Won’t you be my neighbor?

I recently saw the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?about the life and work of television icon Fred Rogers. I had heard it was great and was warned to bring tissues. Both turned out to be true.

 

Like many of my generation, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I had a toy trolley that played “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” when you pushed it along the carpet. My sisters and I would talk like Henrietta Pussycat to each other: “Meow-meow, can I have some meow-meowKool-Aid, meow-meow?” And we would discuss the inherent creepiness of Lady Elaine. I still vividly remember watching the clip showing how crayons (or as Mister Rogers said in his Philly accent: cray-uns) are made.

 

As a child, I didn’t appreciate how Mister Rogers encouraged me to feel my feelings. And I wasn’t aware of what he did to fight for public television and change the way people understand children’s entertainment. I watched his show until I outgrew it. His final episode aired just before I had my daughters, so it wasn’t a part of their childhood as it was mine. After watching the documentary, I was a little sad that my kids were left out of knowing this gentle, intentional TV figure.

 

The documentary explained how very popular Fred Rogers was—people would line up for a chance to come to a live event—and I wondered if current kids would embrace his show in the same way. I wondered if kids are now too sophisticated to sit and watch a normal-looking guy tie his shoes and zip up his cardigan. Would it be too slow paced for kids who are so used to being constantly entertained?

 

Sitting in the dark movie theater watching the credits roll and thinking that this generation is too cool for Henrietta Pussycat, I felt inexplicably sad. I felt like something was missing from childhood—Wonder? Imagination? Stillness? Gentleness?

 

Then a series of pictures popped into my mind (like bubbles from the episode when Mister Rogers and friends make an opera called Windstorm in BubbleLand). I thought of kids at my youngest son’s cafeteria table smiling at me with orange peels covering their teeth. I thought of children shouting “Cannonball!” as they jumped and splashed into our swimming pool. I thought about the fact that there are still kids who catch lightning bugs and make mudpies and play with action figures.

 

I think if he were still with us, Fred Rogers would take great delight seeing kids be kids in 2018. He’s quoted as saying, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Even if they can’t watch his show in the way we did, they can still implement his philosophies of kindness, self-worth, and playtime.

What am I?

I’m attempting to implement a more disciplined writing schedule for myself. Seeing as how it’s been about a week since I’ve added anything new to the fictional work I’m in the middle of, I would take any schedule not defined as “sporadic” at this point.

 

I’m a closet introvert with occasional people-pleasing tendencies that can cause my self-esteem to wobble, so I’m prone to battling some pretty ridiculous mind games. I’ve had a few things published, giving me great joy, but there’s always that little, persistent voice saying, “You won’t be able to do that again. That was a fluke.”

 

Part of the problem is that, for me, my writing practice and eventual product can’t easily be categorized. Is it my job? Well, I don’t make enough to support myself or add much to my family’s expenses with the proceeds of my books. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I pause, wondering how pretentious it would sound to say I’m an author. Is it my hobby? Hobbies are great, but that sounds too casual. It doesn’t adequately express my attachment to this process. Is there such a thing as a jobby? Anyway…

 

Unless I place an appropriate value and priority on my writing plan, I will always push it to the back, that dark, overlooked room in my brain where I list things like: clean the top of the refrigerator or dust the ceiling fan blades. Those are tasks that I should do but other things just seem more pressing.

 

And then there’s the ever-present fear of failure and humiliation. When you write something and put it out for anyone to read, you invite all kinds of criticism. It’s like you’re saying: “Here’s something I’ve created and I love and I’m proud of. Please pick this apart and tell me I stink.”

 

Another possible hindrance to choosing words for sentences and sentences for paragraphs, is the Fame Dilemma. Am I doing this for the sake of art and the chance to create something brand new or is it so I can meet Oprah? In certain circles, ambition is a dirty word, especially for women (hopefully that becomes less of a cultural issue with each passing decade). This desire for success seems innocent enough until it starts to feel wicked and vulgar, and I question why I even attempt to get anything published at all.

 

Such is the battle being waged upon my psyche.

 

I say all this because I’ve been thinking a lot why I started a blog in the first place way back in 2011. Originally, I wanted a place to update friends about our adoption. The 4+ years that slogged on without our son home made me rethink the purpose of my blog and ultimately find my voice. I grew to love my voice and find joy in refining the language that spoke to the hearts of others.

 

So every once in a while, when I’m in an Ideas Desert with no words to make sentences and no sentences to make paragraphs, I feel false and empty. I plop down on the dry ground of that metaphorical desert floor and weep into my hands because all of my thoughts are jumbled and imprecise. My emotions are high and my understanding is low. And I’m afraid the fairy dust has dissolved and the magic is gone.

 

But eventually, I discover something new I want to say and my voice returns. And I write, not because I want money (though that would be nice) or fame (is that Oprah calling?), but because words have become my favorite medium. I like to try them out, chewing them in my mouth briefly before choosing the best one for my taste. I like constructing sentences, long ones with plenty of descriptions and short ones with abbreviated emphasis. I like to look at the jagged margins where I can watch my paragraphs building a story or a series of thoughts like a staircase.

 

I like writing, and I’m going to try to employ this quote from the legendary tennis star, Arthur Ashe: “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Whatever this is, it is mine.

 

My name is Abby and writing is my jobby.

Frost Flowers

I’m just not very creative.

This is the phrase I often hear from friends. They see some amazing drawing or watch a skit at church and they make comparisons to their own lacking skills. Since they’re not particularly gifted musically or artistically, they feel like they don’t have much to offer in the creativity area.

But God, the authority when it comes to creativity (crediting Him as the Creator of the Northern Lights and the Giant Sequoias and the duck-billed platypus), made each of us with something to offer. He made us in His image so that we could be creative, too. So our job is to find those possibly dormant abilities, give them a little room to breathe, and see what can be done for His glory.

Consider the natural phenomenon of frost flowers. My friend Annie works at a nature center and she explained them this way: “Crystallofolia is a more scientific name. They occur when woody stemmed forbs, like milkweed, have thin layers of water in the stem that freeze and break through. The patterns are just due to the natural crystalline structure water produces in its mineral stage (or ice).”

This commonplace undergrowth is perfectly positioned in wooded areas where no one—except for maybe a few bees and butterflies—pays much attention to it. Then the temperature drops. The specialized milkshake inside freezes and bursts out, creating magnificent, cascading beauty for those fortunate enough to find it.

These frost flowers are what I picture when I think of those who say they aren’t creative. They don’t appreciate the value and substance of what lies within. For instance, I have a friend who admires my daughter’s ability to do fancy lettering and calligraphy. She wishes to be creative, but she already is. My friend can take loads of confusing information and lay it out on a spreadsheet where it will flow and make sense. She can organize a group of people so that they all understand what’s expected of them and give them support. She creates unity and organization.

I have another friend who looks at my crochet projects and bemoans her lack of creativity. But, in reality, she creates something—though intangible—infinitely more important than a crocheted scarf or hat. This friend is an architect of connections. She checks on you when you mention you have a head cold. She asks about sick and struggling relatives. She remembers. Her creations come directly from her heart.

Galatians 6:4-5 (The Message) – Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

Photo Credit: Annie Holt