Today one of my favorite authors tweeted that “It is a profound thing when someone in your life picks up the slack EVERYwhere else, so that you can pursue something as selfish as writing”. She followed it up with “Even if you’re the breadwinner (I am), you still have this strong sense that someone else is making sure your life and family WORK … while you sit by yourself trying to get something out of you. Something that will never fully *be* out of you”.
Hold onto that thought; we’re going to circle back around to it in just a minute.
A couple of days ago, one of my favorite musicians was presented with an opportunity to perform at a venue that’s a frankly perfect fit, and which would boost his exposure exponentially. We were all making celebratory “squee” noises when my practical side kicked in, and so we spent a bit of time talking about whether there was additional equipment he might need for this gig to make it as successful and smooth as possible, which a group of devoted fans might come together to help him obtain…at which point he freaked out a bit, because it’s one thing to work a thousand hours of overtime so you can buy a bit of equipment, and another thing entirely to have people buy it for you “just because”. Eventually we dragged a wish list out of him, but lemme tell ya, it was not entirely unlike pulling teeth. From a dyspeptic bobcat. With chopsticks.
Hold onto that thought too. We’ll be back for the musician in just a second.
Earlier this week a friend started a sentence with “As Mama BW would say”. I laughed, and laughed some more, and laughed and laughed and laughed–that helpless, “Jeezly crow, my entire universe has just tipped sideways and there’s nothing I can do but laugh” cackle–because despite having had some folks tell me (in some cases, directly to my face) that the things I write here were percolating into their lives and making them think about the world in new and different ways, this was the first time that it really, truly, really truly for really truly reals sank all the way in that people were seriously, honestly, actually reading and internalizing the stuff I say. Little ol’ me. On my little ol’ blog. That I started for kicks and grins.
…Now here’s where I tie these snippets together.
We’ve talked before about how one person can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of other people without realizing it. They can be the inspiration behind a food drive, or a fund drive, or a concentrated work effort that results in people being housed or saved or dug out from disaster. One person doing small things when the opportunity presents itself can, in a sort of domino effect, improve the lives of countless numbers of people.
But when we think about People Making a Difference, I suspect we tend to think about some sort of Work-With-a-Capital-W. We imagine folks sitting on the phone for hours, drumming up donations from local businesses. We think of people hauling boxes full of canned goods. We think of people flying to remote areas and hacking through miles of jungle to deliver medical care.
We think of sweat, and we think of effort, and we think of sacrifice.
We don’t tend to think of artists. Or writers. Or musicians.
But here’s the thing.
The author way back in that first paragraph? Yeah, one of her books (which has gotten rather a lot of recognition and won awards) features a protagonist with whom I can profoundly identify. I’ve reviewed Eleanor and Park here already, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I’ll say that Eleanor is the sort of unmanageable-haired, unfashionably clothed, outcast character that I think a lot of kids can identify with–and the kids who will see themselves in her are the sort of kids who desperately need the reassurance she provides, that no matter how crappy things may be right now (and how dark the night may get before the sun rises), it really does get better. There is always something to hold on to, something to fight for, and someone who will believe in you.
I dunno about y’all, but I’d submit that undertaking the grueling process of writing a book that might save a kid from suicide is pretty much the opposite of a “selfish act”.
And the musician in the second vignette? One of my favorite photographs on the face of god’s green earth shows my father holding the toddler version of myself. We’re wearing matching silver jumpsuits that my mother made (the ’70s were hard), and I’m holding a microphone: Dad used to be part of a band, and we were at one of his gigs, and the picture is a snapshot of my first-ever solo number. I’ve been told I said–er, sang–“doo doo doo” before handing the microphone back to him, and was met with wild applause. Fast-forward 30 years or so, and you’ll find another photo of my father and me, this time with him walking me down the aisle while the musician in question plays at the front of the room. We lost Dad four months after he and I took that walk, and now, whenever my musician friend plays, it opens a space in my heart where Dad and I can spend a few musical moments together again.
I dunno about y’all, but I’d submit that giving me a safe, beautiful, and comforting way in which to reflect on some of my most cherished memories is well worth the price of some performance equipment, for cryin’ out loud.
And then there’s me, coming finally to realize that the things I say here are having an impact on other people. I can use words to lift people’s spirits, rally them to action, help them examine the world from a new perspective, and think about their choices in different ways. I can help them become their best selves. And while I feel guilt sometimes, that Moon Man is off holding down a full-time office job while I’m over here “just” blogging and doing some part-time work, I have to remember that what he is doing is participating in the process of encouraging his fellow human beings–he’s just doing it in a “shadow investor” sort of way, while I hold down the chair in front of the keyboard.
So the final takeaway is this: we who work in creative fields, we who have artistic abilities, need to stop selling ourselves short. Writing can be a selfish act, sure; and music can be a just-for-fun sort of endeavor; but we also have the abilities to touch other human beings from inside their hearts. We help shape the world just as surely as the fellow who builds a highway or a house–we just build from within.
And I dunno about y’all, but I reckon that’s every bit as valid–and healing, and necessary–as any other job.