Be Yourself

velveteen rabbit

I read two articles today about being “authentic.” The author of one article, a psychologist, said people misunderstand what it means to be authentic. She believes we begin life as a blank slate and create, or author, ourselves. She bolsters her argument that we create ourselves by referencing the fact that the words author and authentic share the root word “auth,” which means “to authorize.”  If I’m following the author’s logic, we can, if we choose, author ourselves, because we are blank slates.

I don’t agree with that starting point. Anyone who’s been around infants knows they’re born with likes and dislikes and they’re very ready to let everyone around them know what’s what.

The second article focused on how difficult and scary it is for us to be our authentic selves. The author of this article said we are afraid to let people see our true selves, because it’s not safe to share the truth about our struggles and challenges. We’re afraid we’ll be scorned and ridiculed if we show our vulnerabilities — how we’re real.

That got me to thinking, and what I remembered was the Velveteen Rabbit. In this children’s story, the rabbit wants nothing more than to become real, but the only way he can be real is if the boy loves him. How to be real was as much of a conundrum for the Velveteen Rabbit as it is for us. Being real is scary.

Over time, the boy does come to love the rabbit and because the boy loves him, the Velveteen Rabbit changes into a real rabbit. He then leaves the boy, joins the other rabbits in the forest, and lives like a real rabbit.

How can we be ourselves? Walt Whitman offers some insight.

You shall no longer take things at second of third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me;
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.

Do we, like the Velveteen Rabbit, need to be loved to be real? I think being loved helps.

Notes to Myself

If I had only …
forgotten future greatness
and looked at green things and the buildings
and reached out to those around me
and smelled the air
and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations
and heard the rain on the roof
and put my arms around …
…it’s not too late
…it’s morning. I have been given
another day. Another day to hear and read
and smell and walk and love and glory
I am alive for another day.
Today, I don’t want to live for,

I want to live.

Anxiety is the realization that I might not reach the
rung on the opinion-ladder which I have
just set for myself. I fear death most
when I am about to exceed what others
expect of me; then death threatens to
cut me off from myself, because
“myself” is not yet.

Meaning does not exist in the future
and neither do I …

Hugh Prather wrote Notes to Myself in 1970.

In the forty years since I bought Notes to Myself in 1976, my life has “happened.” It’s easy  to took back and feel regret for what was abandoned or never realized, and to want time back so different decisions could be made. Regret, a by-product of living and of aging, is useful, though, in small doses. It reminds us that all we can really do is live in the present and with right intention. Prather’s words remind me to do that, and to use all the skill and experience I have to create now.

Field Geometry

Field Geometry, a 6×6-inch oil on gessoed panel, was painted from a photo I took near New Prague, Minnesota, last spring.

 

Novel 2040 Synopsis

Finally, as week two of NaNoWriMo gets underway, I have a synopsis for the novel I’m writing. Lots of people say writers should write the synopsis BEFORE they start writing their stories. It’s helpful to work in that order: synopsis > story. But that isn’t always the way the process works. I had to write 13,000 words and then spend a day thinking about the possibilities before I could get to this point. There are lots of ways to write to the end, and reaching the end is the real goal.

Here it is:

Genre: Alternate history suspense (and maybe a little romance)

Working title: 2040

In 2020, following World War III, US citizens are out of work and emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, as is the government. Voters go to the polls in November and vote to replace politicians, who lack resources and have failed to maintain cities and states across America, with business moguls, who promised voters secure jobs, housing, and education. For twenty years they’re true to their word and the people get their rewards. But not everyone is happy. Imara Nash, a Corporate Government Communications Specialist in 2040, is assigned to help control the message to voters in her hometown of Centra City, Minnesota, in the days before the next election. Imara arrives in Centra City the same day her parents disappear, leaving nothing behind. She begins to suspect that she’s been betrayed and vows to find her parents. Distracted by her search, she fails to manage the message. Unrest and demonstrations against Corporate rule increase and Imara is given an ultimatum by the people in charge—lure Kai, leader of a group of agitators into the open so he can be removed, or lose her position and reputation. Imara believes she could also lose her life.

6-Word Memoir

Didn’t think I could; then did.

Making Meaning is What Matters Most

Capture

Five days into NaNoWriMo, I have passed the 10,000 word count milestone. Getting to that milestone was hard, and to “win,” I have to write 40,000 more words. Winning NaNoWriMo means crossing the finish line on November 30 with 50,000 words written and verified.

Verifying word count is the easy part of writing a novel-length manuscript. I just have to do a select all > copy and then paste the content of my manuscript into a window on the NaNoWriMo website and it’s done.

Writing is the hard part. It’s hard because the world the story takes place in, the characters, their relationships, motivations, and so on are all new to me. I’m like the new girl in town who has to learn what everything is before I can make sense of what I see characters in the story doing. I do a lot of describing, which isn’t what readers want to read. I hate reading books in which the author has gone on and on, explaining in way too much detail what it is I’m supposed to see or know about. Skip the details and get to the story!

Leaving the words I’ve written on the page is very hard to do. I worked as an editor at a book publishing company for thirteen years. I want to “fix” my writing to make it better. But if I do that, if I stop moving forward, I won’t finish. And finishing is my goal.

This sets up an internal struggle about the “value” of this effort, which I must deal with every day. I hear the voice in my head that says stuff like: “If you can’t do it right, you’re wasting your time,” or “You will have to do this all over again, maybe several times, because it’s awful the way it is.” And when I hear that voice, I do question whether or not the effort IS worthwhile. Of course, I also need to think about what I’m not doing when I’m writing a manuscript that may never be more than it is now.

The other side of the struggle is me countering Negative Nellie with thoughts about why the effort has value in and of itself. Some of the benefits I remind myself of are:

  1. I’ll know I can write a novel-length manuscript.
  2. I’ll improve my writing and story-telling skills.
  3. I’ll gain more understanding of the creative and writing processes.

If I also find out the story is good (which I can’t know if I don’t write it), well, that will be an awesome bonus!

This struggle is universal. It’s safe to say that every person who decides to give form to an idea has an inner voice like Negative Nellie who tries to derail their project.

The ability to get past this inner struggle depends on one thing, which is: Deciding to matter. If I don’t believe that my work matters, I won’t have the inner motivation to continue. It comes down to that simple fact.

Deciding to matter is what every person who wants to create must do.

6-Word Memoir

I can choose whether I matter.