I'm excited to introduce you all to Bethany of She Writes and Rights. We connected through the blogosphere and our mutual love of writing... and we even got to meet in person a few months ago.
"Do you want coffee?" he asks casually, standing at the register.
I accept and the barista soon hands us paper cups brimming with bold drip brews. We slide into a booth and smile at one another. He yawns, tells me he has insomnia and his daughter was sick last night, too. And I think about how easy I have it right now, sans kids. I think about how sleepless I feel right now, even without them. The ever-present question floats to the surface—How will we ever make it?—but I brush it away and listen to him talk about his work. School is out for summer and he's been busy in his studio, painting.
We climb slowly into the conversation we're here to have, about creativity and literature and art and making it through my twenties. He, in his early 30s, tells me about the penniless dates he and his wife had when they first moved to Chicago a decade ago, when he started grad school at the School of the Art Institute and they had no kids and didn't know how they were going to make it through their twenties.
He asks me about my freelance work. Oh, yeah. I take a deep breath and slowly relay my story, bit by bit as he pries the details from me. "Didn't I tell you never to work without a contract? … You were charging her how much? … Oh, Bethany."
I lean my head against the wall and cringe, "Yes, I know I know I know…"
But he is gracious and reassuring and firm, all the things I try to be for myself every day, all the things I need but don't know how to give myself.
We relay stories—ones we've heard and ones we've lived through, mistakes we've made, small victories we've achieved as creatives, he as a professor and painter, me as a writer.
"You have to set a precedent," he tells me. "It's about self-worth. It's about valuing your work and what you were made to do."
He talks and I watch him, remembering late afternoons in the painting studio as we stood behind easels and he walked around the room, peering over our shoulders as we mimed arbitrary objects with oils and brushes - pumpkins, drop cloths, fabric orchids, old roller skates. Sometimes he would read from Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. Sometimes he would come to stand at my side and I would step back and glance at him, waiting for the inevitable eyebrow to rise. Sometimes he would shake his head, say, "Look again," and walk away.
So many things have changed, but then again.
After an hour or two and the sun is higher in the July sky and I'm sure I'm running late to the office, we part ways. I thank him, but my words seem small compared to what he's armed me with—coffee, lessons, art, life.
I drive away, thinking. I've felt so sleepless with my thoughts lately, so tired of trying to "make it" and "figure it out" and find my "next step." I am grown up. I'm not a student anymore. But even so, sometimes I forget that I still need a teacher. Sometimes I forget that my independence has limits.
Sometimes I still need someone to push me back toward the drawing board, with a gracious, reassuring and firm hand. Sometimes I still need someone to tell me, "Look again."
Full-time writer by day, artist and blogger by night, Bethany Suckrow authors the blog She Writes and Rights, where she shares both prose and poetry related to life, faith, storytelling and creativity. Her greatest passions are Grace, words, and a good cup of coffee. She and her musician husband Matt live in the Chicago suburbs.