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Greene: Permission

While researching her family’s involvement in Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, a friend went to a family party where she talked to a 95 year old cousin, who, as a young woman, had been enrolled in Eastman’s year-long program as a composition student.

At the time, this was extraordinary for a woman. She had a wonderful year, and at its end, her work was reviewed. She was told she’d never be a composer - so she stopped composing. As she related this story to my friend, this 95 year old lady wept inconsolably over a loss that had befallen her 75 years before. If that isn’t a warning to follow our dreams, I don’t know what is.

I’ve heard people say that if we’re meant to do something, we’ll do it no matter what. But I often think, and sometimes say, that those are the lucky ones, who’ve had enough support along the way to weather discouragement and keep on going. Because there are many people who absorb destructive criticism and give up, only to live diminished lives, merely because someone was too preoccupied or unimaginative to say something useful.

When my husband was a guest artist at a middle school, a mother approached him with her daughter’s poetry, wanting to know if he thought it was any good. My husband tried to tell her that the girl didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to write. She should just do it.

But the mother was insistent. She wanted a green light, maybe even some guarantees that it would work out for her child. But there aren’t any guarantees, especially in the arts, especially in a country prone to Beanie Babies and Justin Bieber.

And the thing is that there’s joy in doing what we love, regardless of the worldly rewards. That’s something no critic can take away. For me, just finding the right word is pretty close to Nirvana.

Don’t get me wrong - sharing work, getting published, and getting positive responses are all wonderful. But not doing the work because someone has been critical? That damages one’s spirit.

So even if that mother’s daughter had written gibberish, I would have said: Don’t be discouraged! Never give up! Even if the work isn’t good at the outset, keep at it! You have to start somewhere, so it might as well be with what you love.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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