You’re not really asking if you never hear “no”

I haven’t been able to write for a week. I haven’t been able to open this blog, or my script, or even my journal. But I can feel my emotions building up and clustering; forming a scummy sadness residue between me and my experience of joy; between my center and my source of bliss. I just haven’t felt happy.

So I got to the post office early this morning, and I am making myself sit here and write. Sort of like morning pages, just a stream of consciousness language purge, just a method to get the creative ball rolling again, because that seems to be the one effective antidote to whatever gets me down.

I’ve been unable to write because I am tired of writing about being tired; about being rejected; about how hard motherhood is. I am tired of dragging my readers with me on through these ups and downs; tired of feeling sorry for myself.

But what can I say? Here I am, not feeling so great. And the only thing I know to do is write about it. So please skip this ineloquent ramble if you’re not in the mood. I know I have many privileges. I know I’m lucky and I should be grateful (and I am).

But . . .

A week ago I had a baby who was taking lovely hour-long naps during the day and sleeping longer hours at night. This has come to a halt.

A week ago I was deeply engaged in a project I felt really good about; the words were coming quickly and sounding good; the prospect of a staged reading was coalescing; and everything felt suddenly real. I was making art; I was living my purpose; my silly little idea was becoming a thing in three-dimensions. This has come to an even more grinding halt.

So things are much as they were before, except that I have tasted something sweeter. I saw a light at the end of this tunnel: a light that said I had value as a person and an artist; a light that said I would begin to feel at home in my body again; a light that said I would have a few minutes to breath and create.

So what happened?

If you want to know what happened with the sleep training, I honestly can’t tell you. It was going well and getting better and then suddenly turned on a dime. However, I spent some time on the phone with L’s pediatrician today, asked about 20 questions I could not find the answers to online, and we are ready to give it another go. (Breathe in and find some more patience.)

Now as for the staged reading, well, that’s a whole other ball of upset energy. If you’ve been following along on Facebook, then you know some of this. Here is a more detailed account:

Once my script was in good shape, I scheduled an appointment to meet with the head Interpretive Ranger here in Grant Village. I had a nice sit down in his office where I explained my idea. Ranger Jon was enthusiastic. He said, “I think this is such a valuable perspective to bring to our visitors.” He talked about how they could handle the advertising: designing flyers, sending out emails and press releases, and so forth. He explained that he needed to confirm with his superior (at headquarters) about the best way to proceed, as he was not sure whether or not I would need a permit. I gave him a copy of my resume and my publicity pamphlet and pointed out a few key things, in case he needed to demonstrate to his boss that I am a professional. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said, “It’s not a matter of selling it. This falls under free speech, so I think we just need to verify what permit, if any, you need to obtain.” He said he would call me the following day to talk about dates.

He did call me, but his tone was no longer one of enthusiasm. He said that I would need to apply for a permit, and that he would send me the form via email. He sounded so much less sure than when I’d spoken to him just one day prior and it left me feeling uneasy. He closed his email by stating: “Hope this works and I do apologize for such a formal process.”

I filled out the form, which was very simple, and sent it via USPS up to Park Headquarters. I was worried about the length of time it might take to hear back from them, but within a few days, I received this email:

“Hello Nico – I received your request to do a storytelling performance at the Grant campground amphitheater.  In the park, special events may be permitted by the park superintendent when (1) there is a meaningful association between the park area and the event, and (2) the event will contribute to visitor understanding of the significance of the park area.  

Based on the information you provided, we will not issue a permit for this activity at the campground amphitheater.  I cc’d Steve Roper, the deputy district ranger in the Grant area with this message. If there is an appropriate location in the housing or other government area you could make arrangements with Steve to do a performance for employees, but may not advertise it to the public.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Regards,

Gina*”

[*not her real name]

This is how I responded:

“Hi Gina,

I did not include more information with my application because I was under the impression that Ranger Jon had already spoken to you.

I am a professional storyteller living in Grant Village with my family. This is an original piece about living in Grant, which draws on historical information about the park.

Ranger Jon was very excited about presenting this and he expressed his full endorsement. Is it possible for you to reconsider or for me to reapply?

Thank you for your time,

Nico”

A few more days passed, and this was Gina’s response:

“Nico – thank you for the additional information about your proposal for the Grant amphitheater (Jon spoke with another person in our office).  While we appreciate your offer we won’t be issuing a special event permit for this performance. The decision isn’t based solely on your proposal, we have to consider not only your request but others that we’ve had and will likely receive if we begin to allow individuals who do not work for the National Park Service to present or perform at public venues in the park.  

I discussed a few other ideas (locations) that you might want to pursue with Jon Nicholson, he’s cc’d on this message.  Please stop by the Visitor Center to visit with Jon about ideas for the other locations.

Regards,

Gina”

This felt like such a blow, such a massive fuck you. I have been very patient with Yellowstone; such a good sport. I have been taking advantage of every opportunity, and attempting to be a good citizen, and following the rules, and trying to contribute something positive and true, and most of all, trying to find a place for myself here so that I can be happy, and my husband can continue to work here (doing things of more concrete importance, like maintaining safe water for us to drink.)

But it went deeper than that. It shouldn’t have. But it did.

It created a wide enough opening for the Fraud Police to sneak in, and remind me, in head spinning repetitive refrains, that I’m not a real artist, not really a “professional,” not really good enough, legitimate enough, just plain enough.

This little project was enough to enliven my Velveteen Rabbit soul; and when it was taken away I devolved back into a ball of fluff. I couldn’t even open the document. I felt so stupid. And naturally, as per my habit of living out loud via FB, I had already announced that the staged reading was a go. (I chronically count my chickens before they hatch.)

And Rafal said, Why not write about this rejection? Why not put it in the show?

But I did that last time. What, is every show going to include a list of all the organizations who rejected me before I finally made some headway with something? It all really made me miss the Kleinau. It is next to impossible to get a show booked that has never existed anywhere before, and the Kleinau and all the people behind it, always gave me my first yes, the yes that all other opportunities were built upon.

This little staged reading was supposed to be that yes. I had a very extensive and serious long-term plan, and this staged reading was supposed to be the first building block. I was counting on it. I thought I could secure it without a problem. And without it, the whole plan comes falling down.

And what if the only people who will ever like my work are people who already love me?

And what if I will never make anything as good as Sideshow again?

And what if my Ph.D. was a huge waste of time because I’m not ready to be a professor and not good enough to be an artist?

But you know what . . .

Copying and pasting Gina’s email here, it doesn’t sound as bad as it felt five days ago. When I read her words, it sent me into such a hideous shame-spiral that I closed the email and didn’t open it again. And I’m not sure I fully even processed what it said. . .

I never did go and speak with Ranger Jon, and obviously, I really should. Maybe I threw in the towel too easily? Maybe I dismissed my chickens before giving them time to hatch?

Breathe in. Breathe out.

You’ve done this math before, Nico. You know how the formula goes . . .

Shame + Passion = Self-Love

Or

Passion > Shame

Or

Shame –> Passion –> Self-Love

Or

Shame <–> Self-Love <–> Passion

Something like that.

Maybe it’s not my job to decided what is or isn’t good enough. It’s not my job to judge my own work. There is something that compels me to create (something big), and something about creating heals me (something deep). So as long as I keep making, from the most genuine place that I can find, I am doing what I was meant to do. Other people have to do the rest. This is the riskiest, most vulnerable, more important part: asking others to listen.

And it isn’t truly asking if they don’t have the option to say no.

Maybe this applies to the baby, too? I can ask her to sleep, but I can’t force her.  She is a person, for goodness sake, a dynamic living human. I can ask her to be many things–kind, hardworking, honest, creative–I can teach her and help her and hope for the best, but I can’t make her be anything. I can help her to sleep, but I can’t expect perfection. She is a free being. I must find a balance between discipline and choice. I must make choices based in love, and ask for help when I don’t know the answer.

Furthermore, as I’ve often said, it is my job to get rejection letters. If I’m not getting rejections, I’m not really working, not really risking. Some will always hurt worse than others. Maybe you’re not really applying if you’re not willing to get hurt.

And finally, once again, writing it all down makes it feel better. It helps me put it all in perspective; it decompresses my thought crystals; it keeps the Fraud Police at bay. Whether or not it ever gets staged, whether or not anyone reads it, there is a therapeutic value that must not be ignored. It is as simple as that: writing heals me.

Writing this down reminds me that I’m real. I’m not sure if other people need such frequent and enduring reminders of their own reality, but I suspect the need to know and prove that one is genuine, authentic, that one truly exists is why many people make art in the first place.

So if you are listening, thanks. And if you’ve chosen not to listen, I understand. Offering the art is the second half of making. Being told no is a reminder that your offer was true.

[UPDATE: I did go and meet with Ranger Jon. He apologized profusely for how things went down, which is great because at least I’m not crazy. “I should’ve just let you go for it,” he said, “I mean, this is Grant.” (We are the redheaded step-child of the Yellowstone Villages; nobody pays too much attention to what we do here). I guess they actually get a lot of requests from all different kinds of performance artists to do all different kinds of pieces in the NPS venues, and it is the blanket position of HQ to say no. (Although they do use these venues for church services. Go figure.) He made a few suggestions of places where I could do the performance, and they were not terrible ideas. With the summer season closing and the temps dropping, however, I have decided to just wait and put something more substantial together for next summer. I think I may be able to get booked through the Employee Recreation Program (the same people who put on the talent show) and do a small park tour (shows in Old Faithful Village, Lake Village, Grant), and that sounds like fun to me. I am hoping to get this show on its feet over the winter, so by next summer I will be able to put on a real performance (as opposed to a staged reading) during the peak of the season (not in the post-Labor day chill). Sometimes it is indeed better to ask for forgiveness than permission. When it comes to Yellowstone, I will remember that.]

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