So, at tonight’s Zumba class, while dancing the merengue, I thought of something Conan O’Brien once said.
(Ok, can we pause for a moment? Ever say or type something and you are almost positive that no one in the entire world at any point in time has put together that exact same sentence? Even though there are billions of humans and lots of them speak English. And, really, we are not so different from each other and as unique as we like to think we are. I can accept that maybe 85% of the stuff I say has already been said or is being simultaneously uttered in offices or bars or coffee shops in other parts of the English-speaking universe. But, I am willing to bet the cost of my YMCA membership that the above sentence is part of that 15% that has never occurred to anyone else.)
Anyway, so I’m at Zumba and, unlike my Crossfit gym, the YMCA is covered in mirrors so you and everyone else can see what you look like while working out. Not like it was a surprise or anything, but I couldn’t help but notice that my version of Zumba (a Latin-inspired dance workout) is, um, a little off.
As you might imagine, the Y’s Zumba instructors are predominantly tiny, spunky, Latina women under 5’4″ who can shake their hips like no one’s business. I have been 5’9″ since I was 12 years old. I have trouble finding jackets that fit because of how long my arms are. And my hips don’t shake like no one’s business. They shake like a very specific type of business – maybe a medium-sized accounting firm. Or a mom and pop landscaping operation in the suburbs. Basically, what I’m saying is that I’m a white girl that wasn’t exactly built to Zumba. Except maybe when the choreography gets into that transitional, hoppy zone that is almost Irish Jig-like. That’s when something instinctual takes over, and I look like maybe I’m moving in a manner that my ancestors did for generations before me.
So, where does Conan O’Brien come in? Well, a few years ago I had the opportunity to attend a taping of Inside the Actor’s Studio where Conan was the guest. He was fun and hilarious and entertaining, of course. But, he also offered some general advice that has stuck with me ever since. Most of the audience was filled with theater and film students, and he took a few minutes to address them directly. What he said was simple:
Don’t be afraid to take a chance and just do something, because the worse that can happen is that you’ll be bad. And, as far as I know, you can’t get in trouble for being bad.
He was talking about his own experiences in stand-up and sketch comedy, but I think about this a lot when writing. If I question my ideas or my early drafts too much, I find myself paralyzed. Same deal if I’m constantly worrying about the long term goal and whether or not I’ll ever find any commercial success. The real truth is that I honestly love the practice of writing. The worse thing that can happen is that I’ll spend my free time doing something I love…and it might turn out to be bad. But, you can’t get in trouble for being bad. And, you can always take something that’s kinda bad and work on it until it’s better. Especially when it comes to writing. That’s what
second third eighth drafts are for.
Back to Zumba… Maybe my merengue will become more natural-looking over time…or maybe I’ll just be content to get in a fun, 50 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise. Like writing or acting or stand-up, the worst that can happen is that I’ll be bad. And, I was pretty much there tonight. But, guess what? Conan was right. I didn’t get in trouble. My spunky, 5’2″ instructor didn’t have me carted off and imprisoned with the rest of the awkward, gangly nerd-girls of Brooklyn. She smiled and yelled “Awesome job!” as I shook my hips like a local optometrist practice.