If —— you want to survive Thanksgiving

As I travelled home for Thanksgiving, I stumbled back upon Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If–.” The speaker of the poem seems to address his advice towards a young man, instructing him how to become a man. And this left me thinking about heading home for the holidays. The lines of questioning, the unasked for advice, the opinions shared more generously than slices of pumpkin pie.

So if you are looking for some advice for navigating the world, or even just the holiday season, look no further than Kipling.

If—

By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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After a brief hiatus …

Sometimes when life is a little upside down, we decide to dig into old projects,  like this blog, as a way to distract ourselves from what is really going on. After trying to push myself here, I fizzled out as the more difficult pieces of my life refused to be silenced. Life is still a little bit upside down, but moving forward now and I feel like the blog can to.

One book that has been getting me through the ups and downs of my current situation is milk and honey by Rupi Kaur. I picked it up in the poetry section of one of my favorite local bookstores, The Brookline Booksmith. I stood and read the entire collection cover to cover on the spot, then proceeded to reread it over and over again. My roommate found herself in tears when I suggest she read it too.

I don’t want to give away too much, I think it’s better experienced with fresh eyes, but trust me, It’s definitely worth checking out. Teaser below:

 

<< Fue cuando me detuve buscando el hogar dentro de otros y levantado los cimientos del hogar dentro de mí me encontré con que no había raíces más íntimas que las que existen entre una mente y un cuerpo que han decidido ser uno. #Kaur:

You can Work From Home

While I so wholeheartedly disagree with the message and lyrics of this song, I can’t help but sing it continuously. It’s so catchy. I try to help it, but I really haven’t been successful in stopping myself. So tonight, I will paraphrase Fifth Harmony to make my point:

You don’t gotta go to work (unless of course, you do)
But you gotta put in work (#truth)
We can work from home (that’s the point huh?)

I spend so much of my day trying to get things done. Completing tasks and making satisfying red lines through black to do list items. This is my natural inclination, though the desire to create and play is still so vital to my well being. I don’t always give that part of me the time it deserves. Like many of us, I have a day job to attend to, and I don’t have endless hours to dedicate to my writing. After a long day at the office, it can be hard to psyche myself up for something that, though it brings me joy and fulfillment, is also work too.

Tonight I found myself free writing for close to two hours rather than assembling the bookshelf in my new apartment, doing my laundry, and finishing unpacking – all the things I had skipped yoga to do. And I felt so guilty about this for a bit. Why waste all of this time when there was so much else to do? After so many years of flexing my creative muscles and knowing that this is what I want to do and what brings me so much joy, it’s surprising that I have to continually validate my work to myself. But here I am once again.

Tonight I found myself so inspired by Rupi Kaur’s book Milk and Honey, which I have read twice in the past five days alone, and Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell, which is a perennial favorite of mine, that I got swept up into the messy work of it all. The drawing, the doodling, the words, the poems, the sentences, the fragments, the dreams, the memories that fill each nook and cranny of my page. And I remembered, like I always do, how much meaning this work brings me.

At the end of the day, this is my work. Not the 9 – 5, or the laundry, or the perfectly set up apartment to come home to. But sometimes, I get confused and I get bogged down in the details. Have you made time to do your work today?

What’s your material? 

This is one of the first questions that my nonfiction professor asked us during my freshman year at Boston College.

After checking “Freshman Writing Seminar” off the list my first semester, I actually had an amazing grad student teach this class who brought so much to the table, I was ready for my next challenge. I had never called myself a writer before but found myself drawn to another writing class.

In high school we had only one real creative writing section in English class. With no instruction past the old – exposition – climax – denouement – formula we were left to it. I discovered that knowing when you were reading a good story versus actually writing a good story was a whole different beast. My teacher pretty much told me my fiction was terrible, along with my sonnets. I’d love to tell her about my acceptance into an MFA program ….

I still knew that I loved to write, but trying to do it in college, when I felt unprepared from high school was a daunting task. I was still scared to call myself a writer. It felt too intimidating. I thought I could be happy writing into a vacuum for my whole life. But I bit the bullet and showed up for “Creative Nonfiction.”

My professor talked to us during the very first class about mining our material. We sat in a circle, the 10 or so of us in the class, and were told to share our “material.” To varying degrees people opened up about their lives, their traditions, cultures, strengths, fears, and mostly hardships. This was our material. Our hardships, our scars. I was young and scared to show mine. I was self conscious that my material wasn’t good enough, but there I was, assigned to write, and to constantly read my work out loud to the group of students who were mostly experienced, seniors. And each week, I grew a little stronger, a little more sure.

Truth is stranger than fiction – Mark Twain

This idea of using our material is still one that challenges me every day. Maybe I just have some growing up as a writer to do still. Whether sourcing real life and experience for fiction, or writing our own true stories, I find that using my own life feels far too revealing for me and those who are in my stories. My privacy feels invaded and I shudder at the thought of sharing so much personal material with others.

But we are drawn to true stories. I know I always have been. Memoirs, essays, biographies. As Mark Twain famously said, “truth is stranger than fiction.” I envy those writers who are willing to put it all out there.

Some of my other favorite writers have dealt with this issue. I know they have, because if you read The Bell Jar, you know that Sylvia Plath is writing so much of her own self, own life, own truth. The story is just too close to real life to not be at least influenced but her life. Maybe Plath knew the story had to be told, maybe she even knew that many would see that the story was really hers, but she couldn’t help but use the mask of “fiction” to make the words come out easier. Maybe that thin veil was the only way she could share her material.

 

Does writing “fiction” make it easier for you to share your material? What about poetry? Does that genre help you disguise your truths? What is your material? If you are looking for some inspiration, perhaps you can write down your material this evening. Happy writing and happy Sunday!

David Sedaris misspelled my name

IMG_3541We bought tickets to see him speak at Symphony Hall in Boston. It was a magical reading that ended far too soon for my liking. The best part though was the chance to meet him after the fact and have him sign my book, a copy of Barrel Fever that I love.

We waited nearly two hours as David took the time to engage in conversation with each person who approached him. It wasn’t a bit, you could tell. He was genuinely interested in sparking a conversation, laughing, making a connection. I was more nervous to meet him than I have been for nearly anything else in recent memory.

My brother Andrew first introduced me to David Sedaris on a Live From Carnegie Hall recording. I was young and impressionable and blown away. At that point in my young literary life, I genuinely didn’t know that writing like his existed. Humor and satire, fiction and non-fiction all blending and playing and pulsing together. One didn’t simple have to be a Poet with a capital ‘P’ or a Novelist with a capital ‘N.’ Writing could be truthful, hysterical, and heartbreaking all in the same breath. IMG_3542

I worked my way quickly through his works and his recordings. I’ve been hooked every since, so getting the chance to speak to him for even a few moments was a dream come true for me. We talked about my skirt, Fitbits, podcasts, and The Walking Dead. In the front of my book he drew a picture and misspelled my name. But I didn’t even mind.

I wish I had the chance to speak at great lengths with him, to pick his brain, to bring a copy of his works with me and question him further about them. For now, I’ll have to settle on building my own writing community and reading David’s words.

Here is a summery, Sedaris piece to help break up in this miserably hot weekend. Tell me your favorite of his works below!