On Inspiring Questions, Learning to Be a Daisy, and the Superpowers of Nirrimi Firebrace

Nirrimi Firebrace. What kind of name is that? I thought, as I walked to the appropriate building for Nirrimi’s workshop on the third day of the creativity convention I was attending, Promoting Passion. I knew nothing about her besides the description in the convention’s agenda, which was a bit vague. She was a blogger and a photographer, sure, but I mainly chose her workshop because it seemed more relevant to me than the other two, one of which was about shadows and light specifically in photography and the other of which was about the psychology of happiness, but in an overly academic way. On both of the previous days, there had been one workshop that clearly appealed to me over the others, but not this time.

An experiment, then. Nirrimi it was.

Later, I would wonder if she made her name up. And kind of hope that she did.

But that’s getting ahead of things.

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I sat down in the fourth row and got comfy, pulling out my notebook.

At the front of the room stood a girl who looked barely more than 19. She wore a lacey lavender dress over printed leggings. She had dirty blond hair with a single braid along the side of her head and an elfin, girlish face.

She was the kind of girl you want to squish up into your arms and pet. She was the kind of girl you automatically want to tell everything’s going to be ok.

When she spoke, it was with a quiet but certain voice that carried. She was young, she was girly, and … she was strong as hell. As she began talking to us,with no apparent sign of nerves, as she told us that she’d never done a presentation before, one of the other women, older than me, in the row ahead, looked at me and made half a comment—

“more confidence in her little pinky”

She didn’t finish the comparison, but she didn’t need to. Compare her to whatever you like. Nirrimi stood up there with a quiet surety. Even though she didn’t know what she was doing, she would figure it out. She would do it, and not worry about it.

Later on, when she gave her lecture to the whole convention, I began to see signs of nervousness. Signs of uncertainty in how to do this thing, stand in front of more than 100 people and tell them your story. But by that time, those things hardly mattered. I had seen her standing up there in her workshop, a soft warrior, openly offering what she had to give.

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Nirrimi Firebrace shooting during her workshop

This has been my exact challenge my whole life. How do you be a warrior, creatively, and remain a girl? How do you fight your way through to making art and putting it out there and hoping for good things to come of it while still letting down your walls and inviting people in and graciously accepting help when it’s offered? How do you handle the criticism and the hate that’s inevitable with that kind of life and still remain open? So open?

Nirrimi Firebrace is ten years younger than me — at least — and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Related: Why You Need Heroes (Even If You Don’t Believe in Them)

If Nirrimi were a flower, she’d be a daisy — bellis perennis. I always thought I’d rather be an orchid — fierce, tough, exotic. Daisies seem too fragile. But daisies can grow anywhere, can’t they? Daisies spring up in random fields and thrive, wherever they happen to be placed. Whereas orchids need careful, delicate tending … Nirrimi’s shown me how much fun it could be to relax and be a daisy. To relax and be a little girl all over again. To spring up in a field, however it happens, and grow there.

Even greater than my fear is my passion for living freely.

Nirrimi opened her workshop with three questions.

What inspires you?

Why do you create?

What is your style?

Here are some of her answers, the ones that moved me:

What inspires you?

girlhood, nature, impermanence, love & heartbreak, her grandparents’ photo albums

I particularly liked “girlhood” because it’s so obviously true in Nirrimi’s work and in her person and because it is something I made a promise to myself a long time ago to never lose touch with, because it’s such a grand thing, and yet I have, in some ways, lost touch with it. I have forgotten how to just delight in being a little girl and not worry what others will think of it or how unprofessional it may seem.

What is your style?

emotional, youthful, feminine, soft, simple, hidden dark

Nirrimi knows herself, and she accepts herself. The moment you look at some of her images, you’ll see these things in them. You’ll recognize her. She describes her photo shoots as her and a model running around a beautiful place together. She lets it be about enthusiasm and silliness and exploring; she takes the pressure off. She lets creating be playtime.

Nirrimi Firebrace shooting during her workshop

Nirrimi Firebrace shooting during her workshop

Some part of me still sees success as straight-faced and cold, wise with age, professional, masculine, hard, complex, and yet unlayered, without darkness … only what you see on the surface. To be successful, somehow I must be those things, I must put on that public face when I approach the world, when I “work” in the world. Girlhood and success seem like opposites. Nirrimi showed me them hand-in-hand.

Vulnerability is my super power.

Not everyone responds to that, of course. The stories of hate mail she’s received that she shared in her later lecture seem impossible, especially so as she shared them in her sweet, lilting Aussie accent—tales of a whole website dedicated to telling falsehoods and spreading vitriol about her personal relationships. Clearly they hurt her, in some distant way, if only in her bewilderment that any person would go out of her way to spend time on such things when there’s a great wide world to explore with childlike eyes.

But she shrugs them off with that almost trademarked equanimity that pervades her being, and says, “When bad things happen, I just think of them as a story, and then they’re okay.”

We can create the world we love and need when we have dark times in our own lives.

There was one thing Nirrimi said that I disagree with. On one of her slides she had written “art above ego.” But as she spoke, it became clear that she thinks of “ego” as attention-seeking, creating for an audience rather than listening to your heart.

That’s not what ego is. Ego is you. It is your mind, your intellect. Ego is your pride in your work. It’s your willingness to trust yourself and not need the approval of those others. It’s your ability to say “I.” To say “I” will it, and to make it so.

There is no art without ego. There is no art without your “I.”

But you must have the strength to listen carefully and get beyond your fears.

Make the art for the art’s sake, for what it needs, but it still, at the end of the day, comes from you. It’s yours. Take pride in that, and don’t shy away from it.

Say, “Look at this cool thing I made!” and share it. (I just visited a friend of mine who does this SO well; I am working on getting better at it, myself.)

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Taken during Nirrimi’s workshop

We shouldn’t let fear dictate how the stories of our lives are written.

In her workshop, Nirrimi asked us to answer her questions, too. The first two I set to with gusto. The third … I had to think harder. At first, I thought, I don’t know that yet. But as I considered, I realized I was wrong. It’s not the what that I struggle with; it’s the how. I know myself; I have yet to accept myself.

What inspires you?

being barefoot, chasing dreams, old books, tears, climbing trees, RED, dance, breaking rules

Why do you create?

to process life + emotion, to make beautiful things, to tell stories, to connect, to stay alive

What is your style?

blossoming, light/dark contrast, groping ~ processing, deep, searching for/holding onto lost youth, courageous, bursting free of fear, quiet

I want you to answer these questions, too. They aren’t going to tell you everything. They might not tell you anything you don’t already know. But maybe they’ll help bring you closer to you. To who you used to be. To who you want to be. Perhaps they’ll help you to take the pressure off, for just five minutes, as you let your inner critic go and consider yourself and your work without that automatic negativity.

Even if you don’t think you’re all that creative. Even if your creativity shows its face in something that’s not quite art, like cooking or landscaping. Set aside your doubts. Take five minutes and answer. Be quiet with yourself for the time it takes to scribble everything you can think of in response.

If we’re being authentic, we weed out the people who don’t like us and make room for the ones who do.

Now, be brave and share. What did you find out that you didn’t know? What inspires you that you’re the most excited about right now? WHAT’S NEXT?

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