For years I taught writing to freshmen at the University of Michigan and how to sell writing to geezers at the University of Pittsburgh and a senior center in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. And for 20 years I made my living writing for corporations, big ones. Yet, I didn't learn to write, at least not w/o tons of angst and not much sizzle, until I was 58 years old. That's when I found myself in, of all places, West Hartford, Connecticut with the Mary Poppins of Writing ... and flirting. Her name is Amy K.
Either Amy K was as good a writing instructor as I think she was or I have turned out to one of those very-late blooming geniuses David Galenson describes in his book "Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity." [Frank Lloyd Wright did Fallingwater after he was 65, so I guess I was a relative kid.]
I found Amy, who goes by Amy Karnilowicz, through a Preferred Provider Program of my health insurance company. I had lost my mind and the little bit of ability I did have to write. Therefore, I wasn't earning a living. Moreover, as I explained to Amy K during our first session - she is a Cognitive Behavorial Therapist morphed into flirting coach, but more about that later - I never wanted to write again.
Mary P promised me a miracle would happen between sessions one and two, if I read the two short articles she gave me. The content of both was a mashup of eastern philosophy and the science/art of flow or being in the zone. It all came down to what Mary P or your mother would have told you: Forget yourself.
That I did. "Did a miracle happen?" asked Amy K.
"Yes," I answered.
But I still didn't want to write. It was too hard. With a strong push from Amy K, I found myself a survival gig as a contract security guard in Sephora and later in Home Depot. That provided me with plenty to write about, but not quite yet.
Writing was so hard for me because I was making the mistake most mediocre writers make. I was focusing on the words.
"Observe," Amy K. told me. "Simply watch, don't judge."
For the first time since I began school at five years old I was free to watch, not ready myself to seek and find the right answer. [In a delightful essay "The Graduates" in THE NEW YORKER, May 21, 2007, Louis Menand concludes education is very bad for learning since school insists we have the right answer and, notes Menand, "You can't learn when you're afraid of being wrong."]
Sounds easy: Observe. For me it wasn't. What was I supposed to do with me while observing.
"Smile," instructed Amy K. A spoonful of sugar dished out to the world makes the world a less scary place to be. I began to be known as The Smiling Security Guard in inner city Bridgeport, Connecticut Home Depot.
Equipped with a smile and zero self-consciousness I took in so much that as writing guru Natalie Goldberg puts it, I just had to vomit it out. The rest is history. I'm back earning a bundle writing, this time w/o major angst and with major sizzle.
However, there I was in the world smiling, the world was stepping up closer in, and I didn't know what to do next. At age 61, I returned to Amy K. to learn to flirt. Her additional mission to mere healing is to help the shut-downs [three-fourths of the professional class] to, hell, enjoy other people. We had about 70 minutes of practice. The takeaways include:
- Don't multi-task. Just be there to respond to people and have them respond to you.
- Ditch the seriousness and re-learn to be playful. Along with that, ditch having a goal of meeting that special someone or putting together the perfect network during initial encounters.
- Smile (I had already learned that).
- Don't judge anyone. That's a throw-back to our insecure high school days of the in crowds and the outliers. Instead, figure out what we want in a person and go find it.
Wow, did my social life pick up. On Valentine's Day I had multiple suitors bearing multiple gifts. So, I won't be attending Amy K's "events" for morphing into a social being.
The first event is a wine-tasting June 6th in East Hartford, Connecticut. Totally low pressure filled with obstacles to becoming serious. There will be plenty other of these events and they're listed on the website www.ctsinglessolutions.com.
Eventually, these human-ins will be hosted all around the state, then the nation. For those who might require a bit of extra help with social skills, Mary P of flirting provides one-on-one personal coaching (860-206-1556). For follow-up after the events [Yes, time to get serious] there is a database of information about folks you have met.
So, I shake my head and ask myself: How did we all forget to approach work and life as fun? Maybe Menand has something. It's school, stupid. Don't take a course in writing. Go out there, forget yourself, observe, and smile.