Saturday, April 8, 2017

Patricia Hruby Powell keynote: Fun, folly, and the benefits of breaking the rules

Patricia Hruby Powell has lived a magical life: as everything from a dancer who toured internationally to a substitute librarian, and her books turn nonfiction into heart-filled verse.

She talked to us about empathy. If you're not rich, you can read about a rich person and know what it's like. If you're not poor, you can read about poor people and understand. This is what books do for us.

She asked us to imagine two paths: one that involves rule-breaking, and one that involves rule-following. "And imagine everything in between the two things."

"I know myself to be a rule-breaker," she said. She told us stories about how this has manifested in her life.

She once broke into an abandoned creamery by crawling underneath a barbed wire fence. She and her friend found a set of keys, along with assorted vats and mechanisms. She once got caught in the creamery on Good Friday. She was supposed to be in church, where her mother was the choir director.

As an adult, she ran a touring dance company. No one was telling her what to do. And in a way, she regrets it. "They could have been so much cleaner if there had been somebody there to monitor me."

After her dance career, she went to library school because she thought it would allow her to write. But that's not what being a librarian involves. Her next career was as a storyteller. When she was a dancer, she told stories. When she was a storyteller, she danced. Storytellers told her that didn't fit the rules. "Storytellers don't like that. They told me I got in the way of my stories."

"If you're a rule follower, you might get published more quickly."

It took her awhile to realize how brilliant editors were (hers in particular—Melissa Manlove).

"If you're not a rule follower, it might work for you to stick to your guns and keep honing your art," she said.

She got feedback from editors but was too stubborn to take it. One of the things she learned on the way was that a publishing house doesn't want your manuscript' a particular editor there wants to see it. "There's a lot of luck involved in getting published."

If you're developing your art and doing something different from other people, "Just keep going," she said. "Late success can be really valued!"

Along the way, it's vital to replenish. She replenishes her creative self and solves impasses by swimming, by going on adventures, even by dreaming. "You can find ideas and solutions to your
impasse in so many different activities."

Sometimes you need getaways. When she was 19, for example, she went to the Greek islands. She didn't come back for two-and-a-half years.

She also makes rock sculptures with family and she reads.

"Even if you think you don't like great works, plod through them. You will find immense wisdom."

Museums can also be sources of inspiration, along with weird music and dance concerts, orchestral performances, rock bands, Bach. "The layers bring me closer to god-ness," she said.

The longer you work, the greater a chance you have to get lucky, she said.

And remember the power of empathy. "What happens to everyone else in the world helps shape us. We are all interconnected. Feel awe. Feel a sense of wonder."

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