It’s a slow Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting here listening to the Blues on internet radio. There are some amazing musicians out there, people who can play a guitar until you’re speechless, sing to break your heart, and surprise you into joy or laughter – or tears. And while some of them have a nice following, not a one will ever find themselves on a Top 40 radio station. The Blues guys don’t care though. They’re after the soul of the music, not the adoration of the masses.
I was thinking lately how much I still have to learn about being brave. Not the kind of brave that sends your work out into the world – that, I mostly have down. After a few novels, several writer’s groups, and a lot of marketing text deadlines at work, I’ve gotten to the point where I can hit “send” without more than a nervous flutter in my stomach. The flutter is good – it makes me check my work carefully – and I can discuss its flaws with a good attitude and a healthy willingness to revise. But. When we’re talking something personal, something meant to be a kind of art – that is a different kind of bravery entirely.
I want to be like the Blues guitarist, who puts his soul in every note while the world looks on, an artist who marries skill and personality in a way that makes him uniquely himself. He’s rolling out his soul on a buffet line for the world, wonderful and terrible moments on silver platters. That kind of honesty is brave. Foolish. And the very core of what makes the music sing.
The best fiction in some ways is the same. It’s full of life and truth – and technique, never forget that. But the best building blocks in the world are useless without something to build. A tower to stack. A cathedral to erect with blood and prayer from hard stone. And yet – the cathedral will never be built with children’s building blocks. Every word, every block must be chosen carefully. But, what will keep the reader coming back for more is the you – your journey, your passion, your own excitement, joy, anger, fear. It must be entertaining, yes, but it must also have a core of truth, of individually. It has all been done before – but not by you. Not by me. Not by us.
Like the Blues player, with practice, commitment and time, the skills will come. The sincerity and the genius will come too if we keep plucking the strings. What remains is only bravery – the courage to try something new knowing we might fail. The courage to let us fail bravely. Proudly. To sing at the top of our lungs in faded cotton underwear and not fear censure. To bring out our skeletons for an afternoon tea and ask them questions. To know who we are when no one is looking, good and bad, ugly and beautiful. To know ourselves, and to put all we know on the page.
Today I look at being brave – the terror of standing at the edge of a cliff, wings untested. Today I dare to jump.