A Lesson from my Unruly Curls!

Being a writer or artist of any kind is a lot like having curly hair–it’s a struggle!
Anyone who has ever tangled with a mass of wild curls knows the overwhelm of taking on a battle that you’ll never win. Curls are inherently disobedient! They’ll rise to the heavens when you want them down-to-earth. They’ll run away from the neat little bun you try to pin them in, and if you decide to try more extreme alternatives, like transforming them all together–you know, making them something they’re not– you’re in for an extensive and intensive process involving heat and/ or chemicals, which is not only painful, but also temporary. The curls will inevitably re-emerge. Meanwhile, you’re that person in the witness protection program, checking over your shoulder for the menacing rain cloud, humidity or sweat bead that threatens to bring the curls back! And woe to you if you’re caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella! Then you’re Cinderella making a mad dash before midnight when the magic disappears and the real you is revealed!
See… the “real you” is complicated. Like the temperamental curls, you can’t be easily contained. Maybe you don’t fit into any particular box. Your style breaks the rules and falls outside of pre-set categories. But, being different is a good thing, right? Unless your difference isn’t appreciated. So, how then do you find your niche? Your voice? Your place? Are you gonna be the red-headed step child or the favored blonde? It’s not just a problem for writers, but all creatives trying to find their place in an industry that’s fickle; in a field that’s looking for the “next big thing,” but no one knows what that is!
Perhaps we should take a lesson from our unruly curls!

  1. Curls resist change.

Although they can be lengthened and stretched, they defy total transformation. Naturally curly hair is difficult to keep straight without extreme measures that are damaging to the hair. Likewise, while it is necessary to be flexible and relevant, the essence of who you are should be non-negotiable. You do damage to your sense of self when you try to change to fit in or be acceptable to others. You can be acceptable without changing who you are.
2. Curls have their own beauty.
In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown describes her discovery that true belonging is achieved, not through the affirmation of those around us, but from the affirmation we give ourselves. You have to learn, first, she says, how to belong to yourself.
Looking inward rather than outward gives us insight into our purpose and a connection with our Creator that no attachment to an outside source can substitute. By what standard do we measure our value? By what others think or by how well we fulfill God’s purpose for us? It’s easy to get caught up in how many “likes” we have on social media rather than reflecting on the work, the purpose and the inherent value of what we do apart from the attention it gets. If something I write, or something you sing touches one life, was it worth it? Was it pretty enough to matter? I say yes!
3. Curls are free
Long tendrils coil tightly around our fingers and cling stubbornly to each other in a daily tug of war, but we can surrender the fight. The best thing to do with defiant curls is to set them free! Give them a good conditioning, maybe a headband if you must, then let them fly! If you’re not confined to a particular genre or category you can flourish. You are free to explore forms and styles that would otherwise be off limits. You can create new combinations of words and sounds, colors or kinds. Whatever your craft, the possibilities are endless when your free!
So, before manipulating our strands for purposes that aren’t meant to be, why not follow the zig-zag to its natural end and see what’s there? Let go of expectations and be open for exploration! Let’s give up the battle we’re never going to win and embrace the wild and beautiful differences that make us who we are!

Happy week!

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Do you know a curly girl? Get more lessons from the curly world here!

Photo by Bobby Rodriguezz on Unsplash

Mayhem Monday: What’s in Your Backpack?

In a recent Facebook Live, one of my favorite motivators, Chrystal Evans Hurst describes her struggle while recovering from a bout in the hospital. She tells of her difficulty in maneuvering up and down the stairs on one foot. Still weak from her illness, every step was hard, not only because of her condition, but also because she carried a backpack. A week after struggling daily with a backpack that became increasingly heavy–because she continued adding items to it–she discovered three things: (1) the trek up and down the stairs was still hard (2) she was able to do more this week than she was last week and (3) in the process she had gained some muscles she wasn’t expecting.

Chrystal unpacks the lessons in her “backpack victory,” but I was thinking a little more about the backpack itself. I mean, don’t we all carry a backpack? We call it baggage.

We toss stuff in those bags—both good and bad—and go on. We sling the past over our shoulders, as if doing so will be enough to put it behind us. But, the funny thing about past experiences is they don’t always stay back there. Even if we’ve tossed them, they tend to linger. Even when we don’t realize that we’re toting around hurt, anger or unresolved issues, they inform our actions. We use them as currency: the criticism of our peers that we pocketed, comes into play later when it’s time to trust again. The disapproval of our teachers is logged and we check that account before cashing in on any major academic investments. Our parents’ expectations? It’s like our favorite magazine that comes every month, but we just can’t throw it away! We toss it in the bag and it gets heavier.

Daily we add something to our backpack—experiences get added in—good or bad–and accumulate like the artifacts collecting dust in our basements. They are seen, but forgotten; there, but we’re unaware of the effects they have on our lives. We refuse to get rid of them, yet we don’t actually deal with them. They have meaning, but we don’t fully grasp what it is.

We tend to think of baggage as a bad thing, but is it?

In saying that we should think about the backpack, I don’t mean that we should think negatively about it. I mean we should think about it. The problem with baggage is that we don’t think about it! We drag it around with us and allow it to inform our actions without ever examining it or doing anything intentional with it. Maybe we should look at what’s in our backpack. What is this baggage that you’re carrying around?

It may be that we are burdened by guilt or unresolved issues from the past because we’ve chosen to carry unexamined bags. Anyone who’s ever carried a big purse knows how easy it is to toss items in with the intention of “looking at it later,” but “later” never comes!

Yet, if you did look, you might find that there are some good things in your bag. There might be some things in there that you can use! Have you had some tough times– some pain and some hurt? If you look closely, what else do you find? Perhaps strength gained from the difficulty? Wisdom gained from the foolish choice? Character developed from the hurt?

Part of Chrystal’s “backpack victory” was the unintended muscle she gained from the struggle she had going up and down each step. I don’t know if she ever looked at everything she tossed in her bag, but the extra weight was an unexpected blessing! Likewise, our baggage can either be a burden that weighs us down or a weight that builds our physical and spiritual muscle! It can also be the source from which we draw our greatest inspiration–to write, to create, to dream and to live! It really comes down to perspective and what you see when you look in the bag!

So, go ahead–look. What’s in your backpack?

Happy Monday!

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Special thanks to Andrew Neel on Unsplash for Cover photo art.

Mayhem Monday: Are you Open for Something New?

She sat alone on the metal bench. Her body turned away from me slightly so that our eyes wouldn’t meet. I could tell she didn’t want to talk. Her brow was furrowed and her lips were formed into a tiny rose bud. She folded her arms as her gaze followed the horizon without noticing the sunset.

“Are you enjoying the conference?” I asked, attempting to open her up.
“It’s fine.” She remained closed.

The heat of the day had finally given way to a cooling breeze that lifted the corner of the top sheet of a ream of papers resting on her lap. She lifted the stack, patted it, then gently slid them into her canvas tote.

“What’s your story about?” I tried again.

Her eyes sank into the darkness where her manuscript had disappeared and it seemed as if she were considering whether to climb into that depth with it. Eventually, she dragged herself out to look up at me. “It’s a love story” she sighed, “but apparently they’ve all heard it before.”

Slowly she unraveled the tangled threads: the “they” to whom she referred were all of the agents, editors and publishers whose hands had passed over her precious work. For one reason or another it wasn’t what they were looking for.

“I’m done,” she said. “This is it for me.”

“Have you thought of trying a different approach? Maybe revising the story? Or taking a different path to publication?” I asked.

“No.”

She remained closed. There was only one approach. Only one path. It was either going to happen this way or not at all…

My conversation with this determined, yet dejected author that day got me thinking. It has been said that tenacity and perseverance is the way to achieve goals, and there is certainly anecdotal evidence to prove this to be true, but could it also be true, that on this journey towards success, there’s also a place for compromise?

I think there is something to be said for flexibility and openness. Yes, we should absolutely have a vision of how our future success will look—write the vision, make it plain! Pursue and persevere! Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let anything take you off course! But…

if we persevere and pursue the vision without allowing any adjustments or compromise, might we actually cut ourselves off from the very dream we are pursuing?

I think tenacity cuts both ways. For example:

  • Publishers may be looking for the next best seller, but they don’t always know what that looks like. They base their expectations on what has worked in the past, so they may turn away new proposals that don’t “fit” those expectations; it doesn’t mean the works they turn away are not good. It simply means they aren’t what they were expecting!
  • Likewise, writers who have an expectation that success means acceptance from a major publishing company may also assume there is no other measure of their worth and no other means to accomplish their goal of getting published.

The result is both writers and publishers are looking for one thing and neither is open to looking for something new; so each is missing out on a blessing that awaits them.

Yet, blessings come in many forms! The Jews did not reject Jesus because they weren’t looking for him. They rejected him because he wasn’t who they were looking for. They needed to be open to the fact that their Savior had a different look than they were expecting.

Writers may have to pursue other means of publication in order to demonstrate their merit, and publishers may need to think again about what they assume will make a best seller.

If you’re not a writer, but you’re trying to pursue what feels like an impossible dream—don’t worry! There’s more than one way to succeed! You may just need to consider a new approach.

What are you looking for?

Do you need to adjust your expectation? Maybe what you’re looking for is right in front of you! Beauty and genius will never be confined, pre-packaged or pre-set by pre-determined algorithms.

Beauty and genius emerge from unexpected places, like the silky shadows cast across the horizon that my friend and I watched that evening as we sat on the metal bench at the writers’ conference while authors, agents and publishers passed by—they didn’t see her and she didn’t see them. They would only see each other if they were open to seeing something new!

Happy Monday!

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