Creative Superheroes Interview: Maya Stein

So delighted to bring you the next installment of my brand new interview series! If you have read my blog for any length of time, you have probably come across one of Maya’s poems. This one called Believe might be all time my fave… but I recommend getting on her list so you can receive her 10-line poems each week like I do.

Maya just completed a Mondo Beyondo dream called Type Rider, where she bicycled for 40 days straight (toting a typewriter behind her) and with the intention of bringing people together through the written word. Enjoy her interview below!

What’s your superpower?

I’m incredibly – almost pathologically – spontaneous.

The other day, for example, watching the Olympics with a friend, I was chuckling at all those profiles they do of the athletes, with these behind-the-scenes stories of how they rose to excellence. Triumph of the spirit sorts of things. They crack me up. All that dramatic music and slow-mo replays of some tragedy that befell them and then how they came back to win the World Championship, etc. etc.

And I thought, what if there was a profile that could be made of a normal person, like, going grocery shopping? Having to figure out which cantaloupe was ripe. Deciding between fusilli and penne pasta. You know, fancy problems. So a profile about someone like that. And the next day, my friend and I started filming.

What are your obsessions? And how do they make their way into your creative work?

I love adjectives. And lists. I think I might be somewhat obsessed with those. Not lists in the way of grocery shopping or to-do’s, but the tumble of list-making that happens internally, how you scan your surroundings and without really realizing it, you’re making lists of everything you see. That woman’s bright orange slacks, the garbage truck leaving its trail of smells, the kid behind you who spilled his milkshake behind you.

It’s less about what the mind is processing but what the senses are taking in. And adjectives are always useful in helping to fine-tune these experiences. What kind of orange were those slacks? What specific smells came spilling out of that truck? What flavor milkshake and what was the table made of onto which he spilled it? The details of the details. They make their way into the fragments that make the lines that make the poems I write. They’re a kind of architecture I build around the bones of what I’m writing. They give it dimension, flavor, impact, and context.

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. Not to worry what other people are doing. Not to mark your progress (or what might feel like a lack of progress) against anyone else. Stick to what’s intuitively you. Creativity is not a competition, and the most important thing is to be exactly who you are.

2. Stay curious, open, experimental, and flexible. Don’t be afraid to have outcomes in mind -– hopes, wishes dreams, best-case scenarios – but don’t be married to them. There are so many variables that could make your experience more dimensional

3. Have FUN.

4. Don’t fear being emotional. The creative act can be a highly emotional experience, and establishing a business around creativity a thousand times more so. I am probably the most emotionally porous and susceptible than I’ve ever been. Just because I’ve been in practice with my work for a long time doesn’t mean I’ve become immune to ups and downs, or less fearful of disappointment, or less ambivalent about trying new things, or somehow impervious to stress or pain.

The opposite, in fact, is true. The more I put myself out there and the greater I am willing to risk discomfort and fear in the service of my creative work, the higher the stakes everywhere. But what I’ve discovered is that these high stakes also come with tremendous rewards – a deep feeling of satisfaction, a peak sense of happiness and pride, and a profound connection to the world. To me, emotion is the lifeblood of creative work.

5. Don’t go it alone. Find allies. There are so many sources of inspiration, knowledge, and guidance that can help your work thrive and stay sustainable. There’s no need to attempt a hero’s journey through the desert without a thermos of water to your name. Seek like-minded spirits that nourish and delight you. Don’t be afraid to be transparent with your questions, your searching, and your vulnerabilities around your business in particular. Other people’s experiences offer a wealth of good information for you, and learning from them can help you refine your own skills.

Don’t isolate yourself, especially when you feel scared and unsure about next steps. This is exactly the time to reach out. And you’ll be surprised how much relief that can offer others. The big permission slip to yourself turns out to be the same thing for someone else.

Tell us about a time you had to practice courage.

It happened about an hour ago, getting off the bus at Port Authority, having come into the city with an intention to set up my typewriter somewhere near the New York Times building. I have been wanting to extend this project into something sustainable, work that I can assemble and put out there on a regular basis for others to enjoy. So I thought to myself, “Why not go for the gold, and see if the New York Times would be interested in having a Type Rider column?”

I wrote to a few editors and made my proposal, but when I heard nothing, my friend Amy suggested that I, like, actually GO there. And so I did, and because it was raining I went to the café right next door, where it seemed like the people who work for the paper must go there for coffee and lunch. I don’t know why this was harder for me to than bicycle half-way across the country towing my typewriter behind me, but something about it felt excruciatingly difficult. The fear, I suppose, of being this close to something that I want. The proximity to the big kahuna.

But then I reminded myself of this new thing I’ve been trying, which is to do the thing that surprises me. To choose the option to which I don’t know the outcome. And once I have that in my head, I get a kind of kick out of the challenge. And that loosens the grip on my fear. It pares it down into something much more bite-sized. And then I get curious and excited to see what happens, and that neutralizes the fear entirely.

I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability. What were the gifts on the other side?

My parents like to tell a story of when I was about 8 or 9 years old. We were at an amusement park and I saw a ride I wanted to get on. There were these airplanes in it, or cars that were made to look like airplanes, that went around and around in a circle.

I thought for some reason that you got to control the airplanes, that there were buttons in the cars that could make you go up and down. When I saw the ride, in fact, I noticed that some of the airplanes were high and some were low, and so I just assumed that the riders got to control that part. But what I didn’t realize was that the ride was intended for kids a lot younger than I was, and there were no controls of any sort, and the cars were stationary and so you had to choose whether you wanted to be in an higher-up airplane or a lower one. And because, of course, I thought I had the power to control the airplane, I didn’t think it much mattered which one, and got into one of the ones that was low to the ground.

When the ride got going and I didn’t see any buttons for me to push the airplane to go up, I was crestfallen. Well, that’s definitely an understatement. I was horrified, ashamed, furious, and trapped. My parents tell me my face was drained of all the excitement that preceded my getting on. But because they knew they weren’t going to be able to prevent me from going on the ride – that they weren’t going to be able to convince me it was for really little kids – they had to let me ride out all those feelings.

And I see now that this has been something that I’ve carried when I enter into new experiences. I have to ride them out. I have to – as my writing mentor Deena Metzger once said – see the experience to its completion. I remind myself of this when I find myself in uncomfortable situations, or in an environment that’s unfamiliar and scary.

What are the few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

I’m a Scrabble nerd.

I have a weakness for slot machines.

I don’t like yoga.

I love to make lip-synch videos.

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

That I have to be alone to be happy.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

One rotation at a time.

I used this daily on my cycling trip from Massachusetts to Milwaukee for the Type Rider project. It kept me in the present tense, focused on the road my tires were currently on. And it’s a metaphor I’ve been sticking to. Basically what it means is– work with what you’ve got right now. The terrain will change and the way you meet it will change too. So don’t worry so much about what might be coming down the pike. That thing will come and you’ll know. This is about not over-anticipating, not over-cogitating, not over-planning.

I think we carry more wisdom about how to deal with stuff than we realize. But we spend so much time trying to future-trip, coming up with possible scenarios, mostly to avoid discomfort or disappointment or failure altogether. But when we live our lives one rotation at a time, we meet challenges as they come, not before. We do exactly what’s needed the moment that it’s needed.

 

Maya Stein is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, and facilitates writing workshops. She has published two collections of personal essays and two collections of poetry and photographs. Her “10-line Tuesday” poems, which she has been writing for more than seven years, reach nearly 1,000 people around the world each week. Maya recently completed “Type Rider: Cycling the Great American Poem” a 40-day Kickstarter-backed bike journey from Massachusetts to Wisconsin that had her towing a typewriter and inviting strangers to contribute to a collaborative piece of writing. She will be publishing a book about the project later this year. To learn more about Maya, visit www.mayastein.com.

 

14 Comments

  1. Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    I adore this series!

  2. Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    This is an amazing interview. Thanks to both of you!

  3. Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Maya sounds like Maya. Reading this is a little like being with her this morning, here on my couch with coffee. Love watching this girl’s process evolve – love what a learner she is. Nothing is wasted on Maya. And then she gives what she learns right back to us. Beautiful!

  4. Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    LOVE this series! Loved #1 and #2 on the top 5 things you’ve learned list. Great way to live life, wonderful advice!!

  5. Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Great interview and questions! I have known Maya for years and delight in every adventure she takes on. The bonus for us? Her words describing them and making them delicious morsels for us to enjoy.

  6. Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    One of the aspects that I love about Maya, that is only hinted at here, is her consistency. Maybe devotion would be a better word. Those poems come piling into my inbox like clockrhymes. 10 lines a week. Every week. While I have been flinging myself from here to there, I notice that she is passionately, unwaveringly delivering herself to the techno-mailbox.

  7. Megan
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I ran into Maya at in Chicago on her tour, and she is even more beautiful in person than in print.

  8. Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Maya’s story of overcoming the fear of setting up her typewriter in the coffee shop next to the New York Times building was EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now. Thank you, I’m breathing much better now…

  9. Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    love maya and all that she believes. Laurie is right, nothing is wasted and then we get to revel in her magic afterwards.

  10. margaret nitka
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    This interview is wonderful! I love the idea of vulnerability being a superpower. and I clicked on “Believe” – what an incredible poem. I am taking Maya’s “writing the snapshot” online poetry workshop now and I love it! Thanks for this.

  11. Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Awesome! :)

  12. Sharon
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    I was introduced to Maya’s work though a friend on Facebook…I find her enthusiasm for her life and what she does inspiring and uplifting!

  13. Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Gosh, so much wisdom here. I love the series too!

  14. Posted August 3, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I had such a great time with this interview – Thank you, Andrea, for your intriguing and thoughtful questions…and thank you to the Superhero Journal readers, for being so warm, engaged, and enthusiastic. Love having your company in the world…xoxo

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