I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be Janus, the ancient deity with two heads. Looking forward while looking back would be a useful skill to have especially at the end of the year. So, instead of making the same old New Year’s resolutions… which I usually ignore or forget… I am going to look back down the years at advice that will carry me into the future.
Much of the advice that came my way has been ignored or forgotten (along with the New Year resolutions), but some words have resonated, and these are the ones I’m after here. So, starting with the impressionable years of childhood, I begin with my father’s early caution: “Be sure to look both ways when you cross a street.”
Simple? Sure, but the advice is sound. In the coming year I will certainly come across situations that are unfamiliar and which require thought and caution. When that happens, I need to weigh pros and cons carefully—and look before I take the first step.
Next comes my Uncle Harry, who had quotes for every occasion. One of his favorites when he caught me dilly-dallying over something was, “Tomorrow, friend, tomorrow… and tomorrow never comes.” As usual, he was–is– right. In the year ahead I will do my best not to put off things that need doing now since procrastination spells trouble.
My mother brings another lesson. Sensible, down to earth and a friend to every creature that walked, flew, swam or crawled the earth, she felt that all living things had worth and should be treated with respect. Whenever I hear of cruelty toward helpless beings—human, animal, or endangered rain forest—I remember her example… and her heart.
Even this small tadpole
Is trying with all its might
To become a frog.
Teachers rank high in the advice column, of course. There was my high school English teacher who, after reading one of my short stories, advised me to write about things I knew and felt. “You need to find your voice,” he said, kindly. “You may have the words, but the voice isn’t there yet.” There was also the college prof who irritated me beyond bearing by snarling, “This is bad. Rubbish! Rework, rework, rework!” I was so furious at him that I did rewrite—and have rewritten and re-rewritten ever since.
Editors—well, there are editors and editors. Of the many I have worked with I best remember Barbara Bates, who insisted on throwing out the first chapter of A Boat To Nowhere. She did the same thing for its sequel, A Long Way From Home. A slow learner I might be, but I did catch on by the time she got to The Lake Is On Fire, so the first chapter survived the cut. Instead, Barbara tossed the last chapter. Advice for me to take to heart: begin at an interesting place and don’t bore the reader by dragging out the end.
Finally, there is the advice of children. Clear sighted and honest, they also are fearless when it comes to imagination. Young people live stories with me, and if they don’t enjoy the way my story ends, will invent one that they like. Their ideas, their art and music are fresh and full of unmatchable color and verve.
So… In 2012 I resolve to approach creative crossroads carefully but also to be as fearlessly imaginative as I can possibly be. I will do my best to write from the heart about things that matter, and to keep deadlines. And then after all that if I have to rework….
Wishing Everyone A Happy New Year!