|My son's bedroom wall with two of his many guitars. The framed photo is of Jimmy Page|
I was out last night late after a book signing with two friends, a writer and an avid reader, and we were discussing life, books, publishing and all of the things that friends discuss during an evening out. We got to chatting about our parents and inspiration. I asked my usual question: did your parents encourage you in your endeavors in life? Did they discourage you? Or were they neutral, as so many parents were in past years when life was different for kids growing up. Many of us had parents that simply waved to us on a Saturday morning as we bolted out the door to roam the neighborhood, alone or in packs, not returning home until dinner time. I'll never forget being in a park pretty far away from home and hearing the piercing whistle of my mother-she could do that thing where you put your fingers to your lips and create a loud whistle, and we'd drop our baseball bats and run home for dinner. Yes, my mother literally stood on a porch and whistled to find us. I laugh when I think of it. The whole free range kids movement? Not a problem in the sleepy town that I grew up in and everyone I knew was free range as well. You would think that this laissez-faire attitude carried over into a choice of profession for the free range set, but I don't think that's necessarily the case.
The question about encouragement is one I often ask. I'm fascinated by the different messages we get as we mature. I've heard over the years that those who wish to pursue creative endeavors are often discouraged by their parents, and in some cases, actively so. They're told they'll starve, they'll never amount to much, they don't have the talent so they should just stop now.... you name it. People in response to my question have given me all sorts of answers. Many of these often well meaning warnings end up burned into some people's brain and some never get over it. Some tell me they never believed it and pursued their dreams anyway, but some allow it to stop them. Often those that stop harbor scars. It's not that warning someone of the risks of a certain action is wrong, it's just that for the people pursuing the creative endeavor the warning sometimes dampens them.
I'll never forget walking to my then teenage musician son's rock concert in Lincoln Park. He and his friends, all gifted musicians and singers and some in conservatory college music programs now, were playing a summer fest called Peace Fest. It was a blast from the past. Attendees had tents set up, many were in tie dye clothes and the smell of pot hung in the air. Some clean cut people were strolling by--they looked like retired lawyers and investment bankers now but I guess they were hippies back in the day, and all stopped to listen to the kids play and they'd call out requests: Zeppelin, Stones, Cream, and Hendrix, and talk about the concerts they'd attended. Chicago cops in full gear hung around and just shrugged as a woman in a long, Woodstock- type tie dye dress carried a tray of bongs and pot pipes, offering them for sale. When I smiled at the cop he said, "It's a pleasure to hang out with a calm, peaceful crowd like this and listen to some great guitar riffs." It was that kind of day.
One man, I'd say he was about thirty, no more, saw me wave at my guitar playing son on the stage. He immediately turned to me and said, "Is that your son? He's great! Are you going to let him be a musician?" I shrugged and said, "Sure. I'm a writer, my mom was a jazz singer and a movie actress, so, why not?" He looked stunned, and then said, "I was a wonderful drummer. I took lessons all through high school, but when I went to college my parents said they wouldn't pay for it unless I became a doctor, lawyer or some other profession." I asked him what he did now. "I'm an accountant. It's fine. I drive a BMW, but I wish I had continued drumming instead." He wandered away, looking sad and I stood there and thought that what his parents had said to him bothered him even to that day. Who knows what would have happened had he given drumming a try? He may have spent a year at it and decided it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be and headed to college to be an accountant. But then at least he would have tried it and given it up on his own. Now he was left with doubt. Shortly after the kids finished the set and my son bounded down off the stage. The pot lady offered him to buy a pipe and he waved her off with a side glance at me and a smile.
My son's in college now, still playing guitar and learning music production and he plays gigs all the time. Other parents he meets will sometimes ask him what his parents think of his choice and he tells them we're fine with it. We are. He's got the talent and the drive and he's making it happen.The same could be said about any kid in college, be they lawyers, doctors, engineers, you name it. They all can't do the same thing. Someone has to be a rock star. In this case, it will be him.
And to the writers out there, keep going. If it brings you joy then don't suppress it. Joy is a lovely gift. And remember: Someone has to be a writer-it might as well be you!