Tag Archives: Writing

“Live fully, wildly, imperfectly”

From a must-read Facebook post by Anne Lamott:

“[P]erfectionism […] is the great enemy of the writer, and of life, our sweet messy beautiful screwed up human lives. It is the voice of the oppressor. It will keep you very scared and restless your entire life if you do not awaken, and fight back, and if you’re an artist, it will destroy you. […]

Do you mind even a little that you are still addicted to people-pleasing, and are still putting everyone else’s needs and laundry and career ahead of your creative, spiritual life? Giving all your life force away, to “help” and impress. Well, your help is not helpful, and falls short.

Look, I struggle with this. I hate to be criticized. I am just the tiniest bit more sensitive than the average bear. […]

Yet, I get to tell my truth. I get to seek meaning and realization. I get to live fully, wildly, imperfectly. That’s why I’m alive. And all I actually have to offer as a writer, is my version of life. Every single thing that has happened to me is mine. […]

Is it okay with you that you blow off your writing, or whatever your creative/spiritual calling, because your priority is to go to the gym or do yoga five days a week? Would you give us one of those days back, to play or study poetry? To have an awakening? Have you asked yourself lately, “How alive am I willing to be?” It’s all going very quickly. […]

It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. […]

Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.

Here’s how to break through the perfectionism: make a LOT of mistakes. Fall on your butt more often. Waste more paper, printing out your shitty first drafts, and maybe send a check to the Sierra Club. Celebrate messes–these are where the goods are. Put something on the calendar that you know you’ll be terrible at, like dance lessons, or a meditation retreat, or boot camp. Find a writing partner, who will help you with your work, by reading it for you, and telling you the truth about it, with respect, to help you make it better and better; for whom you will do the same thing. Find someone who wants to steal his or her life back, too. Now; today. One wild and crazy thing: wears shorts out in public if it is hot, even if your legs are milky white or heavy. Go to a poetry slam. Go to open mike,and read the story you wrote about the hilariously god-awful family reunion, with a trusted friend, even though it could be better, and would hurt Uncle Ed’s feelings if he read it, which he isn’t going to. […]

At work, you begin to fulfill your artistic destiny. Wow! A reviewer may hate your style, or newspapers may neglect you, or 500 people may tell you that you are bitter, delusional and boring.

Let me ask you this: in the big juicy Zorba scheme of things, who fucking cares?”

__________

Time to Do. The. Work.

(And for a broader sociocultural take on the destructiveness of perfectionism, see my musings here on Timothy Ferris’s excellent The Science of Liberty.)

(via Brain Pickings; photo by Mark Richards)

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“Keep the channel open”

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

— Martha Graham

as spotted in a bathroom sign at Siggy’s Good Food, in Manhattan

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Ray Bradbury goes home

A video from an earlier post, reposted here in memory of the magnificent Ray Bradbury:

Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.

Yes.

(I find it a little ironic to be writing this in a medium that Bradbury hated: he considered the Internet “a big distraction,” “meaningless,” and “not real. It’s in the air somewhere.” A surprisingly narrow-minded view of an entire medium of informational exchange, with enormous potential as well as pitfalls. Judging from all the online encomiums, however, it seems the Internet has no hard feelings.)

More quotes from Bradbury over at Brain Pickings, here and here. After losing this tremendously wise storyteller so soon after Maurice Sendak, all I can think is this: Ursula K. Le Guin, please stick around for a good while longer. We continue to need your voice, and the wings you lend your readers.

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Do. The. Work.

Writerly inspiration from Ira Glass:

(via Brain Pickings)

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Miscellany: Blume, Hitchens, Lamarr, Tyson; The West Wing as science fiction; groupthink and solitude; what e-books can’t do; and the end of SOPA (for now)

Time for another grab-bag of links that caught my eye:

1) An NPR interview with the incomparable Judy Blume, who talks about censorship, how to inspire kids to read (and how not to), the folly of labeling authors and books according to “audience age,” and how perseverance determines a writer’s success more than talent. (Note to self: time to get to work. Again.)

2) An interview with Richard Rhodes on the scientific career of actress Hedy Lamarr, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Fascinating stuff, and one I’ve touched on before, in a post on stereotypes and women scientists.

3) A compilation of articles written for The Nation by the late, great Christopher Hitchens, spanning 28 years (1978-2006).

4) Over the past few months my wife and I have avidly watched all seven seasons of The West Wing. Graham Sleight explains why the show is, at its heart, science fiction in spirit and impulse: “I want to argue […] that it’s SF in a more profound sense […] It makes an argument, as SF does, about possibility, about what can be done, and it does so by presenting us with a world already showing a change from our own.” Highly worth reading if you’re a West Wing fan.

5) A provocative New York Times essay by Susan Cain on “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” about the folly of insisting on constant collaboration and “teamwork” at the expense of creative solitude. This is happening in schools as well, as Cain points out, a fact that I personally find a bit worrying. Learning to work with others is great, but are we failing to appreciate the virtues of aloneness, of introspection?

6) Why books are made of win: the Abe Books blog, via Matador, offers a list of things you can’t do with an e-book. Including leaving it on a beach towel, throwing it across the room, and using it to press flowers and fallen leaves.

7) Carl Zimmer’s excellent profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

8) And finally — victory! Talking Points Memo analyzes how Netizens killed SOPA and PIPA. No doubt the advocates of censorship will try again; but those who stand for freedom of speech will be ready and waiting.

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Beautiful words

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner quotes this passage from Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings and asks us simply to savor the language:

At around age six, perhaps, I was standing by myself in our front yard waiting for supper, just at that hour in a late summer day when the sun is already below the horizon and the risen full moon in the visible sky stops being chalky and begins to take on light. There comes the moment, and I saw it then, when the moon goes from flat to round. For the first time it met my eyes as a globe. The word “moon” came into my mouth as though fed to me out of a silver spoon. Held in my mouth the moon became a word. It had the roundness of a Concord grape Grandpa took off his vine and gave me to suck out of its skin and swallow whole, in Ohio.

Mmmm, yes.

The rest of O’Conner’s interview, with Leonard Lopate, here — a great discussion about beautiful words: the beautiful sounds of words, apart from their meaning. Seersucker. Jejune. Waxwing. Chevrolet. Azerbaijan. And Henry James’ favorite phrase, summer afternoon.

Yum.

Christopher Hitchens’ candidate for the most beautiful English word here.

My own favorite: susurrus, and all its variants. Loved it ever since I encountered it as a child, in Jack Prelutsky’s “The Dance of the Thirteen Skeletons.” Not the place I’d have expected to find an exquisitely lovely word, but serendipity (a lovely word itself) is a beautiful thing.

(Image by Dan Bush)

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Farewell to Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has died.

It seems appropriate to quote here, as I’ve done earlier, something he said in one of his many debates against religion and unreason:

I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled, and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology, and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairy tale to me. The only reason I’d want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him, any time, because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment.

And as I wrote then:

What a tower of courageous, unsentimental intellect. Perhaps our consolation after his death — which will happen sooner or later, after all, to him and to all of us — will be the same consolation he finds in communing with Shakespeare through his works: that Hitchens’ own spoken and written words will remain with us, engaging us in the endless conversation about what is good, beautiful, noble, pure, and true, “the only conversation worth having.”

The words indeed remain. And through them his wit and conviction and ferocious intellect live on.

Here, for instance, is a passage from his Letters to a Young Contrarian; it’s as good a passage as any with which to honor Hitchens’ memory on this day.

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate and annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

I shall leave you with a few words from George Konrad, the Hungarian dissident […]:

Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. . . . If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.

May it be so with you, and may you keep your powder dry for the battles ahead, and know when and how to recognise them.

Previous posts on Hitchens here, here, here, here, and here.

(Image via Thiago Lins)

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