When I was 6, my grandmother became – or realized she was – an artist. I remember a beautiful summer garden scene, oils on canvas. As my family admired her work, she gestured toward a corner she wanted to adjust. And so she did. The next time I saw it, the garden was as dark as a swamp. At night. Or after an apocalypse. Small edits led to other changes and ultimately ruined her painting.
Editing is a big part of my job. Although some notes are subjective, such as tone or transitions, other marks come from grammar guides, stylebooks and dictionaries.
Drafting a novel expanded one term for me beyond the words of Merriam-Webster: “perfect.”
People are complex, and one person’s villain is generally someone else’s hero, son or mother. Sometimes when I’m scripting a chapter of forgiveness I notice pockets of my own dusty grudges waiting to be acknowledged and released. Fictional characters remind us what we do is not who we are, and our jobs and actions are not our identities. We are each larger than our mistakes, bigger than our personalities and more than the sum of our talents. Most of all, they tell us that “perfect” would be incredibly boring.
In my work, words play by the rules.
But when I’m tempted to edit the story of my life against some unrealistic standards, I think about my grandmother pointing her brush at a paradise she couldn’t see.
May we all paint our lives gently, have eyes for the beauty of the big picture and offer kindness to every canvas – including our own.