lita vallis’s story
My childhood pièce de résistance was my fifth grade language arts class where we were assigned a poetry project. We each had to write one of each kind of poem including metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, acrostic, haiku, etc. I was in my element.
The assignment itself opened up new pathways of creativity in my young brain and ideas began flowing effortlessly from my joyful young brain. I was writing constantly from that point on, thinking of new ideas for each of the categories, papers, pens and colored pencils flying, lighting up the pages of my notebook with words and illustrations.
This was not schoolwork.
This was my first experience of heaven on earth.
I fell in love with writing poetry and I experienced my first memory of complete flow state for about a month leading up to the due date of that poetry project. Then came the deadline…as the name itself implies…death. It was the death of my flow. My joy around the project quickly came to a halt as I started having to put the pages together and type up the final draft, add a cover page, illustrations etc. and hand in the project to be graded. GRADED.
My art would be graded. It was not something I was looking forward to and certainly did not inspire my creativity. My world was altered forever. My words were going to be judged.
My creativity came to a screeching halt as I realized that my art would be critiqued by my teacher and it meant something bad if they did not like it. I meant something was bad about me.
I was passionate about this newly discovered art form that I could not bear the thought that my poems might not be good enough to earn her approval.
I might not be good enough.
Things devolved quickly around my house the week of the fateful poetry project deadline.
My loving mom began her duty of nagging me, saying, “Have you finished your project? It’s due on Friday,” she queried that Monday after school.
I said, “I know I know. Leave me alone,”
I mumbled under my breath. Ugh.
I found so many creative ways to procrastinate that week. Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday and now Thursday. My mom was exasperated and finally said she was going to sit down with me and guard me until I finished the project.
We were up all night assembling my poems into readable, organized form. It was one of the worst nights in my illustrious seven year academic history.
My mom was furious and grumpy, and rightly, as the clock passed the 2 a.m. mark and we were both barely awake in front of our family typewriter.
She said, “I don’t understand why you waited until the last minute! Your poems are so lovely. Why wouldn’t you get them ready earlier this week?” She asked through her half closed eyelids with a grumbly voice after staying up all night.
I said, “I don’t know.”
This was my only answer and it was the truth.
I really did not know why I was so paralyzed by finishing this project at the time.
I only knew that I didn’t want to hand in those poems to be graded, to be judged and assessed by others. The process itself was so rewarding that to have them graded seemed so horrifying that I simply could not bring myself to finish it. I didn’t know the name of my affliction then, but now I do.
This was my unfortutaePerfectionism!
The Friday morning the project was due was fraught with conflict for me.
So much so that I held onto these precious pages of poetry over the weekend.
I kept reading them over and over again, hidden away in my room, wondering if they would be well received and bring my teacher as much joy as their creation has brought me.
These works of my soul needed to be set free, but I was not yet ready to bear the burden of another’s pronouncement of their worth.
They were still just mine and they were still full of my untainted joy, at least until Monday.
When I finally turned the project in during English class that Monday morning, my teacher was pleased but made sure to let me know that I would not get an A because I had turned the assignment in late. I understood and in a way, I was relieved.
Now I would have an excuse to explain why my grade was sub par. It was tardy. It seemed less personal than my concern that maybe these works were not as lovely or imaginative as I had experienced them to be during the process. I was fine with a lower grade for some other reason, like tardiness, that did relate to the intrinsic worth of these verbal expressions of my soul.
The next week as our projects were returned to us, my teacher went nuts over my poems.
She told me I had great talent and encouraged me to continue by submitting my work to local contests and organizations for young poets.
I remember basking in her praise as she was one of my favorite teachers, yet I was still resistant to this idea of contests and prizes and “winners” at this art form which I had recently discovered brought me so much joy.
That implied that there were indeed losers. Losers at poetry. Losers at art. It made no sense. I got an A minus on the project and I was fine with that, relieved actually.
That month I spent creating my fifth grade poetry project was one of my last memories I have of free, unselfconscious creative flow.
I did continue to write, yet all the memories I can recall later on during this time are tainted with self criticism, self consciousness and fear of others judgement.
I didn’t want to be a loser. I didn’t want to be judged.
As this struggle plagued me into my teens and 20s, if it didn’t stop me from creating altogether, it definitely kept me from sharing my work with others. I have countless journals filled with my original work yet this chapter that you are reading right now is only the second piece of writing I have published in over 30 years.
Perfectionism killed my youthful passion.
My negative thoughts murdered my unbounded creativity. I imprisoned myself with my own death sentence: Death by Perfectionism. It started young and has stayed with me for decades. I have served a life sentence.
Wanna know what happens next?
Watch out for my chapter in the Empire Life Book, Redefine, launching Jan 2021!
You will be able to find the rest of her story in the Empire Life Book, Redefine, launching in Jan 2021!
Lita Khatibi Vallis wasn’t born in Austin but she got here as quick as she could. After 20+ years here, she considers herself a native by way of Seattle and New Orleans, where she spent the 28 years prior to her arrival. She came for the music and stayed for the amazing people and friendships she formed here. Lita sang around town when she first arrived, hitting the open mic scene and grabbing a few gigs here and there.
Her passion for songwriting and singing have been renewed during the cocoon period brought to us all in 2020, by way of Covid-19.
As she shares the story of her ongoing battle with perfectionism, she has also been practicing what she preaches by revisiting her childhood passions, taking online piano and songwriting lessons and writing and singing every day since March of 2020.
She is a party and event planner and chief Party Priestess at Celebrate To Elevate, the event planning company she co-founded with her bestie (one of her co-authors here as well), Laura Wall. With over 15 years experience hosting and throwing life changing parties and celebrations,
Lita looks forward to combining her passion for events with her passion for music and creating a new iteration of Celebrate To Elevate which will encompass all her gifts, coming soon in 2021. Stay tuned for more but in the meantime, you can follow her on Instagram @LitaVallis and @celebratetoelevate as well as on Facebook at Lita Khatibi Vallis.
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“That was the beginning of experiencing heaven on earth for me.”
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