By guest blogger Patrick Ross
Six weeks. Thirty-five states. Forty-three interviews. Six thousand, eight hundred miles. Four time zones. One speeding ticket.
Those are some key statistics from my summer 2010 road trip across the United States. I headed out in a rented hybrid to capture on video creative individuals. My interview subjects included writers, musicians, painters, actors, photographers, songwriters, illustrators, even a jewelry maker. It was a project for the nonprofit artists’ rights group I ran, but it was also a personal quest, to see America and its creativity.
What fears did this trip entail?
Fear of incompetence. I had only produced my first short film a couple of months before the trip.
Fear of snafus. I was on an absurdly tight schedule, so any hiccup in a creative’s schedule and I might find myself in a state with no one to interview.
Fear of running out of time. I was editing and posting videos while traveling.
Fear of indigestion. That one came true more than once, given all the fast food I consumed.
But my biggest fear was fear of rejection.
As a writer I’m used to that fear—I experience it every time I send a query or submit a manuscript—but my fear here was that of a rejection from the creatives themselves. As a journalist I had never feared an interview subject blowing me off. I wasn’t asking them personal questions, so a rejection wasn’t personal. But I was asking these creatives to share their souls with me.And every single one was a stranger. I found a few through referrals from artists, but many I uncovered through Internet searches. Most had never heard of me, and none had ever met me.
For some strange reason, these creatives kept agreeing to meet with me, often inviting me into their homes. But still I was anxious. There was very little time for dialogue before my arrival, usually just a handful of emails to confirm logistics.
It was like I was experiencing the journalistic version of Match.com.
I experienced a lot of personal growth on this road trip. I learned that I am an artist with a passion for creative expression, a self-identity that I had suppressed for years as I told others’ stories rather than my own.
I also learned that creatives are among the most warm, welcoming and open people you could ever meet. Like the realization above, I think I already understood this on some level. It was why all of my friends from middle school on were artists of some sort. It’s why I covered artistic issues as a reporter and gravitated into artist advocacy.
But encounter after encounter told me my fear of rejection was misplaced. As Milli teaches with writing, once you start doing it, every day, the fear is pushed aside. It no longer has fertile ground in which to thrive. The same occurred on the road trip with my fear of rejection. After all, the seventh time one of these strangers greeted me with a hug and bade goodbye with the gift of muffins, it became a bit difficult to hold on to that fear.
I also can now boast forty-three new friends.
Patrick Ross is a writer in Washington, D.C., who blogs on creativity and writing at The Artist’s Road. He is a former reporter, editor, artist advocate, think-tank senior fellow, veterinary assistant, short-order cook, and telemarketer (if he ever called you pitching a carpet-cleaning service, he apologizes). You can follow him on Twitter (@on_creativity) or visit his professional web site. He has one final tip from his road trip: Don’t expect to find a decent chimichanga in Rockford, Illinois.