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Good morning, Pat!* Thank you for your email, seeking to hire me as an editor for your poems. By now, you’ve received my reply, where I explained that I don’t provide editorial services, only “creative companioning.”

Your strong desire for someone to assess your poetry’s “merit” has prompted me to write this open letter.

I admit, the word “merit” brought me up short. It’s one of those words that I often hear among creative people who are struggling with self-doubt. Not just poets, but painters, quilters, gardeners, parents . . .

To some degree, all of us, regardless of how experienced we are at our craft, feel a need for validation. We want to have our work praised and recognized as worthy, particularly by someone whose opinion we hold in high regard.

May I invite you, though, to surrender that need? I worry that it will become a tremendous obstacle to your writing. Indeed, in your message I heard a reluctance to write more poems until you’ve been sufficiently assured that you’re doing good work.

My friend, if you were to stop writing poetry for that reason—for any reason—it would be a loss: to you, to me, and to this world. I don’t have to read a single poem you’ve written to know that.

***

In my view, creating anything is an act of love, and of hope. When we create, yes, we bless ourselves with the joy of making—but we also bless this world with what wasn’t there before. We bring forth more beauty, more vision, more energy. We affirm that the eternal and infinite unknown is always emerging into, and through, the known, which is partial, and fleeting.

When we doubt the worth of what we create, we swing shut one of the main gates through which love and hope are meant to flow into this world. And everyone is the poorer.

What if, instead, we choose to believe that a creative act justifies itself? It needs no approval. Not even our own.

***
This week I had one of those “stamp of approval” moments that we all crave. Jack Kornfield, a world-renowned mindfulness teacher, wrote a promotional blurb commending Poetry of Presence II. (That anthology, which I’ve co-edited with Ruby Wilson, will be published this spring.) I’ve never met Jack Kornfield, but through his books and videos, he has long been one of my primary mindfulness teachers. My spirit is still doing somersaults over his endorsement!

But here’s the thing: What if Jack hadn’t liked the book well enough to write a blurb? What if nobody had?

Or, looking ahead, what if few readers like the book well enough to buy it, once it’s out? What if Ruby and I can’t recoup all the money we’ve sunk into permission fees?

What if … What if … What if …

These are all “gatekeeper questions.” I won’t pretend they’re irrelevant. But I’m here to tell you that, for me, they’re not determinative. Ultimately, their answers don’t matter. I trust, in the end, that what truly matters about my creativity is not what I’ve made, or what other people make of what I’ve made, but the making itself.

When we make with loving purpose, we allow no gatekeeper—not even our own “what ifs”—to swing shut the gate. Part of our creative practice is doing the inner work that helps us open the gate, and keep it open, especially when the energies of self-doubt are trying to pull it shut, chain, and padlock it.

Self-doubt is fear in costume: Fear of what we’ve created being met with cool indifference. Or with criticism. Or with rejection.

Those with whom we share our creative efforts, casually or professionally, are not meant to be the keepers of our creativity’s gate.

We are.

***
Being creative is hard work. Sharing what we’ve created can be even harder.

That’s why we need people we trust to bless our gate—you know, oil its rusty, old hinges, so it may function more freely. (That’s exactly what Jack Kornfield did for me this week—he blessed my gate.)

So, Pat, a blessing is what I want to leave with you, though you haven’t asked for it. I give my blessing not as someone who is “above” you or “ahead” of you, but as a companion in the creative life. Like you, I’m still learning how to keep my own gate open, except when it needs to be closed. (That’s a subject for another time.)

Here goes:

May you sit down each day in front of the gate.
May the gate meet you and teach you what it needs.
May the gate speak freely, though perhaps not in words.
May you hear it clearly, though perhaps not with ears.
When the gate is closed, may it be ready to move.
When the gate is ajar, may it open still wider.
May the gate rest securely upon the post of your life.
May its weight be light, and its swing be balanced.
May the gateway broaden with your understanding.
May the gate learn to stand open of its own accord.
May the day come when you sit down in front of the gate

and find it gone

*Name has been changed

Photo by Keith Hardy on Unsplash
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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