There is a Chinese legend about a red thread.
The legend says that the gods tie red strings around the ankles of those who are supposed to meet. Typically it involves lovers. However, the China adoption community has adapted this legend to refer to the fateful connection parents have with their adopted children.
As the father of two daughters from Southern China, I’ve been very familiar with this metaphor for years. And I find it quite beautiful.
I grew up in Dalton, a small town in the northwest corner of Georgia. It’s highly likely the carpet under your feet right now was made in my home town. To this day, the city touts itself (love it or hate it) as the Carpet Capital of the World.
As you might imagine, the story of Dalton (and carpet) is a story of threads. Dalton first came to “fame” through the peacock quilts women hand-made and hung along Highway 41. It was known as Peacock Alley to travelers and Florida-bound vacationers.
A common metaphor for life is a path. We talk about life as something we travel. We speak of journeys. We debate decisions as if they are forks in a road.
But are they? Or is this the best we have come up with so far given the limits of language?
Georgia-born author, Alice Walker, wrote one of the best short stories I’ve read in my life. It’s called Everyday Use.
It’s a story of generations, the stories we tell and our relationship with our heritage (psst…think roots or root notes), for better or worse. And it centers around two quilts that contain family garments that date back to the Civil War. Dee, the daughter, sees the quilts as historic treasures to be preserved and presented. Mama and Dee’s sister, Maggie, see the quilts as items for everyday use.
To me, my life looks a lot more like a patchwork quilt than a path. It’s made up of many paths, many places and people, many personas and roles, and many projects. All stitched together by the threads of memory that wear and tear with time.
Woven in each writer’s body of work is a thread—a theme the writer spends a significant amount of time exploring. It’s much like how each chord, no matter how complex, is held together by a root note.
A very popular author/blogger in the business and marketing world, named Seth Godin, has written a string of bestsellers. He has been responsible for coining many new phrases and frameworks used to this day. For years, his readers have marveled at how he keeps coming up with one “big idea” after another.
Yet a single thread is woven through all his books: the remarkable power of permission.
One of my favorite poets and essayists, Gary Snyder, has a thread woven throughout his body of work: the voice of nature in a human-dominated world.
A friend of mine, who has emerged in the past couple of years a successful author and blogger, has a single thread weaving together all his work: overcoming fear. The more I read his work and chat with him, the more I see how his story of overcoming fear fuels his passion to help others do the same.
Another friend of mine is just beginning his literary journey in the shadows of a successful career as a musician and songwriter. One of the most exciting things to me as I read his work (and chat with him) is watching for the thread. And eventually celebrating its emergence as he hones his craft.
I began writing creatively in 1991 and professionally in 1994. But, believe it or not, last year was the first time the thread connecting all my writing (from poetry to narrative nonfiction to marketing thought leadership) came to the surface for me.
I write about our search for identity.
What about you? What thread (or root note) connects everything you’re doing creatively and professionally?
I promise you it’s there. In your poems. In your songs. In your plots and characters. In your essays. In your conversations. In your thoughts.
It is even in the items you use in your everyday life. You acquired them because of the stories you tell yourself about who you are and how these things support who you are (or hope to be).
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on January 13, 2013.