Donald and I had known each other since Wilke’s death in 1993. For a few years, he was executor of the entire estate and gave me complete access to all of Wilke’s work and papers. He answered endless questions in formal interviews, phone conversations, emails, and over meals like this one. But there were some questions I felt awkward asking. From early in our relationship, I was curious how he handled Wilke’s multiple love affairs, when it was clear he was only interested in her. I never asked because it seemed too personal, like I was prying. I didn’t want to upset Donald or for him to question my motives. I wanted him to like me.
I told this story at our Creative Mix Meet-Up on Friday because we were discussing the repercussions of being nice and how that held us back. I read them a quotation from my interview with Natalie Goldberg and the related follow-up questions on The Heroine’s Journey worksheet:
How has being nice held you back?
What are you doing right now that doesn’t feel genuine or coming from a deep place?
Several of the older women (we have an impressive intergenerational mix) spoke of growing up to be seen and not heard. But when they were paraded in public, they were to behave modestly and respectably, to reflect well on their elders. This led to a deeper discussion of gender and acceptable behavior for women. One woman told of her rage and sadness at not being allowed to participate in school sports programs even though she was faster, stronger, and more agile than any of the boys. Another spoke of being guided toward science because she was good at it, supposedly a progressive move for a girl. The counselor convinced her that her love for creative writing wouldn’t lead to a career, and she dropped it. It took her decades to make the course correction and claim her writing.
These comments led to a discussion about seeking outside approval (see my post on the topic here). Someone asked Aralyn Hughes, a writer and performing artist, how she dealt with criticism after putting herself out there on stage. She told us about her former life as a real estate agent, trying to please her clients. One day she threatened not to represent some folks unless they got rid of their pets and cleaned out the smell in their house. Speaking up for herself translated into doing things her way. She began saying what she believed and telling the truth of her own story, including writing a book about the choice not to have children (more about Aralyn’s and her work here).
What is at stake in being nice? Censorship, both in art and in life. If you want to live authentically and create from a deep place, then it has to stop.
By the way, I finally screwed up the courage to ask Donald why he put up with Hannah’s affairs. “That’s what she needed to feel free,” he told me. All the years I suspected he was a coward for putting up her behavior, he actually made a clear and brave choice. His answer filled out Donald’s character for my story as well and gave me something to think about it.
What does anyone need to feel free? Not every artist needs sexual freedom, but at the very least we need be fully ourselves, not censor who are for family or social acceptance.
What could you give up right now that doesn’t feel genuine or coming from a deep place?