Darien Gee (PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNIE TAO PHOTOGRAPHY FOR NHN)
Quote of the Week: “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.” Bob Ross
Writing Exercise of the Week: Write for 10 minutes about a time your name wasn’t on the list.
Does anyone remember Bob Ross, artist and host of the television show, “The Joy of Painting”? The show ran on PBS for more than 10 years. He taught viewers how to paint with oils, breaking down the process into easy-to-understand steps. In every show he offered words of simple wisdom, encouraging people to experiment and have fun. He used to say that there were no mistakes, only happy accidents. An errant streak across the canvas became a stream, a drop of yellow paint became a cluster of leaves dappled in sunlight.
There are plenty of happy accidents in Hawaii, too. I think of M. Puakea Nogelmeier, professor of Hawaiian Studies at UH-Manoa. He’s been championing efforts to digitize, translate and make accessible 125,000 pages from Hawaiian-language newspapers (nupepa) published between 1834 and 1948, more than a hundred newspapers in all. In addition to being fluent in Hawaiian, Puakea is a Hoku-award winning songwriter and kumu hula. Originally from San Francisco, he was a year out of college and on his way to Japan when he discovered he lost his wallet. He waited in Honolulu for money and his new identification to arrive, and ended up staying in Hawaii.
That was in 1973. And that lost wallet changed a lot of things, not only for Puakea, but for many of us who call Hawaii home and support the perpetuation of Hawaiian language and culture.
When we look at our lives through the lens of time and experience, we can see that something we once thought of as unfortunate or unlucky may have resulted in an outcome that we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Some of these stories are so incredible that when you tell someone, they don’t believe it. These stories have an element of magic to them—they’re almost mythic. They become stories you want to tell, over and over again. And what makes these stories so good is that they actually happened. They’re true.
The stories of our lives ask that we write them down so that we don’t forget. They ask that we appreciate each step of our journey, even the mistakes that haven’t yet been revealed as happy accidents. They ask that we share these stories with others, so people can find their own happy accidents, too.
Sound like a big task? Start small. Start with one memory, one story. Write it, refine it, let it sit for a bit and then come back to it. Tinker with it some more. Share it with someone close to you, someone you trust, and ask them what they liked, what confused them, what they want more of. Keep examining and polishing the piece until it shines and becomes something you’re proud of. From there you can go anywhere—give copies for friends and family, submit it to magazines or literary journals, use it as the jumping off point for a book-length memoir, or simply keep it to yourself.
Then write another one.
This fall Darien will be teaching memoir, writing and publishing classes through Waimea Community Education. Visit waimeaeducation.com for more information.
Darien Gee is a national bestselling author based in Waimea. Her most recent novel is The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. She also writes under the name Mia King. Visit her at dariengee.com or miaking.com. Enjoying the writing challenge? Submit your Writing Exercise of the Week to the North Hawaii News Facebook page.