Discover more from The Writing Shed with Tommy Tomlinson
Needing to be nervous, plus my weekly shareables: a crack-house childhood, rat-catching dogs, and vintage Barenaked Ladies
I could feel the nerves kicking in.
It was something I had no real reason to be nervous about. I was getting ready to do an interview for an upcoming SouthBound with Kate Medley, a photographer I’ve known since she interned at the Charlotte Observer more than 20 years ago. Kate has a great book coming out next month about gas station food in the South. She’s smart and funny and easy to talk to.
But I was still nervous. The same way I’ve been nervous before every single one of my 100-some SouthBound interviews. The same way I’ve been nervous before the hundreds of times I’ve gotten up in front of groups to talk. The same way I’ve been nervous before nearly every one of the countless times I’ve talked to someone for a newspaper story or magazine piece or book.
Once the actual thing starts, I’m fine. By the time Kate and I had finished saying hey, I was back to normal. It’s just the moments leading up to the thing. My stomach clenches up and I feel a bead of sweat at my hairline.
This used to really bother me. I thought surely I’d be over it once I’d done a few interviews, or a few dozen, or a few hundred. But it’s never gone away. And now, in a strange way, I look forward to it.
So much of what we do in creative work feels like a magic trick. There’s a blank page. I write some words. Abracadabra! And there, somehow, is a story that draws you in with characters you can see in your head. (I hope.)
Even though I’ve been doing it my whole adult life, it still feels fragile and delicate, like a bird you don’t dare hold. I count on it to fulfill my dreams (and pay my bills) but it could fly out the window anytime.
But I’ve come to believe that healthy fear is good for the creative soul, and maybe even necessary. You’ve probably heard of athletes and actors who throw up before the big game or the big show. My butterflies aren’t quite that aggressive, but they come from the same place: knowing that what lies ahead is a challenge, and there’s no telling how it’ll turn out.
You just have to do it to know.
Years ago, when the butterflies were worse, I used to have one of those classic dreams. I was wandering around my old high school, looking for the room where I was supposed to take a final exam I had not studied for. And yes, I was naked. That part didn’t seem to matter when I finally got to the classroom. All that mattered was the test in front of me, which might as well have been Sanskrit.
Once I started embracing the butterflies—chasing them, even; looking for more challenges—I didn’t have that dream anymore. My dream brain still comes up with plenty of weird stuff. But it has given up on trying to scare me away from the magic.
10 things I wanted to share this week:
My guest on this week’s SouthBound was Nat Glover, a pioneer you might not have heard of. When he was elected sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida, in 1995, he became Florida’s first black sheriff since Reconstruction. He’s written a memoir called STRIVING FOR JUSTICE about his time as sheriff and what led him there. He’s had a hell of a life.
My weekly for WFAE was about feeling the first breath of fall. By the way, thanks to the Shedheads who donated during WFAE’s fall fund drive and mentioned that you heard about it here on the Shed. I saw notes from several of you! And if you still want to chip in, donate here.
Most powerful story of the week goes to Jenisha Watts’ piece about growing up in a Kentucky crack house, and trying to reconnect with her scattered, shattered family. (The Atlantic)
One of my favorite thinkers (and fellow UGA Dawg) Amanda Mull wrote about the greatest productivity app: a handwritten to-do list. (The Atlantic)
DOG NEWS: From now until DOGLAND comes out (April 2024!), I’m devoting this slot to dog stories. This week: An incredible piece on the Ratscallions—a group of D.C. residents who take their dogs into the back alleys of the city to catch rats. (Warning: some of the photos are graphic.) (Washington Post)
I’m starting to dive into Pablo Torre’s new podcast, PABLO TORRE FINDS OUT, where he seeks out the answers to bizarre moments in sports and pop culture. The episode that hooked me was the one about the former Duke basketball player who may have tried to buy the Washington Commanders NFL team with money he did not have.
Another podcast I’m looking forward to: MAGNIFICIENT JERK, about a journalist trying to untangle her uncle’s crazy life: Chinese gang member, inmate, and author of his own life story … which somehow became a movie starring Rob Lowe, Burt Reynolds and Ice-T.
Novelist Lauren Groff writes entire drafts in longhand that she then puts away and never looks at again. I’m not sure whether to be in awe or weep bitter envious tears. (NYT)
Music time! Here’s the Oklahoma band Turnpike Troubadours with “A Cat In the Rain.” Lyrics to live by: We were victims of eternal love / For almost half a morning …
If you don’t know Postmodern Jukebox, go spend a few hours on YouTube checking out their vintage takes on classic pop songs … their latest is a jazzy version of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” with a dazzling vocal from Emma Smith. It made me wish Ella Fitzgerald was still around to give it a shot.
Have a great week, everybody.