George Michael Had It All Figured Out

George Michael Had It All Figured Out

George Michael Had It All Figured Out

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This sign, in the photo in the above banner, sits at the top of a bookshelf in my office, prominently featured in my direct eyeline as I sit at my desk, and it has for many years. (George Michael is a recent addition, just to keep it real….)

Faith has always been a powerful word for me, not for religious reasons, but perhaps with similar connotations. It’s a touchstone that offers comfort, strengthens my fortitude, and sheds glimmers of hope when I feel overwhelmed, the way some folks may use “believe” or “love.”

The former has always felt a little too magical to me, like “If you build it they will come,” and that’s not what faith represents for me. The latter feels a little too general. Love, in the words of Miracle Max, is the greatest thing in the world, but thinking of it doesn’t necessarily pull me out of the pit of despair when I’m feeling inadequate to a task, buried in deadlines, or robbed of optimism and hope.

Faith does. It’s an all-purpose tool for me. It’s an incantation I use when I’m in the middle of creating a new course or article and the whole thing feels like a terrible hash I will never be able to cajole into a palatable dish. That’s when I look up at my sign and remind myself to have faith in not just myself, which is a little too simplistic, but in the concrete reasons that I should relax and trust that I’m going to figure things out, like my experience, or past track record, or the knowledge that I know I have accrued over thirty years of working on authors’ manuscripts.

Faith, for me, isn’t some woo-woo belief that, as John Lennon (and others) says, everything will be okay in the end because if it’s not okay it’s not the end. I think of someone hurtling over a cliff in their car screaming in terror when things are very much not okay, yet it very much is the end. Things are not always okay, and disasters happen. Much is out of our control in this world.

For me faith reminds me of that, but in a good way. If much is out of my control then I can let go of trying to control it. That takes a lot of pressure off myself.

I have no way of controlling how anyone will react to my work. But I can control the work itself insofar as focusing on my message, developing it as clearly and thoroughly as I can, and presenting it in as understandable and actionable a fashion as I’m capable of. I can hone those skills and continually improve them.

Faith Amid Failure

I can even learn from failure, times when I have not been as effective as I hoped to be, or as well received. I can analyze what went wrong and, where those elements were a result of my dropping the ball or inadequately preparing or even where what I thought might be effective was not, I can learn from that and get a little bit better at my craft the next time.

To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, I can focus on changing the things that are within my control. And I can let go of the things that aren’t.

To some degree, for example, if my mood or energy level aren’t as conducive to giving an engaging, lively, and clear presentation as I’d like, I can address the elements that caused that. Did I not get enough sleep? I can figure out the problem and take steps to address it. (I’m looking at you, Alex the Great Pyrenees dog, who as he ages and descends into doggie dementia has been waking up multiple times in the night to sing us the song of his people for no reason we can possibly understand.) 

Was I focused on how I was being received, or what other people might have thought of me or my material, or beset with a bout of impostor syndrome? I can notice that and remind myself next time instead to focus on my message and what motivates me to want to share it, which generally tends to center me and remind me how much I enjoy presenting and relax into it, which makes me a much better presenter.

Read more: “The Dunning-Kruger Effect (Or, Dealing with Author Despair Syndrome)”

Did I mainline a bunch of sugar or carbs before teaching a class that sapped my energy and resulted in a lackluster presentation? Lesson learned, and I’ll stay away from the cake before I teach.

Some of it’s not within my control. Maybe I got an early-morning time slot at a conference and everybody’s half asleep, or one right after lunch when they’re ready for a nap, or the last one of the day or the weekend when a lot of people have already gone home and attendance is sparse. I can’t control the audience’s attendance or reaction or state of mind. But I can remind myself that it doesn’t have to impact the enthusiasm and energy I bring to teaching the workshop.

In these moments I often remind myself of the many times, back in my acting days, that I gave performances to a sparse or quiet or unreceptive audience—or the show I was in where at one performance the cast outnumbered the audience. Show must go on, folks, and you learn to give the same amount of energy and heart for three people as for three thousand.

Read more: “Giving Your All for the Few”

But there may always be elements that are entirely outside my control, and I can learn to let those go and not let them affect my confidence or sense of competence or my belief in myself. I can remind myself to have faith that those things are true and solid and real even if I run into stumbling blocks. Even if I am not perfect or infallible.

Faith Is a Tool in the Author Toolbox

Faith can be such a charged word, deeply associated as it is with religion, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, or used to justify inequity or bad behavior. But if it resonates for you, I urge you to take it back to its basic and original meaning: to trust in something that may be unverifiable or intangible.

This is a hard business, at the risk of stating the painfully obvious. Lately it seems like I hear more and more from authors that they are losing their determination or drive or hope for their careers or their belief in themselves—their faith. Now more than ever I think it’s important for us to cling to it.

Despite Lennon’s assurances, everything may not be okay, and you may in fact come to an end one day: of your efforts to get a particular story into publishable shape or find your way through a Byzantine or bumbling manuscript. Of a round of submission to agents or publishers on a particular manuscript. Of a relationship you’ve established with an agent or editor, or even of your book contract. Of your hopes of becoming a bestseller or getting six-figure contracts or even making a living wage from your writing.

We will be okay. No matter how dire the situation or setback or challenge, we can find some core essential okayness inside ourselves that allows us to attain some measure of comfort or peace or maybe even hope.

Maybe even of your drive or your passion to pursue writing as a career.

But here’s what I try to remind myself at those all-is-lost times, those dark nights of the soul, the black moments of real life, and perhaps you might too: that I will be okay. No matter how dire the situation or setback or challenge, I can find some core essential okayness inside myself that allows me to attain some measure of comfort or peace or maybe even hope.

I can have faith that no matter how terrible whatever is happening may seem—and in fact be—I can survive it. And if I can’t survive it, I can make peace with that too and accept it. I can have faith that endings can also mean new beginnings.

I don’t always succeed at this equanimity at first. I’m as likely as anyone to be hurtling over that cliff and shrieking my panicking lungs out.

But faith allows me to at least try to remember that I’m okay, at the deepest core of me, and this too shall pass…one way or another. In any case there’s nothing I can do to affect it at that terrifying moment, and faith may offer me the fortitude to find a moment of acceptance and peace as I watch the canyon floor get over closer in my windshield.

And maybe even take a millisecond to enjoy the feeling of flying.

Cherished author friends, tell me—what do you have faith in? How does your faith serve you and your writing? What do you do to hold on to it in the hard times, or reaccess it when it may languish?

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18 Comments. Leave new

  • I have faith that the Universe is taking better care of me than I am. If things don’t go the way I want, it just may be not getting them is a saving grace. This is truest in my work in writing where now learning and growth are more important to me than publication. Tiffany, your piece on faith was like a love letter from whatever is holding this all together. I needed the reminder. Thank you.

    Reply
    • I like that, Karen–the “thank God for unanswered prayers” approach. I have a few of those myself. 🙂 Even if there’s no benign force or master plan, that helps me to find the good in whatever path I’m on, and move forward with acceptance and gratitude, as it sounds like you are doing. Thanks for this lovely note. <3

      Reply
  • MP (aka Horatio)
    April 18, 2024 12:38 pm

    These days, I have faith in the process. Put another way, I know that putting one foot in front of the other — one word in front of the other — leads me down a rewarding path. Standing still makes me miserable. Is that faith? Or simply “trust”? Not sure about the semantics. 🙂

    In any case, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on how you use faith. I was raised in an atheist household and have recently opened myself to listening more to people who talk about faith (usually people who identify as religious, though not always), and I’ve found that it expands the world exponentially.

    As Hamlet says, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The world’s a beautiful, mysterious place. Hope you have a great day in this magical existence of ours.

    Reply
    • I love the idea that you try to stay open to other perspectives and thoughts. If we could all try to do that more, not only would we maybe open ourselves up to more growth, but we might help heal some of the division and polarization that troubles so many of us in the current environment.

      I actually lit on “faith” as a touchstone word for me so long ago, and never even thought about its religious implications until my now-hubs came to my house for the first time and mentioned it. I’m taking it back from that connotation to its original meaning. 🙂

      I like your consideration of both faith and trust. They do feel a little different to me too–I think for me “trust” connotes a “leap and the net will appear” philosophy–which I must admit is mine. I trust that things will work out–but I think you’re right: that’s tied in with my faith that I will be able to navigate whatever happens. It’s not blind faith, though–I leap usually only after doing careful research and planning–but then I tend to kiss it all up to the universe and jump.

      In any case, as you insightfully point out, it keeps us moving forward–which is the essence of life, isn’t it? When we get stuck, we stagnate. Thanks for this considered and thoughtful comment, MP–it made me ponder. 🙂

      Reply
  • Rebecca Rosenberg
    April 18, 2024 2:42 pm

    What a beautiful post, Tiffany. Thank you for reminding us. (I do not know that George Michael had it figured out, sadly, or he’d be with us today, like Elton John. He seems to have it figured out. I feel like many people with amazing talent find it hard to live with.)

    I have faith in my tenacity to keep going, keep writing, keep honing my WIP until it expresses my vision. (Maybe not my original vision, but an improved version of it!)
    I enjoy the creative process of telling a story that no one else has told, and telling it as well as I’m capable, and enjoying the process of creating that. The rest is mostly out of my control, but I can still do everything in my power to do the best I can, and have books out there that live on.

    Reply
    • Hello, my friend! Thanks for sharing your view on the topic. I think it’s maybe similar to mine, insofar as reminding ourselves we can pull this off (whatever “this” may be at the time). Or that things will get better, or another opportunity will come along, or what have you. I like that you talk about what’s within our control–I think that might be why faith is so important for me–it lets me accept all that isn’t, but know what is and take steps to do something about it. A sense of autonomy and being my own engine–in my life and in my career–is important to me. Foundationally, in fact.

      I know, poor George–I thought about that when I titled this, but I guess we all have demons and we can’t always vanquish them, even when we may know what it takes to do it. I still give him credit for recognizing it. 🙂

      Reply
  • Igor Chirashnya
    April 18, 2024 3:39 pm

    Thanks, Tiffany, for such an insightful post. For me, an insightful post is one that stops me in my tracks and compels me to think, analyze, and engage in internal debate.

    Faith is a challenging concept for me because it feels too passive. “This too shall pass” may always prove true, but it demands considerable time. I find it hard to wait for such outcomes.

    What propels me to keep writing (or engaging in almost anything else, for that matter)? Certainly not faith. For me, it’s an enduring desire to prove to myself (and sometimes to others) that I can. That I can overcome skepticism, or all the compelling reasons not to, whether it be laziness, lack of skills, or the belief that I’m better than they think. I see it as a continuous battle against the fear of failure, of not succeeding, or at the very least, not attempting.

    Reply
    • Ha, you’ve got that whip cracking behind you, it sounds like! That’s something I often feel too. Faith doesn’t relieve me of my ambition or drive or focus, for me–it’s another component of it, and I think is what maybe helps me find the courage to push into areas that might scare or intimidate me, or push past self-doubt. Maybe similar to what you’re describing? I certainly don’t want to wake up one day regretting the shots I didn’t take. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, Igor.

      Reply
  • Another lovely post! What a wise soul you are! I recently took a leap of faith. No, I did not drive a car over a cliff, but I quit my corporate career of 30+ years, moved across country and took a part-time Writing tutor job at a small university. Funny thing – taking this leap has increased my faith. It’s only been a month, but I’m still enjoying the feeling of flying very much!

    Reply
    • WHOA, Barb, that’s huge! That is indeed a major leap of faith–in yourself as well as in the universe. Good for you–I think there’s so much that buds when we lean more toward what our truest selves most want. I think a lot lately about the finitude of life, and the oft-cited regret of the dying that they didn’t live a life true to their desires. “Someday” dreams can get lost as the time to actually do them passes amid expectations, obligations, fears, etc. Congrats on the new job–I hope you continue to love it and it brings you much joy.

      Reply
  • Richard Heard
    April 19, 2024 12:15 am

    Tiffany,

    For me writing is like having case of mental poison ivy. When I don’t scratch the itch, it lets me know. I’ve not published anything and don’t know that I will. That’s not a hurdle I feel I have to clear in order for the time I spend doing it to feel useful.

    I will share one thing I’ve learned when I’m mentally handcuffed. It’s because I’m focused on myself and not the work. Bob Dylan is my inspiration here. Among the many awards he’s won: ten Grammy’s, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Nobel Prize et al. He attended one Grammy award, for the lifetime achievement. His response when asked why he doesn’t accept awards in person his answer is roughly the same: ‘My focus is on writing songs, not winning awards.’

    Now that is faith.

    You’re an inspiration. Please keep writing the blog and teaching classes.

    Be well,

    Richard

    Reply
    • Love this perspective, Richard. I think if we can stay in touch with what’s fulfilling about the process, rather than fixating on the product and what happens with it, it’s a big part of building a satisfying writing career where it feels as if we maintain some autonomy over it, and can sustain it despite all the many challenges of this business. I never heard that Dylan quote–but I like it. I often ground myself, when I’m focusing on the wrong thing, by reminding myself why I do it, what I love about it, sharing whatever message I feel is important, etc.

      Thanks for this comment–and your very kind words. They mean a lot to me.

      Reply
  • I don’t know if it’s faith or not, and I can’t remember the name of the man who said it, although for some reason I remember he was a postmaster:

    “I can’t do everything, but still I can do something. And because I can’t do everything, I will not fail to do that which I can do.”

    That kicks in when I get a bad case of the I-can’ts. Imposter syndrome has been banished: I am what I am. If I haven’t been found out yet I probably won’t be.

    Reply
  • Garry LaFollette
    April 20, 2024 4:44 pm

    What do I have faith in? How about the work.

    Here is what I’ve observed of myself over the years. I have never experienced mental misery from a writing challenge in and of itself. Agonized over them, carried questions of ‘how do I fix this?’ with me through the day, but none of that has ever been soul crushing. The dreaded doubts and dark nights of despair come when the the demented village folk who reside inside my head take up their torches and pitch forks in a chorus of The story won’t work! The book will never be finished! No agent will touch it! Anyone who reads it will pour acid in their eyes by page five!

    What started as a simple tactical challenge of finding a way out of a scene when the tension is highest has morphed into an existential matter of ‘What ever gave me the idea that I can shape a reader’s experience when I can’t even shape a freaking sentence?’

    And most of this doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the challenge in front of me. It’s mental mischief, a parasite of the mind forever looking for a host. The doubts it brings aren’t about the writing. The doubting brain knows no more about craft or reader tastes or market niches than a cow knows about astrophysics. It may know less. What the doubting brain knows is self preservation.

    The little critic that lives inside of us hates being tuned out and ignored. Think about what happens when a vexing writing problem is solved and the next couple thousand words come like slick magic. We’re lost in the work. The work is all that is. All that is is good.

    There is simply no head space for the demon of doubt, the spiteful lunatic of self loathing.

    The little bastard hates that. It wants attention. It wants to keep us from anything that can deprive it of presence in our lives. So it tells us we can’t do this, or lacking that it will tell us that even if we can, the marketplace is too weird, the game too rigged, the __ too __. It wants our minds back. And sometimes it can be convincing. But there’s one lie it can’t make us believe; that doing the work isn’t intrinsic to who we are.

    My faith is in anything that is stronger than attention starved doubt.

    There have been several songwriters mentioned here already. George Michael had his faith, Dylan has his immortality, I’m going with someone whose name isn’t as well known, Guy Clark and ‘Boats to Build’

    I’m gonna build me a boat / with these two hands / It’ll be a fair curve / from a noble plan / Let the chips fall where they will / ‘Cause I’ve got boats to build.

    Reply
    • Garry, I love how you think of what I call the demons–those inner voices telling you “you can’t” in some form or another–and how you link that to the concept of faith. I think you’re so right–it’s those voices that create our obstacles, and it’s them we usually need to deal with head-on, rather than any foundational lack in our writing itself. We can learn and hone and grow in our skills, and that’s the process. It’s those “demented village folk” who sometimes make us think otherwise.

      I’ve actually taken a friendlier approach to them in recent years. I realize they aren’t going anywhere and that trying to smother or destroy them just makes them more persistent and louder, for me. So now I think of them as the scared-kid part of me, trying to protect me from pain the only way they know how, which is from the perspective of a scared kid. It lets me remind myself I’m the rational adult (usually, anyway), and thank them for their concern, reassure them that I’ve got the helm and we’re going to be okay. It seems to be more effective for me than my old combative approach, which I think might be a form of self-attack, since those little demons are part of me.

      That Guy Clark quote is lovely, and spot-on. Thanks.

      Reply
  • Lee Reinecke
    April 29, 2024 7:46 pm

    I have faith in a benevolent creator who desires health and abundance for all which has been created. I was raised in a Methodist household but have attended UCC churches for more than 30 years (the most liberal of Christian faiths). We exchange childcare for high holy days with the temple closest to us and celebrate an interfaith Thanksgiving service with them, the nearest Catholic and Methodist congregations, as well as the closest Muslim congregation. The leaders of each faith share in the elements of the service and we share fruit, cheeses, and desserts afterward.

    Our church is Open and Affirming, works diligently on being “green” on our grounds and in our homes, and has passion for walking the talk of social justice. I have faith in the ability of a spiritual community to make a positive impact on peoples’ lives–to divide sorrows and to multiply joys.

    During the eight years that I’ve been writing seriously, I’ve encountered deep doubts, stumbling blocks, paralyzing anxiety, and ambivalence about certain projects. Without fail, I’ve read something, heard a song or a statement made by someone I respected which seemed to direct my next steps. I view this as more than serendipity–more like divine intervention or providence.

    Exploring the major principles and priorities of other faith traditions adds texture to my faith. I’ve always been extremely skeptical about The Great Commission the book of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” I don’t believe in one exclusive faith that is the only path to a good life or to an eternity of bliss.

    In challenging periods, I pray, meditate, walk in nature, or just give myself breaks. I love that you mentioned the Serenity Prayer, which is also grounding when times are hard.

    Reply
    • What a lovely description of your faith, Lee. This to me is faith’s best purpose, whatever one’s faith is–to offer comfort and fortitude and joy in our lives. I think wherever each of us finds that is valid, and all that matters is that we do discover that well of inner support, wherever it lives for every one of us.

      I love the idea that you find what you’re looking for when you need it. I always feel that way too–or maybe the gift lies in our seeing what we need from what we get. Either way, it helps. I have lots of touchstones that I use as you do your community, faith traditions, praying, meditating, nature, etc. (Nature is the great healer, isn’t it?) It helps me to have a panoply of resources I can reach for when I need them. Thanks for sharing yours!

      Reply

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