One of my kids has a teacher who never looks you straight in the eye. He glances at the floor, the ceiling, and the children shuffling past in the hallway, but never meets the eyes of the person with whom he’s speaking. At first, I thought it was me, but the more I watched him, the more I saw him show the same behavior with the other parents. He must be terribly shy, I thought. I can usually spot these folks even without the telltale traveling eyes and stilted conversation because I am them, I’ve just learned how to hide behind a smile and a cute pair of shoes. You know what else I noticed about this teacher? He almost always initiates the conversation. He makes the effort to stop a parent and tell them how impressed he is with their child’s progress. He offers personal stories with ease. He compliments. He’s kind, gracious, encouraging, and quite obviously, very uncomfortable.
I like that about him.
He pushes through the discomfort because he knows he has something to offer. He enters into the conversation with his eyes wide open, even if they happen to stare at the activity going on behind you. He’s present inside the awkward pauses. He’s a musician, and passionate about kids and his art even when it comes with a side of pushy parents and painful conversations.
When I first started writing, every post and essay felt a bit like chatting at the ceiling, with far too many awkward pauses. They still exist, but I manage to hide some of them behind a self-deprecating anecdote or a cute photo of my kid. It takes practice, and writers have no choice but to practice out loud. We have to stop you in the hallway and offer our stories, even when it’s painful and we spend the entire time staring at our shoes. We have to show up with our diamonds in the rough until we experience enough difficult conversations, or ugly comments, or slash and burn edits, that we start to see those diamonds take on a smooth facet or two. I’m still waiting for these words to shine.
When Michelangelo sculpted his statue of David, he said the work already existed inside the cast-off slab of marble. His job as the artist was to release it, to bring forth this masterpiece with each chink and chisel. He knew the art was at the very center, and he needed to work past the limitations of the exterior to release the glory it held on the inside. We all need to work past the exterior, past our rock hard limitations and recognize them as barriers to the art hiding in the center. Trust that the words will come as you take out the tools of your trade, as you finger the crevices of the piece, and envision what it might become. With time, practice, and an artist’s eye for beauty, you can learn to release it from every uncomfortable and awkward instinct.
I’m still in the chiseling phase, still fingering the rough edges, still learning how to craft. I know my limitations, and I know I’ve got to sculpt these words past them. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the hidden things, and they are my masterpiece.
You’ve been so kind to stick with me this week as I spent a little time exploring my thoughts on writing. What kind of limitations do you have to work past to explore your art? Your career? Your relationships or parenting?