Updated: Mar 2
It is a wonderful thing to hear a common compliment. "You look nice today" or "This banana bread is amazing!" Often, we believe they are said out of politeness, a sort of social necessity. A currency, if you will, of kindness. And so in giving them, we expect to get them in return.
And then there are other compliments. Backhanded ones that your relatives offer up along with Christmas presents-- "I thought you could use some nice clothes. You're pretty, you just need to show it off." The ones that don't even bother trying in their banality-- "Great report, anyway..." and of course the false compliment where truth is scratching to get out-- "Oh! I LOVE that teal kitten sweatshirt! You know me so well!"
But there is another kind of compliment. A coveted and feared creature. It is what we strive to earn and yet, once we are faced with it, we become undeserving puddles without words to defend ourselves. I am speaking, of course, of the sincere compliment. The friend crying on the other end of the phone because she doesn't know what she would do without you to listen. The father in the parking lot with a dead car and a screaming toddler that you help with a jump and a juice box.
For a writer-- for any artist-- we may face this kind of appreciation for our work. And it starts with "you're so talented" evolves to "I think about it all the time" and ends with "you have the power to change people's lives." And that, my friends, is a big cookie. But it's also true.
We do have the power to change people's lives, to show them beauty, to peel back the gauze and expose the pain and also to show them a way out. I am not saying every work has the responsibility to heal the broken. Some things are made purely for escapism-- people need that, too. But every work has its own life and that life will mean different things to different people. Maybe they need to believe in love again-- if only in the borders of that painting. Maybe they need to see the plus-sized dancer as grace and beauty to bolster their own self-worth. Maybe they need to be scared by that horror flick because being scared is something and something is better than feeling nothing anymore.
The thing is, you don't know, can't know, how you will change someone. But all work-- all true art-- has that power. That is why a bard was honored and cherished, why paintings continues to inspire awe hundreds--even millions-- of years later, why musicians can raise bumps on your arms and send cold chills down your back without ever touching you. Art is a kind of magic. And it can change the world.