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Writing in Service
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liz_scanlon
Hello friends...

I'm wondering if you writerly and artsy folks will have a conversation with me?

I've been thinking about the solitary nature of this work, and how hard it is to remember (or even know, sometimes) that what I'm doing serves anyone (besides me).

I mean, in my heart I care about children's literacy, I care about children's perspectives, I care about children's families. And, in a big picture sort of way, I carry those concerns into my studio space when I go to work. But the microcosm that is my daily grind can feel sort of ... myopic, wrapped up in minutae and egocentric. I mean, honestly. Who but me is going to care about the one word I swapped for another in the fourth couplet of a manuscript that's done and gone to the illustrator and still I can't stop with the tweaking?

One solution, obviously, is to have some of my service life feel more concrete -- whether it's at the school or the foodbank or somewhere else. But I also feel the need to understand more fully why I do what I do, and what it is I'm offering up. And to whom. Because really, I'm not big or important enough for it to be all about me.

So here's where you guys come in.

I'm curious about how you stay connected to what is truly purposeful about what you do?

Do you dedicate your work to someone? 

Do you wait for letters from the kids who read your books? 

Do you just figure it'll all shake out on judgement day or at library storytime, whichever comes first?

If you're up for sharing, I'd love to know...

I believe my talents are on loan from a higher power for the purpose of providing for my family. So it's important to stay connected to that higher power.

I try to dedicate my books to someone special. It's a way of publicallly saying I Love You.

Do you wait for letters from the kids who read your books?
No. But it's always nice to receive them.

For me it's judgement day. Hopefully I can stand there in confidence that I was a good steward of the talents loaned to me.

I try not to make this about me, which is hard because its only human to do so.

Don, Devas T.

Thanks, Don, for chiming in. I really appreciate all these perspectives...

And also, Don, I recently had a great conversation with my sister-in-law about ego. She said something akin to what you're saying, about using the gifts we've been given. They're not something to be overly proud of but rather something we have the responsibility to use well. And that takes the weight off of ego and puts it back on just doing our own good work. Right?

I so agree with that, we have a responsibility to use the gifts that we are given. I get into a struggle with myself when I want to use a different gift, one that isn't mine. A friend recently pointed out that when I try to do that not only does it not work, but it devalues the gift that IS mine.

There is no one else in the world that can tell a Liz story or a Don story or a Susan story in just the way we can.

Boy, a question like that after the week I've had, it makes one think.

You said, Because really, I'm not big or important enough for it to be all about me.

And that's the real teeter totter in the equation, isn't it? Because if it isn't enough about me on the work side it won't reach the people I want to reach on the other side. But if it is too much about me, well, that's just not the way to go.

I don't stay connected easily but I hold in my head a vision of who I do this for and that's for that one kid out there who feels right now the way I did so many times, that the world was out of balance and there wasn't a damn thing I could do to even it out. That one kid who feels like nothing is ever going to go their way, that the decisions are out of their hands and that pain is just something you get used to because that's what you know the most of.

When I think about my gifts I don't know that it is as much about the writing as it is about the being out there, about giving testimony that dreams do come true if you are willing to do the work. That you don't have to BE a superstar to be a superstar to someone else. That you alone have the power to direct your life toward the path that matters most.

I do it on faith, faith that if I do what I am meant to do the people who need to hear what I have to say will find it. It might not be the giant bestseller numbers. It might not be the billboard kind of fame. But hopefully it will help one person, one child, know they are not alone.

YES -- it's a teeter totter!

We do have to be connected to our own joy and passion and interests, or our work will fall all kinds of flat, won't it? And at the same time, we need to connect to Don's higher power, and your "one kid", and Linda's energetic spirit, and Mark's cumulative whole, right?

Maybe those connections are happening organically and what this is really about is a heightened sense of awareness and appreciation...

Hmm....

heightened awareness

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 06:29 pm (UTC)

Yup. Agree 100%. My belief is that when we are in connection with our divine purpose we are more connected to the earth, the birds, the people, the sun, the things that grow. Have you ever been so connected that you thought you could feel that tree grow? You could hear her heartbeat? See his spirit? My question for those of us getting closer to selves, learning of our service to others, how do we stay on task with this heightened awareness, with an unbelievable sensitivity to the world?

In appreciation.

I do write for readers -- but that seems a long way from the page on the days when I'm working something out.

The truth is, Liz, I kind of feel that the world is at its best when everyone in it is doing the equivalent of swapping one word for another in the hopes of making their work the best they can be. Committing to the work -- stretching, growing -- makes a person bigger than her body. I'm going to sound all hokey here (it is early and I need my tea), but I really do think there is a spirit that connects us all and the energy you put in to your words, gives energy to that spirit. That is service.

Oh, and don't think you're kids don't see it and your readers don't feel it. When you work the way you do, you give them permission and encouragement to do the same.

I would like to second what Linda says. :-)

Jo -- I OFTEN would like to second what Linda says :)

Like right now, I'm wishing these posts had an edit function, so I could swap a few words with others and fix a few grammar and punctuation errors, too. I hope the connecting spirit won't mind.

ooooo..... this is so yogic and totally resonates with me, Linda.

I love this line: "Committing to the work -- stretching, growing -- makes a person bigger than her body."

Mercy that is good...

hello friends

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 06:22 pm (UTC)

My name is not anonymous, I'm Patches, a pianist, and I will figure out how to get my name and little face on here after I share my perspective. It is my most sincere belief that it is our divine purpose to get as large as possible, large in the sense for example the more books Liz writes, then more people can read her stuff, more love is shared, more curiosity built. The more fully realized she is as a human and writer, the more fully realized are all those in her reach. So, as a pianist I cannot on my own even attempt to do what I do. First, surrender, allow the energy of the great creator to fill me up over and over again. I have been graced with a spiritual gift and it is my personal path, my destiny to foster that gift to the best of my ability and then share it with others. And you know what? We all have these spiritual gifts. Each and every one of us. It doesn't matter what we believe or don't believe spiritually. What matters is that we fill our own body with the joy of doing what we love. When Liz soars with a new book. So do I. When I practice for hours fostering my gift to share with others, Liz soars too. And even every stranger on this blog right now is benefiting from the goodness we all give. Each and every one of the creatures on this planet every single day. So, Liz, thank you for the stimulating questions and for all that you do in your world. Yes, what you do matters and more importantly you are in ACTION toward fostering your gift.

bigger than her body

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 06:31 pm (UTC)

beautiful. Thank you for the permission.

:p)

Tanita Says :)

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 11:13 am (UTC)

Good, thought-provoking question:
For me, it's been harder lately. Since D. started doing his PhD and we moved to Scotland, I've become cut off from my usual sources of service work. I volunteered with my writing and did my church's newsletter for... oy -- five years! (Hadn't thought about the TIME!) I did the Thanksgiving program and wrote Christmas plays and got kids and adults involved up front at church for holidays. It was SO. MUCH. WORK. But I could step away from that and feel like I wasn't being so self-serving, you know?

Here, I'm... lost. It's only for four years, though, and so I'm taking it as a Sabbatical, and hoping that the types of giving work I do -- promoting other people's work through interviewing them on the blog, and helping out with Cybils, etc., -- are a fraction of the "pay it forward" that I'd like to be giving.

I'm less apt to be moody and goofy when I turn my focus to others. Hopefully, giving will find its way back into my life and soon...

See, but Tanita, you just put out an amazing book that is in service to your family and to young readers and to an evolving world. I wouldn't exactly call that a sabbatical. Right? Do you feel that? And do you ever feel that when you're doing the actual writing?

I think that's what so interesting about this concept of service. There are those concrete things that are actually labeled "volunteer work" (the newsletters and contest judging and committee work and such). Public schools, in particular, seem to be hungry, hungry holes always in need of all the nourishment we can offer.

But then there is also the question of what we're contributing by doing our best work and being our best selves, even if we're not the Mother Teresa or the head of some important and altruistic global NGO. Because really, most of us aren't that but there's sure a lot of goodness getting done in the world...

Re: Tanita Says :)

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 06:38 pm (UTC)

Yup. There is tons of goodness around us all of the time. Sorry. Have to spit out a Mother Teresa quote right now. This is from a peace bird shirt I have.

If we do not have peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Mother Teresa

She doesn't say you over there, that batch of people, you belong over here and you belong over there. All of us. Together. We are not to be divided. We belong to each other.
Ooh. I can feel this one in my toes.

it isn't just in writing

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 03:10 pm (UTC)

It's in everything. I do science...for me, because it is rewarding sometimes...but what is really rewarding is not my very large efforts to understand small pieces - what's really rewarding is the cumulative whole and the worldview that results from scientists everywhere thinking and interpreting. You can't tell me that isn't true in literature too.

I teach...for me, because I enjoy, even love, the day-to-day interactions with students...but what is really rewarding is contributing to who people are, expanding students' view of their potential, sparking their realization that the world is an amazing place and what they do matters - again, knowing that it is contributing to a cumulative whole that has emergent properties.

Think how writers you never met have changed your life.

Mark Wilson

Re: it isn't just in writing

liz_scanlon

2009-10-08 03:53 pm (UTC)

AMEN, Mark. I think it is in science and teaching and medicine and music and farming and pretty much anything folks throw their hearts into.

I really love the way you talk about this -- YES to the cumulative whole and yes yes yes to adding to that cumulative whole through our own energy, effort, example, expansion.

I'm going to be all about noticing this today...

"what's really rewarding is the cumulative whole and the worldview that results from scientists everywhere thinking and interpreting. You can't tell me that isn't true in literature too."

So well said.

And oh, Liz, if you and thousands of other writers weren't tweaking your words, where would I get the strength to tweak mine. . .

And I agree with Linda that your readers see and feel your devoted attention to them. I think that's part of what makes reading a book feel so intimate---that a writer like you infused it with absolute single-minded devotion.



Oh, mercy. I LOVE you people.

A gal just posts a bleary-eyed question one night and by the next morning she's got a freakin' salon of wisdom and goodness at hand.

So what I'm getting is this...

Single-minded devotion:
Feeds us because it feels good to get wrapped up in what we love.
Feeds our work because it is so intimately attended to.
And feeds the cumulative whole, too. Through example or inspiration. By stirring up the energy. By adding to a greater worldview.

Phew!!!

good juju is not myopic

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 05:29 pm (UTC)

I loved your existential thread Liz. I loved all the responses and really resonated with Linda's point of view.
I've heard it said that when one is in alignment with Source (which usually comes, in part, by way of doing what you love and loving what you do) that this person's energy is enough to support a neighborhood. That just by BEING a positive being in could raise the energetic level of one's surroundings!
I feel that you are a balanced person, and that when you write, the good juju (Energy) of the Universe is flowing through you and you are an open conduit to it all.
How can that be single-minded or egotistical?
Since we are all connected (sort of like one giant cosmic blanket of organic matter), then what you do when you are in the zone contributes to all of us.
Heck! If all it did was raise some gooyey goodness in your home, you'd be ten-thousand-times blessed, let alone sharing your good stuff with all your readers!
So I thank you for following your bliss!
Much gratitude, Michele(Tupper) Worthey

Thanks, Liz. I went through a real crisis on this issue after my published book was de-published. But I like what I'm writing now - it interested me and makes me feel more alive when I've done my stint. I decided I had to write for the intrinsic joy of writing. But I also believe that I was given a gift in order to share it, and I try to imagine my audience as I work. Writing also helps me become aware of things in my own relationships that I didn't consciously recognize before - when I saw my first book in print the first time, I realized that it was really a tribute to my stepfather, Max, who "stepped up" all through my childhood and afterwards, even though we didn't have a good relationship then. I wish so much he had lived to read it, but at least I now have that knowledge, and it's meant more and more to me, it helped me re-think all my memories and re-cast the story I as telling myself about my life in a way that I hope has made me a better person. I am still not sure what the work I'm doing now is teaching me, but I know it's important, and the finished work will change me again when I see what it's "really" about - for now, it's just a story about an angry child. Hmmm.

Liz, thank you and all the generous hearts and sharp minds for drawing so many gorgeous connecting threads.

is this all about me? or them?

(Anonymous)

2009-10-08 05:52 pm (UTC)

Greetings to all. Yea, is what I'm doing making a difference? Is my voice being heard? Am I so wrapped up in myself that nothing really is ever true? I'm writing in part because it is cleansing my soul, freeing me of that which grips my heart so I can breathe better, teach better and be a better performer. And then I go back to this place again.......You're just doing this for yourself. You are just writing because you want to be happier and you want to share your perspective and you want to be more free inside so you can work harder, faster, smarter on the outside. With a confident attitude and enough courage I feel to carry the world, my mission as of late has been to be as authentic as possible. That means I am like it or not forced to know me. Me. And who better to know me than me? But, because I practice piano for at least 2 hours a day and teach for at least 5 a day, it may appear from the outside when I have to say no to friends again that I am consumed with myself. Welp, like it or not I've got to do this work, I have got to get clear for myself in order to properly serve the community as a piano teacher and healthy human. I am amazed on a daily basis at what it takes to purely take care of yourself. I've got a whole batch of piano students and a sweet little dog that I pay students to walk because I don't have time. The parents in my piano studio amaze me every single week. I still haven't figured out how to be me, really really be my glorious me without feeling like I"m being too much of a star, or sharing my very strong opinions too strongly. Do I do this because I'm insecure about myself? No. Really. I just know without a shadow of a doubt that we are gonna do this living thing just ONE time. And if that means I weep at night knowing of the hurt in this world so I can get it out of my body, if that means I rally one more time to give my best to my little beautiful piano student, if that means I hear, feel, and sense all things tender. Then, bring it. The spent me must do MY work too in order to properly provide for others. If I don't, I'm not happy. Why is this often translated as self-absorption? Living. Looking. Listening.

I'll just add, sort of as a side note, that really you need to feel thankful that you do *have* something to get so wrapped up in; and that it's something that, on good days, you (and all the others who have commented here) feel truly good about.

I wish authors could see how their words touch students in classrooms every day. If they could, they'd know that their tweaking and laboring is well worth the effort. I've had students find beauty in books who don't witness beauty at home. I've come to the end of a suspenseful chapter in a novel I'm reading aloud to the class on a gorgeous sunny day...I shut the novel and announce it's time for recess and the kids groan and beg for just one more chapter. I've seen a fifth grade student who reads on a second grade level become hooked on a book for the Very First Time.

The vast majority of these kids will never write to tell an author how much they enjoyed a book. It would be nice if we sensed from afar the very moment when soemthing we did touches someone else's life. In all reality, you're probably doing the laundry or taking out the trash at the precise moment when a child reads or hears your words and is touched. But it happens. Every day.

Meaning Making

(Anonymous)

2009-10-09 02:54 pm (UTC)

Eric Maisel has good thoughts on meaning making. When our sense of meaning flags, he refers to it as "a meaning crisis." One of the tools he suggests is "I matter and my art/writing matters." I've found this construction useful.

Dedication gave me a sense of purpose when I wrote "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary." I wanted to be blessed into usefulness. I felt that if my work were useful to others that I'd have achieved my goal. And, that has come to pass.

Janet Riehl
www.riehlife.com

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