Exemplar: a person or thing serving as a typical example or excellent model.
Almost anyone or anything can be an exemplar at any time, I believe. Sometimes my cat is my exemplar. How is he the most handsome and comfortable, my husband and I ask the air. And the air answers: because he just is, he doesn’t think about being handsome, he just exists. (May God shield the world from our unctuous praise if we ever have children).
Other unlikely but worthwhile exemplars are trees, Jeff Bridges’ The Dude, and Bruce Lee’s beloved water: “You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” We already are, my friend.
But sometimes you need a more human exemplar. And right now, while so many terrible things are happening in the world and in our culture (which, admittedly could be stated at any time humans roam the planet), it is a good time to listen and choose an exemplar as a beacon through the darkness. The loudest is rarely the best role model when trying to find the path of a compassionate soul, so tuning out all the noise of the day isn’t a bad place to start.
Like they used to say in after school specials (before those morphed into Lifetime movies for the now-adult people who watched them growing up), ask a friend or an adult you trust. Asking a kid you trust is a good idea, too. My favorite yoga teacher taught us several poses last weekend that her 4-year-old son made up each morning and we laughed our asses off practicing crab pose, ocean floor pose, and black-tipped reef shark pose. Sometimes an exemplar is someone who is going to teach you how to be less serious. I could use that.
But my current exemplar is not making me less serious. Lately I’ve been listening to Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir about grief, “The Rules of Inheritance,” while walking. One of the brilliant women in my writing group loves an exemplar and introduced me to their value. She recommended this book since I’m working on a lot of material about my mother and grief. To walk on a rainy day and listen to a young woman read about losing her mother to cancer brings a lot back for me, and I know from experience that writing about anything deep is going to do that. Maybe that’s why I used to write about television so much instead.
And then we need exemplars to balance our exemplars. Red pills and blue pills. So I’ve been balancing Smith’s memoir with Janice MacLeod’s lighthearted “Paris Letters,” and wanting to eat chocolate croissants all day. Perhaps luckily I can’t think of a great place to get any. My husband practices “Here Comes the Sun” on the guitar and I get to take bright yellow breaths before I follow Smith back into the depths.
Jenn Sutkowski looks forward to (crying through) the film adaptation of “The Rules of Inheritance” (release date unknown), starring and produced by Jennifer Lawrence. Hopefully “Paris Letters” will be adapted soon, too. Come share virtual croissants at jennsutkowski.com.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.