Forward/Story or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Critic

Expectations and judgment stifled me for almost three years. After my wife and I had a child, I shifted focus from making art to raising our daughter. It was love beyond belief to care for this beautiful, sweet girl, but the longer I didn’t make art, the easier it was to let fear and rules prevent me from creating.

I listened to the voices: Telling me I’m not allowed to write others’ stories. Telling me I need more formal education to succeed. Telling me success is about money.

These voices weren’t others’. They were in my mind. Not literal voices. I’m not mad. But sometimes, that screaming inner critic felt like it was pushing me to madness.

Long ago, I told someone, “I want to use my powers for good.” These powers are imagination and creativity — voices spinning stories in my head. Fiction disguised as fact. I must share the tales, or they’ll eat me inside out.

Recently, I let it all go at Forward/Story, a storyteller’s retreat/lab in Nosara, Costa Rica organized by Lance Weiler and Christy Dena. It was joy and wonder. It was spiritual. It was a breakthrough. I finally found my soul again. These aren’t hyperbole. I reconnected with my powers.

On the beach, I spoke with another artist who works in a different genre than I, from another country than I, of another race and gender than I. I learned. I grew.

In a creation session with three strangers, we synchronized, bounced ideas, and fashioned a fun experience. Harmony in work. I’d forgotten it exists. I remembered.

Feeling judged. Laser eyes piercing my body and splitting it into a million pieces. Then, I remembered it’s not about me. It’s their hang-ups. The fear isn’t real. It’s a story I’m telling myself.

Jumping off the edge of a cliff and flying through the jungle on a cable the size of my finger inspired freedom. Fears and rules will bound me if I let them. Forward/Story liberated me from rules and shed my fears, which freed me to take flight.


always now

This morning, I exited my apartment to find Jim, our next door neighbor, walking his dog. Jim and I cross paths most mornings. We always exchange a quick hello and, “Have a great day.” He typically looks like he just rolled out of bed. Today, Jim wore a suit under his overcoat.

“Looking sharp,” I said.

“Why, thank you!”

Jim could be my grandfather. Smokes cigarettes and wears white whiskers. He and his wife own the house next to where we rent. They’ve lived there for over fifty years.

“Why so spiffy?” I asked.

“Going to the wake of a dear friend.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. I’m actually going to a wake today, too,” I said, holding up my suit bag. “Christy’s cousin passed away earlier this week.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Give my best to Christy.”

“Thank you. Something we all have to deal with.”

Jim smiled a wide grin. “True. True.”

We wished each other well, and I left Jim to head into my day. As I walked to the subway, a couple plodded in front of me. I’d seen them before. They are an Asian couple who live at the senior citizen apartment complex on the corner. They always look beautiful. Today, I shot a little video of them, and I wrote a quick haiku.

Hand in hand they walk
Morning rays on wrinkled skin
Once more, together

I imagined morning walks with my wife in 40 years. I thought about the last time we held hands. I remembered I’m going to see our cousin’s face for the last time. Someone who went too soon. Someone who won’t ever hold hands again.

A few hours later, I read this: Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82

Things Fall Apart shaped my childhood. It was the first time I understood how storytelling creates empathy. As a white, middle-class boy from a small town in Illinois, I felt for the protagonist Okonkwo, and – though I didn’t know it at the time – his story influenced my views on racism and colonialism. It taught me nothing lasts forever. I love this tale.

Tears filled my eyes. Time quickened.

A text popped up on my phone from my father. It was about my stepsister:

Jessica had baby girl at 9:17. She has reddish blonde hair. No weight or measurements yet. Both mother and baby doing very good.

And so it continues. Another day. Another death. Another life.

In a week, Christy and I move away from Brooklyn, where I have lived for 15 years. I won’t see Jim in the morning any more. Who knows if I will ever see him again? But it was good to see his sweet smile today. That is what matters. Today.

Recently, on the online social spheres, I shared a personal insight I had. I’m offering it again here because I want to remember:

Woke this morning and realized this is the best time in my life. Wishing you similar realizations. Now.


PS. I suggest playing India Arie’s Growth while watching the video of the couple on the street.

kibibi dillon

The first thing you need to know: her name is pronounced “Key-Bee-Bee.” Not Ki-Bye-Bye. Not Ki-Boo-Bee. It’s, Kibibi. Dillon. But more important than how to correctly pronounce her name is understanding her heart.

I was inspired by this fantastically funny and loving woman. Yesterday, she died. And to me, death means we’re experiencing it. We’re doing it. That thing we all have to do. Follow life into death. It’s inevitable, and yet it’s part of life.

Kibibi followed life. Wherever it took her, she went. Whether creating a salon in her living room, filling the Zipper with joy and dreams, or kicking it at a club with other comics, Kibibi lived her life.

We met about six years ago, and I remember watching one of her first stand up shows. For the past couple years, I had the honor of working with Kibibi and seeing her realize dreams. She’d always been funny. Knew how to MC an event. But she wanted to be a comedian. For real. She wanted to tell the same twenty minutes to people gig after gig. She wanted to clown the crowd. She wanted to hit eight clubs in one night. And she didn’t want to hear you think women aren’t funny.

When she moved back to California earlier this year, I missed saying good bye. That’s why I’m writing. To say thanks for inspiring me to follow where life leads. The night before she died, Kibibi did what she loved doing. She made people laugh. She made people think. She touched lives.

I challenge you to think about how you can touch others’ lives. Today, that is my meditation.

Thanks, Kibibi.