Of rainbow nails and unlocked doors

rainbow-nailsI was at my friend Cathy’s house for an overnight brainstorming session about the new blogging series we are putting together for Inkwell Basics.

Between work sessions (okay, fine, and drooling over boys in movies, and eating tiramisu, and playing with her hilarious cats), we ventured into town, where she spotted some funky nail polish that was on sale. She doesn’t get to mix it up very often because she has a top-level day job in which order and corporate dress are the law, but she felt the urge and scooped them up anyway.

When we got back to her place, she sampled it all by painting one nail in each color — blue, green, yellow, everything she’d bought.

She gave a pleased smile and mused, “You know, there’s just something so freeing about having rainbow-painted nails.”

On the way out of town, I stopped back at the shop she’d found them at and bought one of each myself.  Her comment and smile were a pleasant temptation, and I haven’t bought anything but Grownup Red and Look-I’m-Professional Pink in a long dang time.

A few days later, I did the same thing she had done; I got out all my new cosmetic toys and painted each nail a different color. I used a grapey purple, a goldenrod yellow, an amazing orange-red that would make Crayola proud, a deep oceanic blue, and the palest of kelly greens.

I walked around with them like that for a few days, and she was right. They did make me smile every time I looked down, because they brought back memories of a fun weekend.

But it wasn’t because of freedom. It had nothing to do with originality.

It wasn’t even exerting my own individualism; I was just parroting her.

The whimsy was gone. Idea was just stale.


New story.

I was getting together with one of my favorite combination of friends at Eileen’s house. (They’re hilarious, but that’s a long story I’ll tell you some other day.)  On her property there is an external building which her husband uses as an office, and our plan was to commandeer it for the evening to tell goofy, possibly off-color stories to each other and commiserate about womanhood and life in general.

We stood on the deck of the office and waited to get in. Eileen fumbled with the keys and was having visible trouble getting the door to open.  She said, “This lock is funny.  Sometimes it just doesn’t want to click in. You have to do it just right.”

We were about to give up and go elsewhere. It just wasn’t working.

Loving a challenge, and in a natural fit of ego, I said, “Ooh, I want to try!”

Everyone else joined in. “Yeah, let me see,” and “Hand those over.”

I was standing at the back of the group, so I waited my turn. After everyone else had tried and been unable to get the door to cooperate, I reached for the keys.

Somebody laughed, “Yeah, watch her get it on the first try.”

I looked at the keys and had a gut feeling. (I wish I could say I’m a genius and figured it out, but it really was just intuition.)

Without having tried it yet, I looked at Eileen and asked, “Hey, are you sure this is the right key?”

Her expression of frustration instantly melted into an eyeroll, and she grabbed the keys back out of my hand.  “Oh, my goodness. Are you kidding me?! Here, try this one.”

Bingo bango.

We laughed about it over wine for the rest of the night.


Here’s my point.

I’m not tooting my own horn here. Again, the key thing was a silly guess. But I’m asking: Which story resulted in my feeling the most personal satisfaction, do you think?

I’m not sorry I bought the nail polish, and it did preserve a happy, positive memory.  But it didn’t have my own internal meaning of freedom or uniqueness — it was Cathy’s mojo that I’d borrowed.

Turns out you can’t take someone else’s inspiration and retrofit it to yourself.

Can you be moved by it?  Sure. Can it springboard your own ideas, momentum, or thought patterns?  Of course.

But in that one, singular moment wherein you decide to keep with the routine or break out of your mold, copying someone else’s pre-observed breakthrough just isn’t going to bring you the same level of creative satisfaction.

No, I know Cathy’s not the first person to paint her nails with random colors. And no, my fitting a key into a lock after a five-minute delay isn’t going to change the world.

But in art — and writing is art — you have to watch for your own what-ifs and intuitions, not copy someone one else’s. It’s the same deal.

That’s where creation and power are born.

Don’t look at Harry Potter and think, “Oh, I want to make THAT.”

She’s already done it. It’s complete. It’s out there, it’s hers, and everyone already knows about it.

You can never be someone else.

You have to be you.

Listen to your gut, and mine it for ideas.

Write your own book, and watch it turn into Percy Jackson. Or Hunger Games. Or Twilight. (Go ahead and insert your own mental jabs at it here, but you can’t tell me that book didn’t sell like hotcakes or affect a giant mob of teenagers.) Those are all aimed at the same audience, sold next to each other in every major bookstore, and stories with unique spins on things that hadn’t been published in those particular ways before.

They each have a different voice.  They each take a different gamble.  They looked over the same terrifying cliff of public opinion, and leaped separately.

Marketers and businessmen look around at each other and leap together, trying to stay in front of burgeoning trends and recent advancements in profitability. “Are you going?”  “Okay, ready?”  “Teenagers like XYZ?  How are we going to get in on that?”

Artists, though — and that’s what you are, even if you’re a commercial artist — move people.

They move people.

They don’t copy them.

Don’t try to spy on all the good answers from your classmates’ papers.

Those aren’t your answers.

Those are just drugstore nail colors you’ve seen on the tips of someone else’s hands.

They don’t open a single door.


(Image credit.)

2 Responses to “Of rainbow nails and unlocked doors”

  1. Eileen Nomran says:

    Well done. Try another key……good advice……good metaphor.

    But no more blogging about the HO HO HO’s!

    • Tracy Lucas says:

      I make no such promise. You guys are too much fun.
      It’s bound to happen again sometime… but I’ll keep the best stuff to myself. 😉

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