What I Failed To Make

My oldest son lived most of his childhood like a CEO without a corporation to run. This made him tricky to parent for the first seven or eights years of his life. That began to change in first grade. A natural Good Boy, he was finding himself at the principal’s office frequently. This puzzled his mother and I, and so we pressed him on it. He explained that he did not like the principal. “I mean—she walks around the school like she runs the place.”

We explained that running the school was in fact the principal’s job.  Max was stunned to learn this.

“Who did you think ran the school?” we asked.


It turns out he also believed he ran the classroom and our home. To his credit he accepted his reduced leadership role immediately, was relieved even. And why shouldn’t he be? I now understood why he had been having such a terrible time at school. He was trying to do something of which he was wholly incapable.

My son’s relationship to his elementary school was very much like my relationships to the first books I wrote. I had quietly concluded that I was completely responsible for them. It was an obvious enough mistake to make. After all, who was there at the desk but me? And yet writing, at its best, always felt like tuning in, listening, and following, not making. And every time I’d be tuning and listening and following a story happily, and then would come to a point in the story where I could not feel what should come next, some part of me would say, “Well, come up with something, Bill!” And I would think, “I can’t.” And feel like a failure.

Except I was right.  I couldn’t.  Not like that anyway.  I couldn’t make anything up that would please me.  All I could do was listen more closely, think less, try less, and wait, and listen and trust and eventually it would come. It always did.

As soon as I try to make a story, it dies. I might as well be trying to construct a flower from dirt and grass. I don’t know how to make a story any more than my son knew how to run his school. But I do know how to listen, and I do know what I like, and I do know how to translate what I hear and see and feel into words. That I do know. And I do not fully understand the pleasure this process brings to me, but I have felt it all the same, and it is more real to me than praise or criticism, money or poverty, all of which can change while the pleasure remains precisely the same.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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