As a writer, moments and experiences have value to me that they might not otherwise. Sure, everyone learns lessons and changes and grows from the things that happen to them, but for me, there’s an added element: Whatever happens, now I can write that better.
That means the good things. That means the bad things. It means emotions, too. Heartbreak, fear, happiness—I can take that and bottle it up inside words, and I can make you drink it.
It doesn’t make the bad things okay, but it gives them a value they might not have for someone else. It gives me an upper hand over whatever hell I find, and an added joy over the good that I encounter. I don’t just passively witness the world. I take it.
I can have a friend call me, drunk and driving at midnight, confess in three words something that made me never talk to him again, and, at least, now I can write that. That terrible sinking rock in my stomach, that chaos, it's all mine now.
I can be harassed with a friend by a crazy chick in a big white truck. I can watch as her car hides behind a corner and her headlights turn off as she waits for us. Now I know what that’s like. I know the tricks. I can write that kind of crazy.
I can watch someone speak with such a weight that you hang onto the silence between each word like it’s almost as important as the thought itself. I can write that.
I can take the way it feels when I walk down the street at night, when everyone is just a hum in their houses, the freeway rumbling in the distance, and I am quietly witnessing the world when no one else is looking.
You get the idea.
The same goes for drawing. I watch people: how shadows fall, how lips settle together, how the lines of faces meet impossibly seamlessly. I constantly take note of the way the world looks and sits and moves. And yeah, I can write that, too.
Look. Listen. Feel. No matter what, take it in, note it down in your head or on paper, and use it. Whatever your art, live. Pay attention. There’s a world out there, and it’s your job to capture it in a way no one else can. Nothing will make your art as real as life will.
And when that fails, just make it up with confidence. That’s the real key to all of it.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve had any experiences that changed your ability to write. I’d love to hear.
My name is Tessa Maurer. You probably haven’t heard of me, but there’s a very high chance that you have heard of my family. My great-grandfather was Moe Howard of The Three Stooges, and his bros, Curly and Shemp Howard, were my great-uncles. Wild, I know. You don’t know how strange it is to have a pencil growing up with your great grandfather’s head carved and bulging on top of it, to turn on the TV and every other comedian mimics your great-uncle. It’s surreal, when I stop and think about it. Mostly, it was absurdly normal. Laughably so. My family history is a Google search away. I can find my great-great grandfather’s photos online. I can ask Siri how old my grandmother is if I forget, which I have.
What the hell, right?
I was born to a family of artists—painters, writers, actors, musicians. In that regard, I was lucky, but I was also stubborn, so either way, I would have become an artist. It’s intrinsic. It’s always been there. That isn’t luck. There was nothing really to “become.”
It hasn’t all been fun and fame. There was a lawsuit back in…1994? We lost the bulk of our rights to a replacement Stooge’s family. I'm told that laws were made as a result of that suit to prevent it from happening to families in the future. Too late, of course. It was and is our legacy, and yet we don’t really control it. I'm not here to point fingers or stir anything up. Still, I’ve known how unfair the world can be since I was a little kid. Maybe someday, somehow, it’ll change. I hope so. I always have.
My grandfather, Norman Maurer, was a writer, comic book illustrator, producer… I’ve heard he was the youngest person to make comics. He was 12 or 13, I think. He and his brother, Leonard, along with his bud Joe Kubert, invented 3D comic books. Unfortunately, he died of lung cancer in 1986 at age 60. I was born in 1992. I’m told he would’ve loved me.
And closer to home, my dad was and is a freelance screenwriter. He’s worked on countless things for countless countries, but when you’re a freelance writer, work and money are not consistent. So, while I grew up with MASSIVE success a few generations away, I also grew up with money worries and woes close to home. In my home. And I knew that things were fickle, that the entire mountain you built from nothing could become someone else’s. I learned that movie deals fall through—more than half my life of falling throughs.
This gives me two options, right?
I can either say “fuck it” to all the bullshit, all the downs with the ups, and ride that passion in my blood, knowing that if they can do it, I can. Consequences be damned. Financial fears be damned.
Or, I can get a job—a 9-5, write in my spare time, and most likely slowly decay. That’s probably the easier route. I would be “safe.” I would be adequate. Maybe someday I’d be more. Maybe.
When I was younger, I had the idea that you should only write (or do art) on the side. That you should have something "stable" to catch you and save you.
But doesn’t that mean you don’t have to have success? That you don’t have to write and draw and make art to live? Doesn’t it stop being vital and start becoming…optional? Forgettable? Secondary?
Wasn’t gonna fly for me, and it still isn’t. Once I started writing, I knew I had to do something with it. I knew I could make something of it. My current circumstances allow me to keep creating as my primary function, but I can feel the pressures of life welling. The ease makes it easy to let my dreams be distant things—things that I don’t have to push for, and the looming financial dooms if I don't make it go right light a fire I often want to jump away from and pretend isn't there. I should push. I want to. I’m trying to. Other people are probably trying more, but they aren’t me, and that’s something you should never forget. No one else is you.
My family did it. So can I. But I’d do it anyway, even if none of them existed. I am an artist. I am a writer. It’s at my core of cores. It is my anchor and my guide; it is my fear and it is my love. I have that added push, though, that name to live up to, that extra spark in my blood.
So, I have to get my life together. I have to be what I’ve invested 13 years into. I have to make you know my name, too.
Hang on. It’s probably gonna be a bumpy ride.