Front Row, Purple Shirt.

After a period of years where I couldn’t find creativity with two hands, a magnifying glass and giant neon signs to point the way, suddenly, there it was again.

I was walking home and the sun was shining. The wind was blowing yellow leaves. They were swirling in this pattern, like a really lovely peaceful tornado of golden leaves, right in the middle of a gray street and gray buildings. I stood in the center of that swirl for a few seconds.  And that’s when these ideas hit me, ideas fully formed and exciting and urgent. I picked up the pace, walking faster, and then faster, and then almost running, so I could get home and get it down on paper before I lost them.

It felt beautiful and encouraging and tenuous in my mind, swirling round and round just like those yellow leaves. And it had been years, literally years, since that happened to me.

I don’t know where the ideas came from (although I suspect I do, thanks God).

I don’t know what happened in those few seconds, but it was like someone turned on a fire hydrant of inspiration and I was running home as fast as I could, trying to drink from it. After years of living in a drought, I had not one, not two, but three separate story ideas.

And man, has it ever been a drought. Mostly, all the failures in my life combined into something I couldn’t crawl out from underneath. I could list them. I could go into detail about all of it. But I won’t.

What I will say, is that my biggest mistake was looking to others for approval. I had a person in my life who I always turned to with what I’d written. I would email my latest project to them, and hold my breath. They were my go-to person.

Usually I was met with silence until I followed up days later and asked what they thought, and then all I got was, “It was good.” No embellishments. No excitement. No discussion. No real approval. Nothing. AND YET I kept returning to this person, hoping they would see how important this was to me. Hoping that one day they would read something enthusiastically, and see me.

Talk about masochist. That was me. Front row, purple shirt, Kleenex in hand.

I internalized this subtle rejection. I let it convince me that maybe I wasn’t really that good at what I loved. I let it convince me that their disinterest was somehow a reflection on me, as a person. And it crushed me. I let it. I allowed that.

But we do this all the time, right?

“I will never be able to cook like him.” And we quit.

“My professor said my art was uninspired.” And we quit.

“She got a book deal and I didn’t.” And we quit.

What is UP with that? What does any of that have to do with the price of beans? Why does it matter what someone else thinks, or does, or accomplishes? Why don’t we fight harder for what we love?

With some distance and clarity and peace I’ve come to realize that that person’s reaction to me wasn’t about me at all. Maybe it was about their own dissatisfaction with their own life. Maybe it was about their own insecurities. Maybe it was about the fact that deep down, they probably didn’t give two shakes of a rat’s tail about me in the first place.

This is not a sob story. The bottom line is, I should never have been looking to another person to approve and give me a pat on the back. I should never have allowed that. That’s on me.

I should never have put conditions on my writing.

“One day I’ll be able to do this full time and make a living.”

Talk about a ridiculous amount of pressure.

I should never have depended on someone’s opinion.

That’s too terribly subjective.

I should have just done what I loved.

Because I love writing. Sometimes I do it well. Sometimes I stink up the joint. But I love it.

Since my encounter with the yellow leaf vortex, I’ve had some revelations. I’ve remembered what it feels like to be inspired, and unable to type fast enough. I’ve accepted that writing is a joyful thing, not a means to a paycheck. I’ve accepted that it doesn’t matter if I’m supported or approved of, I’m going to write anyway.

I’ve decided that in this world where there are so many hard things (divorce, sickness, job loss, mental health issues, crime, smog, traffic, misunderstanding), there are also these beautiful silver linings. Writing. Art. Decorating. Good movies. Baking pies. Making jewelry, music, teaching, speaking, constructing. These things don’t need approval or a green light. These things weren’t put in our lives so we could draw a paycheck. These things were given to us so we could find joy. That’s it.

Anything else that comes of it? That’s called icing.

So I made a solemn vow to myself. I won’t let this happen again. I’m sure I”ll have periods of zilchy inspiration. I’ll have moments of self doubt. But you won’t catch me going years without writing again. You won’t catch me looking to another person for validation that what I’m doing is good or okay or… anything. Because I’m never happier, or more joyful, than when I’m stringing words together.

And because I just really feel like I have to ask, because I’m nosy that way, where do you find your joy?

If you know, and you’re doing it, hold tight. Make a vow you won’t stop or let go.

If misery has sucked the will to create right out of you, fight it. Misery and joy and creativity have total irreconcilable differences and they’ll never live in the same house together.

If you’ve lost it, go find it again. Fight for it. You need it.

God gave it to you.

He didn’t give it to you so you could get accolades, or make money, or receive approval.

He gave it to you because it’s yours, and it makes you happy.

So go be happy.

Preaching to the choir much?

Yep.

And that’s me, in the front row.

Purple shirt, zero Kleenex in sight, singing my heart out.

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27 Comments

  1. Erin Bartels says:

    Reading this brings me so much joy on your behalf. That inspiration vortex is truly one of the best feelings in the world. I raise my coffee cup in a toast to your creative rebirth! I can’t wait to read your next book. Truly.

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  2. Barbie B says:

    Your enthusiasm is almost tangible! And the encouragement is a great reminder because it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlpool of daily living and to forget to look up and inward to the things that renew.

    Like

  3. Wow! I am so proud of you, and I have always thought you are amazing! You know I read a lot of stuff, or should I say, I start to read… and then I get distracted. I read every word and loved seeing into your soul. I agree with you. Never give up! Life too short for those who don’t get us. I am glad that we are kindred spirits.

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  4. Sandy says:

    So much of what you said rings true about a lot of things in our lives. We live constantly trying to measure up to someone else expectations or approval, giving them all this power over us that they have no right to have. But like you said “it is on me,” I handed over that power. Thank you for the inspiration to rethink about how we all look at ourselves and what makes a good life for us and those around us.

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  5. Heidi says:

    I love that you had this revelation and inspiration! in 2011 my husband lost his job and I encouraged him to follow his passion, which is writing too while I work for us. He is still in the beat himself up stage for not making progress or not selling anything and feeling worthless and I have this mantra I tell him all the time, did you enjoy writing? Were you inspired and passionate? Does it matter if it is the next great novel or if it is simply a post on an online forum if it brings you joy? Publishing and monetary gain aren’t the goal, telling the story you have in your head, being inspired and feeling happiness in the process and satisfaction over what you created is. And I am honored when he lets me read what he wrote, we discuss, I encourage and cheer him on but I tell him it isn’t my opinion or approval that matters, it’s his. I don’t care if he ever sells his writing, I care that he is happy and doing what he loves. So happy that you found your spark again, internet strangers we may be, I keep cheering you on from my corner of it and smiling when I see your happiness radiate off the screen. You are an inspiration!

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  6. Jeanie says:

    Great insight and inspiration! I have never been creative, and I’m okay with that. I have other things that bring me joy: reading, my dogs, shopping, lunch with several of the girls I went to high school with over 50 years ago.

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  7. I find my joy in reading. And I’ve been so happy that you’ve found your writing. Now you need to carry a notepad of some kind so you can write down your inspiration as it happens and then you won’t have to worry about forgetting it!

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  8. Dawn W says:

    Yay! Yay! Yay!!! I KNEW your words would come back. The golden vortex may have been the grand announcement, but your creative voice has been coming back over the last several months. Can hardly wait to see what tumbles out onto your paper!!!

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  9. deb says:

    Being much older now (64) I’ve found that at different times in my life, I’ve found my joy with different activities. Dancing, making jewelry, and now quilting are just a few. I realize it’s generally creative, or “making” something. Your words are so true and we all need to be reminded on occasion. Thanks!!

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  10. Cutzi says:

    I needed to read this today, Liz. I found out some news in the last couple of days that is threatening to steal all of my joy. Threatening me with the fear of losing the ability to do the things I love. I needed to be reminded of these gifts that God has given us and reminded to do them. Not for any other reason except that it makes me happy. I think I’ll start knitting that sweater for my 2 year old that I “haven’t had time for.” Glad to see you back in this place more often these days.

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  11. Phyllis says:

    Hi Liz, I just love your blog and the words you chose to express yourself and what’s going on around you. Life is tough and I really like that you chose to be positive and share honest feelings with the blog community. I’ve had a long hard road myself but chose to be positive and learn from every situation, and always encourage others to do the same. Maybe the reason you have gotten your inspiration back is because you are in a much happier place than you’ve been in for a long time. Best to all of you up there in NY!

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  12. I am happy you had this “lightbulb” moment, but it saddens me that you haven’t realized this all along. You are an accomplished, published writer, your blogs have been extremely successful and enjoyed by many, you have brought humor, joy and inspiration into many of your reader’s lives. I have always made time for what I love to do (it was’t my career, it wasn’t what supported the family, but it was made me happy ~ and it was my “me” time). Keep writing and sharing – it certainly brings me joy reading your posts

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  13. Jenn says:

    I love this for you. I love that it came with swirling yellow leaves too – that has to mean something even more. And I love this for me, because it potentially means more Liz books on my shelf. (o: I love that you keep finding more pieces of yourself and that you’re more you than you’ve been in a long time. Write on my friend. Write on!

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  14. hippychick2 says:

    I can relate to this in many ways, specifically, with seeking people’s approval! Thankfully, whether it’s a result of maturing, getting older, or God’s grace, I am learning not to give a flying fig about what people think about me–or sometimes, what I *think* they think about me! So liberating! Also, I think being able to let go of these unhealthily lines of reasoning opens up our creative well, because we are pulling out the trash that has been clogging it so creative ideas can begin to flow again.

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  15. abnormalnormal says:

    Something about creativity binds us to God in such a joyful way. There seems to be society saying if it doesn’t make money it has no value. But it seems the polar opposite with God. There was no reason to make different colors of birds. Except to make Him and us happy. I come alive painting a piece of stupid garage sale furniture 🙂 I look forward to eternity with Him where purpose is redefined.

    So happy for you 🙂 Swim around in it. Do the backstroke. You have come so far! So genuinely happy for you and your family!

    Like

  16. Suzan Dahlenburg says:

    Liz where are you, I miss you so much and pray that you and Jane are well. Suzan

    On Friday, October 9, 2015, Can’t Never Could… wrote:

    > lizharrell3 posted: ” After a period of years where I couldn’t find > creativity with two hands, a magnifying glass and giant neon signs to point > the way, suddenly, there it was again. I was walking home and the sun was > shining. The wind was blowing yellow leaves. They we” >

    Like

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