I have a theory. Writing, as you’ve probably noticed, entails feeling. And when we avoid writing, when we procrastinate by reorganizing the fridge or (more likely) scrolling through Facebook, it’s because we’re afraid to feel. We’re afraid because we worry that accessing our emotions will make us lose control, will loosen our grip on all of the things we’re barely managing as it is: our careers, our relationships, perhaps even our diets or our substance use or our sanity.Read More
Fun fact: only 8% of people stick to their new year’s resolutions.
I suppose these are also the people who clear their email inboxes every day, load dirty dishes directly into the dishwasher, and walk past bowls of peanut M&Ms with nary a second glance.
Meanwhile, the rest of us let unfinished business and milk-spotted cereal bowls pile up. We hate the M&Ms for existing, for tempting us with their bright colors and empty calories. And if we succumb, we hardly taste the candy over the self-recrimination in our heads.
All of this would be fine, if only we didn’t judge ourselves so harshly for it.
If you’re reading this, perhaps one of your new year’s resolutions is to write. Or perhaps you want to write so badly that you’re afraid to turn it into a resolution, because God knows you’ve been burned before.Read More
If you procrastinate on your creative ideas or impulses, this post is for you.
Do you believe in alternate universes?
I do, sometimes. There are so many quirks in our lives, so many tiny flakes of coincidence that build and build into a great avalanche of The Way Things Are. But what if one or two flakes had gone missing, or blown south instead of southwest?
A universe where my ex and I went through with the wedding. A universe where my dad visited the doctor a year earlier for his colonoscopy. A universe where I died from a ruptured appendix at age 23. These are all easy enough to picture, and I think about them all the time.
Sometimes, though, my imagination loses itself in truly elaborate what ifs. What if my ex and I had moved into that cute little place with the turret and the comically sloped ceilings, rather than the spacious, sprawling apartment where we ended up? Would the tiny apartment have kept us closer somehow? And if we’d stayed together, would I have been happier last year? Would I have finished my novel by now? Would I have stayed at my job?
Maybe I shouldn’t, but I enjoy spending a fraction of my life in alternate universes. If things go my way, I’m grateful not to live in the universe where that car didn’t brake in time. If things go poorly, I take comfort that—somewhere, in some other dimension—my dad is drinking his second mug of coffee and watching This Old House.
I can tell you one thing, though: there is sure as hell a universe where I’m not writing.Read More
Always wanted to write? This entry’s for you.
“I always wanted to be a writer.”
People tell me this all the time—scientists, lawyers, yoga teachers. Writing is a precious, secret, painful dream for them. They talk about it in low voices, their gaze slipping to a corner of the room.
They talk about it the way you’d talk about the one who got away, the person you still love even though it’s been ages, even though you probably shouldn’t.
“I always thought I’d write a book.”
But life gets in the way. But you don’t think you can. But your father’s sick or money’s tight or your job sucks the life out of you.
It’s cruel: the times when it’s most difficult to write—when life is hard and your creative spark dims and your self-esteem is getting ripped out by the roots—are precisely when you need most to write.Read More
So much writing advice—so much life advice, for that matter—tells us to let go of outcomes. Check out Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful TED talk, or Anne Lamott's brilliant piece on "Shitty First Drafts," or Cheryl Strayed's account of reaching a point “where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked.”
Just show up and do the work, the advice goes. Don’t fret over whether it’s any good.
Much as I love this line of reasoning, it doesn’t work for me. Not caring about the outcome? Oh, friends. That ship sailed ages ago.Read More
I failed at the violin.
I mentioned this recently to someone who knows me well—OK, my ex-fiancé—and his jaw dropped. Which is saying something, because at the time his mouth was full of Jersey diner waffle fries, and that stuff is precious cargo.
I guess I can understand his surprise. I played the violin for 16 years—from the age of five until I graduated from college. I entered competitions, attended summer programs, played in orchestras. I locked myself in the damp practice rooms beneath my college’s music building. I channeled my inner gypsy/witch when I performed the Saint-Saëns concerto, with its unsettling, strange beauty.
That might not sound like failure. But to me, it was. It is.
I was never as good at the violin as I wanted to be. I never managed to work hard enough at it, to give it my all. For years, the violin represented an instance where I failed to do my best, where I let people down—especially my dad, who spent hours each week shuttling me to and from lessons, writing up the advice my teachers gave me in his most careful handwriting, and checking on my progress.
When I zipped up my violin case after my senior year of college and adopted the excuse that I was just too busy to keep playing, I thought I’d move on. I thought a weight would be lifted from my soul.
But that never happened. I still carry the weight of that failure with me.
I explained all of this to my ex, but he was still baffled. “Sure,” he said, “you could have practiced every hour of every day, but you did other things with your life. That’s OK.”
But is it?Read More
When I was 21—and so fresh out of college I was still catching up on sleep—I complained to my mom that I didn’t have anything to write about.
I sighed, propping my elbows on my parents’ perfectly clean kitchen counter and gazing out at the tranquil suburbs that surrounded our house. “I mean, what could I possibly write?” I said. “My life’s just too boring.”
Well, that isn’t true anymore. Within the past year, I’ve lost a parent to cancer, quit my high-paying job without all that much of a backup plan, and canceled a wedding that was only seven weeks away. I’ve moved into an apartment with a hole in the bathroom wall. I’ve gone on dates and said humiliating things during them—for example: “Sorry, I’m a bit out of practice.” I’ve toppled out of a handstand in the middle of a crowded yoga class.
So what did I do? I poured all of the pain, all of the lessons I’ve learned from my father’s slow, horrible illness and the slow, horrible dissolution of my relationship, into a 1,700-word essay. I revised it ten times, until it sounded like me. It was lyrical but real, and still a bit raw about the edges. My mom cried when she read it.
And then I sent the piece to my dream venue. “It’ll be perfect there,” the woman who teaches my nonfiction class told me. I checked my email about a million times a day, looking for the editor’s reply. Every time I got a call from an unknown number, I wondered, “Could this be it?”
Tonight, I got my reply: a form email rejecting my essay. And just in case I was tempted to ask why, the note demurred, “The volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.”
Well, that’s that.Read More