By Patricia Alexander

I think it’s fascinating to learn that fleas can actually be trained. 

Picture the little critters in a jar with a lid on it. At first, the fleas will jump up and down, bopping their heads on the lid. Ouch! Eventually, an interesting thing happens: They figure out they can avoid the pain if they just shorten their jump. Now the lid can be taken off because they’ll never try to leap so high again.

Sometimes we humans are just like those fleas. Many people think they can’t write because of some comment that made them feel criticized; usually, something said when they were young by a teacher, parent, sibling, or peer. That moment acts like that jar lid and causes pain. They decide they’re not writers and never will be – and they’ll never try again.

Having been a writer for over 45 years, I have been dismayed to learn that there are more people than we realize who have this poor self-esteem about their ability to write. All it takes is being criticized or teased, being a bad speller or somewhat dyslexic, knowing someone else who is obviously gifted, or just not having the patience to rewrite first drafts.

Besides being sensitive to comments, we are also affected by another dynamic. We are receiving a subtle but constant message from our culture that talent is innate and obvious and thus cannot be nurtured into blossoming. After all, aren’t we the society of instant everything? 

Even children have accepted this false premise that we must be instantly good at something to pursue it. As a child, my brother was clearly gifted as an artist, so I was teased about anything I tried to draw. I stopped drawing. Later in life, just out of curiosity, I got some instruction. I was delighted to learn I wasn’t bad, just slow.

Now think about seeds. Even smaller seeds can grow into a vibrant plant, given sunlight and water, an accomplishment we accept as the seed’s nature. I maintain that it’s not the size of the seed of talent in us when we start. Rather, it is accepting that humans are creative by nature. Just like seeds, we all house a divine spark that can blossom in surprising ways if nurtured – and not crushed by self-judgment. In the long run, it’s as Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Can you talk? Writing is the same as talking. Writing is simply words sculpted to a specific purpose and personality. It’s a process you learn and improve upon over time. However, that’s only if you can embrace of the excitement of learning and allowing that leads to growth.

We have all accepted lids in our lives. But when was the last time you checked to see if that lid was actually there? After all, we’re smarter than fleas. 

Aren’t we?

Patricia Alexander has led limited-attendance Writing Support Groups for decades. A local writer, editor, columnist. Patricia follows her passion to encourage and guide other writers. She welcomes your comments to PatriciaEmilyAlexander@gmail.com.

Getting through this together, Atascadero