13 April 2009

Roots and Wings

I have a friend named Steve O'Rear. He is magical. There's really no other way to put it. He has an amazing gift of writing pieces that are not only beautiful but also deeply insightful. He is a master wordsmith, people-watcher, friend, artist, immortal soul, who I am honored to know. This year, he sent me a message on my birthday that warrants publication. He gave me permission to post it here because it pertains to my creative process and exactly names its foundational struggle. Enjoy:

For Robin, in celebration of a new year…

Once upon a time, there was a stitch.
Appliqué on canvas, a touch of whimsy in a world of function.

"What's that for?" asked Expectation.
"A bag should be practical, with pockets and sturdy lining."

"That's not what I'm making," she replied.
"I changed the pattern."

"You always say things like that," grumbled Expectation.
"But unless you follow the pattern,
the whole thing could fall apart in your hands."

I weighed their words as I examined her bit of craftsmanship. Improvised, but with clear intent. Hand-stitched, full of subtle compromises to the fabric that one never finds in machine work. I always figured it would end up a little more rock and roll, but this made sense, this was just as honest.

Not to say Expectation was without merit. A few hasty stitches were already straining to keep the strap attached, and even she could admit the want of a pocket or two.

Then Fancy stole the bag from my hands and, as she is prone to do, turned the conversation to herself.

"I can't imagine why you bothered to make something so traditional," Fancy moaned. "You had such talent, and I feel this isn't the proper medium for you. I would have done something much more dynamic."

"But you don't sew," argued Expectation. "In fact, you never really make anything. You only gush about unfulfilled dreams."

Quarreling, the two old foes bustled down the lane.
I turned to the seamstress, "Do they come here often?"

"Every day," she smiled, a trifle weary.

"She's wrong, you know. You're making beautiful things in this medium."

But to my praise, she only shrugged. "I changed the pattern."

I came back from time to time, to see her work in wood and ink, in sugar and cream. There was treasure here; defiance to make imperfect art, to speak in broken sentences cause you cannot abide the silence. And only after all these things did I understand.

"I changed the pattern," she had said, and I saw this to be true. It didn't look like a bag at all.

She was stitching happiness, as best she could.

Fondness always, but especially today,

Leave it up to Steve O'Rear to know exactly what's going on with my soul from over a thousand miles away. The battle between Expectation and Fancy, Tradition and Discovery, Safety and Adventure. Lately, I've been using the terminology "Roots and Wings." My two most deeply defining desires.

Growing up, I always wanted wings. I wanted to see the world, to discover and imagine impossible things. To dream big dreams and see them through to realities. I scoffed at convention, demanded new and exciting adventures. And when they weren't available, I created them for myself. Freedom and life at its fullest. Wings to reach new heights and dream new dreams and create new creations all in the ever-expanding scope of my imagination! Huzzah!

But I know now that that could never be enough. I also want the roots. Living away from home, starting all over again in a place where people have been settled for generations...They still see me as a new comer. I want to stand on a table and shout, "My family owned land in this country before your ancestors even knew about the New World!" Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration. Some of these folks can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower, which landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and my family was granted their land in 1637. But my family has been on that same land ever since. How many people can say that? I never expected to miss those roots, but I do. I want to be settled. I want my life to draw its nourishment from a rich history steeped with tradition.

I probably shouldn't be surprised by this. My family still gives me a hard time about one Thanksgiving when we didn't have cornbread, and I threw a hissy-fit because it was tradition to have cornbread at Thanksgiving. Or there's Christmas Breakfast (a heavenly concoction of vanilla cream cheese stuffed french toast with apricot preserves), which I am appalled that Amy makes on mornings other than Christmas morning...just whenever she wants it!

So even in my creative fashionings and imaginings, I am still bound by expectation. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. In the midst of a deep desire to break down paradigmical boxes, I still very meticulously cut my pancakes the same way every time. It's who I am. Roots and Wings. Tradition and Discovery. Expectation and Fancy.

I post this here because I am amazed that these traits come out of me in the creative process and that Steve was able to pick up on them from a simple purse. Thank you, Steve, as always, for your incredible insight.
Here is last week's make...another crayon drawing which started out as an idea piece and ended up not quite cool enough to warrant getting out the paints to become a large painting for my newly rearranged kitchen. It has my three most current icons: my favorite doodle tree (Roots), the bird from my purse (Wings), and the rooster from my apron (which I think holds a peaceful balance of domesticity and flight).

I promise that this week will hold something a little more exciting made with more than paper and crayons. I was slightly limited this week by a house-sitting mix-up. I know...excuses, excuses. But really...I received some very exciting, inspirational books and a whole big jar of buttons for my birthday, which I am just itching to play with. So be on the lookout for a new Weekly Invitation to join in the fun!

In the mean time, I'm curious if this whole Roots and Wings thing is universal. Do you experience the conflict of Expectation and Fancy in your creative processes? in every day life? Please do share! :o)


  1. awesome awesome.
    Here's hoping for a cool story like that on my birthday Steve... Oct. 7

  2. Wow. Robin you evidently brought your roots with you when you flew away, and you do know how to follow your feet. Steve O'Rear is an amazing insightful friend. It will be nice for you when Expectation and Fancy can work hand in hand, but sometimes a little conflict can create a wonderful energy.

  3. Steve O'Rear is the next Max Lucado. Seriously, that story was life-giving.

  4. again way late on the commenting, but Robin I TOTALLY feel that pull between roots and wings, expectation and fancy. Every Single Day. seriously, if you ever figure out how to help the two get along, I would really appreciate it! I'm trying to build a home right now, completely thrilling in it but at the same time getting annoyed at the closed in walls. What do I do??

  5. I wish I had a good answer for that. I don't know how to make them play nicely together. Let me know if you figure it out first.