The Comforting Clarity Of An Expert

While writing about routine and creative work, I finally took care of a burned out light bulb, which ended up relating to my musings.

Our kitchen is dark. There are only two electrical outlets. We gave up having a toaster in order to have a coffee pot. And, for many years now, we’ve cooked over a dark stove top, so dark that I’ve leaned in close enough for a whisper-singe of my eyebrows.

When my cousin asked if I wanted a string of lights she was no longer using, I realized I could pin them above the stove and share the outlet with the coffee pot. Voila! A less-dark (not quite bright) stove to cook over at night, and a romantic whimsical effect in the morning while pouring that first cup of coffee.

Then a bulb burned out. Then I bundled kiddo into the stroller or the car seat and slogged our way to one-stop shopping centers, hardware stores, a specialty battery and lighting store. Not only did they not carry replacement bulbs, all but one of the salespeople suggested I just toss the strand and buy a new one.

I can’t stand this idea! We avoid wasting things as much as possible, and that starts by not buying/acquiring things we don’t need in the first place.

During the early and bright days of summer, I gave up. But then, August came along, and mornings started getting darker, so I used precious babysitting time (aka: creative time) to drive to NE Mississippi Street and visit Sunlan Light Shop.


Whoa. What an experience.

In a world where you can get anything you want at any second of the day by Googling for information or ordering on Amazon Prime (which we don’t use, but that’s a whole other story), it was refreshing to walk into a light store that sold nothing but: lights.

Floor to ceiling shelves of lights. Lights hanging from the ceiling and across windows. A wall of tiny drawers neatly labeled and filled with tiny bulbs of all types. Nothing-but-lights! Not even a t-shirt for sale.

The woman at the cash register, whom I presume to be the owner, told me I was out of luck for saving my strand, “They stopped making those,” she said and suggested a few adaptations that didn’t work. She commiserated with my frustration about waste, then told me all about lights–how LED technology is changing everything (for the better) and how I could use my old strand unplugged as decoration and weave new LED lights around it because LED lights don’t get hot, and on and on.

I was mesmerized. This is a woman who knows lights.

I’m sure she knows other things too, but with lights, she’s an expert, and talking with an expert gave me such a feeling of peace and groundedness–she had an answer for everything, no hemming or hawing, no pondering or researching, just calmly sitting there answering–or even preempting–my questions and solving my problem.


Especially while working as an academic, I felt inferior not being an expert. Although you could narrow my field to “English,” I’ve always been a generalist. I know a little about a lot, but I can’t quote Shakespeare lines or reference obscure ancient texts. Even now as an artist, I keep thinking I ought to get to know one area really well, but that would mean giving up so many other interests and meanderings.

Paradoxically, visiting Sunlan made me appreciate my broad spectrum (get it? spectrum like light spectrum? Ha!). The precision of the light expert felt reassuring and illustrated how the world can make sense. However, when I told my Creative Minds teaching partner Robin about all of this. She said: But you are an expert; you’re becoming an expert in creativity and the creative process.

Hm, I suppose it’s all how you look at it. Either way, I’m accepting my generalist personality while simmering onions under a brand new strand of lights. (The old set sits with a box of decorations to be re-purposed–they still won’t end up in the trash.) Maybe this will shed light on the less-obvious-to-me strengths of being a generalist without the pinpoint clarity of an expert.

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7 Responses to The Comforting Clarity Of An Expert

  1. Sarah Thomas says:

    Looks like a party in your kitchen!

  2. Sarah Thomas says:

    PS I sent “Panda Takes a Walk” to my niece’s son for his 6th birthday. His mom likes to color, too, so she can do it with him. Did I tell you this already?

    • TRISTA says:

      Thanks, Sarah! Maybe I ought to add some party hats to the strand of lights? Ha!! I’d love to see how your nephew colors “ShyPanda Takes A Walk”!! I had young boys in mind as the audience when I wrote and illustrated it, and I am so curious how readers choose to color the panda–he doesn’t have to be black and white. (At Carrot Condo, you can see pics of ShyPanda in all kinds of colors … even a tie dye one!!)

  3. Cristina says:

    Terrific post. Love the photos too. Thanks, Trista.

  4. weebluebirdie says:

    How delightful to have a lightbulb emporium 🙂 It’s such a rare thing these days to find someone who specialises in knowing one thing really well. I’m like you, I absorb little bits of information along the way; not enough to be truly knowledgeable, but enough to keep my end of the conversation with a stranger!

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