The Clear Choice

Emily Hanlon’s Writing Retreat 1999

As promised in yesterday’s post, Not Set in Stone, here is the story told to me by artist Aleksandra Kasuba.

I met Aleksandra years ago at Emily Hanlon’s Writing Retreat, where we instantly liked one another’s writing and became fast friends. Years before this, as Aleksandra told the story, she had been one of five finalists to design the plaza for the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. Aleksandra was the only woman competing, at the time, for an honor typically given to a man. She knew this. She also knew what she could do.

She built a model of the Old Post Office, but she did not design a plaza. She designed three. And when it was her turn to present her design to the panel of judges, she began with the model, surrounded by her first design. She pointed out the features of the design. The panel was impressed. Then she pointed out the features of the Old Post Office and showed the judges why that first design didn’t work. Then she did the same with the second, first selling it and then picking it apart and in effect, teaching the judges to look through the eyes of a mosaic artist. Finally, she presented her third and best design, and this time, the judging panel led the discussion as to why this design was far superior, point by point, and why it was the clear choice.

Aleksandra was chosen to build her plaza, some 7,000 square feet along Pennsylvania Avenue.

I think of this story often, and especially when I need to figure out a way to do something. Getting back to yesterday and the whole reason for telling you this story, one can easily look at the layers of analysis that go into writing a story and the snowball effect of changing one detail early on and wonder, Why not just write it right the first time?

Well, quite frankly, because stories can be like puzzles, and you learn so much more from putting puzzles together different ways (and even from taking them apart and starting again) than you do by laying them out perfectly and moving on. When everything can be used as a learning experience, you can take chances, make bold moves, and be fearless in your work. Aleksandra taught me that.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see