versions

Every day I wake up as a new version of myself. Every time I do something again (brush my teeth, read a book, go to work, cook, have a conversation, write), I do it as a different version of myself. We spiral around our lives, accruing experience and knowledge even as we pass the same landmarks. We change. This affects the creative process.

Creating something is like traveling a spiral within a spiral, following the journey of a work of art within the journey of our lives. Right and wrong can be burdensome measurements of that progress, particularly since we often seem to consider there to be only one hard-to-pin-down right in a sea of wrongs. A more graspable measure of progress and direction is whether this creation is becoming more true to today’s version of me.

Does this version of this creation
feel true to the version of me I am now?

It can be easier to look at creating in this way. After all, creating is a search for truth (even if that truth is presented with irony or satiric spin). We recognize truth by the way it rings us, by the way it feels inside. The instrument that peals is whatever version of ourselves we are today.

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Just across the Rhine River from where we live in southwestern Germany is the French town of Colmar. It’s quite pretty, with colourful timber-framed buildings and a picturesque Little Venice area along a canal (see the photo above). Colmar is the birthplace of sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty.

There are many versions of the Statue of Liberty. So which one is right? The one in New York Harbor is probably the one most people think of, but Bartholdi made sketches and models on his way to arriving at his final version for the harbor and some of those versions are probably lovely, worth having around the house to look at. And money was raised to build the Statue in the harbor by selling small versions of it – personal versions one might get a kick out of seeing on the mantelpiece.

If you live in Colmar, you probably don’t think of that statue as the Statue of Liberty, but as La Liberté éclairant le monde (Liberty Enlightening the World), its French name. And if asked to picture it, you probably think of more familiar versions, ones you see every day, like this little-sister version (which I photographed from a bus), presiding over a traffic circle near a mall (click it to see it a bit bigger):

Or this stumpy beefcake version guarding “Werner’s Car Shop,” which my husband and I discovered on a walk through Colmar’s edges at the end of a hike along the Rhine (click it to see it a bit bigger):

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All versions (preliminaries, take-offs, copies, spoofs, pratice runs, mistakes) deserve an acknowledged and honourable existence, however transient. All versions inform the final, sometimes retroactively. One person’s final version isn’t necessarily someone else’s. Werner, after all, preferred his own version above all others (for which I’m deeply grateful).

Just because a version is final doesn’t mean it’s the only version that’s right. It simply means that version felt true enough on that day to that creator to end up being their final version for the purpose they had in mind.

So relax. Revise your work the same way you automatically and naturally meet yourself anew every day, by accepting this version of yourself as the one you have to work with. Then listen carefully as you ask

What rings true now?

When the time comes to decide on a final version, leave it at what feels the most true for you at that time and then let it go. Let it stand as what was most true to you that day. Even after you’ve decided on a final for a particular purpose, you can do something else with it, like revise it for a different purpose. Why not?

The thing about all of the versions you create, every single one of them, is that if you created them, then they’re all right.

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Related reading: how to reinvent yourself, trial and error terror

5 comments to versions

  • Doreen Dziepak

    this post was BRILLIANT and exactly what I needed – today/now
    just the process of reading that there is nothing that is ever that “final” is liberating and frees me up to relax by being satisfied with my words . . .
    revisions can always be made
    thank you

  • Melissa Frykman-Thieme

    Hi Grace,
    Your piece on Versions reminds me of versions in my nursing school life.
    When I first started college to become a registered nurse, I was required to take a bunch of classes, both general and specific.
    In the first of these classes, Anthropology 101, we were assigned readings from anthro journals, then had to write critiques of the studies therein. My article was on sickle cell anemia. I wrote a dry but “A” kind of paper, and really started getting interested in sickle cell anemia. Throughout my nursing school years, I ended up writing no less than 5 papers on sickle cell anemia, each building on the last, and each unique to the class I was in. As I went around the great spiral of learning, I kept revisiting the subject, this time from the perspective of the budding biochemist, next from a medical anthropology view, and then from behind the microscope in pathophysiology class. The last paper was from a nursing class. I used all the knowledge thus gathered in one fell swoop, and felt at peace. Just in time to graduate.
    While I don’t need to keep revisiting sickle cell anemia, the ride was well worth my effort. It showed me just what you’re describing– the value of versions, and how creativity grows with being open to the next view.
    P.S. That spiral model of life itself is one that I pattern my whole life on. I use it quite a lot when teaching folks about grief. Grief is experienced over and over in a lifetime. With each turn of the spiral, we go up, and view the same stuff over from a new viewpoint. Thus, we gather our griefs and bring them up each time we experience any grief. The whole family of grief comes back to visit, colored by the passage of time, seminal/ovarian events, illness, awareness of our own mortality.

    thanks for the reminder!
    Love,
    Melissa

  • […] few ambling corners later, as we walked along the edge of a small square, we passed one of Colmar‘s official buildings. Beside its front doors was a panel of buttons and controls so […]