The woman sitting next to me at the book club was nearly 70. She told me this proudly and I responded that she didn’t look 70, because she didn’t. She also shared with me that she was a painter, which made me think of Macy and the artist in The Guest Book, of the power of art—the communication that exists in a painting, no words needed. I told her I thought she would like my new book; that art figured prominently in the story.
Later another woman in the book club asked me about the process of writing, how I know what to write, where the story is leading, who the characters are. As always, I felt funny as I tried to put into words what is, for me, as natural and rhythmic as breathing. I fumbled around with my effort to explain “my process” until the woman next to me, the artist, jumped in and explained it for me.
“I think it’s like when I paint,” she offered. “I stand in front of that blank canvas and I see the picture that’s supposed to be there. And then I just paint until that picture emerges.”
I sat, mute, as in my head the visual appeared—this 70 year old woman in her paint-spattered frock, sweeping a brush across a canvas until an image appears. I nodded. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. She wields a brush, I wield words, but it is all, somehow, the same.
And yet, it’s not. I could no more pick up a brush and make a painting appear that looked like more than a toddler’s efforts than I could figure out how these words I type end up on computer screens all over the world. Some things, for each of us, are just foreign. They are not our gifts, not what we were meant to do.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s not something we were meant to do. I was meant—I’m slowly starting to believe—to craft stories. The woman next to me was meant to paint. Macy, the main character in The Guest Book, was also meant to paint and part of her journey in this book is understanding that, and embracing it anew.
There is something you were meant to do as well. Whatever it is, I probably can’t do it. And that’s ok. I wasn’t meant to. But I can stand back and admire your talent, and cheer you on as you seek to find it.
About Marybeth Whalen
Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.