Two summers ago, and at the recommendation of a children’s author/illustrator friend, I read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. The book comprises letters to and from heralded children’s editor Ursula Nordstrom, including exchanges of such famed children’s authors and illustrators as Maurice Sendak, E. B. White and Margaret Wise Brown. For anyone wishing insight into the children’s publishing business, this is a read well worth your time.
The publishing industry has changed greatly since Ursula Nordstrom’s day. If she were alive to witness it, she might not recognize the business in which she once thrived. In many ways, the book is a history lesson in what once was. It did cause me to be wistful about, even envious of, the way things used to be. But it also inspired me to believe in what still could be. I made an emotional, if not visceral, connection with all of the people involved in the book and felt that, if given a chance, I could easily sit in the same room with them and that we would enjoy one another’s company. Though some of them are no longer alive, we are all cut from a similar cloth, in many ways. Anyone with a heart to create is, and we all have a little of that in us. It’s just a matter of how much attention we give it. There are seasons in our lives when we have that luxury to create more than at other times. The chance to create is pure blessing, no matter what stage in our lives it happens.
And that’s why this quote (below) jumped out at me and has become one of my favorites. I first read it in the Nordstrom book, and if I remember correctly, it was found, perhaps after her death, in her purse or billfold — somewhere where she could look at it often to be reminded of its wisdom and be inspired, both personally as well as to inspire others. She’d made a note of its source: Dance to the Piper by Agnes de Mille. Recently, I came upon the quote again, in the May/June newsletter, Bulletin, put out bi-monthly by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. I was so happy to see it again in print; it made me smile. Obviously, Ursula Nordstrom and I are not the only ones to have been affected by these inspiring words. In this reference, the quote is attributed to Martha Graham, dancer/choreographer (1894-1991), which makes me wonder if the de Mille quote is a reference to Graham’s words. I assume as much. Regardless, Graham’s words, which de Mille borrowed in her work, are worth sharing again and again. I hope you will absorb them and hold them close as I have in the past couple years. If you’ve ever aspired to create, or felt the need for more inspiration to do so or continue doing so, look no longer. Read the words, take them into your heart, and of course, follow through. If you do, the world will change. It will become a better place because of your efforts, which you alone can summon.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and and directly, to keep the channel open.” — Martha Graham