Often the best teachers are those who have just mastered their subject, because they remember what it’s like to learn it.
When I try to teach something I learned years ago, I overcomplicate or don’t give enough guidance, because I’ve lost sight of the struggles. My life is a series of learnings, and therefore a series of sweet spots for teaching, rolling by continuously. I want to capture those personal, teachable moments. This is why I write essays.
In essays, I articulate lessons as soon as they’re embodied. I write to remember what I recently had to learn. I’ll look back, years later, and marvel at the details of what used to be difficult.
Every year in Math class I’d long for the previous year’s challenges: And I thought multiplication was hard!, I moaned, as I learned division. My writing plants flags, symbolising the landmark lessons of my personal journey, as clearly as textbooks distinguish Algebra I from Algebra II.
An idea is best captured in the passion of the present moment, but there is a price to pay.
The danger of telling such fresh stories is that sometimes the subject is still a little too raw.
I can’t write about something that I’m still figuring out. Something too recent may be wrapped up in hurt, uncertainty, or both.
I wish to keep things fresh, but also make sure they’re solid. Too soon and I’m reactive, egotistical, defensive in the face of fear. Too soon and it hurts.
It’s hard to write about my life while I’m living it, especially when I’m having trouble with the living part.
This week, I started an essay about something else, but wasn’t ready to tell its story yet. I kept pausing, asking, do I really want to say this right now? When I complete an essay, I believe in it fully. If I am at all unsure, it’s not time to say it out loud yet.
Art doesn’t have to hurt.
It’s challenging. It can hurt. But it doesn’t have too. It shouldn’t need to.
When I challenge myself just enough, writing heals me, helps me through the hurt. Sometimes this means opening myself up to pain, but constructively. Letting the boggart out of the wardrobe in a safe, practice setting. In the studio, I make sense of a feeling. From welcoming the pain, I build: I build up myself, and create something new.
There must be a bridge between lessons learned and lessons shared: A Bridge of Embodiment.
Everyone’s bridge will be different. Yours might be a big and bold Golden Gate. Mine is a softer, Monet water lily kind of bridge. I’m an Impressionist, capturing the moment in motion with blurry brush strokes. Structurally though, a bridge is a bridge, and I prefer to tell my story when I’m safely on the other side of it.
It’s like in the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis.
In this excellent, children’s computer game, you must transport a group of adorable little blue companions across the map. There are puzzles along the way, the best of which involves making pizza.
But there are also campsites, where your Zoombinis can curl up by the fire. It’s a ‘save game’ feature, but also a life lesson: rest is essential to the quest. In my life as a Zoombini, I can write from these campsites. But I can’t write from the middle of a puzzle — there, I must focus on the pizza, and in harder levels, the ice cream that goes with it.
Before recording an episode of our podcast, The Art Life, my co-host Grace was unsure about sharing a certain anecdote.
I said, ‘If there is any hesitation, then No. This might not be the best time. Another time will come.’ The right stories will find their places on the shelf.
Both of us are navigating the balance between authenticity and leadership. We can be present and truthful from a place of embodiment.
I must share what feels safe, preserve ideas in magic bottles until they mature into their best stories. The Art Life is having the patience to wait for the perfect moment to share: sharing is the most caring when the thought is full.
I must process my life apart from publication.
It can be a difficult line to see, because writing is how I process and also how I publish. The better I understand this boundary, the better I create.
There’s danger in having the World Wide Digital Printing Press at our fingertips. Just because I can publish immediately doesn’t mean I must. As a Gryffindor this is hard: I’m urged to SAY SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING, but I’ve learned to wait.
I must ensure that I know what I’m saying before I say it, because it’s not just the action that counts – not just the ‘There I did it. Done!’, but the impact. My words could mean more if I give them time.
Character development must come first.
As an actor and a writer of fiction, I learned to develop characters before telling their stories. The same order of operations applies to my own life: Develop the character first, then tell the story.
I develop my character through journaling, and by letting time pass. My journals must be private, because they’re my permission to be raw and untidy: to misspell, let sentences run on, start paragraphs with ‘So what else?’, stop mid-thought with interruptions about the afternoon’s errands.
I stay dedicated to writing by boxing in time to write. Within the box, I must unshackle myself from the pressure to make each sentence publication-perfect. I’ve learned that ideas meander. They might need to go in all sorts of directions before finding a true path. I measure progress not in word count, but in moments creating.
I can’t talk about something in the middle of making it.
If I share too soon, I’ll give away a component of what I’m creating. I’ll forget to include that sentence in the essay because it feels like I’ve already shared it. Because I have. Out loud, in conversation, it disappears like an Instagram Story, when it could have been grid-worthy. Or worse – it’s like spotting a pretty view, and snapping a photo for Instagram instead of letting my eyes linger on it. Holding up a screen, dividing me from my experiences, rushing to share the moment without really knowing what I’m saying because I haven’t lived it myself.
In the Queer Eye book, Antoni Porowski has a wonderful dinner party tip. Don’t prepare the cooking too far in advance, he says. Time it just right, so that the aroma from the kitchen welcomes your guests as they arrive.
I like my ideas to be perfected like a (dairy free) creme brûlée, prepped with enough time to chill in the fridge, but torched at the table, so the fire is fresh.
Until the Next Chapter,
P.S. I would love to hear your story too. Please write back on Patreon, Instagram, or email.
P.P.S. A new month in Everyday Wonderland begins tomorrow. It’s my membership programme for finding magic where you already are. Read more and enrol at http://everydaywonder.land. This month’s theme is comfort. Will I see you there?