw, but I never felt the same about it after that. No matter how hard I tried, I just never felt good enough. I really had no natural talent for drawing. I couldn't draw the same image twice flawlessly, which of course is very important in animation. By the age of ten, a mere year later, I had absolutely no desire to be a cartoonist at all anymore. In fact, when given an assignment to write what my future goals were, I wrote with absolute sincerity that I wanted to attend St. Petersburg Junior College and then become a waitress. In fact, for the next several years, I thought that's what I was going to do. And oddly enough, to this day, I still often write about twenty-something women who are waitresses (Beth in Moonridge Memories, for example), that's how much of an impact that transition had on me, that transition from having a huge, unobtainable dream to having a much more realistic and modest dream, and yet to some degree, glamorizing it.

When I was eleven, I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories. At twelve, I attempted my first novel and got stuck at around 30 pages or so. At thirteen, that novel suddenly clicked for me, by just adding extra characters to it and subplots, I was able to write the whole thing within a month or so. Writing after that came so easily to me that I never dreamed of being a professional author. It came so easily to me that I thought there was nothing special about me and that anyone could write stories or novels. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, I wrote the first drafts of fifteen novels. How many people write just one novel in their lifetime? I don't know. But somewhere between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, I went from writing as a hobby for my own personal enjoyment to really wanting to pursue it as a career.

At that time, I wouldn't let anyone read my books. Not one person. I was afraid of having a dream taken from me again. I wrote fifteen novels before the age of eighteen and gave myself so little credit for such an achievement, and even saying that now makes me uncomfortable--calling it an achievement. After all, it was nothing special. Everyone could do it, right?


Even in today's world, where you can be in touch with thousands of people over the internet who do what you do, my ability to write, finish, and publish a novel makes me feel more special today than it ever did when I was young, even when I knew no one else personally who wrote novels. So many people say "I'd write a novel, but I don't have time. Maybe someday." Someday usually doesn't come. Because writing a novel is not a whim for a writer. It's not an end goal for "someday". It's as necessary and as natural as breathing. That is why I never felt special, because one doesn't feel special for breathing. Everyone breathes. However, very few, comparatively speaking, write.

Drawing never came naturally for me. It required all of my energy and my effort and still came out "meh". When I browse a site like, I'm in awe of the talent that people have for such artistry. But then I'll read their descriptions and some of them will say things like "This didn't turn out how I wanted it to" or "This isn't very good, but..." and I'm thinking I couldn't draw something half this good if I had the rest of my life to work on it. I think it's time for people to start giving themselves more credit for what they can do, for what makes them special. It doesn't matter if there are people out there who are better or worse than you are. There is only one you. Your voice, your perspective, your mind, makes you special and stand out among your peers. No one can take that from you, unless you let them.

As I was writing this, I was reminded of a song by Belle Brigade whose lyrics are rather fitting for my sentiments above. So have a listen below, if you'd like. Try to feel good about the things you do, because there are too many people out there waiting to tear you down to build themselves up. When you have a strong foundation of confidence and appreciation for your own talent, no one can tear it down.