PATTI SMITH & THE POWER OF SELF-EXPLORATION
Updated: Feb 3
I became a writer by accident. Before the moment I walked into a graduate class at Wayne State University under the mistaken assumption it was a journalism writing class, I never gave writing five minutes thought. If I had, I would’ve immediately rejected it, believing at the time that I was not smart enough, literate enough, had zero talent, and even less to say. Had the professor not gently coerced me to remain in the class (I was notorious for dropping classes), I would’ve walked out the door and never returned.
At that stage of life, I had what I thought was a dream job. I did the publicity and advertising for a small professional theatre, an offshoot of the major theatrical producers in the country. For a job in Detroit, it was as glamorous and close to show biz as it got. But I was restless.
As luck would have it, it was a playwriting class that I had mistakenly walked into. And I probably knew less about playwriting than virtually any form of visual writing. I wasn’t aware at the time, but my naivete was my greatest asset. I was immediately captivated by the class and its professor. Although I had zero idea what I was doing, I didn’t care. I felt possessed. When a new show opened at the theater where I was working, I wouldn’t get home until ten or eleven at night. It didn’t matter. I wanted to work on my play, which was the course requirement. I didn’t know if I was breaking rules or following them. It was liberating. Not only didn’t I have anything to judge myself against, I also didn’t give a damn. In those halcyon days, many years ago, what drove me was the pleasure derived from creating something from nothing.
The joy I derived from writing my play didn’t diminish my love for my full-time job. If anything, I had a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, theatre. By the time I had written my play, my professor, herself a revered author and playwright, reached out and met with me privately to encourage me to enter the country’s most prestigious playwriting competition. The idea seemed ludicrous to me, but at her urging, I did it.
I submitted my play and then never gave it another thought. Not once. When the letter arrived announcing my status as a finalist, I knew I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know how or what was involved, but I’d never done anything more natural. It was as if I possessed a different “voice” demanding to be heard.
Once I accessed that voice, I discovered there were many facets to it. Initially I thought I could only write a play. Then I thought, no, it’s got to be screenplays. Then I was asked to author an original personal essay for an anthology and, I thought, I can’t write an essay. But I figured, what the hell, so I wrote a personal essay. And it was included in the anthology. Then came a time when I felt like I was getting stale. I was visiting friends in upstate New York and saw the book “Just Kids” by Patti Smith on their bookshelf. I love Patti Smith, heard great things about the book and started reading it.
Her magnificent book inspired me to push my boundaries creatively. I decided to do something new, something I’d never done before, since I believe one artistic endeavor inspires another. I chose painting because I’d never done it before nor had I any previous desire to do anything like it. The idea of having zero emotional investment in 'being good' appealed to me. I took a class, loved it and found a part of myself I didn't know existed.
People who see my art often say I’m “gifted.” NOTHING is further from the truth. I’m simply someone who discovered I enjoyed painting and, as a result, continue to work at improving. I give it time, energy, and focus. It’s not surprising. When you like something and practice, you get better!!
As for my original intention, to help reignite my passion for writing, taking up painting did exactly that. I’m connected to my writing in a way I haven’t been for a long time. That’s the magic in finding your ‘voice.’ You don’t have to sing in only one key! If you allow yourself to explore the ‘you’ beneath the surface, the one buried under decades of insecurity and trepidation, I know the same will be true for you.