I’m Skeered

It’s hard to express how terrifying it is to sit down to write.  I know that a lot of writers face the same fear.  I’ve heard a lot of them talk about it in interviews.  I guess that’s supposed to make me feel better.  Some of them are writers whom I admire a lot.  But then there’s the part of me that thinks that maybe I am unique in some ways with regard to my fear of writing.  Now when I say writing, I’m not talking about just any writing.  I’m not talking about blogging.  I’m talking about taking the ideas for dramatic literature that are listed on the right-hand side of my Google calendar and putting them down on paper… er, well, putting them down on this “light window to the world” through which I stare for most of my life nowadays.  I have about ten of those ideas there on my “tasks” list; plays, movies, television series, librettos. I also have been encouraged by one of New York’s top literary agents to “fill in some more about [my] youth” in a book that is basically written.  The Blood of Prophets is currently about two hundred and twenty-five pages long.  I submitted it to an agent to see if they might be interested in taking me on as a client and helping me to get it published.  They were.  But they also wanted me to go back and expound on what is now a fairly brief flashback to my youth.  The book contains my Iraq War Journals in toto, the journals from which “The Eyes of Babylon” was developed.  The journals basically dissolve into madness after I get home from Iraq.  Then I go on to tell the story of my traveling around with the peace movement and all I learned there. Like I said, the agency (and this is a very impressive agency) was interested.  They just wanted me to do a little more work.  That was over a year ago.  Even now, I sat down at the computer at 15:00 to write and remembered, “Oh! I didn’t blog yesterday or today.  I better do that now.”  I can think of a thousand very, very good reasons not to work on the book or these scripts.  I am paralyzed by a hundred forms of fear.  No, I’m not sharing it with you for the sake of sharing it.  I’m hoping that it will help.  God knows coming clean and being ridiculously honest about other embarrassing things in my life has certainly helped.  Maybe this will too. Zac sat down with me yesterday and helped me make out a schedule for the whole week which included a lot of time for working on the new scripts (along with time to work on all the things that require my attention with regard to the off-Broadway run of Babylon, time to work on Mehadi Foundation and IVAW stuff, the time for me to get to Westside Elementary, work and get home, time for Crossfit, time for my VA therapist appointment, Co-counseling and other stuff I do to try to help my mental illnesses, time to cook, clean and shop and even some “Jeff time” which will most always end up being my watching some video documentary about the theatre or other playwrights or watching some artsy movie or going to plays.  It’s what I live for.)

“It’s what I live for.”  That’s very telling.  For all the things I aspire to do to hopefully leave this world a little bit better place because I was here, my art—i.e. writing and performing, is the best I can do.  It’s certainly been the most efficient way I’ve been able to feel like I was making a positive impact.  I don’t want to discount the value of sitting down one on one with another vet (I’m feeling like I’ve said this to you before) but by sharing my writing, millions of people have been able to hear me articulate why our foreign wars of aggression are going to be the demise of The United States of America if we don’t stop and make amends and why whether you agree with the foreign wars of aggression or not, our veterans deserve our compassion and support and how loving yourself for exactly who you are is the best thing you can do for the world.  Thousands have seen the play. Millions have watched the movie or seen me interviewed.  A simple country boy like me being able to get the microphone on that level, that’s pretty fucking great!  And this isn’t about some ego bullshit.  I know that left to my own devices, I usually end up with a bottle of liquor in one hand and a gun in the other.  I am alive by Grace.  And I believe it is that same Grace that allows me to be a part, if even a small part, of a hope for our being able to take a good look at the way the feel about things, how we operate as a nation and as a species and figure out how we want to move forward in a better way.  I believe this is the unique role of the artist. We can do it in ways that preachers and politicians never could.  Yet….

I sit here paralyzed.  Praying.  Reaching out to you as if you could do something about it.  Praying to That Which Created Me, “Please!  Help me to get rolling!”  I made similar comments on Facebook before.  I had people (actually shortsighted enough to) say, “Well get off Facebook and start writing!”  As if this was supposed to help.  Honey if it was that easy, I would!  I guess someone could similarly say, “Well why are you wasting your time blogging?”  (Please don’t.)  I’m doing this because something inside me tells me this is moving me toward the scripts and not away from them.

Adam and I were talking about it last night.  He’s heard me be asked more than a few times about my feelings about writing.  I usually like to say, “I love ‘having written’ but writing is like shitting razor blades.”  I don’t know if this is completely true because I do have fond memories of some writing sessions where I felt like I was enjoying life as much as I ever have.  Two leap to mind.  Once I wrote for seventeen hours straight, all through the night and into the next day.  I was intoxicated on the process.  I wrote fifty-two pages of literature.  The other is when I was writing a seven-page letter home from Iraq to my “fellow artists.”  Pouring over it, revising it, reading it to my fellow Marines made me feel like I had transcended the hell of my life at that time.  So I can’t really say that I’m being completely honest when I say that writing is like “shitting razor blades.”  I think my real fear is of getting started.  Maybe that’s why I do “morning pages” (thirty minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning when I awake, for my eyes only). Maybe that’s why I blog… to “prime the pump.”

Tell you what, I’ll list some of my fears here and ask for your prayer support (whatever that looks like in your spiritual practice or lack of one) and we’ll see what happens.

  • I’m afraid of failing.  “The Eyes of Babylon” and “Semper Fi” have changed my life.  Through that writing I have been able to chip away a little at my essential feelings of worthlessness which were so deeply ingrained by growing up sensitive, imaginative and queer in a culture that seems to loath these qualities in a young boy.  I’m afraid that my journaling in Iraq (which became the play) is the best writing I’ll ever do and it’s over.
  • I’m afraid of success.  What if I got everything I’d always dreamed of?  How in the hell would I deal with that?!  The fear of success is also heavily steeped in my Church of Christ upbringing that taught that Jesus was poor and being rich is dangerous.  If I got a lot of money for doing what I love (and a lot of people do) wouldn’t it damn my soul to Hell for all eternity?  (Incidentally I don’t believe in that old Heaven and Hell thing anymore.  I’m just talking about my programming and how it’s effected me.  Affected?  Effected. No, I’m pretty sure it’s affected.  See?  Told you I was a horrible writer.) Also, I don’t define “success” simply by financial success.  In fact, money is way down my list of priorities in life.  Maybe that’s why I never have any.  Success to me is mostly about fulfilling my divine purpose on the planet as an artist and activist.
  • I’m afraid of the fame.  And I love it… to the degree that I’ve ever had any.  I love getting recognized in airports.  I love getting asked for my autograph.  I ain’t gonna lie, I can’t get enough of it.  It has something to do with feeling so shitty about myself for all those years and now having people express appreciation for what I’ve done helps to contradict the old voices that echo the lack of acceptance I’ve felt a lot of the time.
  • I’m afraid of showing too much of myself.  My writing is deeply personal.  I don’t know how to write any other way.  Even my fiction shows the readers (or audience) the innermost parts of my soul.  My early experience taught me that that is a baaad thing.  To the extent that I showed Walker County, Alabama who Jeff Key was down deep inside, I was laughed at, ridiculed and physically threatened.  Over and over and over.  No wonder an activity that reveals my true self on ever increasing levels to larger and larger numbers of people feels like I’m about to jump off a building! To my mother’s credit, she did praise me wildly for my creativity.  I think it’s the best thing she did for me.
  • I’m afraid I’ll go crazy.  Digging around down there, in my past, in the dark confines of my own mind frightens me.  I’ve been to some very dark places in my life.  Places I don’t necessarily want to revisit.  But if I’m to have any real measure of integrity in my art, nothing is off-limits.

I’m sure there are many others.  But just coming clean on those made me feel better.  Thanks for listening.

Max is coming over in a few minutes for me to put on his Halloween makeup.  Then I’ll put on my own so I can scare the shit out of the kiddies that come for candy tonight.  I hope we get a lot of trick-or-treaters.  We have a huge bowl of candy and that’s not on my Crossfit eating plan.

While I wait for the little ghosts and goblins to appear, I’m going to sit there in my vampire costume and work on Let Us Sing … I promise.


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