Monday, October 22, 2018

Confidence and Lessons from 'The Kindergarten Teacher'

The mission and vision of Women’s Writing Circle is to encourage women to acknowledge and share their unique voices, talents and life experiences through writing.

In The Kindergarten Teacher, a movie now streaming on Netflix starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, a teacher discovers five-year-old Jimmy's uncanny gift for writing evocative poetry. A poet, herself, Lisa spends her time away from teaching kindergartners by taking a continuing education poetry class. When she reads her poetry, her work is judged mediocre by teacher and classmates.

This sets her up for believing what the world says about her, not what she believes about herself and it doesn't take long for Lisa to become obsessed with Jimmy. Every time Jimmy says, “I have a poem,” Lisa grabs her notebook and furiously scribbles what he says. As Jimmy composes verse off the top of his head in an almost trance-like state, Lisa's own defeatism about her poetry is intensified.

One night Lisa takes two of Jimmy’s poems to her poetry class and reads them as her own. No one suspects they are the work of a kindergarten child. Immediately, everyone sits up and takes notice of Lisa, praising "her" poems, especially the attractive and snobbish young writing teacher who now wants sex with Lisa. Later, she reads one of her own poems to him. “Well,” he says, “it’s not my favorite of yours.”  In the male-dominated world of poetry, she believes him to be the final judge and critic of her work.

The movie is both disturbing and instructive. The message is that creative writing/genius cannot be taught... and that harsh, judgmental critique can suck the soul out of creativity. Lisa begins to view her mission in life as protecting and mentoring Jimmy from a world where the artist is obliterated by forced indenture...working for a high-tech company, the goal Jimmy’s father has in mind for his son. Poetry, the father declares, is a pipe dream.

In her famous morning pages, Julia Cameron advises us to just let our words flow onto the blank page every morning. Writing, she says, is a spiritual expression—you and God are at one.

Encouraging and nurturing everyone is also the signature of Zen writer Natalie Goldberg. In this article, it is noted: "The magic of her method is the belief that anyone can write, that everyone has a voice and something to say."

Unlike Gyllenhaal’s character in The Kindergarten Teacher, most of us do not feel life hangs in the balance if we are not creative geniuses or mentoring one. Since Lisa finds little meaning in her life—her teenage children are glued to their screens and cellphones, her husband lacking in emotional intimacy—she seeks salvation in little Jimmy's poetry and not from within herself.

For me, I love that writing resides in the moment, offering its own distinct brand of solace and continuing education. As a woman, I find that writing offers a pathway to understanding that life is fabric and everything connected. It offers a chance to keep discovering and exploring all that is around and within me.

I use several strategies to maintain confidence as a writer. Here's a few.
  • Don't compare yourself to another writer. Instead, value and affirm your unique voice and skills.
  • Consider avoiding writing contests or book awards programs; many are merely marketing ploys and/or the judging subjective. 
  • Every time you read your work aloud, say to yourself, 'job well done'. It takes courage to read in front of an audience and many never reach that point.
  • Keep working at your craft, but not to where it feels like a grind. 
  • View obstacles in your writing as challenges not roadblocks.
  • Share your work in a supportive group of writers and be open to feedback, including thoughtful criticism.
  • Be authentic and write from the heart. 
  • Feel the passion and silence the inner critic.
  • Listen to your inner voice.

How about you? Can you share a strategy to affirm creative confidence?

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