Being Open vs. Staying True to a Vision.

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Tips 16
Making artistic choices. It's like buyin' veggies at a farm stand. Photo: Wikipedia.
Making artistic choices. It’s like buyin’ veggies at a farm stand. (Please note the label on the box of shallots reads “Tooty.”) Photo: Wikipedia.


Learning is exciting and fun when you learn something you didn’t know before and you’re instantly excited about it. My experience in grad school so far has consisted mostly of this kind of learning. More often than not, it’s like, “Wow, a new author I love! Wow, a fascinating person I’ve just met! Wow, a school of thought I never conceived of before! Wow, world!”

But that’s not the only way to respond to learning new things. Responding negatively to new information is important, too. It doesn’t feel fun to not like a book you have to read for class, but really, this kind of learning is every bit as exciting when you take the long view. Finding out what you don’t like, e.g., the kind of work you don’t want to make, the books or authors or ideas you reject, this definitely help shape who you are as a person, a student, a maker, whatever.

And there’s another kind of lesson, I guess, that I’ve been thinking a lot about. It hasn’t been fun to learn it. It’s been uncomfortable and painful. But it’s been very important. Let’s see if I can explain.

If you’re a person who strives to to better, learn more, and do exciting stuff in collaboration other people, which is all of us, you need to be — nay, you want to be! — open to other people’s comments and contributions. Maybe you’re working on a project for work. Maybe you’re making a quilt. Maybe you’re writing a book. Maybe you’re a parent and you’re trying to raise your kids. Getting outside input is important. Listening to someone who has been there before is wise (especially if that person just got a raise doing the job you have, won a blue ribbon on her quilt, got a Pulitzer for her last novel and raised six kids.) The right advice can save you a lot of time. It could even save your life.


There is also a time to listen to yourself. There’s a time to get advice from this guy, that guy, her, her, and him, and then do nothing that they told you to do.

And I was going to say that “it’s so so so hard to know when to trust yourself and when to take advice!” but the thing is, I’ve been dealing with this recently and I think… Sometimes, I think it’s easy. Sometimes, you absolutely do know the right thing to do, and the hard part is admitting that and then going for it.

Here’s my example.

My advisors are amazing. They’re embarrassingly talented. They’re wildly accomplished. They’ve won awards, they’ve published in the fanciest places. They’re successful and brilliant and they are genuine fans of mine who want the best for me. I’m pretty sure that when I’m not in school, we’re all gonna hang out because we like each other.

But over the course of this semester, without meaning to do harm or lead me astray, both my advisors were steering me away from writing the essays I’ve been writing and toward writing a chronological memoir. And what do you suppose I started doing? Yes! Because they are so great and smart and fancy, I slowly started change everything I was doing to fit that vision. I thought, consciously and subconsciously: They know better that I do. They’re older. More successful.

The problem is that I don’t want to write a chronological memoir. I want to write something that doesn’t look like that. And when I lost sight of what I set out to do, when I was changing what I was learning to fit someone else’s vision, all the joy fell out of my project and I didn’t write on my book for a long time. I miss it.

Life and work, it’s all a negotiation. You must listen to others. You must learn. You would be well advised to be well advised. Folks who can’t be told nothin’ are frustrating and lame. (And believe me: Writers who think every word they write is gold and precious are not going to get very far.) We all need editors, we all need help and input from other people.

But you also know things. You do. And you matter as much as anybody else.


16 Responses

  1. Lauren
    | Reply

    My husband and I quote Sunburnt Country to each other: “I *know* stuff, Bryson”. It’s not eloquent but it is concise.
    I also know that those are not shallots but pink garlic from Argentina. But you were just checking, right?

  2. Dorothy
    | Reply

    And we all have to listen to ourselves

  3. Susan
    | Reply

    Stay true to yourself, Mary. Learn, absorb, consider. But always stay true to YOU. Your growth is reflected here at the ol’ PG. Growth is great, but we love YOU. Never sell yourself short. Go with your gut. Sage wisdom from a nobody…

  4. Liz Flaherty
    | Reply

    Very well said. I didn’t go to college, and when I talked about going in my 50s, my kids were horrified. “They’ll mess with your voice,” my son insisted, “the one you’ve been writing books with forever.” I ended up not going (not because of that), but have always wondered if they would indeed “mess with my voice.”

    • Judy Mischke
      | Reply

      I started college in my 40’s. I graduated when I was 58. It’s STILL not too late! Go for it!

  5. Jennifer
    | Reply

    Do what works for you and continue to move forward. Follow your dreams. You can always reorganize later that’s what makes computers so helpful.

  6. Janie H
    | Reply

    Be true to yourself.

  7. Georgeanna Couldry
    | Reply

    First know YOURSELF! Second know your GOAL! Write the book YOU want to write based on the goals you have for it. Sometime down the road you may WANT to write a chronological memoir and that’s fine. But this is NOW. And you KNOW what is right for you NOW. And just so you know I love this blog. You go Mary!

  8. Kathryn Darnell
    | Reply

    OK, let me throw this out there I have found this to rear up its nasty little head from time to time. When we negotiate or compromise does it seem like the short ends up happening to US as a woman? Just asking because as the ‘gentle one, the mother earth, the caregiver, the everything a woman does thing’ is it our obligation to be always ready to take one for the team. I have heard men say ‘ I like mine’ and never say ‘But I like mine’ as if we have to justify our decision. I am not a bra burning feminist– I am a retired grandma but I believe when we know our true heart we don’t need to justify our decision. I like mine will do just fine. If you know your true north stay the course.

  9. Mary Says Sew!
    | Reply

    Is it possible for you to do both for a while?

    Can you alternate between the two?

    Can you adapt the parameters of the chronological memoir to something that works for you and works for your professors?

  10. Sue S
    | Reply

    Life is like a good cookbook, you use the parts that work for you and what you don’t like you ignore (unless it’s illegal, immoral or fattening). Do what you need to do to pass the coursework, but for your own sweet self, randomize!

  11. Lindsey
    | Reply

    Follow your intuition. You can always put your thoughts/essays in chronological order sometime in the future if that seems right. You’re doing your own art, not theirs.

  12. Tara Miller
    | Reply

    Absolutely true.

  13. Karen Cyson
    | Reply

    Your blog IS a chronological memoir!

  14. Lynne
    | Reply

    I wrote a non-linear autobiography. My life has not unfolded as a series of plot points. How could I expect life’s reflection to fit a formula, a timeline?

    The writing was a pivotal, shame shifting, trajectory altering experience.

    Sit with the process. You will tell you where to plant your next step. Trust your intuition, as it is what led you to write this piece in the first place.

    I can’t wait to read the outcome, Mary!

  15. Barbara
    | Reply

    Follow your instincts Mary. Only you know deep down inside what will make you happy. I’m not saying to shun completely what others tell you, but it’s your decision.

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