What Is Your Wendy?

FoxPrint Tiffany Yates Martin Creativity

What Is Your Wendy?

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I’ve been wanting to write about one of my neighbors for quite some time now. Her name is Wendy, and I only ever see her in one place: standing in her front yard either just looking out at the street or occasionally doing things like laundry, with her washing machine actually pulled out on the front yard.

Wendy, who looks to be maybe in her thirties or so, slender and blandly pretty, sometimes blond and sometimes brunette, is also something of a fashion plate. In fact one of the reasons she’s a highlight of many of my mornings when I pass by her house is seeing what outfit she has on that day. It’s generally seasonal and sometimes oriented to the holidays.

Right now, for example, she’s looking especially magnificent, wearing a red velvet full-length robe lined in snowy white fleece, like the most elegant Mrs. Claus. Sometimes she wears more fanciful outfits, like a tulle-covered fairy costume complete with wings, or in the summertime a little bathing number and an inner tube.

Many days I will take a picture of her current sartorial splendor and send it to my brother, who doesn’t really understand what’s going on with Wendy but finds her as entertaining and engaging as I do.

I’m told the neighbors have mixed feelings about her, some finding her creepy just standing there all the time, some thinking she devalues the neighborhood, but others, like me, absolutely delighted with her.

Oh, Wendy is actually a mannequin. Did I mention?

I was speaking with her mother, or roommate, or whatever you’d like to call her one day about her outfits and how much I enjoyed seeing Wendy on my dog walks every day, and we talked about her history with Wendy the mannequin.

Her mother, whose name I am embarrassed to say escapes me in my fascination with Wendy, told me that she found Wendy at a garage sale once and had to have her. I don’t remember why Wendy ended up in the front yard, but her mother told me that soon she was enjoying dressing her in outfits from her own closet.

After a while that morphed into buying and making bespoke outfits specifically for Wendy, and then customizing her for the seasons. A lovely chandelier found its way into the front yard over where Wendy keeps vigil, classing up the joint a little bit. Moving the washing machine out was inspired, the result of her mother replacing it and asking the deliveryman to leave the old one behind. Because mise-en-scène.

I’m a little bit in awe of Wendy and her mom’s efforts with her. I often alter my route to make sure I go by and check out her latest situation. Wendy makes me smile. Sometimes I get fashion ideas from her.

This to me is what creativity is. There’s no purpose to it for Wendy’s mom; she just enjoys it. It brings her delight, makes her laugh, and seems to have the same effect on many of the other neighbors—including me. 

I think it’s easy for writers to lose sight of their own similar initial spark of simple joy in the act of creation—the pull that first drew us to want to create stories in our heads and put them on paper to share with other people. The impulse to share them on a broad stage is understandable, but so often that gets mixed up with the commerce of creative products, which is actually the most brutally random business model that, like so many businesses built around art, often profits the artist least of all.

The impulse to share our creative efforts on a broad stage is understandable, but so often that gets mixed up with the commerce of creative products, which, like so many businesses built around art, often profits the artist least of all.

I’ve written before about the difficult path of creating a writing career. I talk to many successful writers about it monthly in my How Writers Revise feature. I don’t discourage anyone from wanting to create a paid career from their writing. I do too.

Read more:How to Be a Working Writer

But I do think it’s important to stay in touch with the real reason we do it, or at least began to do it, which had very little to do with remuneration. Few of us go into this career hoping to make our fortune. (If you are, please allow me to gently disabuse you of that romantically far-fetched notion.)

Wendy’s mom doesn’t make any money from her efforts with Wendy, obviously. She simply takes joy in dressing and staging her and presenting her to the world—at least that small part of the world that happens by her street.

There’s something so pure about that that brings delight to me as well. And isn’t that the truest, most foundational purpose of our creative work?

Read more:Why Do You Write?”

“Giving Your All for the Few”

Wendy reminds me to stay connected to that root reason for why I create—because I love it, and it fulfills me, and the idea of not creating would rob much of the shine from my life. I hope you have some version of a Wendy in your day-to-day that reminds you to do the same.

So let’s hear it, authors—who or what is your Wendy? Not long ago some creative soul painted various animal faces onto small rocks and left them in random places throughout my neighborhood, and for weeks they brought me a moment of unexpected delight every time I happened upon one. What casual creativity, your own or others’, brings you delight? Gardening, baking, macramé? The lady at the farmer’s market who brings her handmade clothespin dolls to sell week after week? The neighbor whose fervid garage drum-solo jams offer a background rhythm section for your afternoons? Your partner or child singing in the shower?

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20 Comments. Leave new

  • At my uni a professor had a poster of a superhero swinging in thru a window with the caption. “I’ll stand with humans against the zombies anyway.” That somehow encapsulated the Humanities courses for me. They are the eternal Captain Kirk to aliens speech justifying why humans should be allowed to exist as a species. To me it boils down to that individual spark to create that is always at war with indifference and despair. When it wins it lifts us all. The 2nd thought is a story about a blind woman in her 80’s who was always perfectly turned out-like Wendy. She had coordinated everything in her closet so she could identify items by touch when she dressed-all vintage designers from the 50’s and 60’s. Asked why she went to such trouble. “When I could still see I learned how seeing someone well-dressed and looking smart lifted everyone’s spirits. It’s why fashion isn’t just about selling things.”

    Reply
    • This struck me a lot, Pamela: “that individual spark to create that is always at war with indifference and despair.” That resonates with me too–it’s easy NOT to create because “who cares?” And it’s easy to despair because our creative efforts so rarely come out in actuality as glorious as they may seem in our imaginations. But the lovely thing about creativity is that we push through and keep trying to attain our vision. I love how you tie that into the human condition–that hits me too.

      And the story of the woman and her fashion…! That lifted my heart. Creativity is so much a part of who we are in infinite ways, obvious and subtle–it’s so much the essence of being human, it seems to me. A way we connect the inside of us with the inside of others. Love this comment–thanks.

      Reply
  • OMGOSH YES! After years and years of really not worrying about sending stuff out or trying to get published, I have jumped into that adventure and found it to be something totally different from the writing. I love writing and don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t writing. But at the same time I think as creatives we all feel the need to close the loop between the work that we create and the viewer or reader. But isn’t that loop closed with just one reader? I feel like we are pursuing something totally different when we try to get lots of readers. We are looking for a validation that is almost the opposite of the creative spark. It’s someone else telling us we are worthy rather ourselves saying, I need to make this just because.

    Reply
    • I DO think that loop is closed with a single reader. Actually I wonder if we close it simply by giving form to our creation–if the impulse is truly for the pure creativity of it, then the execution of the thing is its fulfillment, so to speak. But I do think it’s how we connect as beings to other beings–the only way we can express some of the richness inside us and share it with others, at the risk of sounding grandiose. I think there’s something noble and sublime about creativity, though, in that way–and that every one of us has creative spark inside us, in some way (like Wendy!). Love this comment–you guys are making me think (and feel)!

      Reply
  • Katherine Caldwell
    December 8, 2022 1:36 pm

    A few years ago, an orange construction “flagger” sign (stick figure of a guy holding a flag) was abandoned in front of a neighbor’s house for months. Every few days she’d dress up the image – it was Harry Potter, a flight attendant, one time Lionel Richie with the caption “is it me you are looking for”, A USA soccer fan, etc. I’d go out of my way to walk by the house. It brought me so much joy.

    Reply
  • Rebecca Rosenberg
    December 8, 2022 1:54 pm

    Really loved this post Tiffany, as it reminds me of what I want to feel when I am writing! That each scene is a work of delight and wonder, one piece of a beautiful puzzle! I am going back to my fifth draft of MADAME POMMERY with fresh eyes. By the time I am in my fifth draft it seems I am looking for logic and mistakes and continuity, but why not add WONDER?

    Reply
    • Love that, Rebecca! And that writing is your Wendy. I think it is for most of us–or started out that way–but it’s so easy to lose sight of that amid all the other nonsense that can go along with trying to make a career out of it. I’m thrilled MADAME POMMERY is going well. You know how much I love your work.

      Reply
  • Vaughn Roycroft
    December 8, 2022 2:10 pm

    Wendy beats the heck out of the stone goose my neighbor dresses in seasonal attire. But I’m still fond of that goose, no matter what my dog thinks (she’s been cranky since she first thought the goose was worth chasing, but found it unwilling to play along).

    Another neighbor just retired, and had a little open-house where we could lift a glass to her. Rather than gifts, she asked each of us to bring a written suggestion as to what she should do next. I think I won for briefest reply. I wrote three words: “Find your passion.” I’m thinking rather than send her a mannequin, I’ll just forward your excellent essay.

    Thanks, Tiffany, for a great start to another day of seeking to live a creative life!

    Reply
  • Wendy is keeping Austin weird! I love it!

    Reply
  • Okay, now this is cool. What a great story to make a great point and then to “What’s your Wendy?”-it. So creative. You hooked me. you had me reading excitedly to see who the heck this was and the story…yes! I have several Wendys (don’t let my wife see that, and…does she require an apostrophe?), including writing, but also building and nurturing little spots of nature, like a remote canyon near my house, where I plant oaks, build a path, and remove shrubs so the tall grasses will grow, and water it each day as I hike by. To me it feels like an urge, a hankering, a private pleasure, to think that one day, my little spot will be a mini-nature-nirvana, and after I’m long gone, someone will happen upon it, step back and marvel at its quaint beauty, maybe smile inside, and wonder who in the world would care enough to create this little charming spot of earth. Who was possessed enough to take the time and the energy and the creativity to turn a remote little canyon into a charming canyon? That’s my real Wendy.

    Reply
    • Oh, Ken, this gave me shivers–really. What a beautiful thing to do, both for nurturing your own “Wendy” and sharing it with others. It reminds me of that saying–one of my favorites: “You eat from trees you did not plant, and you must plant trees you will never eat from.” I would love to see your canyon. Thanks for this.

      Reply
  • What a wonderful story Tiffany. And such a tremendous way to refocus us on our creative sparks. For me, writing a novel brings various moments of joy such as the simple turn of a phrase or a finished chapter. Getting to the finished product though can at times feel like an endless journey. For more immediate gratification I turn to photography. It provides nourishment when I have that hunger to complete a creative endeavor.

    Reply
    • I love that, Doug–photography seems to offer more instant gratification, as you said, and it’s another way to interpret what you see in the world through the lens of your own artistic eye, which to me is similar to what writing is, but a different area of creativity. I think that helps recharge the creative juices too. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  • As an author and a business woman, I’d like to make a livable income from selling my stories, but as a storyteller, I just need to create! And the greatest joy for a storyteller is to make a connection with another soul who finds joy in what you have created. Joy is not a tangible item you can put a price tag on, but joy is essential to the soul. If dressing up Wendy brings joy to the neighborhood, then Wendy’s mother is twice blessed, as it obviously brings her a great amount of joy. It’s the little things in life, the small simple pleasures in the mist of the mundane that help to keep the joy alive. Thanks for reminding us of this. Now I want to put a Wendy in my own front yard!

    Reply
    • Love your comment, Patti. I couldn’t agree more–it’s making that connection with the viewer/reader that makes art feel complete, to me, and is one of its main rewards.

      I think I’ve written about this before, but years ago after a show I did, I looked out in the audience and saw one lone man on his feet, applauding with tears streaming down his face. That one person to whom the art really seemed to hit a chord is still one of the most meaningful moments I’ve ever experienced with my creative work. Thanks for reminding me of that with this lovely comment.

      Reply
  • Giant zinnias. The six-foot-plus, mixed colors, all summer long kind. A few years ago, I bought 3 packets of seeds and planted them in my front flower beds. Several neighbors admired them. I cut flowers for anyone who wanted them, and at the end of the season, collected seeds and gave them away. Now we have a giant zinnias scattered all through the neighborhood. All I have to do with mine is thin them when they start to germinate in the spring. Do it–it’s easy!

    And for brightening up the garden year round–a bottle tree. Seasonal bottles are fun!

    Reply
    • I LOVE THIS–not least for the way you’ve managed to beautify your entire neighborhood with your “Wendy” zinnias. I haven’t seen giant zinnias, I don’t think, but you’ve made me want some! Thanks for the suggestion, Chris.

      Reply

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