Gasparilla Music Festival

Okay, so Tampa has this thing called Gasparilla. As far as I can tell, it takes over the town throughout the course of several months, with parades and parties and debauchery all in honor of some pirate who may or may not have existed. There’s also a big music fest downtown that gets bands from all over (last year the Flaming Lips headlined). I’ve never participated in any of it. It’s not out of any holier-than-thou attitude, an ironic or bored dismissal of local tradition. Crowds scare me. I try to avoid them. I skipped my high school and college graduations for this very reason. So I never expected to get caught up in any of it.

But then miracle of miracles, I’ve been asked to play this year’s music fest and I’m beyond surprised and excited. I’ve been playing out a fair amount lately, but this is by far the biggest thing I’ve been asked to play solo (and I’ll admit, I’m kinda terrified, too).

I can’t help but remember my parents telling my younger self that I sounded like a dying cat when I sang. Part of me still feels like that girl whenever I open my mouth. That girl who used to shove pillows against the crack in my bedroom door, my DIY soundproofing, so my parents wouldn’t hear me practicing and writing my silly little songs. That girl who with her dual-cassette tape deck would try to layer sounds and vocals even though I didn’t know how to play more than three chords and I still can’t harmonize for the life of me, and then would hide those stacks of tapes lest they be found. Lest my secret be fully revealed. It was a secret I kept for about 4 years after teaching myself those guitar rudiments. And then another 5 years after that that I mustered up the courage to start my band and perform openly. And now another 6 years and here I am.

It’s hard for me to say I’m proud of myself, but I am. More so, I’m proud of that girl 15 years ago who decided to pursue her dream regardless of what other people thought and refused to give it up. I want to give that silly little thing with her shitty $100 guitar a high five and a hug.

Trusting Your Gut

I still haven’t processed all the thoughts and feels from attending Eckerd College’s Writers In Paradise conference, but the one thing that stuck out to me the most, and keep turning over in my head is the foreign concept of following my intuition–the good ol’ trusting of your gut. When we think of writing, especially when attending a class or conference or anything focused on the craft, we think more of the rules (or suggestions, if being generous). Things I heard all throughout last week: Ground your reader. Show don’t tell. Start at a point of risk. What’s the hook? Are you starting before the real story starts? Is there too much backstory? Do we understand the character’s motivation?

But even with all this, writing is a subjective endeavor. So too is reading.

Part of the conference was an event they called Writer Idol, similar to (I imagine; I’ve never seen it) American Idol. People attending were asked to submit a page–I was told one page of anything; most everyone else was told to submit a one-page beginning. Someone read each piece and three judges (John Searles, Ann Hood and Andre Dubus III the first round, David Yoo, Laura Lippmann and Les Standiford the second) listened, raising their hands when they lost interest in the piece for whatever reason. Two hands up, the reader had to stop reading. The point was to emulate what a busy editor would do, stressing that your opening must be perfect if you want that editor to keep reading. That was the point, as I said, as they told us, but what I really took away from the experience was just how subjective it really all is, because there were times my hand would have gone up, but the judges were often more generous. Or less generous, as with my submission. They didn’t like it. (Les said something like, “Maybe it’s just because I can’t hear, but I have no idea what’s going on.” Laura said, “It’s too self-aware.”) But the thing about what I submitted–it had already been published somewhere, so someone thought it had some merit.

No one can give you the right answer. There is no right answer, only what’s right for you. There’s this quote, the internets say either Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson said it (maybe they both did): “One (wo)man with courage makes a majority” (parenthesis mine) and I keep coming back to that in regards to all I’m writing about here. Trust your gut, go with your instinct and stand tall and brave, supporting that which in your heart you believe to be right. That’s really all you can do, but like most advice, easier said than done.