Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness
(and other Proverbs)
I read the blurb on the back of Robert Fulghum’s book “Maybe (Maybe Not)” yesterday, where he speaks of holding opposing notions at the same time. He says, “…I wore two buttons on my smock when I was teaching art. One said, “Trust me, I’m a teacher.” The other replied, “Question Authority.”…’
It’s a concept that resonated with me, how we can simultaneously believe equally valued—and wildly conflicting—ideals such as:
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “Risk is a four-letter word”;
“Honesty is the best policy” and “Don’t tell tales out of school”; or
“Pride goeth before a fall” and “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”
Brought up in a very English environment, I developed qualities our family valued, such as a stiff upper lip, a sense of reserve and a touch of understatement. But if I would like to get a word in edgewise at home nowadays – well, let’s just say that one needs to be a little more forward in order to be heard. My mother would call that type of wading into a verbal melee “interrupting.” This forum, however, is loud, it’s excitable, it’s quick and witty, and if you don’t sharpen your elbows at the buffet, there will be nothing left but salad. Luckily, I like salad. I guess that set would be: “One can never be too rich or too thin” and “Life’s short, eat dessert first.”
On October19, 2012, I attended the LitFest Panel discussion, “Author Promotion in a Digital Age” with a friend of mine. It was fantastic. Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail was the facilitator, and Dana Di Tomaso, Alexis Kienlen and Noah Richler covered items such as blogging and social media in an informative discussion on digital marketing techniques.
Following that, organizers found space for extra chairs, so we were able to buy tickets to Richler’s sold-out workshop, “Narrative Construction in Literary Nonfiction.” This talk addressed life as a writer and provided writing tips to improve the story so the idea can stick better. He also gave encouragement that struck home for me, saying that one doesn’t need to be young to be a “fresh new voice” as a writer. He said many people do not begin their writing career until much later in life, and that if one is compelled to do so, one should just write. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – and “Truth will out.”
Afterwards, so fired up and enthused by the event and the atmosphere, I saw someone I wanted to talk to and marched right over there. Unfortunately, the individual was speaking with somebody else at that moment. Even less fortunate was the fact that they both seemed firmly ensconced in the Reserved Section, rather than the Festival Seating of Communication Techniques… Now, I’m there as a newbie writer, the ink is barely dry on my figurative press card, and I would have preferred to impress them favourably. “There’s many a slip, betwixt cup and lip” and “I got nuttin’…”
The embarrassment of that faux pas still sniggers at me, heckling from the cheap seats in my mind. “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” and “Let it go”.
A few days later I was at my writer’s group, telling this story, carefully threading my way through the minefield between self-deprecating and self-denigrating humor. “Know thyself” and “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I had just reached the part where my enthusiasm overtook my manners and I interrupted a private conversation, when my daughter came up and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but…” Then, confused by our collective reaction, she asked, “Why are you all laughing?”
This brings me to my last and favorite dichotomous duo: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and “Every generation, better than the last.” Thank goodness.