Pretty (a rose is a rose is a buttercup).

One of my professors in grad school told an anecdote that I’ll paraphrase. Something like this:

People ask me all the time, ‘so what are you working on?’ I tell them “I teach."

They say ‘yeah, but what are you working on?’

I say ‘I teach.’

And they still don’t get it. They wanna know ‘…but what are you working on of your own?
You writing your own music, working on a book, what’s your thing?’

I say ‘I teach.’
That’s my thing.
I teach. I teach and I learn.

I learned a great deal from him about the creative process, about education, about teaching, and about a spirit of humility and suppression of ego coupled with confidence and irrepressible curiosity to learn alongside students.


We were visiting my parents recently and my mom, as we were walking outside their house, took a deep breath, big smile, looked around, and said, “I love these flowers! I love coming home and seeing them in full bloom!”

I like flowers. They’re pretty. I know the difference between a daisy and a buttercup, and I can usually tell the difference between a rose and a geranium, and perhaps on a good day I could spot the variances between a tulip and a sunflower…but I am not well versed in the growing, caring of, and farming of flowers as a creative discipline or art form. I like pretty flowers, but I don’t consciously acknowledge them a lot of the time.

I’d like to do better. As I slowed down outside my parents’ house and started to yes, literally stop to smell the roses. Roses? Flowers of all types, I gained a growing recognition of this as one of my mom’s creative outlets.

Sue Long at Oceanside Beach on a sunny summer afternoon

She has spent a lifetime enabling others. Enabling in the strongest, best, most positive sense possible. Enabling others to pursue their passions, dreams, callings, paths. She has helped open small doors and big ones, sometimes with a quiet nudge, other time with a splintering kick. And doing so in a way, under the radar, that has enabled others to become empowered; to not simply have something done for them, but to build a deep-rooted confidence that they are capable and they have someone who believes in them.

I know this is true because I have been a beneficiary of this support for, let’s see, I am…42 years old, so I guess for around four decades and change. I have seen her support and enable the dreams and pursuits of many others along the way, across a variety of disciplines.

As I watched the pride - or perhaps a simple joy - she took in absorbing the beauty of her flowers, I was chagrined to realize the many years I’ve spent with so many beautiful things off my radar.

I kind of prefer the word pretty sometimes. Pretty things that I take for granted. Like flowers. The little ways that people add prettiness to the world and rarely hear anything. Only the very strongest and most self-absorbed artists are able to create with no need for an audience. I’ve been writing, shooting, drawing, making pretty content for small audiences for quite some time now. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t care about having an audience. I do. I want to share what I do and to hear back from people when they’re moved by something I’ve created.


And then I look at a flower. A flower that I generically refer to as a flower because right now I don’t know any better, like listening to Verdi and Mozart back to back and lumping them into the catchall of ‘opera,’ or listening to LCD Soundsystem and Sia back to back and lumping them into the catchall of ‘alternative rock,’ or reading A Gentleman in Moscow and The Notebook and lumping them into the catchall of ‘novels,’ or watching The Walking Dead and Fuller House and lumping them into the catchall of ‘television shows.’

Lumping things into categories that make it easier for us to categorize or understand…but that don’t quite honor to the individual beauty of each part.

I look at a flower and realize I want to know more. Some of you might laugh and think it’s ridiculous that I don’t know more about flowers. There’s other areas I know a not-insignificant portion about in certain areas, within certain fields, such as pockets of literature, art, film, music, design, and history. Each of those disciplines has added beauty and understanding to the world in a variety of forms within their genres.

I look at a person like my old professor, a person like my mom, a person who has spent a lifetime encouraging, enabling, and helping drive others to success in their worlds. That help may sometimes be accompanied by thank you’s and meaningful gratitude, and is probably often not. But they are driven to give their support because it’s what they do. What they’ve chosen to do.

They have chosen paths that have helped them elevate others; push and prod and bring the best out of people so they can bring more prettiness into the world. They have prioritized the achievements and success of others in the creative realms over their own, despite possessing the skill and talent to do so themselves.


When I look at the small ways that my mom’s creative outlets have sprung forth quietly - her own writing in the form of a quiet little occasional blog, and…her flowers…

…I am reminded deeply of the importance of taking time to do a couple things:

  1. Artists, creatives, people in general, everyone: show gratitude. Say it. Express it. Mean it. Don’t just think it. You have not done what you’ve done purely and entirely on your own. You haven’t. Whatever level of success you have found in your field, at least part of it is due to people like my old teacher and like my mom who have helped open doors, encourage, and enable. Say thank you in the best ways you’re able to. And honor their support by not giving up and keeping the cycle of encouragement going.

  2. Look for ways that people make the world pretty that may be off your radar. Learn a little more about it. At least learn enough to acknowledge and to say thank you. Next time you’re at a little bakery, take thirty extra seconds to savor those last bites and come up with a couple specific words to articulate your pleasure to the creator. Look for people who make the world pretty…and let them know you appreciate what they do. It means something.

  3. Remember that teachers, professors, and those who enable - in the above manner - are ultimately some of the most creative people you will ever know. It means something to take an extra minute here and there to acknowledge their creativity, especially when it’s buried underneath the commitment they’ve made to helping others in their areas. They have achieved success in not merely a single field or two. They have found imaginative and innovative ways to help others become the best, most creative versions of themselves possible. That is not just beautiful. It’s pretty.

Thanks for the flowers, mom. Super pretty.