In the month of April I watched a long time friend, Dave, turn himself into a writer. He’d long been capable of writing things which were entertaining or insightful, but in April he took up a challenge to write 30 short stories in 30 days. He decided they were allowed to be awful stories because he would learn from the awfulness. I think it was somewhere in the second week when there was an almost audible click in his thinking. He changed from someone who occasionally wrote things into being a writer.
About two years ago I was tucking Patch into bed and he told me very solemnly that he’d had a vision for his life. He was going to be a cartoonist and draw Halo comics. He spent quite a long time detailing the ways that he planned for this to work. His plans included lots of practicing and would start the very next day. Morning dawned and Patch sprang out of bed to implement his plan. He discovered that drawing was harder than imagining drawing. Yet he still comes back to this dream and remembers it because it allowed him to picture a creative future.
Several months ago and online acquaintance Silvia Spruck Wrigley talked about becoming a writer. She gave me permission to quote what she said:
I wrote a diary from a young age without much belief in it or any thought that I would be a writer. I remember one day, I must have been about 12, I was upset at my grandfather and started creating my diary entry in my head. “Life isn’t fair! Or at least Opa isn’t!” I was pleased, this was a good opening. I was looking forward to writing it into my journal that evening. I repeated it to myself. It was a revelation that I had composed this with malicious aforethought. I was reading a lot of Judy Blume at the time, so I’m pretty sure that was a part of it, but it was a stunning realisation: that I could plan my words, that what I wrote could be improved, that there was good and bad presentation.
All three of these stories demonstrate an emergent moment. It is the time when a person’s self image shifts and new paths for the future become possible. If you ask any writer, they can probably tell you one of their emergent moments. I remember beginning my first story at 6 years old and being proud of using quotation marks. At 13 I saw that Terry Pratchett had first been published when only 17 years old. I decided to do the same. The results for me were quite different, but belief in that dream carried me through my teen years. In 2005 I wrote a short piece of fiction which made me a writer again after a decade’s hiatus. In 2009 I had an epiphany in which I realized that my blog counted as writing. Those are just my writing emergences. I’ve had them for parenting, gardening, being grown up, and dozens of other life roles. The moment of emergence will be different for everyone, but we all have them.
Emergent moments are inherently vulnerable. They shake the foundations of who we think we are and it does not take much to drive a person back away from the newly emergent possibilities. The first emergence is particularly fragile. My friend Dave had an emergent writing moment when he was 13 and unfortunately phrased criticisms made him shy away from writing. Writers at their early emergent moments need encouragement that this new future they can suddenly see is possible. They need to be told “Keep Going.” Detailed instructions and criticisms can wait until the path is set.
One of the coolest things I get to do as a parent is to witness the emergent moments of my children. I watched Patch’s comics with delighted amusement. More recently there was an evening when Kiki was feeling overwhelmed and doubtful about her ability to succeed at being a freelance artist. She talked to me. She talked to Howard. She did some thinking and reading. Then she came to me and her whole countenance had changed. “I can do this mom. I don’t know every step, but it is what I am supposed to do. It will work.” I looked into her eyes and knew that it was true. Like most paths it may wind some places that she doesn’t expect to go, but the trip will be a good one.
Emergence, like triumph and being grown up, is not something that can be given. Each person must reach out and take it when the time is ripe. However there is much I can do to help provide fertile ground so that those I love can ripen their moments of emergence. I can build patterns of possibility and encouragement into our lives. Then I can meet those emergences with quiet love and encouragement.