Nope, not the fifty shades of it. And yes, I know that is Grey, not gray; the wordplay was just too good to pass up . . . or maybe just too obvious. Nonetheless, the gray I’m talking about is that blending of extremes that is neither black nor white, good nor evil, perfect nor imperfect. I’m talking about the muddled up ambiguity that makes decisions hard. That makes love risky. That allows us to be surprised by someone’s actions. That turns snap judgments upside down and makes life interesting.
It’s also exactly the thing that makes characters come alive in stories. Creating characters that lack idiosyncrasies, that are completely perfect or imperfect is like a line drawing with no shading: flat. And yet, for me at least, it seems to be a hard trap to avoid on the first pass through a story. I’ve got heroes and villains and no in-between. And let’s be honest, it’s the in-between that makes it believable. Heroes have flaws and villans have a soft spot for something and most of us have days when we could probably be cast as either.
And so I find myself going back and shading. Searching for the gray that makes it all less whole, more messy and deeper somehow. More like life.
*Need an example of awesome gray-ness? Pick up anything by Emily Giffin. Something Borrowed, for example, is full of beautifully drawn ambiguity.
Words. What can I say? I’m hopelessly in love with them. Song lyrics and essays and blog posts and novels and poems. Thousands and millions and billions of ways to string them together and create beauty. Inspire deep thought. Shift the lens through which I see the world just a bit. Express perfectly and succinctly exactly the things I wasn’t even quite aware I felt.
And sometimes (not unlike the people we fall in love with) these lovely perfect words come from the least expected of places; when we’re not looking for them at all. I’m not a mother. I would never have sought out a blog about being one, but today I followed a link from a friend’s Facebook page right into this beautiful bunch of words, which were exactly what I needed.*
A big thank you to Glennon and all the other writers and bloggers and lyricists and essayists and poets whose words enrich my life daily.
*See especially the second half of her post.
(Also note: my mention of using Facebook in no way means I have abandoned the attempt to disengage a bit referenced in my last post. I’m working on it, I promise . . . just as soon as I log off . . .)
This morning, while I was in the midst of my morning scroll through Facebook over breakfast my husband said something to me. I replied. He looked confused, as one is apt to do when the person they are talking to offers a response that has nothing to do with the topic of discussion.
I wish this was an isolated incident; but it is not. This was definitely not the first time I’ve found myself attempting to engage in both real life and social media at the same time and failing. Whether it’s Facebook and a conversation with my husband or Twitter and a phone call with a friend, it seems I simply cannot do both at the same time. Which begs the question – why do I try? What makes me keep scrolling down the screen when someone else is talking?
Is what I’m reading on the screen that important.? Doubtful. If it was I wouldn’t have answered in the first place. Wouldn’t have even thought about trying to engage in a real-life conversation. And seriously is there ever anything on Facebook or Twitter that just can’t wait? The answer is unequivocally: NO. If there was something a good friend desperately needed to tell me, I’m sure they would pick up the phone and call or track me down in person.
So why is that morning scroll through Facebook part of my routine? Why do I feel the need to glance at my Twitter feed while sitting down for a drink with friends? The answer is unequivocally: ABSOLUTELY NO REASON. Except perhaps the fact that it’s all so accessible. Just a tap on the screen of my phone. A click of the mouse. A split second to vast amounts of information at my fingertips. But at what cost? Is it more important to know that the person who is a friend of a friend seven times removed just had an awesome fro yo than to spend ten minutes in conversation with the love of my life. Clearly not.
So I’ve been making an effort to disengage a bit. To stop reaching for my iPhone every quiet moment. To give space for conversation, for curiosity, for day- dreaming. Space to find my balence. Space to put first things first.
That stack of journals I brought home from my parent’s house included a sketchbook from the Drawing I class that I took my freshman year of college. Above are two fabulous examples of its contents. So that you can truly appreciate them, I will highlight two things: first, please notice the extremely sunken television screen in the first picture (showing Friends); second, please know that the rose in the second picture was not supposed to be an abstract (in my written reflection I lament how unrealistic it looks).
So drawing wasn’t really my thing. Also not really my thing – jewelry making, stained glass, pottery and crocheting. Oh, and also acting. And especially singing.
I don’t say that these things weren’t my thing because I didn’t like them or even really because I was totally devoid of skill in them. I enjoyed the art, craft and theatre classes I took in college and, in retrospect, was not terrible at any of these things (except the singing, the singing was/is really bad). The thing is, I lacked the passion for them to push myself to be better than average.
When I talk about my college career, I often say that I have a degree in Psychology with a side of Art, a splash of English Literature and a pinch of Theatre. I admit this proudly without an ounce of regret. Sure if I had figured out then that I wanted to be a writer I could have focused on that; maybe majored in journalism or gone on to get a MFA in creative writing. But here’s the thing, I’m not sure it would have worked.
Without that personal exploration in creativity that began in college and continued until I sat down to really focus on writing at age 29; I’m not sure I would be much of a writer. I’m not saying you can’t be a writer when you are young. You absolutely can. I’ve read and been inspired by some amazing young writers. I’m just not sure that I could have been a writer when I was younger and I am grateful for the life experience I have to draw on now.
Just like I’m grateful for sketchbooks full of average drawings and a crate full of lumpy pottery. They are the artifacts of my creative journey.
Last night my husband was talking brewing with the gentleman next to him at the bar. After they had been talking for a few minutes the gentleman’s wife asked me, “what do you do while he brews?” I replied that I write. We struck up a great conversation about reading/writing/general creative-ness. This morning, going through some pictures, I ran across the one above and had to smile, because it so accurately sums up the previous evening’s conversation.
I love beer. I love checking in on the boiling pot of sweet-smelling wort. I get excited when the resting beer starts to emit tiny bubbles signaling the beginning of fermentation. And of course, I love all the sampling. Above all, I love my husband and am proud of each and every beer he makes. I have no desire to brew beer.
Similarly, my husband gets as excited about views and likes and comments on my blog as I do. He understands completely when I need to stop in the middle of dinner to jot an idea down in my little writer’s notebook before it escapes me. He’s helped me with query letters and proofread countless blog posts. And yet, he has no desire to be a writer.
I love our independent hobbies, because in them we get to celebrate and learn from each other’s uniqueness. I know more about the brewing process than I ever imagined I would. Similarly, my husband knows more about the writing and publishing than I’m sure he ever imagined he would. We are each enriched by the time we spend doing our “own things.”
Obviously shared hobbies are immensely important too, but I think even those are enriched by individual interests. For example, travelling is one of our shared hobbies. Our most recent trips were to England where we visited Stratford-upon-Avon and the pub where J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ writers group met (quite writer-ly) and to Denver, CO for the Great American Beer Festival (quite brewer-ly).
So today we’re celebrating the holiday with a quiet morning of writing and an evening spent raising a pint of craft beer. Happy Independence Day!
*I’ll also leave you with this, in light of my previous music-inspired post: