A few years ago I wrote an essay about my mother that had all the elements of a good drama: Long Island women, alcoholism, do-gooder daughter with a secret rebellious streak, and Michael Jackson. It was, quite frankly, the shit.
Or so I thought.
When I shared it with my writing group in Buenos Aires where I was living at the time, the response was largely underwhelming. My American friends quietly nodded. They deflected any criticism they had by sharing stories of their own mothers until one gangly Argentine man interrupted.
“About your story,” he said to me. “Who cares?”
I was shocked. As Argentines can be argumentative for argument’s sake, my initial reaction was to stuff an empanada in his face.
Instead, I blushed bright red and attempted to tell him why I thought this story should be told. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I fumbled my words. As I struggled with trying to convey the point in a few sentences, I started to realize that maybe he was right. The story wasn’t good enough. I needed to push myself further.
So why should you care about what I’m telling you, Summer Communers?
Because one awesome benefit of being in Moscow this summer is that you’ll meet people who will (hopefully) have the balls to tell you your idea sucks.
Whether you’re writing a novel, producing an album, starting a nonprofit to or doing any other thing that requires creative energy, I’m sure your very nice friends and family have nodded in agreement every step of the way. You wouldn’t be where you are right now without them cheering you on. Encouragement is awesome. And there’ll be plenty of awesome people in Moscow who will validate your crazy ideas and possibly want to collaborate with you.
It’s the diversity of opinions and perspectives, and all the arguments that arise, that makes creating with others so cool. Improv comedy has the “Yes, and” rule where you agree to whatever scenario your fellow performer creates, then add your own piece of the story. Innovation has the “No, and” rule. Ideas only get better when someone has the nerve to challenge you and if they’re nice, offer some ideas of their own that you can steal.
It’s the people you don’t really know very well who are in the best position to do this. While he might seem like a pain in the ass at first, that guy who’s in Moscow because of your cousin and raises his eyebrows at your project to give lollipops to the homeless, for example, just might end up being your most valuable collaborator.
If you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open, of course. I know it can be hard. It stung when, my senior year of college in Boston, a friend of a friend said in not so many words that wearing purple velour tracksuits to hip-hop shows probably wasn’t a good idea. She was right.
So, Communers. These next few months you’ll be creating, playing, exploring, sharing, drinking, and more with people who you may or may not know. But don’t forget to channel your inner Argentine man. Challenge. Discuss. Say no. And then raise your pint glasses to honesty.
Celeste Hamilton Dennis spends her days nerding out on social innovation for the nonprofit Idealist.org and her nights writing short fiction about nerds.