Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Keeping the Fire, Making the Magic

It’s been an interesting several weeks (months?) in the writing life, and your comments and observations about the “non-competitive life” post have been encouraging. The consensus seems to be that one keeps on because one never knows what effect one’s work is having on the greater world. This seems at first to be a little grandiose, to say the least. I mean, whom do we really think we are, anyway? Are we really going to change the world with our words? Are we really touching anybody? The obvious answer may not be the most accurate one. Because on the surface, it seems like we’re not getting very far, whether we’re writing away and collecting rejection letters, or singing away and not getting solos. The kicker is, the more lasting effect we may be having, we can’t see. At least not obviously. But we may be able to “see” it, or at least grasp some of it, if we reflect for long enough. Now, I’m not talking about the eternal effect of what we’re doing. It’s a given that if we’re Christians, and we’re trying to do our lives to the glory of God, we’re going to have at least some lasting treasure accumulated in a heavenly bank account, and I for one plan to write checks on that with glee when the time comes to cash in. It's the temporal effect I'm talking about. Sometimes we can’t see that effect, because all we can see are the ways in which we haven’t “made it.” But the bottom line is, everything we do affects someone in some way. For proof, all we have to do is think about ourselves, and how we got into writing in the first place. Wasn’t it because someone wrote something that meant something to us? Wasn’t it, sometimes, because we had stories to tell—but it took someone special to “give us permission” to tell them on paper? Wasn’t it because someone in our academic world, our friendships, or our families—or all of the above—said to us one day, “You know, you really ought to be a writer"? That’s the temporal effect we’re having, whether we realize it or not. If we put any writing out there in public…if we lay ourselves and our aspirations out there for the world to see…if we counsel, mentor, guide, or edit one other writer along the way…we’re having a temporal effect, and it’s a good one. That, too, shall count toward the heavenly checkbook. (Yippeee!) But it’s nice to consider that it also counts here on earth. And while we may not have thousands of people applauding us for those efforts…someone, somewhere, is benefiting from them.And they’re passing it on. And so on. And so on. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Whenever I coach a school musical (of which I’ve done a few), or a performance of any kind, I always try to put into my pep talk the following sentiment: Remember when you go out there that not everybody can do what you’re about to do. Very few people can put themselves on the line the way you’re going to. They either don’t have the talent, or they don’t have the courage. You have both, and that’s why you’re going out there. But remember, most of all, that somewhere in that audience is a kid who’s never been to a live performance of this kind before. A kid who’s going to sit there and watch and listen to you…and be enthralled. A kid who’s going to come out of this performance this day saying, "I wanna do THAT!" Someone did that for you, and that’s why you’re here today. So when you go out there today…remember that kid. Perform for that kid. Make magic for that kid. In the end, that’s all that matters. So make the magic, as only you can. Someday, someone else will be where you are now, eternally glad you did. I think if we could all give ourselves that pep talk, preferably on a daily basis (!)…it’d make the rest of this feel a lot better. I’m going to try to remember it myself, and I hope you can, too. Now, let’s go make magic happen! Janny


Deb said...

Sometimes, just by accident, you DO find out you've touched somebody. Most of the time, it's a secret God holds close to His heart, and we won't find out 'til we're hanging out with Him, face to face.

However -- last September I went to a writers' conference and except for quality time with a T1 who shall remain otherwise unidentified, had a dismal conference. I wasn't "there", in a sense. I was invisible. I had an agent say, "Well, this doesn't look very interesting" when I pitched her a project. One person stopped a conversation with me when a high-profile, popular writer walked past the room. Like, those things don't feel too good.

But apparently (and I don't remember doing this) I stopped to pray with another writer who was having a similar low-ebb-event. I must've blanked this encounter. But this month, when she and some others came to Chicago, she ran to me, threw her arms around me, and thanked me for praying with her. I must've looked shell-shocked, because she told me her side of the encounter. The way she tells it, it turned everything around for her.

And I didn't know. I was too busy focusing on my own private pity party. Poor me, bad conference.

No. Good conference. I just didn't know it 'til now.

Donna Alice said...

This is so true--we can't always see how our writing affects other people. I found this out as Deb did recently. Visiting a friend who had survived cancer and her Mom's stroke, she started to talk about two letters I had written to her. They were just normal letters--we wrote hundreds to each other each year--and I never gave them a thought. Two were especially memorable for her. In one she'd asked why she was born and I had said a few simple things. The other I'd written after her Dad's death.

I never thought of a letter as being able to change anyone's life--but they did.

Maybe none of us will be another Margaret Mitchell or Helen Keller, but we can "brighten the corner where we are" with our words.

On a very uninspiring day, I feel very inspired by your pep speech! You made my day and I'm sharing this one with my friends.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

I would like to write a story someday based on all the little encounters that we have in our days with other people - coincidences, some people would call them - that impact them somehow, though we never know. There's a country song on the radio about a man who stops to help a woman change her tire; she stops in a diner to get dinner, and leaves a big tip for the waittress; the waittress goes home to her husband - the man who changed the tire. The connections aren't always quite as direct as that, but we're all connected somehow and touching those around us. Maybe it's just a smile. A hello. A letter. A story. A phone call. But it makes a difference. We know those things in our own lives - why do we doubt that we also influence other people as we ourselves have been influenced?

Great thought-provokers, Janny!