Truth or Consequence

I often wonder if I have anything meaningful to say, to write about. Sometimes, I believe that I don’t because there are things so much more important than my life and feelings. Ya know, like this bullshit in the White House or immigrant children being detained at the border (or, or, or - pretty much everything in the world is more important than my privileged life in the U.S.).

But then I remember a passage in Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert that talked about how her friend went to help some women that had been in prison camps. Her friend was worried that she wouldn’t know how to help these women deal with the traumas they faced. When she got there, she was surprised to find that the women were not asking her how to come to terms with war or dying. They talked about love - why he said he’d call but didn’t, whether he really loved her, if he was having an affair. In other words, the experiences and the feelings I have aren’t just mine. Nor do those you have solely belong to you.

They all - in some way - speak to a larger, more universal truth or consequence.

And that inspires me to write past the limits of how I think other people will receive my writing. Will they be offended by something I say? Will they feel welcomed and at home with my words?

Will they go digging online until they find that I have made the most insignificant statement about them in a piece like 3 people have read? Will they see this and text me about it?

I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

Everyone is always going to think something about you. Certainly, everyone always seems to have something to say about what I do - how I write, what I write, how I parent, how I believe. And the truth is, I hate it when people say negative things about me. Who doesn’t?

But what I’ve come to learn is that as long as you let other people have control over your life, especially if that comes in the form of having to moderate who you are and what you’re about so other people don’t feel threatened or uncomfortable, the longer you will find yourself doubting the sanctity of your own relationship with life.

The more times I stop myself in the middle of shrinking, the easier it gets. Just like not wanting to rock the boat and becoming less of yourself so other people don’t have to face being uncomfortable with themselves is a habit, so is not shrinking.

I don’t always succeed at this. In fact, I find myself moderating my words quite often. This isn’t all bad - I know I have a quick tongue when I get upset. I’m learning that so often whatever it is I want to say isn’t really worth saying and I’m glad I’ve learned to bite my tongue. But there are other times when I lean too far in the other direction, choosing docile compliance rather than to start World War 3. I’m learning to find the balance, the correct timing, and the grace to sit with my discomfort.

It helps to remember that, one day, I will process all of this through pen and paper or fingers and keyboard and I will be better for having had to learn the hard way that some people’s opinions really just don’t matter. You just do you, boo. This is the only life you get in this body - do you really want to spend it worried about what other people think of you? Or do you want to spend it breathing in all of the magic around you and loving fully every moment you can?

♥ CV

High and Low

There are times, like right now, when I sincerely feel that I could live my entire life very happily without writing another word for someone else’s eyes. Other times, I feel that I must - at any cost - eat, breathe, and sleep writing, not only as a passion but as a profession, too. It’s this duality that causes me so much angst.

Where is the middle ground? Is there a space in which I can write when I want to, when I’m called to and let that be that? Why is this so hard to access?

Writing has been the tool I use to sculpt meaning and purpose and lessons out of the stories in my life. It feels irresponsible and selfish to not use the gift I’ve been given to help others heal, to help others create themselves. But often when I share my writing, I feel as though I am being robbed of something intimately personal. As though what I wrote about no longer belongs to me. Sometimes that is why I share my writing - to relieve the burden of carrying painful memories on my own. Other times I share my writing because I feel that I should share my writing, that not sharing my writing makes, somehow, the work less valuable.

What good does 1500 carefully crafted words do tucked away on my computer, away from the eyes who may need to hear what I have to say? On the other hand, does possessing a gift obligate you to share it with others?

I don’t believe there is a right answer; it seems to me that each creator has their own belief around this. I am still trying to sort it out for myself and my writing. It is especially challenging because writing has, over the years, become so intertwined with who I am that untangling that which I can do with that which I am feels like removing a limb. Or an organ.

I have come to the understanding that, eventually, the pendulum will swing back in the other direction. There will come a time when I am hungry again, a time when I find myself eager to share, a time when recognition and compensation for my writing will drive my work at least somewhat.

For now, I am allowing myself the luxury of writing only when the muse calls and the mood is right. For now, if I am going to write at all, it will be on my terms and as a result of a life so fully lived that the overflow must come out on the page.

Who needs middle ground when you let yourself write - and live - high and low?

♥ CV

On My Mind: Nora Ephron +

I read Nora Ephron while I lay on my pink velvet couch at 11:45am, desperate for a break from the glare of my computer screen. She wrote of the feminist movement in the 1970s, dropping Gloria Steinem's name like they were neighbors or friends who occasionally saw one another at brunch on the Upper East Side. The words and, more specifically, the way Ephron strings them together with such exquisite yet seemingly carefree mastery of cadence and tone, feels mesmerizing. Was it Nathaniel Hawthorne who said “easy reading is damn good writing”?

Another woman whose writing style I admire is the author of one of my favorite books ever (which is saying a lot) Chasing Slow, Erin Loechner. Her words are straightforward but also melodic in a way that I wish came more naturally to me. What she writes, like the beloved Nora, tucks meaning away for future generations to explore and unpack and feel deep in their bones. It’s timeless writing, is what I really mean to say. Future classic.

In any event, the reason I’m fangirling over these two writers is that I read both of them today. Just one essay from each. One in a slightly yellowed copy of Crazy Salad some things about women & Scribble Scribble notes on the media I borrowed from the library; the other delivered via email and read while I was waiting for the microwave to beep.

And I just really love great writers, and the stories they share. Reading great writers makes me want to be a great writer. We know it’s smart to keep the company only of people we’d want to be like; perhaps writers ought to keep the company only of writers who inspire them to new mastery.

Then again, would we even know good writing without knowing the bad?

A few words I adore from Emma Brocks for The Guardian: “You write, in part – in the main, probably – for the people you admire and they take on a much greater role in your life than their actual presence might justify. They are the voice in your head, the reader over your shoulder, the people you are trying to impress and live up to. In any given life you don't get many like Nora.”

♥ CV

This is Not a List of Books I Loved in 2018

I dip in and out leaving a trail of books everywhere I go. On the side coffee table I have In Shock by Dr. Rana Awdish, a story about a resident who survives a serious medical emergency and goes on to advocate for a better healthcare system after the horrible experience she had. On the big coffee table is the September issue of Vogue and the December Issue of Vanity Fair. I’m halfway through both of them, picking them up only when I have a stolen twenty minutes in the middle of the day. On my desk is a whole stack of books: The Patient Will See You Now, An American Sickness, The Emotionally Absent Mother, and I Am Her Tribe, a beautiful book of poetry by Danielle Doby. The poetry book aside, these are books I have been told to read by other people. Namely, my old therapist and my boss. That’s not to say I don’t want to read them; I see the value in each. But if I’m being really honest, and I have no true reason not to be, these titles are not exactly what I want to be spending my precious little amount of reading time on. I put them on my desk, aligned left behind my laptop, and allow myself the courtesy of only digesting a chapter—sometimes paragraph—at a time. At the rate I’m going, I will finish all three of these books by approximately 2024.

By now you’re beginning to see how I read books and magazines. A little here, a little there. It feels mostly like I have no choice; books seduce me. The freshly printed covers, the feel of nostalgia that sweeps over me when I pick up one I’ve read before, the dizzying deja vu when I re-read books that impacted me, all of it draws me in like a moth to a flame. This is why I’ll often create a rule for myself that insists I not by any new books or borrow any from the library or friends until I finish the ones I’ve already started.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t force myself to suffer through books I’m not enjoying. For example, I just couldn’t get into Lit by Mary Karr. Phenomenal writing, no doubt, but I was slogging through it so I gave myself permission (and apologized in my heart to Mary Karr, a true literary icon) to stop. Lots of other books have fallen into this category, discarded when my brain and the words don’t mesh. One such is Moby Duck, a fascinating autobiography about rubber ducks lost at sea and the authors quest to find out what happened to them. I picked it up in the gift shop before we headed to a remote campsite for four days. I barely read it because we spent so much time hiking to fill our canteens with water that reeked of sulfur (if you don’t know what sulfur smells like, imagine a dozen rotten hard-boiled eggs. It’s foul.), to the beach, and to use the bathroom in the woods. I vowed to read it when I got home but have only gotten to chapter 2. It’s not the book; it’s me. These publications were underneath my desk, shoved up against the wall, until last week when I got sick of looking at them and donated them to the East Atlanta Public Library.

No matter how many times I invoke a book borrowing/purchasing freeze on myself, I inevitably give up (admittedly with very little persuasion necessary). It’s not that I mean to read some 20 books at a time (I haven’t told you about the six books beside my bed, or the five I’m shuffling through on my Kindle app.). I’d love to be able to focus on one book, finish it, and then start a new one. Orderly, just how my Virgo rising self likes it. Instead I am a true Gemini when it comes to books; to force myself to commit to just one at a time is a feeling akin to the ultimate case of FOMO.

There are days when I want to read Nora Ephron’s timeless interpretation of life as a woman. These are the days when my thirtieth birthday bubbles up in my throat and I need to be reminded of all the life that lay before me. Other times, I need to dip my toe back into StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli. This book made me want to be a writer. Then there are times when I bemoan my lack of formal education in or early exposure to classic literature and I tuck myself away into an F. Scott Fitzgerald. This doesn’t happen very often; normally I spend these fragile times looking at lists of recommended classic literature reads, observing the possibilities but ultimately turning back to my tried and true YA series, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, or a book by a white woman who has marginally overcome something and has decided to write a book hyper-targeted at young Millennials. (Next year, I am committed to reading more books by women of color. Jesmyn Ward’s new book Sing, Unburied, Sing sits atop my nightstand.) You can see my hunger for words is quite insatiable. Going to a bookstore? Forget it. I cannot go into Barnes & Noble without purchasing a book to add to my ever-growing collection. It’s also challenging when I see someone promoting their newly released book on Instagram, it is at the core of my nature to want to read about all of these people’s life stories, and the stories they make up for the page.  

Occasionally I will get so absorbed in a book that I submerge for as long as it takes to finish, coming up only to eat and sleep. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera was one such book. Another was Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. It took me awhile to give myself the space to not be a read-one-book-at-a-time kind of woman. Now that I’m starting to embrace this scattered but purposeful approach to absorbing what I read, I see such value in this unpressured, unharried way. There will always be new books I want to read and old books I long to have a Saturday afternoon to dedicate to. I will always want and need to dip in for a spell, leave, and return another time. It is how my brain works, merging all that I am consuming into a creative fuel for my craft.

Often, I catch myself sitting in the feeling that I will likely never have the exquisite writing skills and style of the authors I so adore. The uniqueness of the way they each combine words and string sentences and spin the narrative of their story reminds me that I, too, can write in my own way. Pulling a bit from Karr and Franzen and King and Silvera and Didion and Lochner, I weave myself into the words that helped shape what I understand about writing and the world.

♥ CV