Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Permission to collaborate

September 20, 2012

Lancia E. Smith

About the same time as the collaboration took place this past summer with Faye Hall and Malcolm Guite, another interesting development occurred.  Fellow photographer Margot Krebs Neale – whose beautiful photographs often accompany Malcolm’s posts on his website became inspired to try her hand at creating something sparked by those portraits. What Margot  did with of one of those images just blew me away. She titled it Ascension2, inspired by Malcolm’s sonnet Ascension Day. You can learn more about Margot here. I am moved by the beauty of this piece, the vision, the emotional and spiritual reality it portrays, and the fruit of creative inspiration it reflects. Thank you, Margot, for your courage and creative vision. 

Margot very sweetly mentioned in a message to me that she was reluctant to show me her creation until she saw me give permission to collaborate to Faye and then she felt less shy about approaching me with it. This incidence illustrates something that I believe is profoundly important in the life of creative experience. Permission.

Several years ago I read a book by Diana Pavlac Glyer that changed the way I see the creative process and even what it is to live among community at all. The brilliant book she wrote is The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien Writers in Community.  Of the many the things that I can say about this book, one of the most personally transforming for me is that through her chapter on Collaboration, Diana gave me something I had never ever experienced or even thought possible – the permission to create in tandem with others. That single chapter changed me and changed the way I relate to others as an artist and as a human being. I began to exercise steps of trust in others in areas that previously I have guarded fiercely — my work as a photographer and as a writer.

My entire upbringing, like that of so many others, led me to believe that any creativity worth regard was created in the vacuum of “originality” and any collaborating with others was in essence nothing more than cheating.  This perception isn’t really based on my own limited view of the word and its implications because one of the first definitions from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary for collaborate is “to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force”. The Oxford Dictionary is even more blunt with this “traitorous cooperation with an enemy: he faces charges of collaboration”. Traitorous cooperation with an enemy.   That is a perfect description of my unconscious belief about collaboration and it defined my behavior for decades as an artist. I worked alone and in a kind of creative silence. I looked out of a view through a shield of glass and never let a person come near my vision except my clients. It was a lonely enterprise on many levels. Diana’s wise and gracious words as a scholar also carried the touch of the Redeemer. While that idea germinated in me and began working its way through all my thinking processes I found my attitude toward others subtly and distinctly changing. The spirit of collaboration is profoundly modeled in Diana herself, in Malcolm Guite, in others I know who are part of that creative circle of scholars, and the steps to model that same pattern of giving were right before me when the request to share inspiration came first from Faye and then from Margot. When I could give the same permission that had been modeled and given to me I stepped into a larger and freer world. I say with some personal experience that it is true – who we become really is determined by the company we keep.

Latest news update: I have been recently asked if my portraits of Malcolm could be used by another artist as models for her work on developing portraits of the Apostle John.

Permission granted.


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  1. Nan Rinella says:

    If God—the Father Himself—would appear as a man, this is how I would see Him. Anyone who knows Malcolm and is blessed to “keep company” (as Diana Glyer would say) with him realizes they are in the company of a special soul—a man for all seasons. This image is incredible. Thanks Lancia, for sharing.

    Reading Diana’s book catapulted me out of a 4-year writing slump when I 1st read it in 2007 in preparation for the C.S. Lewis Foundation Summer conference in San Diego. It was her chapter on Resonators that so resonated with me. After 12 years serving on my writers organization board, I left to write. But life interfered, and the disappointment of not getting my book published left me totally discouraged. After reading the book I realized I couldn’t write without the encouragement of my fellow writers.

    Her book inspired me to speak on the subject to writers with her permission. I have just launched my new website and blog —Encouraging Writers to Soar with the Eagles. Diana’s influence is apparent and I will be writing more about what I learned and was encouraged by her book and knowing her.

    I now keep company with such encouragers as Lancia and Diana and I begun to soar.

  2. Margot Krebs Neale says:

    thoughts on the subject from Anaïs Nin
    “I always said I would like there to be a lot of good writers around; I would feel much better in a universe where there were a lot of good writers and a lot of articulate people. I like the creativity of other people. I felt that the more universal it was, the richer. I never thought of it in terms of competition. The word competition came out the other day. We never once in all our friendships – Durrell and Miller and I – thought in terms of competition. We thought simply of enriching each other or giving the other the sustenance he needed, but we also felt that we were giving to each other. There was no idea of competition. And today I would like to see marvellous women writers, more of them. I will encourage them, I will nurture them. To me that gives us strength. I don’t understand competition because I think it’s a weakening element. I feel stronger if there is another woman writing and sying things that I can believe in. I feel much stronger when you talk about things in a way that is perceptible to me and acceptable and eloquent. It enriches my world; I feel as if I’m receiving something.” Anaïs Nin “A Woman Speaks”

    What I like especially in this paragraph is “I will encourage them, I will nurture them” Often I find we are encouraged to compete, with other women especially, and yet our greatest pleasure is to be recognized by each other and find women who can be an inspiration and then to share how we do things well. I find few exchanges more rewarding.

  3. janis bonner says:

    Over the years, I have observed impoverishing absurdities such as the selfish copyrighting of quilt patterns that were hundreds of years old and claimed as “theirs”. While I more understand Lancia’s reservations and rights, it is of a very public face resulting from a communal life.

    Twenty years or so ago Tom Paxton gave a songwriting workshop at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Following, there was extensive sharing by the attendees on limiting use and retainining exclusivity to songs. When an attendee finally asked Paxton’s thoughts, he replied, “I always thought it was cool when other people sing my songs.”

    Thanks for being “cool” Lancia.

  4. Margot Krebs Neale says:

    Janis’comment reminded me of One of Woody Guthrie’s “Copyright Warnings” included on his recordings in the ealry 40′s.

    “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”
    On the other hand, I have changed the tone of Lancia’s wonderful portrait and had she disliked what I did, I really think I would owe it to her not to keep it.

  5. Lancia – what an exquisite image Margot created – truly a juxtaposition of the ethereal and worldly as it captures my imagination.

    And what an exquisite sharing you have done about the gifting of collaboration as we share our gifts in tandem with others, literally.

    I have come from a somewhat different background with my writing – always collaborating with others during my years of writing during my teaching career except for one state project where I went solo.

    Now in retirement years I find myself solo in my efforts. I am feeling that, although my efforts are solo and done in isolation, when they are shared and infuse encouragement in to the lives of my readers ( who live with chronic pain and/or illness ), then the collaboration is completed in a differing form.

    Beautiful post. Thank you!


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