Friday, November 9, 2007

Be the Thing You Seek

Okay, this has many variations. Be the peace you wish to find it the world. Just do it. Be all that you can be. Dream it and you can do it. If you build it they will come . . .

It's a lesson that comes to all of us, throughout our lives. A lot of times the phrases come at us as a way to prod us to action or get us to buy stuff. Today I am thinking of it in a far more personal way.

Three years ago I was pretty miserable. I had ended a long term friendship, badly. I hadn't been brave, or honest . . . I was a coward. Rather than confront the issues we faced head on, I ran away. I'll never know if we could have worked it out. Given the fundamental differences, I don't think so, and I don't harbor regret that I ended the friendship. I do at times wish I had at least told my friend straight out what the problem was.

Right after that, I wanted a new friend. Maybe it stems from my childhood; every time a pet died we rushed out to the shelter to bring home a new one. My mom's philosophy was that having a new dog or cat to cuddle would take away the pain of losing the other, and it seemed to work pretty well when the loss was an animal and the person a child.

I put out a call to many of the groups I am part of: I want a friend! I listed all of the faults of my previous friend, because certainly I didn't want to make the same mistake twice. I went on some best friend "dates" checking compatibility of values and children. A few people on the fringes took the time to tell me that I was really too busy to make connections with people, that I was putting up too many barriers. Leave it to suffice that I met some nice women, women who over time became casual friends. But I never found the one.

Eventually I would come to realize that I didn't need to shop around for best friends. I wrote about that here.

This post isn't about that. This post is about becoming what we need, and about proudly proclaiming who we are.

A year after I had broken up with my friend, I took over a local homeschooling support group. I had been a regular attendee of the group, and when the leader moved away no one else was willing to take the reins. I didn't want to, but I also didn't want to lose our support group, so I reluctantly agreed.

For almost two years I acted as the public face of that group. I answered emails. I made sure I was present when new families planned to attend, and I spent time talking to them. I learned how to be a friend; to offer support and advice, to listen well, to make time for people, to share who I was. Slowly, one by one, friends came into my life. By putting myself out there, by offering friendship, it came to me.

I am finding that when it comes to our creative pursuits, we are waiting for someone to give us what we want. It doesn't just apply to writing; I know musicians, poets, singers, painters, etc. who don't take what is rightly theirs.

Let me illustrate. Papa is a really smart man. He is a bit mystified by NaNo and my pursuit of writing. Not that he doesn't support what I am doing, because he is all for people stretching themselves by trying new things. But he isn't sure that the act of writing makes me a writer. I questioned him, "What makes me a writer?" He didn't really know. I asked if it was publication. He stepped back a minute, and said that the goal of writing is effectively communicating with someone, and in that we all write, so some other definition needs to exist to claim the label writer.

I disagree, and I told him so. I pointed out that he plays guitar and ukulele, he sings, and he plays piano. He is a musician. He didn't think so. So I asked, "What makes a musician? Do you have to play a concert arena, symphony hall, or at least a coffee house? Are you not a musician until some one pays you for what you do?"

I won't make this pretty and say that he had an "aha" moment and that of course we are all the artists that we wish to be. He is still thinking about it. He doesn't feel comfortable crossing the line from "someone who makes music" to "musician."

It makes me sad. Sad that so many of us lose what was so proudly ours when we were children. Children are naturally artists, and no one expects them to meet the cultural definition of success; that is, to make money doing what they do. Children are free to paint pictures, sing silly songs, write poems and stories, sculpt, bang drums, and so much more. When they are children the adults around them recognize this as a beautiful thing. Beautiful that is, unless they aren't succeeding in subjects such as math and reading. Beautiful until a sixteen year old announces that she wants to be a rock star, or an eighteen year old says he has applied to art school. Beautiful until the adults in their lives start judging what the children do in terms of dollars and cents.

I am sad when a poet says, "No, I'm not really a poet. I'm a bank manager and a mom." Or when a person says, "No, I'm not a musician, I am a computer programmer." Even stay at home parents label themselves according to work or non-work status.

Can we open it up a little? How about saying, "I am a mom who chooses to stay out of the paid work force and I'm a writer and I'm an environmentalist and I'm a lover and I'm a knitting geek and...."

I think sometimes the fear stems from how others in society judge us. It's possible that the first response to "I'm a writer!" is, "What have you had published?" Couldn't all of us who haven't been published cheerfully say "Nothing yet, but I'm still writing." Couldn't we be proud of our blogs? Couldn't we gently point out the flaw in their logic by answering that there is no requirement to share our art; it exists whether we show it to the world or not.

Be a writer. Be a musician, a poet, a dancer, an actor, a painter, a sculptor, a mixed media artist. Be what you are, and claim it proudly, and stop the cycle of teaching children that their art has to hide when they become adults. Teach them that it is better to pursue your dreams and be broke than to work a soul-sucking job that you hate just because it brings in the big bucks. Tell them that there are ways to have what you want. Tell them that the mommies and daddies who stay home with them have dreams and desires and need time to pursue them. Tell them that the mommies and daddies who work outside of the home are more than their job titles.

Be the thing you seek, and seek to help your children be who they are.

Me? I'm a writer, a blogger, a mom, a friend, a lover, a poet, a radical, an environmentalist, a cook, a planner, a dreamer, and yes, even a former bank manager. I am an artist. I am all of these things and much, much more.

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