Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Curiouser and curiouser...

A friend asked me why I write. More specifically, why I started writing children's books. I started to spout off all my altruistic reasons. My "how I want to better the world one book at time" hopes and dreams.

He interrupted me, "No, no. Before all those ideas. Your first reason. What made you sit down and start writing?"

The answer was easy, "Oh, simple. Curiosity. I wanted to know what happened to Mr. Schnoozle."

Then I realized, isn't that always the first reason? From the very first book we get lost in as a young child, when our parents are reading it to us, we are curious. The curiosity is there before we can even speak full sentences, let alone read them ourselves. Who are these strange and interesting characters? What are they doing? Where are they going? What's going to happen to them? The previously egocentric child is now enthralled with the idea of someone else's story. Reading stories, or having them read to us, is one of our first lessons in empathy.

I loved that experience as a child. I still love that experience. It brings me the utmost joy to think that one day my words, and the stories they form, could cultivate the ever-essential virtue of empathy by igniting a child's imagination. Among many other reasons, this is why I write.

Neil Gaiman, in characteristic genius, puts it perfectly: "When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from twenty-six letter and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals."*

People sometimes say to me, "Write for yourself." To a certain extent, I do. The very act of it keeps me sane. When it really comes down to it, however, I write for us.

*Originally quoted in Maria Popova's Brain Pickings (7 Aug 2016) from Neil Gaiman's book, The View from the Cheap Seats.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Trust Fall

Today is the day. I can feel all the thoughts I've been collecting over the last few days (weeks?), and the emotions that come with them, swelling up within me, like a giant wave. It's about to crest, about to crash; white, foaming, and thunderous. I can already hear the roar, feel the reverberations in my imagination as I watch the might wall of water, grow in silence, gathering momentum as it draws from the waters that were resting in stillness on the shore, unsuspecting, just a moment ago. Let it fall.

Today is my daddy's birthday. He would've been 56 today. Instead, he never made it to 33. What would he tell me if he were here? I think he wouldn't say anything at all, not at first. He would stand there with his arms wide open, as he used to do for me and so many others before the lymphoma took him. With the kindest of smiles on his face, he would stand there, waiting for me to be ready; ready for the embrace of vulnerability and total abandon.

After holding me tight and letting me cry out all my fears, only then would he speak. He would tell me to be brave, he would talk to me of faith, and he would say, "Leap, Princess."

The sharing of these thoughts is that leap. I cannot fall into my father's arms. Instead, I am closing my eyes and falling backwards into a sea of proverbial arms. Your arms, my loved ones, trusting that you will catch me.

So what is this all about?, you are likely wondering at this point. This is about art, connection, and vulnerability.

As you may have noticed, I am not active on social media. Not really. I've always preferred one-on-one, in person, deep, genuine connection over a message on a screen. I want to be able to touch, hug, see the person I am talking with. I want to look into your eyes, watch the subtleties of your expressions as you emote, as you honour me with your story, and I want to mirror back love, telling you: I see you.

I can't do that on Facebook. I've finally realized, however, after many months of stubbornness, that I am an ocean away from the majority of my dear ones. This world of social media (that I have held in disdain for it's bastardization of true connection) is not the problem. I am the problem. I talk about wanting to connect, wanting to see people -- truly see them. But I am afraid to reciprocate. I am afraid to be seen.

It's safer to let you believe that my life is a smattering of holidays and adventures; pictures of me smiling in exotic places. After all, why would you want to hear about my struggles as an artist? Why would you care about the fact that I constantly feel like I'm torn in two between my writing life and my nursing life? Why would I tell you about the fact that I've written a children's book that I'm over the moon about? Wouldn't that be ego-centric and self-seeking? Not just that I've written one but that I actually want your help getting it out into the world? Who do I think I am, anyway?

These are the thoughts that plague me when I sign into Facebook, and cause me to sign right back out again. They are the voice of the Fraud Police (as Amanda Palmer* calls them). Every artist -- no, every person -- is attacked by the Fraud Police at one time or another. The voice (or voices) whisper to you before you create, as you create, and then when you get ready to actually share your creation, they begin to yell: "Illegitimate! Unworthy! You're a fake! No really, who do you think you are??"

This is the truth, so why wouldn't I share it? Isn't that the purpose of an artist? To communicate truth to the world with their chosen medium? This, for me, is the essence of vulnerability. I am standing before you saying: I have fears and goals, I have dreams and anxieties. This is my heart and this is my art. This is me sharing myself with you -- letting myself be seen. Don't let me fall, and I promise, when you are ready to make the leap, I will catch you.

My father knew when to admit he was afraid. He knew when to open his arms to love and be loved. This is me, following in his footsteps.

(*From Amanda Palmer's book, The Art of Asking. Brilliant read.)