Albert Flynn DeSilver on allowing women to positively influence your life.
A good man is only as good as the degree of influence he allows into his life from good women. And by good, I mean positive, understanding, loving, creative.
As a writer, teacher, and speaker, if I am honest with myself and look at those major transition points in my life, those thresholds of transformation, when I have evolved from one slippery rung on the ladder of life to the next, women have been there as models, support, creative presence, inspiration. I seem to naturally gravitate toward working and being with women. Maybe because I grew up with two awesome sisters. Or maybe it was the influence of my mother; no matter how emotionally distant in some ways, she was a dynamic, smart, and hilarious story-teller, a voracious reader, and always the life of the party.
Women as peers and colleagues
I spent my junior year of college in East Africa through the School for International Training. Twelve women and two guys. I was more influenced by a pervading feminine sensibility of inclusion, creativity, and emotional openness than I might have been had there been more men. Whether it was my fellow students imploring me to read Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, or our leader Cindy directing me a to a gallery show in downtown Nairobi of photographs by the great photo journalists Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, our leader and guide Cindy led with an air of fearlessness and confidence, with a gentle curiosity. She seemed so at home in what appeared to me at first to be an extremely exotic, and even threatening environment. She modeled a cool and joyous toughness alongside a sweet and open vulnerability.
After I graduated from the Art Institute, I began to let go of photography and started writing in earnest. I connected with the California Poets in the Schools program. Most of my colleagues in the North Bay area were (and are) women. Again, the main influence was an open emotionality, a feeling-based creativity— as opposed to a knowledge-based creativity— that influenced and inspired. When I stated speaking and teaching professionally and was drawn to putting on large scale events for writers, who did I gravitate towards? Women. Anne Waldman, Maxine Hong Kingston, Kay Ryan, Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s not that I have anything against men, but there is much about the feminine sensibility that seems more immediately connected to creativity, emotional expression, and vulnerability, that as a man I feel I could use more of, that all of us men could use more of.
The raw imaginative emotionality of the female spirit
Many years ago when I was still a youngish poet I was invited to read poems in Paris with the brilliant New York School poet Alice Notley at a bookstore in the Marais called “The Red Wheelbarrow.” This charming little bookstore crammed with writing fans was named after a poem by one of my favorite poets of all time, William Carlos Williams. I was so nervous I thought I’d pass out and have to be carried off in a red wheelbarrow, but Alice put me at ease, being so emotionally astute and radiant in her reading, the whole store was beaming.
When I was sworn in as the very first Poet Laureate of my county, I read an extraordinary poem by one of our fourth grade CPITS students named Caroline who wrote about Turquoise laughter and whispering in a dragonfly’s ear, about a poet weaving her story on a loom of sawdust. I was floored once again by the raw imaginative emotionality of the female spirit. This is a spirit I find is often dormant, uncultivated, and largely uncelebrated in our culture by and for men.
In March of 2015 I found myself in Maui Hawaii teaching with one of America’s truly magnificent, clear-minded, intelligent, and generous-of-spirit writers and teachers, Cheryl Strayed. It was such a pleasure to be in the presence of a creative writer who was so genuine, so authentic, so in touch with the reality of truth with a capital T. What can we learn from women of such authentic imaginative power?
What women writers have taught me
The common thread here is women: the power of teaching, reading, and writing along side women. There is a power to the feminine sensibility that I’ve always been drawn to, a more peaceful and compassionate approach to the world that has inspired me and strengthened my masculinity and broadened my sense of what it means to be a man. Also, an open emotionality which is the gateway to creativity. I have grown to realize that there is nothing more cowardly for a man to do than deny, or avoid, or refuse to take responsibility for his emotions. Emotional awareness in the male species is what we need more than ever in this world. That fact that a lot of men are scared of showing vulnerability and even sensitivity says a lot about the outward expressions of violence in our world.
I think all of us can benefit from the question: What can you learn from the women in your life, how does it influence your writing and creativity? I’d love to know.
Photo credit: Getty Images