Tag Archives: friends

Mile Markers and Check Points

If you haven’t heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast “Magic Lessons” (based on her book of the same name), it’s an inspiring listen. Ms Gilbert speaks to creative folks who are struggling to start or re-start their work. As these fledgling artists speak to Ms Gilbert about their fears, she generously bolsters them with her experience and encouragement. She gives them assignments and deadlines. Then, she utters the six most powerful words any artist can hear: “I’ll check in with you later.”

Bringing an idea from the realm of the formless and vague into the physical world is the type of work that’s best done with some sense of urgency. A sweater stitched one meager row at at time, for example, would be deemed a useless enterprise, and discarded before it even had a second sleeve. Urgency creates momentum, powering the maker through the inevitable tedium and the challenges.

Sometimes the urgency comes from the idea itself, the sheer excitement of it, the friction as it rubs against the inside of the mind. But, other times, urgency and motivation come from those kind people who make the artist feel accountable, the ones who’ll ask questions, or say, “I’ll check in with you later. I want to see how this is going for you.”

For years, I was a Secret Writer. Only my husband and a couple of my closest friends knew that I was working on a book. And so, I worked on it in fits and starts, often losing the thread of meaning and struggling to find it again. The work never quite felt as though it mattered. In fact, it didn’t, because no one knew about it. It was like a ghost, or an imaginary friend that others were always accidentally sitting on.

The more I began to go public with my work – to share it with friends, read it to writing groups, and discuss my goals – the more it became a real part of my life. I had to get comfortable with the supremely uncomfortable act of talking about my writing. The secret was out. People were going to ask, “How’s the writing going these days?” And so, I had to have something to tell them.

Thank goodness for these people, without whom my efforts might have fizzled out completely. Now I use these folks strategically and on purpose, announcing my goals to my writing group and my friends, and asking them to please keep me honest. My goals are humble, sometimes embarrassingly so, but these mile markers along the way keep me trudging forward when I’d often like to stop. And, by the way, these folks use me, too, and our mutual encouragement makes us all feel a little less alone at our desks.

I’m grateful to Elizabeth Gilbert and the other professional artists who keep sharing their own experiences to inspire and motivate others. Most of all, I’m ever so grateful to my own personal cheerleaders, all the people who care enough to ask, “How’s your writing going these days?” Thank you for making room at the table for my imaginary friend.

This isn’t the first time Elizabeth Gilbert has inspired me. Also see my post about her wonderful Ted talk about creativity, and my thoughts on Eat, Pray, Love. And, if you are interested in creativity, her book Big Magic is… well, magical.

Long and Short of It

It’s just hair.

And, yet, there’s much more to it than that. At least, judging by the amount of analysis, appreciation, and significance we devote to it. I recently got my hair cut short after wearing it long for a while, and I was surprised by how my acquaintances interpreted my decision. Or, really, that anyone interpreted it at all.

I have pretty non-descript hair. It’s straight, brown, and thick. All the way through high school and college I wore it in a plain bob with the occasional sparkly pin thrown in for pizzazz. When an event called for fancy, out came my curling iron (Exhibit A: helmet hair a la senior prom pictures).

After I graduated and moved to New York, I decided to go short. Really short. Having super short hair turned my plain look into something much more interesting. Short hair put the focus on my face, and made me feel bold and sexy. I wore more lipstick and mascara with short hair. I experimented with products to make it spiky, slick, smooth, or funky. I had fun with it, and it suited me. So, I wore my hair that way for about ten years, through those all-important twenties. My hubbie had never even known me with anything but short hair, and my friends who did know me before all but forgot what I looked like any other way.

But, anything gets old after a while. I started wondering what I would look like with long hair. I wanted to brush and braid my hair, things that I hadn’t been able to do since I was a little kid. So, I let it grow. And grow. It was as much a decision based on negligence and laziness as on style, really. Not getting it cut was easier (and much cheaper) for me, especially now that trips to the salon require me to arrange for childcare.

It was different, novel, and even kind of fun to have long hair. But, I missed my signature look. I missed standing out in a crowd. I missed rocking a look that set me apart in a sea of long-haired women. After I finally went back to the salon for the big chop, I practically skipped down the street. I felt the way that vanilla ice cream must feel after it finally gets its hot sauce and cherries.

What surprised me was the reaction I got. People assumed all sorts of motivations behind my decision to cut. Some suggested that I had cut my hair short because of the hot weather. Or, for convenience. Or, so I wouldn’t have to think about it. One friend noted that many “middle-aged women” cut their hair short because they already have husbands and so no longer need to worry about looking sexy or attractive.

Hmmm.

It’s weird that we so associate femininity and women looking good (read: attractive to dudes) with having long, flowing locks. Contrary to what some people concluded, I didn’t think: “Well, I need a low-maintenance haircut, so I’ll go for it, despite the fact that I am basically neutering myself and stripping myself of sex appeal.” I actually think… wait for it… that I look hotter with short hair. Yep, shallow as it might seem, I was only considering my looks – not ease, not temperature, not convenience. I was going for hot and sexy with this here short ‘do. So now you know. And you can continue to analyze at your peril.

Kristin Cashore, You Should Be My Friend

cashore_fireI know that one usually doesn’t go around lobbying for friends, but I have a compelling case to make.

You might not know this, Kristin, but you have been wooing me with your blog. After I read Graceling, I looked you up on the Internet because, well, that’s the first thing I do when I want to know more. And I happened upon your blog, where you proved to be witty and funny. Oh, so funny! Your blog makes me laugh. More surprising, though, sometimes your blog makes me cry. Especially when you post about how much you love the planet. And this post here. Oh, that one made me weep.

Hmm, I thought. Witty and funny and passionate and sensitive. A good combo. You blogged about books, and recommended some of your favorites. I picked up many of those, and your recommendations were wonderful! It’s a true friend, indeed, who puts books like this into my hands.

But, then, Kristin, oh then. Once you had piqued my interest, you started to blog about Buffy. And, Kristin, I was watching Buffy, too. For a while there, we were watching the same episodes. (I knew this because you would refer to your burgeoning love for a certain blonde vampire. My love, too, burgeoned.)

Just when it seems that all of this might have been a coincidence, that perhaps lots of people are reading YA and watching Buffy and loving Spike… then you write about watching the Olympics, and how much you love the Morgan Freeman Visa commercial with Dan Jansen.  And, you know.  It’s not that I’m saying that thousands of people aren’t watching the Olympics and weeping at that commercial right along with us.  I’m just saying that you should be my friend.  We could talk about books and drink tea and watch figure skating.

And, by the way, I’ll be looking for a character who bears a resemblance to Stephane Lambiel in your upcoming books.  He has a very princely quality, eh?

For any of you who don’t know, Kristin Cashore is the author of Graceling and its companion book Fire, both of which have won numerous awards and been listed on the NYT bestseller list.  She blogs at This Is My Secret.