Making Connections

Telling a story – writing a story – is about connecting with a reader. And the storytelling in and of itself is about connections of many kinds. Connections between characters, connections between themes, connections between the beginning, the middle and the end. Making a connection with a reader is like making a new friend. And making connections in a story is like weaving threads; the stronger the strands, the stronger and more whole is the quilt in which the story is cradled.

I have had the great good fortune recently to make some connections and, in fact, some re-connnections. I have re-connected with members of my family with whom I have, for various reasons, been out of touch. I have re-connected with a best friend from camp. I have re-connected with a woman who was the first friend I made on the first day of freshman year of college. And with each re-connection, my life has grown stronger and deeper. I didn’t set out specifically to make these re-connections. But as life threw me some curves over the past year and I found myself with more time to spend with myself, somehow I was gifted with a clearer view of who I am and from whence I come. And I noticed that as I became more open to this broader view of myself, opportunities seemed to suddenly open up to re-connect with these important people. To visit and talk with people who knew me when I was a child. To listen to people who knew my parents, who remember my grandparents, who knew what I was like when I was younger, who knew me as I was growing up. We have been remembering, we have been surprising one another, we have been forgiving one another, we have been comforting one another. And together we are strengthening the strands of our own lives. What a gift to be given a chance to introduce into one’s own life story such unexpected and marvelous re-connections; the strands of the quilt that cradles my life have become stronger and more whole.

As we explore our own stories, we begin to explore the stories of others. We come to recognize that as we share our stories, we all share one story. Writers who entertain, beguile and entice readers with their stories are the spinners of the threads, the people who remind us to stay connected, to seek connection, to share ourselves with one another, to draw the quilt tighter around us. What a gift we have in each other and in our stories.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC



In the process of revision, I discover things. – Rita Dove

In my capacity as an editor, I cannot count the number of times I’ve expected an author or illustrator to revise their work. The expectation for revision comes with every manuscript draft and with every batch of sketches. Revision is an integral and organic part of the writing and illustrating process. And with revision comes a final piece of writing or artwork that is as strong, as compelling, as meaningful, and as true as it can possibly be.

And so it is in life. Revision is an integral and organic part of the growing up process, the becoming-who-we-are process. Revising a manuscript or artwork can be frustrating and time-consuming. You just want to get it done already and isn’t it just fine as it is?! Revising oneself is just as frustrating and time-consuming, if not infinitely more so. To reconsider oneself, to make adjustments to oneself – surely that sort of self-examination is the hardest form of revision there is. And it can be the most empowering and ennobling form of revision there is. For don’t we want to be the strongest, most compelling, most meaningful, and most true people we can possibly be?

We don’t always recognize the opportunities life gives us in which to revise ourselves – the person who says, why don’t you just try it!, the conversation with a stranger on a plane that inspires a new idea, the chance meeting with someone whom we haven’t seen for many years, the unexpected loss of a job that forces us to think about what it is we really want to be, an illness that challenges us to pay attention to our bodily and spiritual health, the loss of a loved one that opens our eyes to how precious our time is here.

At first glance, we see so much of what life throws at us as either unimportant–trivial, silly, boring, nothing at all–or terrible–endless, hopeless, too hard, unfair. Much of my own world this year has spun off of its axis; such a tempest has made me aware of my own need to reconsider, modify, adjust. To revise myself in order to become whole and true. And I have to believe that in the process of finding my whole, true self that all that seems unimportant or terrible is, in fact, a necessary part of how we become who we are meant to be. Because it’s not enough to be done already nor are we supposed to be just fine. With revision comes revelation.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Seeing Through History

Why are the people in charge of our society right now so afraid of history? And in being so afraid, have become dismissive of the importance of history as a continuum of events in succession leading from the past to the present and into the future. To my mind, the people who are making the biggest decisions for all of us right now -- corporate leadership -- are threatening the very core of our cultural and spiritual health by being so afraid of history.

you can't have one
without the other
After I told him I was being laid off from the company at which I worked for 19 years, a friend (who'd himself been laid off six months prior from the same company) remarked "My god, they're getting rid of the history." And he was right. In the past few years, I've been all too aware of corporate America acting from a state of panic, not sure what to do next to make even more money, not sure what to do next to keep their shareholders holding shares, not sure what to do next to stay in business. I think such fear for one's very existence leads to shortsightedness, leads to blindness. But instead of turning to the people in their companies who have vision -- by virtue of their expansive knowledge of the world, their breadth of experience, their broad view of what's come before and what's happening right now -- instead of asking these people to help them see a clearer path to the future, corporations are ridding themselves of these people, to make way for people who are younger and who are, they think, besides being less expensive, quicker, sharper, more willing to bend and flex, more adept to embrace and manipulate the future.

But it seems to me these younger people, while definitely bright, eager and wide-eyed (which is what we want in young people!) are wandering around without guides to actually show them how to read the complex maps, to negotiate the terrain, to maneuver the pitfalls. So for all their wide-eyed enthusiasm and sharpness, these young people are themselves still blind. For corporations to calculatingly disallow those who would be mentors to contribute to opening the eyes of these young Turks is, in effect, a sure way for businesses to gouge out whatever eyesight they have left. Granted, we have to assume and hope that the younger generations will learn to see -- they always do -- but at what cost right now? And what, exactly, will these people be seeing when they don't have a clear view of how what came before matters, and so too, in what direction and to what end will these new corporate leaders actually lead our society?

I have to admit, I was never much for history in school and I was never much for sitting around listening to stories my grandparents told about the olden days. But in business, I was mentored in such a way that as a business executive, the mission came naturally to me to know what and who happened in the past and what the results were of such, in order to cultivate a long view for the future, to avoid the mistakes, to embrace the new, to stay sharp, to be flexible. I think there’s power in being able to flex between the past and the present, to stretch to the future. That’s called vision. How corporations have become so afraid of that sort of vision, so wary of the value of people with that vision, I don’t know. As far back as Homer, though, people in power have feared the visionary, the soothsayer. There are many who may well tell me to go back to reading my Homer and leave the matter of business to others now. Well, so be it. I’ll be the one downloading Homer onto my Smartphone, ok?

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Letting Go

Growing up in Manhattan, you don’t necessarily do things the way most people do. You don’t, for instance, learn how to drive by the time you’re 16. But you do learn how to trick-or-treat in apartment buildings and how to travel an intricate subway system. You don’t generally spend much time outdoors hiking or camping or sailing or skiing. And when you grow up in Manhattan being raised by older parents who are not athletic but who are artistic, you learn that spending time in museums, at the theatre, in bookstores, and in libraries is fulfilling and enriching. I grew up appreciating art and literature – enjoying the best of what our culture has to offer. I also grew up to be fearful. Fearful of the unfamiliar physical activities that were considered by my parents to be uncomfortable, unsettling, and, most importantly, dangerous. The words “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself” became a refrain to my life’s song. A refrain that was ever so soft at first, but reached a crescendo as I grew older.

Ironically enough, while most people would have been afraid to walk the streets of the upper west side in 1970s New York City, I was taking the public bus to school by myself by the time I was 7. The Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and my school marked the four corners of my personal map and the gridded concrete landscape of New York City felt completely safe and familiar to me. But launch me on a boat on the ocean? Stand me on skis at the top of a snowy hill? These unpredictable natural landscapes, with their promise of surprise, their promise of speed, their promise of having to use my body in concert with the geography itself to get where I wanted to go….oh no, these landscapes were absolutely terrifying to me! And the refrain “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself” roared in my ears.

Here’s the thing I have come to recognize about fear. Letting fear guide us is by far the surest way to hurt ourselves deeply and irrevocably. It’s infinitely worse for us emotionally and physically to allow fear to debilitate us than to try doing something that takes us out of our comfort zone. It weakens our spirit to remain immobile as life swirls by rather than trying to fly. By refusing to recognize and face our fears, we render ourselves sense-less, unable or unwilling to taste, see, hear, or touch whatever life has to offer. What better way to become more secure in ones own body and soul than to maneuver, adjust, and master all that is uncomfortable, unsettling and dangerous? And so I have begun to challenge myself and I keep getting back on boats and back on skis. I’m not wholly at ease on either yet, but these sports have opened new worlds – with each, I have cultivated new friends, new views, new direction, and truth be told, I thoroughly enjoy the rush. The rush – the soaring, the flying, the letting go – has begun to finally quiet the old refrain.

A new year often brings with it a sense of peace and comfort in continuity. If we let it, a new year can also bring the promise of surprise, the promise of the unexpected, the promise of trying something for the first time, the promise of letting go in order to see what’s around the next bend. How thrilling! How dangerous! And how necessary, so that we can keep growing in this life. In this new year, I’m going to sail a little further and sit on the low side when the boat begins to heel. In this new year, I’m going to ski a little faster and start at the top of a slightly steeper hill. And in this new year, I’m going to write of these things – to let go of the fear in order to embrace and share the rush that is life.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC