bordering on clairvoyance
We are quick to take offense, eager to assume ill intent, savage in our response to perceived slights or disagreements, convinced our own opinions are fact, and stubbornly disinclined to grant one another grace or forgiveness or understanding. We are unwilling to civilly agree to disagree, and we hold one another responsible for a level of sensitivity bordering on clairvoyance. One is expected somehow to know what will or won’t offend others, what might or might not trigger emotions from the life histories of strangers, and to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of other cultures and places and times.
This extremity and rigidity seem to me unlikely to serve us in our human struggle to understand one another, to treat one another better, and to learn how to live together better.
from the Right,
a disturbing trend to dismiss the existence of factual information, from the Left, as Zadie Smith sums up in her NYRB essay about Brexit, the desire “to be seen to be right. To be on the right side of things. More so than even doing anything.” And even though I align with the Left in my own beliefs and feel strongly about the moral problems in the current political and sociological state of the Union, I still don’t think we can afford to stop communicating with one another. The question, though, is how. –Sara Nović
“persuade the other side” disturbs me
Basically, I think we need to quit this false equivalences game. The KKK is not the same as Black Lives Matter. The former is a white supremacist terrorist group. The latter is a movement for justice. ... It’s baffling and enraging, how this “two sides to every issue” narrative has taken over mainstream as well as certain strands of alternative political discourse. The argument that we progressives need to “persuade the other side” disturbs me. Look, I can persuade white folks who can care even just a little about folks who don’t look like them. How am I supposed to persuade someone whose entire value system is steeped in violent racial hierarchy? ... I’m not going to hold hands with white supremacists. I’m going to write and I’m going to fuck shit up. –Chen Chen
One thing I’ve learned is that there's value in sniffing out the absolutes we each hold, then inhabiting their opposites for a while. The philosopher Jacob Needleman was right in saying that if you do that for long enough, you start to see that there are more than two opposing truths. The third is the ability to be curious and listen toward a recognition of the other. This is not the same as giving up one’s ideals. –Hannah Lee Jones
as creative as my oppressor
Everyone who right now, to their own misfortune, wants me and the people I love dead, detained, or deported vividly imagines a world without us. If I am not at least as creative as my oppressor, then I suffer a failure that does not belong to me. On the other hand—though I believe they are the same hand—I am a whole ass person in the white heteropatriarchal West: I have to allow myself time and space to consider this—structured futility?—because that, to me, is the haunt of utter dissatisfaction, which is a refugee space, a mood I only know to call “home.” Anyone who delimits the emotional range allowed me disbelieves that I am a person, and is ill. –Justin Phillip Reed
because I find it important to be able to look back and unearth significance from moments both small and large that seem to symbolize some kind of growth or change. When I experience an emotional breakthrough or personal accomplishment I immediately file it away... this way, even as I remain a marginalized subject in the larger political context, I can pretend to have control over my sense of personhood and my place as a “character” in my own life. Perceiving things as having structure and meaning due to some unforeseen future allows me to dissociate, if only briefly, from the reality of being a transgender person in this world. –Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
There is a moment when you realize that more of your life is behind you than ahead, and you start telling yourself the story of your life with the set-up in the past, the meaning evolving in the same way that a story evolves as you write, knowing approximately where you’re headed but still open to detour, reevaluation, discovery.
At 22, living in the Village, working at the New Yorker, I became aware of something I called “pre-nostalgia,” the awareness of a time in the future that I would look back with a sentimental eye on that period, which was in fact rather stressed. I was right. I do look back wistfully on that time, stress included. –Janet Burroway
living to fall in love
There is no way to know for sure if our lives have a “structuring presence,” if our lives even have meaning—if God is a novelist, or if there is a God at all. That said, my investment in reading books has nothing to do with the fact that they end, just as my interest in living my life has little to do with the fact that I’ll die. I’m living it to fall in love with the people I meet along the way. –Allegra Hyde
There's a sort of beauty to the transparency that a child can understand and feel a connection to. In poems, I often struggle with this idea of what is/isn't "complex" enough, not realizing that these are all imaginary boundaries, set by no one.
before I was a writer, I was a public defender
in Kenosha, WI, doing my best to push back against a criminal justice system intent on perpetuating institutional racism. I spent all my time rotating between the wooden walls of the courthouse, the glass walls of the office, and the steel walls of the jail.
A novice attorney, I was determined not to let my inexperience affect my clients, but I made mistakes. ... I walked back to my beat Jeep Cherokee in the parking lot after telling another client there wasn’t much I could do for her, and broke down sobbing with my forehead against the steering wheel in broad daylight. I became exhausted. I made more mistakes.
One night, I came home from dinner and took all the Ambien I had just been prescribed that morning. I wanted to die. I was so tired. –Will Falk
one thing many people have in common
is this underlying idea of loneliness. That can be incredibly unifying, even though it’s fundamentally isolating, too.
I come to this as a Jew—
I can't help it, I come to many things as a Jew. A Jew who did not have a big loss during the Holocaust.
And as a Jew with family in Israel. And as one who was brought up with Hebrew School where, in between learning how to get through a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, we were fed a ton of nasty anti-Arab prejudice and propaganda. ... So I was brought up to feel that the Arabs—not really the Muslims, per se—were out to get us.
And now I'm older and I see Muslims are getting the same kinds of prejudice I got as a kid. Where they are pushed around for what they wear or what they study or how they speak or what they do when school's out. I see myself in them. I see [it said that] "all Muslims are terrorists" and I hear it as "dirty Jew." –Janet Gershen-Siegel
The first chronicle of my life I ever wrote took the form of personal letters to Macaulay Culkin and was bred of loneliness and hormones. I’d obtained his fan club address from a 90s Teen Beat magazine. I was 11. He was 12. The letters contained facts about myself—my childhood ballet career, my tape collection, what books I’d read—that I hoped would stand out among what I imagined were leagues of letters from young girls. That I never received even a cursory, form letter reply didn’t matter to me. I was more interested in the performance itself: writing, editing, and rewriting my letters until they were perfectly sound and error free, as a dancer might perfect a number for the stage. –Angela Palm
writers are control freaks
We want attention just like everyone else, want our ideas and feelings and observations acknowledged and sometimes celebrated, but we are a careful tribe. We want to get it right.
whether or not writing is healthy,
for myself and for most of the writers I know, isn’t really the point. It’s what we know how to do. It’s what’s available.
I lack an MFA so I didn’t feel I was credentialed. I started a blog, and though my number of followers grew, I felt I wasn’t really a writer without the validation of an editor. When I got published in a few literary magazines and appeared on NPR, I dodged the title because I hadn’t been paid. I was seeking some external corroboration of my skill. It took the anticlimax of securing a regular paid writing gig to realize I’d been a writer all along. –Pamela Rothbard
a white woman gives a talk
calling to burn down the current misogynist and classist structures of the literary establishment. I swoon and feel that so many of the gaslighting and degrading experiences I’ve had as a woman have just been called out. I’m exuberant. My friend, the woman of color who brought me to this lecture, says, “Of course you loved it, Laura. It was for you.” –Laura Lampton Scott
the best way to give birth
Never mind that revising your manuscript is a little bit like putting that newborn back into your body and giving birth to it all over again, this time with instructions from others about the best way to give birth. –Saadia Faruqi
as a black man
I'm expected to suck at math, be ridiculously athletic, and have a propensity for having sex with almost every woman that remotely has a butt. But being Black, for me, is not restrictive or complicated. It's liberating and enlightening. I see the road blocks and get to run right into them, just to see what happens. I get to create culture and watch people flock to it. ... I like being Black. I like it so much that I get slightly upset when people try to ignore it or pass it off as a characteristic that shouldn't define me. –Gabriel Bailey
as someone with a chronic neurological condition
I would never have pursued a career in publishing just because I couldn't live for even a moment without the guarantee of full time employment, a living wage, and health insurance. It never would have occurred to me as an option. I simply look at that life and say "that's for a different kind of person."
Naturally—and I don't blame them for this—white, straight, able-bodied women are most inclined to identify with stories about white, straight, able-bodied women. It's human nature. So we're tokenized. –Michelle J. Fernandez
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I was always a bookish kid, but became even more so when my father was diagnosed with cancer. ... As the world around me grew busier and more frantic, I retreated further into the make-believe world of stories, where events made sense and where characters learned things from adversity. In reading about children who had to survive embarrassing or traumatic situations, I began to understand that maybe one day I would look back on my father’s illness and death as part of something bigger, as part of the trajectory of my life and of life in general. –Jen Sookfong Lee
something I can sell
I recently had a Big 5 publisher look me dead in the face and say, "Your book is great. Now, go write me something I can sell." –Elicia Hyder
a funhouse mirror—it distorts and deranges. But still, we set off in pursuit of it, hoping it will make us happy. –Christine Sneed
between the first word and the last
I’m never altogether sure whether fiction is a way of dealing with fears or indulging them. Perhaps it’s a means of exploring them. For all my sense of fear, I do experience that place between the first word and the last word of a story as a safe place, even if the subject matter is dark. –Danielle McLaughlin
The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir
Relationships were infections of emotional ebola and the closer to home they were, the more ill I became. Reading had always been a sanctuary for me, a place of greater safety but it wasn’t until I discovered this writer that I realised that my suffering was not uncommon—that for sensitive, misplaced women, love could be a volta of scar tissue or a weekend with a serial killer. ... I wept with relief and affirmation and smoked a packet of Gauloises to celebrate our mutual damnation, sister to sister.
and men for that matter, are more likely to cop crap for picking up a book. It's not exactly the 'manly' thing to do, is it?
Around age six or seven, when a kid in my violin class talked trash about me for learning a song faster than he did, it hurt my feelings and just made me want to learn more songs. So from the beginning I saw that vanity in the sense of comparing myself to others can be good and bad—it can destroy as well as motivate. –Jiadai Lin
while Rome burned
Writers fiddled with their pens or chisels or quills while Rome burned. This is not news. –Janet Gershen-Siegel
Ripe and ready Avocado. That’s what the packet promises me. As I tenderly peel away the shrink-wrap and un-nest this dragon egg, my senses prepare me for disappointment. It is cold and firm to the touch, there is no smell of that buttery green loveliness and when I push my knife into it my ears register an unwanted crunch.
A promise has been broken. I’m livid.
I know the life journey of this avocado. Carefully Picked 48 hours ago in Peru, Zimbabwe or somewhere similar, it has been stored at a specific temperature that will allow it to ripen at the correct pace as it’s flown around the world, transported all over the UK, shelved and then picked up by my ungrateful hands. ...
The UK is Europe’s biggest importer of Avocado; with the label of ‘superfood’ comes a raping of lands around the world with serious effects for the environment and the local people. I know this, yet I still buy them. ... Why? Enjoyment. Enjoyment and expectation.
Just as the avocado is a product of its environment, so am I. –Jannine Saunders
I wanted to spend the rest of my life hugging trees. I told everyone I knew about the missing Salmon. How they struggled. And how we must pay attention. I searched for ways to volunteer on Earth Day, but I soon spent almost every other day distracted—killing off the planet like everyone else I knew—living in denial.
It's further into the plane ride of Earth's destruction yet I still write about my life and its shortcomings. I explore race, blame, and inconvenience, consume African-American and gay issues. I combine fear and love in poetic stories about everyday people striving for excellence. Yet my stories aren't saving the world or the environment. I'm barely even sharing them.
on the hook
I'd never judge an author for writing what she's called to write, as long as she does it with integrity and honesty... but that doesn't change the fact that those ocean levels are rising, those landfills are filling, those mountains are getting leveled, and we're all on the hook for it, sooner or later. –Karen Munro
attractiveness and beauty
are two different things. –Aimeé Irizarry
dulls my enthusiasm
I can easily waste upwards of an hour of prime writing time checking numbers, which more often than not remain static. It can become another avenue for experiencing rejection or, perhaps worse, the yawning indifference of radio silence. It dulls my enthusiasm for the writing, which is what I’m supposed to be about. –Dorothy Rice
you never, ever
get that time spent in traffic back. –Janet Gershen-Siegel
depression is often
invisible, and fatal. Hemingway called it The Artist's Reward.
the sin of lukewarmness
Sometimes I think my work is so clean. Sometimes I can’t believe my work gets rejected so often and I feel deserving of praise. I’ve committed the sin of vanity, but I’d rather be guilty of that sin than the sin of lukewarmness. It’s a thing. The Christians didn’t like people being lukewarm about their passion for Christ. I’d rather be living in extremes with my work than feeling ‘so so’ about it. –Terese Marie Mailhot
well, slap me on the ass and call me Sally.
... I really miss traveling. –Cynthia Varady
other women's shortcomings
Women seem preoccupied with being loved "in spite of." ... Jane Eyre was plain and poor; Miss Bennet was poor, had a temper, and was less beautiful than her elder sister; Scarlett's list of flaws was longer than her train. Female authors are merciless about other women's shortcomings. I mean, "cellulite," as a concept, was invented by women's magazines.
Men don't do "love in spite of" nearly is much. If the hero is unworthy he simply doesn't get any. Othello was an idiot—ok, minus a wife. Richard III—nobody loved him. Cyrano—nobody loved him, until he died. Quasimodo—nobody loved him. If a woman wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I bet some billionaire or other would totally discern how beautiful she is underneath that hump and limp. –Rachel Cohen
confidence’s evil twin
I am vain.
Let’s just get that out of the way right now. I come from a vain family. I was instructed in vain ways from the time I was a kid. I was told in no uncertain terms that my family was special, unique, intelligent. And not just intelligent, but clever, very clever. We were to act like what we were, the chosen people, Israelites. Our pond was small; we did not know it. We ruled it mightily.
As I grew up I told myself what I expressed was confidence. (It was, in a way, because what is vanity but confidence’s evil twin?) But confidence also involves a healthy counterweight of humility, and humility was not a virtue I learned until I was 28, had long left home, had discovered, to my horror, that I was actually not the smartest girl in the room. I was living in a one-room apartment with no windows and doing a job that made me wake up with night terrors. Humility was an angel that came to me in a beam of light, and I told her, Oh, hey. Did you know that I’m actually really smart? It didn't end well.
the question for any artist is
do you want the glory of the experience, or do you want to reap a reward? The world will tell you success looks a certain way at a particular end and therein lies your validation, but what attitude are we to assume until that fateful day? What price happiness? –Claire Fullerton
1. You cannot win.
2. You cannot break even. 3. You cannot get out of the game.
I breathe in sun-up
and conjunction to choke.
There will be no virgin
object there, then.
Each operating mask
spills off, bulging mania
to the simplest, reddest hue.
The reef stands icier
in the surgeons,
a last cue to tip-off,
like trilling scrabble
with a bird of paradise.
you’ll never find me
I always say you’ll never find me in my stories. This is mostly because I’m not that interesting. ... But maybe this isn’t entirely true. Maybe the things that are me are there in the pages of my fiction, but are harder to recognize because they are the things I prefer to keep hidden. Perhaps I can be found in the heart of the overweight ex-rodeo princess who hides her fears about marriage and motherhood behind a good wardrobe and lipstick and well-maintained hair. You might find me in the kind and decent farmer who is capable of cruel indifference when threatened with losing the land he loves. I’m there in the newly divorced young woman who discovers she is, in fact, a solitary being. And I’m there, too, in the charming drunkard who doesn’t turn to alcohol to drown his sorrows, but to magnify his joy, even to his detriment. (There’s a reason why I keep booze at arm’s length.) It’s like this: parts of my truest self are peppered all through my work, they just aren’t particularly obvious, though they are often the most intimate. –Angela Mitchell