Is anybody watching?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to consider audience, and to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character.

I have always considered audience important for children’s writing. Too often in school, writing is done simply for the teacher, to complete an exercise. It is read and marked (corrected) without any real concern for the writer and the writer’s purpose. That’s if, in fact, there was a purpose other than to complete the task set by the teacher.

However, it is possible to give children in school a sense of audience. They can write for the class as an audience, “publishing” their work to place in the book corner for independent self-selected reading. They can write for parents or other relatives and friends to mark special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Christmas and Easter. They can write for younger siblings or buddies. Letters can be written to residents in nursing homes, characters in books, the principal, politicians, and the local newspaper. Diaries can be written and shared with teachers. Audiences can be found everywhere.

But an audience is not essential for every piece of writing. Sometimes we write just for ourselves. Sometimes even we are not an audience for our writing; when it is simply the act of writing, of expressing our thoughts that is important. Express, understand, release.  That can be all there is.

While I think this is less so for young children, as they move towards double figures they may like to have a private lockable diary in which to confide. As you would wish your privacy to be respected, so should theirs. This is not true for their online communication though.

There is the lovely saying  that includes the words “Dance like there’s nobody watching” and “Sing like there’s nobody listening”. The words are meant to be encouraging: “It doesn’t matter if you suck at it, just do it anyway.” I wonder why it doesn’t include the words:  “Write like there’s nobody reading.” Would you? Do you?

Recently I admired and envied my 5-year-old granddaughter’s uninhibited self-expression as she sang and danced her way through the shopping centre. She didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. She was in the moment, in flow, sharing her joy in simply being. This is not a characteristic unique to my granddaughter. I have observed the same exuberance in other children.

Most often the children’s behaviour draws smiles from passing adults; but what would the reaction be if it were an adult singing and dancing through the shopping centre? The occurrence, at least with such enthusiasm, is much less common. Breaking into song and dance may seem normal in musicals but doesn’t generally happen in real life.

How would you respond? Would you smile, ignore, or hasten away?

I was fascinated by some videos I came across when I Googled “Dance like nobody’s watching”. Here’s one:

Children seem to vacillate through stages of “Watch me!” and “Don’t look at me!”, from pride to embarrassment.

I think it is that embarrassment that kicks in with writing, as it does with most other things. We learn to compare ourselves with others, and generally find ourselves lacking,  If only we realised those “more confident” others probably feel the same.

Or we might be reluctant to share out of fear of what others may think? Elizabeth Gilbert makes a good point in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She says,

“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” 

Gilbert says that we shouldn’t take “art” too seriously and quotes Tom Waits who once told her:

 “You know, artists—we take it so seriously. And we get so freaked out about it, and we think that what we’re doing is so deadly important. But really, as a songwriter, the only thing I do is make jewelry for the inside of people’s minds. That’s it.”

 

I shared Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk Your elusive creative genius in a previous post Whose idea is it anyway? over three years ago, but it is worth sharing again. With over 12 million views, I know I’m not the only one to find it worthy.

 

So, I’ve gone from audience to creativity. But what is creativity for, if not for audience? If your writing or artwork is not created to share with an audience; is the lack of an audience still uppermost in your mind as you create? Audience or no audience, self or other, how does it influence the process and product? Can you sing or dance without an audience, at least of self?

For my flash story, I’m going back to the carefree days of childhood when life was fun and there was not a care in the world, and you danced and sang, whether anyone was watching or not. Really?

The joy of childhood

The cool grass teased her toes and the breeze tugged at her skirt, begging her to dance. She flung wide her arms to embrace the world as she lifted her face to the skies.  They smiled approval and she began to sway. Her fingertips tingled with expectation as her gentle hum intensified, summoning the music of the spheres to play for her. And play they did. She twirled and swirled to their rhythm singing her own melody in perfect harmony. Suddenly she was done. She clapped her hands to silence the orchestra and went back to her sandpit friends.

Thank you for being my audience. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

42 thoughts on “Is anybody watching?

  1. Christy B

    Hi Norah, your flash piece takes us back to carefree days! It’s true that we start to compare ourselves to others and assume everyone else is confident.. Let’s let loose and smile more 🙂 Hugs

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  2. roughwighting

    I love this post for so many reasons. A friend recently gifted me with a silver bracelet that is engraved with the words: “Dance like no one is watching.” It’s perfect for me, because I dance while waiting in line at the grocery store, at the café, in the dentist’s office. I just don’t care about the stares! I look like a ‘normal’ middle-aged woman, but by gosh, I love to feel the music in my head, to dance to life, to every moment of joy that can be grasped. I kinda feel like – ‘so there’ to those who disapprove. I got braver doing this when I became a grandmother and watched my grandkids do exactly as you show your granddaughter do. And they have so much freedom and fun. Your flash fiction illustrates that fun and freedom – now next time, write about a GROWN UP doing that — hopefully yourself. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Awesome, Pam. Thanks so much for sharing your story and exuberance. I guess we grandparents have earned the right to choose. We’ve proven to ourselves that there was never anything to prove anyway. Just feel the beat and move! 🙂

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  3. Pingback: Who Gives Audience? « Carrot Ranch Communications

  4. Hugh's Views and News

    Loved the piece of flash fiction, Norah. Not a care in the world and enjoying life to the full. As adults, we should all take a leaf out of that child’s book.
    Loved the video of the young woman dancing at the airport. I wondered why hardly anybody took any notice of her and then thought to myself that if I had been in that queue I’d have probably done the same as most of the rest of the people – pretend it was not really happening.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Hugh. I appreciate your kind words about my flash. There are a few of us who have questioned the disengaged “audience” at the airport. I think I couldn’t have stopped myself watching. And wondering. And probably admiring. 🙂

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  5. Charli Mills

    Oh, Norah, your last line in your flash captures what I hope every child could learn and every adult remember! Thank you for such a thoughtful pursuit of audience and creativity. I enjoyed the airport dance and began question the disengaged audience. But that was the point — dance regardless of the reaction of your audience, and reinforced by Elizabeth Gilbert’s terrific quote. I’ll be back to listen to her TedTalk. Great flash Norah. It will make a good lead this week!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your generous comment, Charli. It surprises me and gives me great pleasure knowing that my writing could evoke your response.
      I wonder about the disengaged audience too. Could it have been a set up? I thought more people would have at least stared at someone “being a fool” even if they didn’t watch for enjoyment. Thank you for choosing my piece to lead the compilation. What an honour.

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      1. Charli Mills

        Some cultures are like that. If people think it’s embarrassing behavior, they’ll ignore it. Which may be why it’s hard to dance like no one’s looking because really it means we find such displays inappropriate. Ah, freedom from such constraints is what we need.

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  6. macjam47

    A fantastic post, Norah. I love how young children have no fear of singing, dancing, or acting silly. I watch in admiration as my young granddaughter dances and sings her way through just about every day, or the way she tells a story and laughs hysterically at her own words. If only we could remain so free.

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  7. Allison Maruska

    What a wonderful, carefree flash piece! Well done. 🙂

    When I was teaching, most of the students’ writing was “unpublished”, but every fifth writing day, they would choose something from their archives and publish it. That meant it was revised, buddy critiqued, illustrated, hung on the wall, and perhaps read to the class. It was a favorite activity every year.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Allison. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. I’m pleased your students got to polish and publish a piece of writing of their own choice. I can understand it being a favourite activity.

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  8. dgkaye

    Fantastic post Norah. I think the innocence of a child allows them the freedom to demonstrate their feelings with no inhibitions. Quite possible it’s when they’ve been reprimanded for outbursts of such behavior or worse, ridiculed is when they learn to clam up and embarrassment can turn them shy. There’s always a reaction for every reaction. Kids are molded by their surroundings. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      That children are molded by their surrounding is very true, Debby. It is sad to see children being reprimanded for just being children. I must admit I sometimes have to stop myself too, but the kids soon let me know that they can do whatever it is. Last night when I was out with my two grandkids we were walking along the footpath back to the carpark; she (5) was singing and dancing, he (7) was throwing his hat as high as he could and trying to catch it on his head. Not a care in the world. Not a thought about whether anyone was watching, or wanting to get past. It was a good reminder to me to let them be. Such joyful abandon, and in the moment – no inhibitions. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank for stopping by, Patricia. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post and that it gave you food for thought. I’m not surprised you love Elizabeth Gilbert too. 🙂

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  9. robbiesinspiration

    I loved this post, Norah. It reminded me of my own childhood. I used to write plays for my class, cast my friends in the play (with myself as the lead role of course) and proceed to persuade my teacher to let us perform for the class. It was such fun and I had no inhibitions then. These come as you go through life and are often made to feel as if you don’t measure up on certain fronts such as looks, figure, intelligence. Which we could retain the childish joy and abandonment. I loved your flash fiction.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Robbie. Writing and performing plays was always such fun. And we were so clever, weren’t we? It would be great to retain that joy of childhood.

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  10. Sherri Matthews

    Oh what a delightful flash, I was right there with that little girl, lost in her carefree dance, oblivious to what anybody else thought, caught up in that deliciously free moment. I love dancing and find it as freeing now as I did then…and I’ve reached that great stage in life wehre I definitely don’t care whose watching, which is just as well lol! 😀 I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote. I really must read ‘Magic’… Loved the young woman in the video clip too…you go girl I want to say! If I had been there, I would have joined her! But..what a great point you make about audience. Too often, once we lose that glorious inhibition of childhood and become so self-aware to embarrassment and lack of confidence, it all changes doesn’t it? I wish more people could lighten up and just enjoy life for what it is. Like your granddaughter in the shopping aisle, like all children before it’s squashed out of them. Lovely post, thank you Norah…and I have bookmarked it to return to the TED EG talk… 🙂 ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing, Sherri, leading us in dance through your wonderful thoughts. I wonder why the woman in the airport got few looks. Was it because no one else could hear the music? Flash crowds seem to draw an audience. I’m not sure why this video, and others by the same group didn’t. Could it have been set up? Interesting anyway. If we were to meet in an airport, we could dance and start our own flash crowd. Maybe that should happen at the bloggers bash. A few years ago there was an ad here for the Surface and people were dancing everywhere, opening and closing their surface tablets. Maybe you could all tap away with your pencils and notebooks, iPads, and laptops. What a fun experiment it would be! Here’s a link to one of the ads. I can just picture you all doing it. LOL

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  11. jeanne229

    Wonderful post Norah. You captured perfectly those conflicting impulses of a young child, to be seen and appreciated and to be left to the privacy of her own world. And loved the EG quote. That’s perfect! Will make sure I watch the video today. As for the flash, it took me back to that carefree, joyful time before the world got so big and complicated. I feel like finding a patch of grass to dance on this morning. Thank you.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Jeanne, Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m pleased the post resonated with you. I hope you got to feel the softness of the grass between your toes! Enjoy!

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  12. Steven

    Okay Norah a fascinating read but I sense that you’re holding back. I think there is something you really have to tell us. So what was it like in that shopping centre when you danced and sang away, trailing behind your granddaughter?

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. ksbeth

    what a wonderful post, norah. i agree with all of this. sometimes the audience is just your own heart or mind. when working with my pre-k’s and kinders, we talk about writing/performing for others, like when we make 3 little pigs pictures and invite 6 year olds to come and watch us show and tell the story, or when they draw a picture and tell me about what they drew so i can write the words for them. other times it is just because they want to express themselves, and get something down on paper or do something like spinning. sometimes they want to show me what they’ve done and other times they tuck them away in their bags, happy to have done what they wanted to do. p.s. i loved the elizabeth gilbert book about creativity, too –

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Beth, Thanks so much for your comment. I knew you’d agree, and appreciate the additional wisdom you brought to the post by sharing your experiences. We can learn a lot by observing little ones, can’t we. I’m pleased you enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s book too. I recommended it to another friend today. 🙂

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  14. Annecdotist

    I love this thoughtful post, Norah, and your joyful flash. The quote from Elizabeth Gilbert made me smile, but I’ll have to come back to her TED talk when I’ve got more time. I did admire the young woman dancing at the airport, but note that she did create an audience – even if postponed to some future point in time – by filming herself. I wonder if that hardly gave her the confidence to do it.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Anne. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post, and got a smile from Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote. I think ignoring the vitriol is sometimes easier said than done. Like you, I think the woman was dancing for an audience, even if a delayed one. I wonder if she got the permission of the bystanders before uploading it.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your comment, the long and the short of it, Pauline. I’m so disappointed WP was feeling hungry today. I’m grateful for your short response though, and am pleased you enjoyed the post and story.

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