On Unexpected Tears and Being a Curator

by - January 14, 2017

Emily Freeman's book, A Million Little Ways, is about making art, and in it, she says you should listen to your tears. What makes you cry? Why would this thing make you cry? Those tears will tell you something about yourself if you only listen carefully.


Listening to the Hope Writers podcast on the way home from the office yesterday, I paused it and replayed the part where Logan Wolfram begins to cry.

Logan is the owner of the Allume Conference, and after four years of organizing, planning, and hosting the annual conference, she killed it, at least for now. It was a growing, vibrant, successful conference, yet she suspended it because it wasn't taking her to the places she wanted to go in life. She was talking about her two-book deal and the need for reasonable expectations of yourself and the publisher.

Logan says, "I can't just make something up and expect to write all of this book on nothing, when I have nothing to say. It has to come from somewhere. What I write is something that's welling up and needs to come out, and there needs to be a message."

"And if you're tired, and exhausted and worn out, then probably you should refill before you think you're going to have anything else great to say. You can't write from an empty well."  

Gary, the host, brings up something she mentioned before they started recording and Logan says this:

"I started telling you about it earlier, and then I started crying, and I didn't realize I felt so emotional about it. My friend Tim said that he thought it was interesting that for four years I was running this conference and he felt that, somehow, my own voice had gotten lost behind this space that I was curating. And I feel emotional about it again—I'm not going to cry again right now."

"Why?" Gary probes. "Why do you think that means so much to you?"

"Dang, Gary!"

"Because it's true?" Gary offers.

"It's totally true," she concedes. Almost unable to speak for trying not to cry, she continues, "'cause I spent four years....GEEZ ... I spent four years cultivating a space out of the overflow of my own heart. And it's not that I need the credit for it. But I need to not get lost behind it and then be expected to somehow reinvent myself for public consumption. Like my "self" was Allume the last four years. It was about hospitality. And it was about caring for your neighbor. It was about looking outside of your own city and seeing that there's a hurting world. And it was about loving people, and writing from a place where you're authentically you, and stewarding a space well."

She goes on to say that people don't understand what it takes to do such a big event that has so much heart, and that it drained her and, yes, the conference was better for it, but she wasn't.

She used words like cultivate, and pour into, and steward. She used the word curate so many times I finally looked it up.


Mike and I sat down at the kitchen table with our respective calendars and responsibilities and, as we find ourselves doing more and more often, we synched the next few weeks of our sprawling lives.

With all the details recorded on calendars, I said, "I think we should schedule some date nights." And I began to cry.

The tears came as a sudden surprise, bubbling up out of nowhere. I didn't know why I was crying and I said so, and laughed even while I cried. I was kind of a mess, and embarrassed, and it caught me off guard.

Mike has been urging me for years, maybe ten, to schedule time together, and I have always been outraged by the idea.

I saw myself as part of his soul on the inside of him, intricately knit into the fiber of his being. I was inside the man who opens his calendar, not an event on it. I refused to be reduced to something penciled in on a given day. 

I am more than a casual lunch with a friend that you should write down lest you lose track and forget the appointment.

I won't be on par with church activities. "I am not part of your schedule; I'm part of you," I said indignantly for all these years.

But now, now that we are almost three decades into this marriage; now that we've bragged for 20 years (at least) that our marriage comes easy and is good and we are best friends, and we are healthy; now that we are approaching an empty nest and we're so close to being able to focus on each other again but we are instead becoming strangers to each other; now that we sit down regularly to synchronize our complicated lives; tears well to the surface when I tell him, in essence, "You're right. We need to be on your calendar."

I'm telling him we have gotten lost behind all the things we curate. I'm telling him we need to find us again. Because it's not like we need credit for it, but we need to steward well these things we curate. And in order to do that, we have to actually be a we.


Mike left his phone at home. Mike left his phone at home! On purpose and of his own volition. We went to a movie for the first time in three years. We got lost in La La Land, a movie about chasing dreams and the good things to be gained and the hard things to be forfeited when you pursue your passions, when you are an artist, and what you do is create art and curate it.


CURATE: noun  1.  Chiefly British. a member of the clergy employed to assist a rector or vicar.
2. any ecclesiastic entrusted with the cure of souls, as a parish priest.

verb (used with object), curated, curating.
3. to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)
4. to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation


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