There’s No Such Thing as ‘Just’

by Abby on October 14, 2013

I remember reading an article about Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and Baltimore resident Anne Tyler, in which she recounted an exchange with a woman at her daughters’ preschool, I believe, when her children were small. The other mom said to Tyler, “So what are you doing these days, still just writing?”

That line stuck with me for some reason. I wasn’t able to put into words exactly why, however, until I came across a couple of blog posts recently by other writers. The first, by blogger and author Emily Freeman of “Chatting at the Sky” talks about the one word that sabotages us. Here’s a hint: “There’s no such thing as just.” Ironically, it’s a word I use ALL the time.

The other post that really resonated with me was by Tama Kieves, an author and life coach whose book, This Time I Dance: Creating the Work You Love found its way to me during a time in my life when it was exactly what I needed. This post is about the practice of marking your milestones — celebrating the journey, if you will, not only the destination, whatever that is. That’s part of the point, actually. That “success” can be a moving target. When will we know we’ve achieved it if we haven’t decided exactly what IT even is? Kieves writes, “I want you to see how amazing you are in this very moment. I want you to take in your milestones right now, instead of the miles between you and your ever-changing goals.”

The passage that hit me like a punch to the gut was when she described paging through the album where she collected her published articles. When the album was empty, all she could imagine was the thrill of filling it with articles bearing her byline. But then when she did, she found herself lamenting that the publications weren’t prestigious enough. They were “just” “no-count magazines” and “two-bit treasures” not REAL accomplishments, like an article in The New Yorker or something. Ooh. That hits close to home.

CrankensteinProving that it’s not just women or writers who worry about such things, I was interested to come across this post by Dan Santat, illustrator of the children’s book Crankenstein, which looks like something my 7yo son would enjoy. I Googled him to find out if he was the same artist behind the cartoon band the Gorillaz, BTW. He’s not; that’s British comic book artist and Gorillaz-co-creator Jamie Hewlett. This Googlescapade, however, led me to Dan Santat’s web site, where the aforementioned post caught my eye. It’s his response to people who ask, “How do you find the time to do everything that you do?”

The work-at-home dad to two boys ages 5 and 7 – who also created the former Disney Channel show “The Replacements” and has illustrated numerous children’s books including one called The Three Ninja Pigs, which I clearly need to order immediately – discusses his work and life, at one point comparing himself to a childless colleague and wondering if his career would be further along if he hadn’t started a family. He concludes, “My success is driven not by my own desires but because of a commitment to my family who I love even more than I love myself.”

Success. Family. Art. Work/life balance. Celebrating instead of diminishing one’s accomplishments, however small we perceive them to be. These are all big topics that keep me up at night. I am hugely relieved to discover that I’m not the only one who is trying to make sense of it all.

READ O’ THE DAY: On the topic of “just,” this post sent to me by a friend is a dad’s rant about people who disparage stay-at-home moms. I like this part:

Yes, my wife is JUST a mother. JUST. She JUST brings forth life into the universe, and she JUST shapes and molds and raises those lives. She JUST manages, directs and maintains the workings of the household, while caring for children who JUST rely on her for everything. … Yes, she is just a mother. Which is sort of like looking at the sky and saying, “Hey, it’s just the sun.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy at kissing the frog October 14, 2013 at 9:58 am

I read that post about the stay-at-home mom. I use the word “just” about my self all the time – especially my writing! But, as of late, I’ve stopped thinking that because my writing for me helps me to deal with lots of issues in my life, especially the death of my son. And my writing for others – well, if it helps even one person, it’s not “just” – it’s important. Thanks for the reminder!


Abby October 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Wow, Kathy, I’d say you’ve got that right — if it helps one person, if it helps you heal, then your writing is of utmost importance. No “just” about it!


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