steve ivory (2014)

Steven Ivory

*While on a morning walk, I passed a tree apparently belonging to a hornet that didn’t want me in the vicinity. From the other side of the street came the giggle of a lady jogger as she watched me do some anxious bobbing and weaving to avoid being stung.

Once further up the block, I, too, had to laugh, for when I was a kid, chances are that bee would have found itself staring out from the inside of an old  jelly jar. During the humid Oklahoma summers,  Donnie Minnis and I  used to fight off boredom by catching yellow Jackets, bumble bees, honey bees—anything with a stinger.

We’d wait for them to nestle inside trumpet vines making up the expansive bush that had overtaken  chain-link fencing lining the Minnis driveway, and with a thumb and index finger,  gingerly pinch the flower closed with the bee inside. We’d then pull the flower off the vine and place it in a jar. We never got stung.  And there was absolutely no fear.

World Headquarters for us was the attic over the abandoned Minnis family garage. To get inside our so-christened Batcave, you could simply take the stairs inside the garage, but where was the adventure in that?

Instead, we’d climb a tree that was parallel to the attic’s second story window, about twenty feet from the ground.   To a sturdy branch we tied an old piece of water hose on which we’d swing across the ten feet between the tree and the open window, going in feet first.    Today, you couldn’t pay me to risk the fall. But back then, we thought nothing of it.

When we were kids, we used to pretend to be the Beatles. Hold sticks as if they were guitars and stand in the front yard in broad daylight,  in clear view and earshot of passersby on foot and in vehicles, and sing. Joyously. Badly.   And without shame.

In 1973, as a teenager, I read an article in Right On! magazine that said one way to meet your favorite entertainer was to go to the venue during their mid-day rehearsal or sound check on the day of the concert. Donnie and I crept in through a back door and  found ourselves face to face with our idols, the Jackson 5.   It never occurred to me that we couldn’t just do this.

Four days after graduating high school, at the insistence of relatives out here, I came to Los Angeles. A fanatical music lover who devoured Rolling Stone and Downbeat , I got the bright idea that I might be able to write, though I’d never tried it.  At the time, sibling vocal group the Sylvers were hot. I called information, got the number of Pride Records, their label, and someone there put me in touch with the Sylvers’ PR person.

I told her I wanted to interview Leon Sylvers for my community college class project, which was true. But after I got Sylvers on tape, I spent a month fashioning about 800 words into my impression of a magazine story and mailed the typewritten, Liquid Paper-riddled manuscript unsolicited to the nationally distributed Soul Newspaper.

What was the most that could happen? They send the story back to me? Throw it in the trash? Silly me, I  didn’t even consider those options.

 About three weeks later, Soul publisher Regina Jones called me at my Aunt Jewel’s to tell me the newspaper would buy the piece. While I waited for the check in the mail, I dreamed of how I’d spend my small fortune. They paid me $35 dollars.

Regina Jones offered me the opportunity to do more writing for Soul, where I met a collection of young, ambitious and unafraid writers, photographers and artists.

Of course,   after giving me a couple assignments—whose deadlines were days, not the month I took to write the Sylvers piece–Jones realized I wasn’t a writer at all. Decades later she’d tell me, more than actual writing skills, she  valued my enthusiasm for the music.  Thankfully,  she kept me around.  A  Soul editor, Tsuyuko Sako, was kind enough to mentor me. That’s how I began writing .

Bees, the Batcave and pop stars. No one told me I couldn’t do those things, and it never occurred to me that I couldn’t.   I just did them.

It wasn’t until my mid 20s that  I was infected with the gelding, grown-up notion that people aren’t supposed to be able, as Nike would come to say years later in an ad campaign, to “just do it. “

I learned that there are rules. Didn’t you know? There are people you have to check with. Stuff you have to do.

Instead of simply moving on emotions, so-called conventional wisdom taught me that to chase a dream, you need permission. To grab onto the tail of a comet, you need authorization. From somebody.

Embracing this bullshit, I cultivated apprehension. Self doubt. I learned fear.

And to be sure, fear is a behavior learned.  Some of us are presented the sinister lesson early in our existence; some, later in life. Either way, whether we buy into it depends on who we are emotionally.

It  is not a lack of desire, ambition or skill that keeps many of us from doing whatever it is we want to do.  The culprit is fear: fear of failure, fear of maybe it’s not the right time or thing; fear of what people might say; fear of looking like an idiot; fear that you might actually fool around and succeed at your objective.

Indeed, during his 1933 inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

I can dig it.   However, Roosevelt failed to mention that other thing we have to fear: self. No single person, rule, piece of paper, organization or highway patrol roadblock   gets in our way more effectively than we do. Who says you can’t achieve your dream? Well, mostly you says.

Back in the day, some of us were too naïve to know better. Now, it seems, we know TOO much. All too often, we allow ourselves to believe that we can’t have what we want. We confuse our fear with the reality of what is possible,  when the  delightful reality is that ANYTHING is possible.

What I’ve since learned is that it’s okay to be scared–just don’t allow the annoying  rattling of your skeletons to deter you from doing your thing.

Need a dose of inspiration in its purest form?   Think back to the baby—any baby–learning to walk. It’s  a drama-filled, balance-challenged exercise in wobbling…staggering. We  look on in agitated concern that the little one is going to stumble and hit their head on the edge of that coffee table or run into the refrigerator.

However, the baby can’t relate to our nervousness. Sinless, they’ve yet to learn the pool of trepidation in which our own dreams routinely wade.  They are fearless!

I’ll never be that innocent again. But as I walk through the valley that is my neighborhood, I shall fear no doggone bees. And when I stall in life, I’lI reboot my self with the reassuring  knowledge that I’ve absolutely nothing to fear.  I know that my ultimate bogeyman is me.

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]