The Art of Uplift (aka – Be a Star Among Stars)
1. to lift up; raise; elevate.2. to improve socially, morally, or the like.3. to exalt emotionally or spiritually.
4. to become uplifted.
noun5. an act of raising; elevation.6. the process or work of improving, as socially, intellectually, or morally.7. emotional or spiritual exaltation.
For the past few months I’ve been thinking about the ideas of UP and DOWN in terms of language, emotion, and physicality. When we are UP we are high, exalted (“closer to the heavens”), floating, light, standing tall, open. We love looking up – – to the sky, birds, clouds, sun, moon, future. When feeling liberated, joyous, elated we throw our arms up. We want to “reach for the stars” not “dig ourselves” anywhere.
When we are DOWN we are de-pressed (I picture a giant thumb pressing into me, squishing me like a bug), hiding, covered, bent, small. You’ve heard of the lowly worm.*
After my recent bout with depression (the extreme side of down), I decided that I didn’t want a giant thumb pressing into me and squishing me like a bug. I wanted a really powerful antidote for myself instead. I wanted to be uplifted.
The opposite of DOWN is UP!
I began to think about the small ways (especially habitual or subconscious) I sometimes de-pressed myself. And then I began to see that sometimes I de-pressed the people around me. Not because I’m mean, not because I’m malicious or vengeful, but because I’m human and sometimes I can’t see the light and sometimes I am afraid.
But what if, in the moment before I said something spiteful or petty or threw a piece of my pain back at someone, I practiced using uplifting words instead? What if I paused and thought of them as bright stars waiting to be released into the sky? And what if I kept coaxing those stars, inspiring those stars, championing those stars so that more and more and more were released and we lit up the entire sky?
I decided to try a little experiment. A few months ago, I inked the word UPLIFT on the inside of my cell phone cover, so that every time I opened the cover to make a call, text, email, tweet, or to use facebook it was a reminder to be impeccable with my word and to use language as a means of raising the spirits of the people around me.
It always makes me proud to love the world somehow –
hate’s so easy compared.
I made it a rule (the cell cover a constant reminder) that I had to always act or speak from this idea of being uplifting. And as I did, it started to dissolve my own self-negativity. The act of consciously UPLIFTING others on a regular basis helped me to get out of my own ego. It helped me to choose being happy over the need to be right. It created a new kind of momentum that fed on itself (in a good way).
And if someone else was not in a space to be uplifted (as I wasn’t at the end of last year), I didn’t take it personally. It wasn’t my job to fix them. Being uplifting isn’t about providing the answer or giving advice.
Being uplifting isn’t just about saying nice things to people either. It’s about paying attention to others and their own fears, wants, and needs. It’s about being conscious in and of the world. It’s about giving people space and taking care of each other and being of service. It’s about affirmation. It’s about intention.
Now, as I go about my day, when I catch myself in a small moment of pettiness or jealousy, I envision myself being an agent of UPLIFT. I envision our communal star-ness, together in the bright sky.
*in defence of “lowly worms” – I love worms. I help them across the sidewalk. I relocate them when I’m weeding. I mourn them when they are squished.
In our fiction, it’s necessary to be mean to our protagonists. I always tell my students, Don’t be nice to your characters! Turn up the heat! Give them painful challenges! Make life hard! Pile it on!
I rarely talk about the moments that shine a little light on them. But, at some point in the story, I think a little uplift is in order.
By uplift I don’t mean everything solved in a grand deus ex machina moment, but something beautiful and meaningful and a bit more subtle.
When your character is at their lowest, when they’ve failed and failed and failed some more, when they have been beaten by the blows of life (or even the physical blows of bullies) it’s time to allow something to give. And if done well, it will break your reader’s hearts just a little.
It could be a memory. It could be a small act of kindness. It could be embodied in an invaluable object they take with them along their journey. Imaging in the movie version of it, the music turns melancholy, and a sense of hope or determination pierces the gloom.
Write without too much thinking, without stopping, and without rereading & editing
Start with any of the lines below (or all!) and keep writing for 7-10 minutes.
The most precious object in my protagonist’s life is . . .
The voice in my protagonist’s head that gives him/her hope sounds like . . .
The kind gesture that comes when my protagonist least expects it happens when . . .