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Non-Career Advice: Dale Megan Healey.

Non-Career Advice is a series that asks people - young, old, and in a range of occupations - for words of wisdom unrelated to work, career-building, dollars, or getting ahead.

Also: Teacher / observer / rescuer of cats  
Age: 29

Pay attention to what glows, even if it seems irrelevant. A few years ago, I set out to write a memoir about losing my mother. But I felt trapped in the subject matter.  As a writer, it’s good to immerse yourself in the topic you’re writing about, but I was both interested in my grief and consumed by it. So I began to write about art instead-- performance art specifically -- as a way to write about something fun for a change, and to prove to myself that I was not entirely defined by this loss.

I wrote about an artist who stalked strangers, an artist who put a frame around a piece of the sky, and an artist who crawled across the city on his hands and knees. These pieces glowed to me, and I found myself drifting towards them without knowing why. I liked art that I didn’t understand, or that made me think, “Why would someone do that?” I liked art that made me doubt it was even art--that looked more like a personal transformation, and not necessarily something made for an audience. But no matter where I pointed my gaze everything was still colored by grief.

I was frustrated at first, but looking back, this shaped me into the kind of writer that I am today. It was a triumph when I learned to write about something without mentioning my mother, and to stop using her death as a kind of barometer of meaning. Sometimes looking away from something helps me to see it clearer.

My project is still about my mother -- it’s a collection on searching for personal rituals in art and performance, amid reflections on how my relationship with her continues to evolve even though she’s gone. At first people thought I was crazy for making connections between my mother and these odd pieces of experiential art (and honestly, much of the early writing was bad). I knew there was a connection, though. I just had to write through the uncertainty to find out what it was.

Thanks so much, Megan. I love the idea of finding inspiration (and a voice) in unexpected places. And I love the reminder, too, that personal lives and creative interests can overlap in ways that surprise, enlighten, and elevate. More from the Non-Career Advice series, here.

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