Resembling E.T. with a beak and cape, Super Something is a superhero I created when I was seven years old. He’s also the titular character of the award-winning short story I wrote in grade 1. That’s right: award-winning.
This impressive piece of literature brought home a first-place finish in the children’s category at the 1987 Dungannon Fall Fair, alongside prized pigs and blue-ribbon jams. And why wouldn’t it? It’s a tale of epic proportions, where Super Something and his teammates Super Monster and Super Noodle square off against alligators, giants and a castle wall armed with a million guns.
The gang even ends up in space for some reason… I dunno, the third act is a bit of a mess.
Super Something was an early indicator that I was a fan of the creative arts. While other kids my age were getting into hockey and dirt bikes, I was writing stories in my bed. Over time, my interests morphed into making board games, which became my obsession in life.
It was a great creative outlet for me. And I’m sure all the glue I inhaled while constructing my elaborate games only served to enhance the experience.
My family was always supportive, but then something happened. More precisely, puberty happened — and with it came a whack of self-consciousness and insecurities. I convinced myself that making board games was a weird hobby best kept to myself. More and more, my creative pursuits took place behind closed doors (which, in hindsight, probably made the glue fumes even more noxious).
In Grade 8, at the peak of pubescent awkwardness, I was told an evaluator from the school board was visiting to conduct an assessment on me. Mom told me it was for the “gifted program.” However, considering my penchant for sticking my head in pits of clay and making crayon candles, I have to wonder if I wasn’t being assessed for other reasons.
Either way, during the interview, I let it slip that I liked to make board games in my spare time. Intrigued, the evaluator pressed me for more information. What kind of games did I make? What did I like about the hobby? Could I show him one of my games?
I felt exposed, vulnerable, embarrassed.
I started fidgeting, picking at a hangnail as he peppered me with questions. My heart raced as I mumbled sheepish answers. Before long, I ripped the dangling nail off completely and blood started pouring out of my finger.
Best. Interview. Ever.
“Looks like you’ve got a bit of blood there,” the interviewer said, probably wondering if my file had been mixed up with another student.
“Ha, ha,” I stammered, blood running down my hand. “Yeah.” At least we had changed the subject.
Looking back, I’m sure the man was genuinely interested in my hobbies and wanted to see how the school could support my extracurricular passions. At the time though, sharing my creative work was terrifying, the very prospect of which caused me to bleed all over my Giant Tiger blue jeans.
Despite my insecurities, I kept making board games. Usually my creations didn’t go further than playing them with my younger brother, Nicholas. But every now and then I’d swallow my fear and force myself to share my work more broadly.
The biggest and scariest milestone happened in 1996. I was 16 years old and had mailed a letter to a board game company, telling them about my passion for making games.
A few weeks later, I returned home from school to find an envelope waiting for me on my dinner plate. It was a letter from the board game company, inviting me to come to Toronto to pitch one of my ideas. I didn’t eat much that night due to equal parts excitement and fear.
Mom drove me to Toronto for my meeting, and I kicked myself for not bringing a spare pair of gotchies. I was terrified. Sharing my inventions with Nicholas was one thing. This was quite another.
In the waiting room, I did my best to look calm, cool and, most of all, professional. Mom didn’t make that easy. “Do you have to go pee?” She asked. Two minutes passed. “Are you sure you don’t want to go pee before your meeting?” Another two, tense minutes. “I really think you’d feel better if you went pee.”
“I’m fine,” I hissed between clenched teeth as the receptionist snickered behind her desk.
A lifetime later, they called me in. This was it. My big moment.
I walked into the VP’s office, pulled out the prototype of my board game and proceeded to bomb spectacularly. I hadn’t prepared anything by way of a sales pitch. Heck, I didn’t even know what a sales pitch was.
But it didn’t matter. I faced my fear and put myself out there. For the moment, that was enough. I rode cloud nine the entire way home to Port Albert.
Move over, glue fumes, there’s a new high in town.
Sharing your creative work
I’ve been blogging for years now, and I still get butterflies whenever I click that big, blue Publish button. Same goes for whenever I step on stage to give a talk. Whether you’re a writer, artist, musician, photographer, actor or any other type of creative, sharing your work makes you feel exposed. It opens you up to criticism and judgement.
Because putting yourself out there is poop-in-you-pants scary. Period.
But coming out of the creative closet offers a slew of benefits as well. For starters, it’s the only way you get better. I know I have a lot more growing to do as a writer, and I cringe when I look back at my earlier writing. (Except for Super Something, of course. That masterpiece includes an army of warriors made of popsicle sticks who can assemble into a buzz saw. And that’s just literary gold.).
The old adage “practice makes perfect” is true, and sharing your work is an opportunity to hone your craft, gather valuable feedback and learn from your mistakes.
Secondly, it gives others permission to embrace their creative side. How many kids my age were secretly sketching or hiding short stories under their beds? Sharing your work inspires others to do the same. And now thanks to the Internet, no matter what you’re into, you’ll find a community of like-minded folks out there who are into it too.
Finally, creative expression is an awesome outlet. Research shows that art therapy can be an incredibly effective stress reliever, while crocheting a scarf or snapping some photos can get you out of your head and into the moment.
Yes, putting yourself out there is scary. But in my experience, the pros outweigh the cons by far. So sign up for those guitar lessons. Join that creative writing group. Audition for that play.
Air out those glue fumes — and let your creative side shine.