Not that long ago, I paged through a lovely online shop of hand-lettered artwork. Bible verses. Pithy phrases. Famous quotes. They’re all designed to make you feel uplifted and brave.
Instead, I felt horribly small.
I dabble in calligraphy. I was obsessed with it as a kid, and have hand-lettered two books because I love making words into art.
Looking over the site of gorgeous hand-lettering, I felt so terribly inadequate.
It looked so effortless.
Here’s the word that kept ricocheting in my brain: pathetic. Your work is pathetic. Your handwriting is pathetic. You are pathetic.
Who do you think you are, asking people to pay money for your crappy stuff?
See, the thing is, I know better.
I know what it takes to have “effortless” creative work.
I’ve been writing regularly for fifteen years. Fifteen years of blank pages. Fifteen years of critique groups, second drafts, and fearless editing. Fifteen years of starting again, sometimes through tears. Fifteen years of reading about writing. Fifteen years of trying, knowing, for much of that time, that my work was nowhere near as good as I wanted it to be.
“Effortless” is never effortless. Whatever chops I have as a writer are hard-won. It’s no different for anyone whose work I admire.
Handwriting is so personal, isn’t it? The way we write is ingrained in muscle memory. Our scrawl is a fingerprint. For me to want to have different handwriting, to have another person’s handwriting—it’s to say that I want to be someone else.
And I used to want that. I really did. I yearned for it with the hunger that shame serves up for breakfast.
But I don’t anymore.
Where I am—as a writer, a calligrapher, a parent, a person—it’s all I have.
It is a tremendous gift.
It isn’t an easy gift. Parts of my story still make me cry. I am less than loving to my family every day. I am less wise and faithful and healed and patient than I wish.
But I am me.
Here’s the gift: being me means I have choices. I can choose to live each day with gratitude and joy, and experience the contentment that results. We have such tremendous power trapped in these bodies of ours. Power to hug and create and bend down and sleep and eat and dream.
I don’t want to let go that for something secondhand.
The other week, my daughters participated in a talent show. They go twice a week to this tiny charter school, and the students, of all different grade levels, showed their stuff.
One of my daughters decided to write her own song and sing it in front of God and everybody.
She was lovely. The song was catchy, her voice was strong, she gripped the mic and looked into the audience with confidence. Yes, she was nervous beforehand. But she did it.
Me? I hid my face as if she’d gone bungee jumping.
Because putting yourself out there like that—to stand in front of your peers and use your voice to say something new—it’s vulnerable.
Writing out something and letting others see—
Knowing that the fruit of your womb, and the tracery of your fingers is enough, is beautiful, is worth being proud of—
It’s tremendous. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s the stuff of miracles.
And when it comes right down to it, that kind of bold okay-ness is the only kind of bravery we really need.