“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight; and never stop fighting.”
“I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
When I was largely pregnant with my first child, I took a writing class with the amazing Marge Pellegrino. She’d give us an in-class writing assignment and we’d have 20 minutes to complete it. It never failed that before we could even start writing, someone would ask, “Is it OK if I…?” and Marge would say, “You’re the boss.” And then someone else would chime in, “But what about…” and Marge would say, “You’re the boss.”
Hearing those words oft repeated, it didn’t take long for me to find a new feeling of ownership with my words (and my life). That doesn’t mean that I don’t look to others for authority to apply in my life. It just means I do it a bit less than I used to.
Recently, I’ve seen how harmful this feeling of not having authority can be to creativity. In my watercolor class many students are interested in having specific rules to follow. I understand this, especially when it comes to learning a new skill. However, this need to be coddled can be harmful when it comes to that really sacred time when we begin something new – whatever it may be.
That first week as I sat painting at my kitchen table I’d think about what a disaster of a painter I was and I’d feel so unsure about what I was doing. But, I wasn’t afraid: of messing up, of making a mistake, of doing something wrong. I knew there was no way I could fail if I just kept painting. The only failure on my part would be to stop painting.
There was a distinct moment when I thought, “Am I following my instructor’s guidelines?” And in the next instant I realized that I am holding the paintbrush, I am making the choices, I am the boss.
At our next class session, it was clear that some students wanted the teacher to be present while they were painting and lean over their shoulder and tell them, “Yes, that’s allowed!” or “No, that’s not allowed.” And the problem with that is then the painting isn’t yours. My instructor may as well just paint it. You should just put down your paintbrush (or pen or sewing machine…)
I must be my own authority. You must be your own authority. It is the only way a person can ever do anything original or creative. Dive into the depths of your soul and make something out of it.
And if you are impatient and don’t want to make mistakes, you may as well not even paint or write or sew or really live. Because we all make mistakes. That is how we grow and learn and becomes more compassionate and loving. So, I say, get started. Make as many mistakes as possible as soon as possible because time is flying. And don’t you want to become real? Become authentic? After all, you are the boss.
“If a storyteller thinks enough of storytelling to regard it as a calling, unlike a historian he cannot turn from the sufferings of his characters. A storyteller…must follow compassion wherever it leads him. He must be able to accompany his characters, even into smoke and fire, and bear witness to what they thought and felt even when they themselves no longer knew.”
Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
Where do you get your inspiration?
What sorts of things do you fill your head with?
What do you read?
Do you subscribe to anything?
What sites do you visit on the Internet?
What music do you listen to?
What movies do you see?
Do you look at art?
What do you collect?
What’s inside your scrapbook?
What do you pin to the corkboard above your desk?
What do you stick on your refrigerator?
Who’s done work that you admire?
Who do you steal ideas from?
Do you have any heroes?
Who do you follow online?
Who are the practitioners you look up to in your field?
Answer these for yourself. I’ll be back to share my answers.
Minnesota is delivering writing & networking & learning opportunities for children’s writers in spades this year. We’re hosting the AWP Conference (April 8-11), the Loft Literary Center’s Children’s and Young Adult Conference (May 1-3) and the NCTE Annual Convention (November 19-22).
Checking out this summer’s offerings at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.