On a walk before bedtime, my seven-year-old talked about drawing and how she’s not getting as upset when she makes mistakes (which used to trigger major meltdowns). Between the sound of her voice and the golden light of our sunset walk, the moment felt like one worth capturing, so I started recording our conversation.
Here we are, right after she said, “creativity can be ugly and interesting.”
Me: Is creativity ever ugly or interesting for you?
7yo: Yep. I make ugly drawings and I do it again. That’s creativity.
Me: So what do you do with those ugly drawings?
7yo: I can turn them into something new or start over again. Like, say I made a dog with pointy ears and it looks like a cat. I can turn it into a cat by erasing some of the things I did and making them into new things.
Me: If someone’s not feeling creative enough, what would you tell them?
7yo: You are. Just make something that’s creative. Make something. Make something new. Make something bright. Make something beautiful. Make something ugly. Make something weird and cool.
Me: What if they feel like they don’t know how to make something cool?
7yo: I can teach ‘em.
Me: What would you teach them?
7yo: I would teach them, start with a dot. Draw a line. Draw another line. And see what it makes. Then you can turn it into something.
Make something weird and cool this week.
(Here’s more of the recording. Forgive the extra noise. I had no idea we are the world’s noisiest walkers: https://clyp.it/oxymjhgz)
I’m judging a small fiction contest, reading and ranking two dozen short stories.
Several of the stories are sturdy boats that transport me from shore to the port that’s promised in the first few paragraphs.
But I can see exactly the moment the other stories break down. Several start strong but spring a leak halfway through. The rest are less than seaworthy from the very first page.
I’ve found these broken stories useful.
I spend enough time reading finished, published, printed work that I can inadvertently start to compare my messy drafts to polished final products. Something about seeing a shoddy example is instructive. I can look through the holes to see how the thing should work (and why it doesn’t).
Next time you’re making something new and you need examples to guide you, seek out a few bad examples along with the good.
Every so often, I enter a low, blue space for a few days—a sort of valley of melancholy. It has happened all my life. And even though experience has taught me that I will inevitably reach the other side of it, I still find myself resisting the experience, rather than just letting it pass in its own time.
Two lessons from the most recent valley, with hopes to remember them next time:
1. Valleys can be reflective, immensely creative spaces. They are a space between, without the strenuous work of climbing a mountain, and without the distraction of the vista at the top. There’s space to ruminate, as long as all the thinking isn’t spent on wishing the low time away.
2. If you don’t want to stay in the valley, you can clear it faster by walking or running. All physical activity works wonders. Yesterday’s 22-mile bike ride revealed that this particular valley was only about 24 miles across, and a nap helped close the last of the gap.
Five years ago, a man named Refat came to my house every Saturday morning.
My husband loves languages and he had wanted to learn Arabic for some time. So when he met Refat—a refugee from Iraq—he hired the man to come over each week so they could help the other learn to speak each other’s foreign language.
In the weeks that Refat visited, we heard his story: about his wife and two children, about his visa applications to the U.S., about him moving his family to Jordan to wait out the application process, which took years (years!)–a wait long enough for his grade-school daughter to nearly reach her teenage years. And now, finally, he had settled in the mountains of the American west, soaking in English and working hard to pay for the small apartment where his family had landed.
He invited us over for a birthday party and my memory of our arrival is an image of open arms. I had rarely been welcomed anywhere in my hometown with this much enthusiasm and warmth, and the welcomers were from half a world away.
My family moved out of state, lost touch. But when I think of Refat, I can only picture him with a smile on his face—and I’ve thought of him often these past few days.
I spent some time last week regretting a few decisions I made in my 20s—decisions that would have affected me today, but that I don’t think I could have made any differently with the information I had back then.
No more regret. Even if I could change the past, would I?
Those past forks in the road brought me here, to this morning, where I stretched my legs and snuggled my warm baby and waved to my husband and daughter as they biked off to school in the crisp air. Right here, where my past decisions have brought me, is the perfect place to make my new decisions.
A few reminders 2016 gave me that I’ll carry into the new year:
- You don’t have to prove anything. To anyone.
- Be honest—especially with children. You can say the words, “I’m not upset” to a six-year-old, but if you’re lying, she’ll know it just from the way the air vibrates around you. Best to come clean.
- Trust that overall, and given the right chance, people are astonishingly and persistently kind.
- Pick up a book instead of your phone.
- Remember that so few things are worth going into debt for.
- Avoid envy. Other people’s successes are evidence of all the room the world still has for you.
- Do the kind thing that crosses your mind, and do it soon. If you wait, the chance may pass forever.
- Let people who see things differently than you have their experience without always trying to change them (and without rolling your eyes).
- Go walking. Something about moving at a human pace under the sky dusts off your mind.
- And this sounds cheesy but it’s important: love and love and love.
At the point in labor when waves of pain washed over each other with hardly any space between them to rest, I turned to my husband and said, “I want a break, just to catch my—” And then I had to stop and focus on the next contraction.
He said right in my ear: You’re close. You can do this. When the baby’s here, everything stops and you get your break.
Down under the intense wave, I’d temporarily forgotten that there was a shore to reach. His reminder felt like a lifeline. I pictured the little person I’d been carrying with me for months, told myself that every tight, painful moment got me closer to actually meeting her.
And soon, there she was, a warm miracle with a peaceful face—a tiny, beautiful confirmation that sometimes discomfort is a message to keep going, you’re so close to what you want most.