I am never at a loss for a blank page. Lovely people give me those pretty cloth-covered blank notebooks for birthdays, Christmas, “just because” occasions. I buy stacks of spiral ring notebooks from Staples whenever they have their 2 cent sales. And there is always the back of envelopes the bills come in.
But lately, I write mostly without paper, on my laptop. Practically, it’s just quicker. I know eventually I will want to do something with many of my written words – whether it’s a blog or a book, a poem or a white paper – so it’s easier to have them already in a form that translates.
There is also something about these e-bits that feels more secure. I can tuck away my wildest ramblings to make sane later, or maybe never, without feeling exposed prematurely. Putting it on paper with ink makes it more real, since it’s in the physical world already. Left in some obscure folder on my hard drive, my nascent words have a chance to develop and mature before putting them out there to endure the slings and arrows of a cold, cruel world.
Also, in this safe obscurity, my words do not have to absorb the worry of overly concerned loved ones who are too partial to my happiness and sanity to welcome notions that may betray anything short of those ideals. Given the right safe space, my words are allowed to be a bit odd, off, even dangerous. They can explore the far reaches and dark folds of my imagination. And they can stay there, in that safe place of e-bits, if they’re not ready for familiar exposure.
This fear of upsetting those who care, those who are most close and most invested in my happiness, is in fact more damaging to my creative process than any imagined punishments an anonymous enemy can dish out. Opposition is clarifying. Well-intentioned but misplaced concern is confusing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of the tell-all tale (vaguely disguised or obviously autobiographical) that leaves a trail of bloodied and bruised casualties. There is a balance between raw expression and a writer’s responsibility not to cry “fire” in a packed movie theater (unless of course the building is on fire…).
But there is a way to tap into raw emotion and delve into the stranger crevices of gray matter that does in fact do more good than harm. It is risky but it is the best kind of risk, the kind of risk associated with pioneers and people who run into burning buildings to save lives. It is called creativity. It is called bravery. And it must be encouraged and practiced.
This is why young people need positive adults in their lives, adults besides their partial parents, more objective mentors who can encourage healthy risk behaviors. In the youth development field, we often talk about “at-risk” youth and the need to reduce “risky behavior.” But risk in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is what keeps individuals, organizations, and society growing, creating, adapting, and innovating. The trick is turning negative risk situations into positive risk opportunities. It’s providing chances to witness and act out bravery.
Young people, just like writers, need a thoughtful yet disinterested other to hear them out, to listen to their ideas – even the dangerous ones – and put away the emotional bubble wrap. As a writer, I tap into the child that was/is me on a daily basis. It’s why I continue to need something that for me looks like a mentor: a safe place to say dangerous things. It’s where I practice being brave.
Kelly Belmonte is a published poet, blogger (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com), and management consultant with expertise in non-profit organizational development and youth mentoring. She currently serves on the board of directors for Exeter Fine Crafts in Exeter, New Hampshire. Her published book of poetry, Three Ways of Searching, will be available in Spring 2013 through Finishing Line Press.