A Place at the Table: Finding beauty is not a zero-sum game

I recently read Jennifer Pastiloff's book, On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. In one scene, she describes a culminating turning point where she finds the five most beautiful things in the room, something she calls beauty hunting. Then she explains that it is: 
The key to surviving death. The key to surviving life. The key to being human. The key to climbing out of the catacombs.
I immediately thought, Oh no! Her beauty hunting is my relentlessly looking for beauty. My RL4B! 

My stomach knotted up and my muscles tensed with the thought, She's written my book! She's shared my ideas about beauty with the world and now there's nothing left for me to say.

This was my fear taking over. What Pastiloff would term my Inner Asshole.

I gave the book a good review, but I was hesitant to connect to it or get too close. I kept it outside the walls of my heart, feeling threatened by what it might mean for me as a writer. I heard it saying, You're too late to write your story. Her experiences are more interesting than yours. 

I was anxious to start my next read, just to get these thoughts out of my head.

It turns out, God, the Universe, had just what I needed. 

One of my favorite writing experts, Brooke Warner, had just released her latest book, Write On, Sisters: Voice, Courage, and Claiming Your Place at the Table. I opened it, expecting a change of pace with the genre switch, but I received much more.

She discusses how a woman's inner critic can manifest in statements like, I'm not good enough, or Nobody wants to read my story. She describes the challenges women have faced through historical, cultural, economic, and emotional lenses. I found myself relating as I nodded and highlighted page by page.

And then she dedicates an entire chapter to something she calls Sisterhoods. Warner explains that too often, writing is portrayed and imagined as a zero-sum game. As if when a book is purchased by a reader, it means another book will not be bought. This perpetuates the (false) idea that readers are scarce and writers must compete against each other. 

Instead, she argues, women should be lifting up each other, supporting every word and page that is published in the still-run-by-white-men literary world. Readers want choices, and there's always someone who wants to hear your voice. She explains how to do this:
Let yourself fall in love [with magnificent women writers]. Allow yourself to be open to the possibilities of friendship and support and amazing, wild connection that can be there when you believe there's a spot for you at the table alongside women you admire. There's not a finite number of seats. And the only person who can make you feel as if you don't belong there is you.

With this in mind, my view on Pastiloff's book changed. I saw beauty in the fact that she was able to share her story, be vulnerable, and write with courage. I viewed it as an act of revolution on behalf of women writers, and realized I can be part of the movement, too.

Each blog post I publish, every truth I choose to share, and all of my inner thoughts put down on the page add to the beauty and abundance and boundless reaches of humanity. And your words have that power, too.

Warner brings the awareness that "Someone else's success does not mean you start in a hole."

Go looking for beauty, and claim your place at the table of courage and love.

Who have you been tempted to cut out of your life out of envy or shame? 

What would happen if you reached out and offered her support and affirmation? 

Some Doorways from this week:

  • I volunteer for the board of a local school's non-profit, and it's where I used to teach before leaving due to my health issues. Last week, I was invited to present on behalf of the foundation, and I was greeted with warm smiles and hugs from my former colleagues. The beautiful expression of love reaffirmed why I chose to stay involved with the school.
  • We went camping in the mountains this weekend, and I was reminded of the beauty of Creation. Blue skies, white clouds, and open landscapes were writ large. Smaller beauties included butterflies on purple thistles, a fuzzy caterpillar, and hundreds of grasshoppers that parted like wave when you walked through them.


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