What Moves Us

by Jennifer Paros

Rest in reason; move in passion. 

                                          -- Khalil Gibran           

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2010

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2010

Several weeks ago, I found myself suffering again.  I observed the situation and quickly diagnosed it as “writing-related” and acknowledged that I was frightened to return to working on my book.  Once again, I was confused about the story and feeling inadequate to the task. Because the writing wasn’t coming easily, I condemned myself for not knowing the route I was to take and this condemnation was creating a sense of failure and hopelessness.          

Then one day, I sat down and thought about the feeling of the book, rather than the Rubik’s cube version I could not solve. I asked myself what moved me about the characters and their emotional journeys and soon I remembered that which made me want to tell the story in the first place.  I understood that one character was to become a leader and the others were to each bloom in their individual ways.  Soon, this tuning in started guiding me to the specifics of how the materials needed to be reorganized, edited, and expanded.   

Once I focused on these truths, I found myself back in the game.  Even though I didn’t have all the answers, I could now write towards a feeling I wanted, my passion for the project reemerged, and the process became happy again.           

Years ago, when I first started studying drawing, the professor explained the basics of light and shadow.  On her pad she drew a cube and in the right- hand corner, a sun or light source.  From the light source, she drew a black arrow pointing to the cube and explained how light hits an object on one side, creating shadows on the other.  I listened but distinctly remember thinking, “Huh?”  

It is hard to accept now that I could not understand this concept.  But what was compelling me to draw at that time apparently had no use for, or interest in, light and shadow.  However, some time later, I was painting and the emotional nature of the image led me to lighten certain areas and darken others.  After a while, I realized I was rendering realistic shadows and remembered that lesson- and finally got it.  “Oh- that’s what she was talking about!” 

My connection to the emotional content of the subject matter led me to the skills I needed. 

What we most want to create pulls us forward and helps us find the way.  What we care about most, excites and impassions us not only lights us up but lights the route.  It teaches us how, it gives us “technique”, it gives us “voice” and it gives us compelling work.  And other people’s opinions, approaches, advice become only as valuable as they are useful to those ends. 

In high school my junior year, I had a big term paper assignment.  I selected a subject, had it approved by the teacher, and began researching.  When we turned in our 3x5 note cards, in the next phase, I was told I must change my approach to the topic.  I collapsed in a puddle of drama and despondency, unable to wrap my brain around how to do what I wanted and yet change it.  I became paralyzed and in my Eleventh Hour, my father (an educator himself) rushed in for the save, swooped down, and was able to rescue the assignment – but not me.   

I received a high A on what I considered a boring, stupid, too-many-paged monstrosity, and was left but a shell of a sixteen-year-old writer.  Not only was it not the paper I had wanted to write, but it seemed it wasn’t even my own.  

I had been excited about my ideas, but had become distracted from the feeling of what I most wanted to express and so the details of how it would be done became overwhelming.  I didn’t know that what had originally moved me could, if trusted, guide me again. And so I resorted to approaching the paper as something that needed to be fixed rather than a means of expression, and the journey became mechanical. 

When we use what we love to draw us forward in our work and our lives, it’s okay that we don’t have all the answers or specifics - for it’s reassuring enough to be following what matters to us.  For what compels and touches can and will teach us what we need to know, show us the way, and keep leading us to more of the same. 

There is no end. There is no beginning.  There is only the passion of life. 

                                                                    --Federico Fellini

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.

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