Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Live Like There Is No One Watching

I had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Bethesda, Maryland, at the Malice Domestic convention this past weekend, where authors and fans alike gather to talk books, meet each other, and yes, down a glass of wine or two.  It was fantastic.  I got to meet and see people who I have only known on the “interwebs,” like the amazing Joelle Charbonneau (author of the Skating Rink mysteries and a new series from Berkley Prime Crime), the gorgeous Avery Ames (author of the Cheese Shop mysteries and now an Agatha winner!), and the lovely Ellen Byrreum (author of the Crimes of Fashion mysteries featuring sleuth Lacey Smithsonian).  As we have all written about in various ways, writing is a solitary and sometimes lonely undertaking, so seeing people who do what you do—and others who enjoy what you do—is an uplifting experience.

I participated in a panel on Sunday with the aforementioned Joelle, Wendy Lyn Watson, and Donna Andrews, moderated by librarian and fan Patti Ruocco.  The theme of our panel was mysteries set in academia and the audience was terrific.  During the question and answer period, only one person had a question and it was regular Malice attendee Doris Ann Norris, who asked if the lovely and talented Joelle—a professional singer and actress—could sing us a tune.  Joelle was at a loss, not sure what to sing.  I asked her to sing my favorite show tune of all time and she obliged, breaking into “My Favorite Things” from THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

When I say the girl can sing, I mean THAT GIRL CAN SING.  But that didn’t stop a number of people in the room, myself included, from joining in lustily.  By the end of her rendition, the entire room had joined in, with author Vicki Doudera, jumping up and throwing her arms out wide a la Julie Andrews.  When I had entered the room earlier, I was tired and looking forward to going home.  When the panel ended, I was exhilarated and wishing I could stay longer.

It reminded me of the old adage to live like no one is looking.  When we let down our walls, and give in to the joy of a particular moment, happiness follows.  I was also reminded of this just this morning as I took a long walk along the Hudson River with my good pal, Annie.  Annie is a preschool teacher who had the incredible idea to introduce her class to the great masters of the art world.  Using prints, she showed her students—most under the age of five—Monets, Van Goghs, Matisses, and a host of other painters so that they could figure out which ones “spoke” to them.  After they spent some time learning about the great masters, they were to use any medium they wanted—oils, watercolors, or crayons—and “paint” a picture based on their favorite artist or one of his works.  She said that the art that was created was astounding and as a result, she decided to do an “art show” during the preschool’s annual golf outing/fundraiser this past weekend.

The art was put on display in a large room with windows facing a bucolic setting in the Hudson Valley.  Annie was admiring the art when the grandmother of one of her students, an artist herself, approached her, clearly moved by the work the preschoolers had done.  She remarked that artists strive to keep a childlike perspective because in that perspective is a freedom that one loses as one gets older.  Artists, like all of us, become more inhibited, or more constrained, or more cautious in the risks they take.  Children just DO.  They let it fly.  And the results are what artists strive for and chase throughout their adult lives but have long before let go.

As a person, I’m pretty uninhibited, as you have probably gleaned from previous posts.  If I feel like dancing, I do.  If I want to break into song, I will.  But I do have my doubts and my inhibitions and sometimes that spills over into my writing.   My first draft has to be perfect or I doubt myself.  I parse every word of a previous paragraph before proceeding with a new thought.  I don’t let it fly, like I should.  So I’m going to channel the experience of singing a show tune in front of a group of forty people and think about a child with a set of watercolors imitating a Vermeer when I sit down to write.  Writing should be a combination of joy and freedom, not inhibition and caution.
Now if I could just convince myself of that!  What do you do to make yourself do the things that should bring you joy but that may not, given your own inhibitions?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Maggie, I love this! I really do try to live like no one's watching (as evidenced by my running around the playground at Tilles Park yesterday with my niece and nephew--I was definitely the only adult climbing everything, going down the slides, and acting like a was wonderful). Sometimes I wish I could be more a graceful, sophisticated adult; but maybe that's just not how I'm built. So I let my inner goof fly pretty constantly. Sometimes, I'm sure, it turns people off. But I hope it attracts people who celebrate life everyday, like me. Now if I could just get rid of all this grown-up worry, I'd be in good shape! Wonderful post with a great message!

  2. I say "hey, bartender, hey man looka here--draw one, draw two, draw three more glasses of beeeeeer".

    Anyone else remember John Belushi singing this in The Blues Brothers? Anyone?

    So, my answer is: booze. (Although, to be clear, I never need or use it to write.)

  3. Love this, Maggie! Music tends to get rid of my inhibitions. When I *allow* it to, anyway. I think a philosophy like this is what everyone needs.

    And Susan, I was always the mom who rode the slides and climbed around the tubes with my kids. Wouldn't trade those memories for anything.

  4. Vicky, I remember! And you're so talented that nothing stands in your way when it comes to writing. I can take that to the bank.

    Susan, the grown-up worry is something we all have to deal with, but as you and I always say, "it doesn't change anything." Type-A-ers unite in thinking that worry is a waste of time!

    Laura, I knew I loved you! I wish we had been closer when we were sliding down the slides right behind our kids together.


  5. Love the post, Maggie! When I return to my manuscript, I'll ditch caution-that all too often creeps into my writing and let go! Thanks for a freeing/fun post. That singing panel/workshop sounds like a blast!

  6. Thanks, Marian! The singing at the end of the panel was big fun. And Joelle didn't even cut out my mic when I joined in! Let's all make a pact to throw caution to the wind, particularly when it comes to our writing. Maggie

  7. Great post, Maggie! It was terrific to see you at Malice, and I'm glad you're all psyched up to return next year. I'm so sorry I missed Sunday's panel--it was my MIL's birthday and we had a family brunch to celebrate.

    OK--now I'm off to "throw caution to the wind"!