Inspiring

Photo credit: Ian Dooley on Unsplash

“You’ve inspired me today.”

The person who said this to me is an aspiring fashion designer I’ll call “Jon.” We have never met in person. I have never seen his work. Our sole contact to date has been one telephone conversation that started out in the context of both of our day jobs. And yet. . . .

You’ve inspired me today.”

It all began when I called the appellate clerks’ office to find out whether an appeal has been filed. In the course of the conversation, Jon asked me to spell the name of the potential appellant. I did so, and he reported that no appeal had been filed.

Most times, the conversation would have ended there. For reasons unknown—perhaps that he was so happy to help—I mentioned that the appellant had recently had other appeals resolved and had petitioned for certification from those rulings. Jon asked again for the appellant’s name, and I told him that the other appeals were under the parties’ initials. (This frequently happens if the appeal involves sensitive content.) When I reiterated the initials, he laughed and said, “Wait, I got that confused. I must have been thinking in French.”

Since he was so open and helpful, I asked whether he was of French background. Just making conversation, but he responded that he was obsessed with France because he’d once dreamed of going to art school there. He added, “But that’s not going to happen.”

“Why not?” I asked without thinking. Obviously, there could be a thousand reasons, many quite personal. But the fact that he’d volunteered this information somehow made the question permissible. I added, “I didn’t publish my first novel until I was sixty.”

It was if I’d opened the secret door: we began to talk about our creative worlds. I asked Jon what kind of art he did, and he told me about his dream of being a fashion designer, including how his grandfather had made shoes and his grandmother made dresses for schoolgirls. We compared notes about France. I told him how I’d stopped writing for twenty-five years, coming back to it in my forties and publishing my first story in my fifties before I published my novel. He asked for the title and said he was going to read it. I asked if he’d posted any of his work on Instagram; he said he hadn’t in a while, but that I’d encouraged him to do so. I reminded him of the advantage of having a day job, namely, that there was less pressure to monetize the creative work. We talked about people who had used major shakeups like 9/11 or the pandemic to rethink their path as well as the importance of pursuing creative work regularly, faithfully—ideas I need to remember for myself on the days when I’m struggling with my own creative work.

“Your call was just what I needed,” Jon said as we were winding up our conversation—because after all, we were both still at our day jobs. “You inspired me today.”

So often, we hear about the fabulous young writers and musicians and artists—the “30 Under 30” or whatever. I don’t mean to denigrate the young folks, but they’re not the only ones who are creating. In fact, I think that some of what inspired Jon wasn’t just that I’d written a book, but that I was sixty when it was published. His voice sounded young, but he told me he was forty-three. By letting him know that I hadn’t even begun writing as a career until I was even older than he is now, I was proof positive that life doesn’t end just because you haven’t yet achieved everything you want by a certain age.

It’s so easy to think our personal stories aren’t interesting to anyone else. D. Margaret Hoffman has written dozens of essays designed to refute this notion. Her first anthology includes a marvelous piece entitled, “A Member of the Choir,” where she explores her decision to join a local choir after retiring from teaching. I wish I’d thought of this essay when I was talking with Jon; it could have served as yet more encouragement to keep pursuing his art, his dream.

Today is a beautiful end-of-winter day, with glorious sunshine and temperatures you might expect in late April. Still, for me, the best moment came when a perfect stranger who’d been feeling discouraged about his artistic dreams told me how our conversation made him feel more upbeat, more optimistic, about pursuing his passions.

“You’ve inspired me today.”

Thanks, Jon. You inspired me, too.

Photo credit: AlLes on Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Inspiring

  1. Agree. It’s so easy to feel like my story is common and ordinary. The older we get , though, the more worthwhile and extraordinary stories we experience. Thank God! Kay

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 2 people

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