I woke up one morning several months ago, made coffee, and sat down for a few minutes before getting ready for work. As I sat in the quietness of a still-sleeping house, scanning our entryway, I was impressed that all the shoes had been thrown (or most likely kicked) onto the mat by the wall and not simply left in the middle of the rug where the wearer had stepped out of them (as is usually the case).
Well, all the shoes had been thrown onto the mat by the wall except for these two odd shoes, that is.
Now, I don’t usually go around photographing my son’s dirty sneakers, but I took this picture because it struck me as a very timely illustration of what I’d been working out for quite some time. (Although, if truth be known, were the image to fully illustrate what I’d been working out, there would be several other shoes, all of different colors, facing every possible way. But I would have had to stage a photograph like that, and then the mundane-life-ready-and-willing-to-lend-itself-to-something-inspired impact of the moment would have been shot.)
Anyhow, back to the timely illustration of what I’d been working out for quite some time. These two random, unexciting shoes lead to the sky opening in a sudden ‘ahhh’ moment for me, in between sips of coffee. And this was the ‘ahhh’: One is black, the other white. One is left, the other right. One’s going forward, the other back. (Why is this rhyming? It’s kinda whack.) They are opposite in every way, but one is not more valuable than the other. They are both shoes. They both get the job done, depending on what you want to wear and which way you want to go. Each is on a trajectory; they’ve come from somewhere and they’re going somewhere. They’re both moving forward – in all their differences, in all their uniqueness – in opposing directions. One direction is not more right than the other; both are leading somewhere. But there is no way I could step into both of those shoes at the same time, even if I tried really hard, were they to continue on their separate journeys. I’d have to decide.
Just like I’d have to decide which voices I was going to listen to.
You see, the sneakers made me realize I’d been listening to too many voices. Ones that were outside of my own head. Any writer knows that if you listen to too many voices that are outside of your own head, you’re going to go whack (and start spouting rhymes about sneakers). We also know listening to the voices inside our own head can land us on the whack track, too, but that’s a topic for another post.
The voices I’d been listening to weren’t forced on me by any means; I did this to myself. As a writer I want – and need – to be immersed in the world of my craft. I want – and need – to pay attention to the advice, heed the warnings, learn from the experiences, and glean the wisdom from other writers. So I do, by way of various sources: facebook, twitter, blogs, websites, articles, interviews, etc … The voices I choose to listen to are good. They’re true. They’re right. They’re helpful and insightful and intelligent. Each one of them.
But like with the shoes, oftentimes the voices I hear are contradictory: One says day and one says night. One says left and one says right. One says forward, one says back. One says stop, one says attack. (Who can blame me for the whack?) One voice doesn’t make the other voice wrong; they’re just going in different directions. They all get the job done, depending on who’s listening and where that person wants to go. That’s the beauty of voices. Opinions, processes, forms, tips, experiences, advice, and wisdom are as diverse as the people expressing them. Which means that, as the sneakers told me, they can’t all be for me, no matter how much I want them to be or how hard I try to make them be. No matter how convincing or accurate or factual or fool-proof or right they are. Each voice is on a trajectory, heading in a very specific direction.
So the question for me, for you, lies in deciding which voice to listen to, which shoe to step into.
Or whether it’s time to just crank up the iPod and go barefoot for a while.