Life's About Choices
George Bernard Shaw said that "life is not about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself." This has me reflecting on what it means to create. Each time we make a decision, we head down a particular path, the ghost of the alternative path fading as we make our way forward. Essentially we create ourselves, our stories, through these various decision trees.
My day job actually includes a surprising amount of creation and storytelling. Essentially, I take deeply technical concepts and distill them into the most critical components. The stories I tell are not really about what I do...still less about how I do it...but most importantly why and how does it serve our company's objectives. I choose which elements to highlight and bring forward. And I really enjoy crafting and sharing these stories. It's a skill set I began developing in the earliest days of my career when I was teaching algebra to 12-year-olds. The goal was always to strip out the difficult parts until all that remained was the most important and most digestible bits.
The art of writing fiction, however, is an altogether different beast. In many ways, it is actually the opposite of my day job. Instead of paring down to the essentials, I am creating content out of thin air, making choices to add detail and richness to the story that, hopefully, bring it to life for readers.
I have quite a few creative hobbies but I would not necessarily have called these artistic pursuits. For example, I like to dabble in an art form called pysanky, a Ukrainian folk art involving wax-resist egg dying. I am blessed to know a number of very talented artists in this space (check out my favorite artist here) but I have never really considered myself one of them; expressly because they create beautiful pieces from thin air and I more or less imitate their exquisite results--with decidedly less success. They make choices to create something new purely from the inspiration around and inside of them.
When I ordered the initial proof copy of my novel and actually held it for the first time, I realized this was my art. I had taken something that only existed in my mind and chose to bring it to life--how exciting! Hands down, though, my favorite part of finalizing Exertions of Better Men has been editing the voice work (check out the sample by Dallin Bradford here). I thought I knew the characters in the novel as well as I know myself until I heard them read aloud. They came to life, even for me, in delightful and unexpected ways. Sometimes, the choices they made through the course of the novel surprised me as much as they may surprise you.
All this to say, if you don't necessarily feel like an artist, if you don't feel like you are creating your life, examine the things you do every day. Where do you create something from nothing? Is it in the games you invent on the spot to entertain your children? The song you make up to help you remember the items you need to gather before walking out the door? Or perhaps it's even in the combination of colors you chose to wear today that highlight your eyes just so... In any case, don't underestimate the ways in which you create. This is the art in your life and even if no one else ever sees it, it is exquisite if only because it is the result of your choices. And our choices are the most powerful tool at our disposal--the elemental building block through which we create ourselves.