“I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.”
Saturday night I read a collection of poems to a crowd of 40+ friends and strangers for the first time, and I didn’t die. They didn’t die. In fact, they actually seemed to love it. One woman asked if I’d be willing to come speak at a teacher’s conference. One stopped me on the street later that evening as I was walking back to my car to tell me how much she liked it. A couple of people were even talking about it on Twitter yesterday. All of that was unexpected—I only went in hoping I wouldn’t bomb it.
It’s been a heady, surreal weekend. I think maybe I’ll make myself do that again.
How long ago the day is when at last I look at it with the time it has taken to be there still in it now in the transparent light with the flight in the voices the beginning in the leaves everything I remember and before it before me present at the speed of light in the distance that I am who keep reaching out to it seeing all the time faster where it has never stirred from before there is anything the darkness thinking the light
— William Stanley Merwin
This is the kind of poem that takes me two or three reads to fully grasp, but when the grasp happens, it’s a hard clutch.
"What part are you on now?" “How about now?” “What’s happening now?” “Now? Now? Now?”
— What happens when my husband is reading a book I’ve already read and I’ve already finished my own book.
And this is why I married him: Because instead of being frustrated by it, he laughs and tells me in detail, sometimes even reads a few lines out loud. And then I’ll read over his shoulder for a while, until the next night when I have my own shiny new book and am silent/”away” again for that hour or two every night for another week or so.
It’s hot. Yesterday we broke an almost 50-year record at 103 degrees, and today it’s supposed to get just as hot, possibly hotter. Right now I’m extra grateful for so many shade trees around the house and the small swamp cooler in the main living area that at least keeps it hovering around 80 out there. But here in the back of the house, in the alcove where I usually pitch camp to write, there’s nothing but an old, loud fan that loses the battle against that kind of heat by mid-morning.
It’s hard to trade spaces. My husband’s office is out there, and we’re too much like children together to get any work done in the same room. My 19-year-old daughter on her days off wanders the house, and wants to talk each time she passes, and then there’s the dog, who at 11 years old has taken to coming in and out the door several times an hour, which I admit is better than the incontinence I’ve been bracing myself for the last year or so, but is a constant distraction anyway. And then there are the cats and their constant need for love and laps. So this whole summer so far has been an exercise in the psychedelics of thinking that hard under the heaviness of sweat and heat and stale air, and of sitting still in it long enough for things to move any distance on the page. But I’ll say this: it’s a different kind of writing that happens this way. You can wring more from yourself during discomfort, I’m convinced.
That said, I haven’t run for 10 days, part to rest my foot after pounding it in last weekend’s 10k, and part because of an old arrhythmia that snuck back in Sunday after years of nothing, and the restlessness is starting to crawl all up in me. And it’s been hot. So, so hot.
But I’ve walked. Good grief, have I walked. Small consolation.
“There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.”
“The writing process for a short story feels more like field geology, where you keep turning the thing over and over, noting its qualities in detail, hammering at it, putting it near flame, pouring different acids on it, and then finally you figure out what it is, or you just give up and mount it on a ring and have an awkward chunky piece of jewelry that seems weirdly dominating but that you for some reason like. I could be wrong about field geology here.”
At TED2007, the poet shared what was then a minor fixation with a time that kept popping up everywhere. After the talk, emails starting pouring in with an avalanche of hilarious references—from the cover of “Crochet Today!” magazine to the opening scene of “The Metamorphosis.” A lyrical peek into his Museum of Four in the Morning, which overflows with treasures.
“This year, there’s the remarkable life story of the African-American scholar who grew up in the segregated South and rose to become secretary of state. Didn’t hear that one? Nobody did. Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to give the 248th anniversary commencement address at Rutgers University this coming Sunday. She canceled after a small knot of protesters pressured the university. It’s no contest who showed more class. Near as I can tell, the forces of intolerance objected to her role in the Iraq war.
And by shutting her down, the point is … what? That extremism, whether in the climate-denial echo chamber of Republican Party elites or in the fragile zone of college faculty lounges, is the worst enemy of free speech. […] For guidance, these censors could have consulted the Rutgers student mission statement. “We embrace difference by cultivating inclusiveness and respect of both people and points of view.” Diversity of perspective? Thy name should be academia. But of late, too many schools are opting for well-vetted bores. Pursue your dream, live your own life, don’t forget to floss or use sunscreen, and if you’re forced to share a hall with people you don’t like, shout them down and kick them out the door…
Give me a brisk, strong, witty defense of something I disagree with over a tired replay of platitudes.”
“You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you’re merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that’s always easiest.”
“How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works. Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight. If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead: “You look so healthy!” is a great one. Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.” “I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.” Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body. Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one. Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself. Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself. Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes. Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with. Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture. Teach your daughter how to cook kale. Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter. Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside. Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants. Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.”
Just don’t forget to back up the words with your own living example. No matter what we preach, kids are wise to who we really are, and their interpretations and internalizations of the personal realities we think we’ve hidden from them can be uncanny.
Years are so damned variable. With writing, with running, all of it. What worked with so many things last year doesn’t make a dent in anything this year. What I struggled with two years ago disappeared into smoothness last year then came back for a new fight this year. What I thought I lost for good last year has reappeared, with shiny new promises, this year. And now I know to eye it with suspicion, but to also keep moving while it allows.