Putting On Pants
I was thinking about how the old adage still applies: we all put on our pants one leg at a time. Regardless of what a person does in life, we are more alike than different.
In other words, all those special little snowflakes are part of a snowstorm of flakes just as special.
I’m not a fan girl type. When I’ve met celebrities, they seem like everybody else I’ve ever met. Actors, athletes, politicians, writers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, waitresses…all folks doing a job and getting paid for it. It doesn’t really matter what a person does and how much money they make doing it; that person still puts on whatever kind of pants they wear, one leg at a time. But I will admit to being a bit gobsmacked when I first met 2 published authors.
During my first year in college, I took a 300 level course in poetry. It was that professor’s last semester teaching and in every class he gave us gifts. Not the kind of gifts we could set on a shelf and later dust, but the kind of gifts that stay with a person even 25 years later. For example, one day he asked if he could invite his good friend to visit with us. I think they just wanted to have lunch together and then go back out for drinks, but I may be projecting. Of course we said yes and forgot all about it until the next class when William Stafford perched on a chair in the front of our classroom and told us all about the night he came upon a deer dying on the side of the road. I remember he wore a sweater with leather patches on the sleeves and corduroy pants worn nearly through at the knee and that his voice caught a bit when he talked about feeling the fawn move within the deer.
Years later I met Katherine Paterson. My professor of adolescent literature invited Ms. Paterson to visit our grad class and I was happily engrossed in every single word she said during the 2.5 hour class. At the start, I may have had a wee fangirl moment as I thought, “That’s Katherine Paterson! She wrote Gilly! And Jess and Leslie!” but I’d like to think I managed a level of decorum appropriate to the situation. You see, within moments it became apparent that Katherine Paterson was just like me. She was a person who put her pants (black trousers, nicely pressed) on one leg at a time and told stories. She told us about her life and the loss that had led her to write Bridge to Terabithia. It resonated with me, probably because I had just miscarried a few weeks before. I knew how hard it is to ignore a heart’s pain. I just didn’t know that until I started writing, that pain would stay in my heart.
Two classes, years apart. One a poet, one a novelist. Both award winners. Both real writers who wore pants they put on one leg at a time.
In addition to their stories of becoming writers, both Paterson and Stafford gave me a wonderful gift. They showed me that writing is a process of listening to one’s self over the rumble of others’ voices. And that rumble can be very distracting.
These days I’m living in that lovely shadowy-gray place of writer/real writer. I consider myself to be a writer. I’ve made money at it, and there is an ISBN out there that has my name associated with it. I’m a real writer.
And yet, there are other writers who would disagree, mainly because they are farther along the writing path than I am. Does their having achieved “x” diminish what I’ve achieved? Nope. Not really. But their attitude can be a very distracting rumble indeed.
I now know lots and lots of writers who write in all sorts of genres and are all along the publication journey. Some have scads of published books and New York Times Bestseller! written in their bios. Others have drawers/hard drives filled with stories unseen by any other eyes. They all have 2 things in common: they like words and they put their pants on one leg at a time.
Today, I’m trying to remind myself that. I’m trying to remind myself that sometimes special little snowflakes feel lost in the snowstorm so they use their words to hurt instead of heal. I’m trying to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if someone says I’m not a “real” writer until I’ve sold a certain number of copies or won a certain award.
Mostly I’m reminding myself that no one looks particularly good without pants and when writers get too big for their britches, it doesn’t matter how they put them on, they show a bit too much of their real selves.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on some pants. They’ll be yoga pants but I’ll put them on one leg at a time. And I promise that if I should outgrow them, I’ll buy a bigger size because this is one writer that hopes to never get too big for her britches.
ps. Although this is about writers, it could be about any industry. Be kind to others. Share in your expertise without looking for personal gain. Pay it forward. Do to others what you wish others had done for you. And for goodness sake, put on some pants.