Update: "Unhappiness is a story."

I feel almost quaint putting this update on a blog at this point.  Against all odds, dispatches of this sort have become popular for TinyLetters or in tiny increments on Twitter. But I would likely obsess over the statistics and open rates and the number of subscribers and so I write a blog here. Since last I wrote here, I finished the copy edits on my first book. Then I sold my second book. Now I have to write it by December 1. I taught a SkillShare class on the creative art of pitching stories. You can take it, if you want to.  I am teaching a class in person with real live students later this year. I've been writing more on religion and culture instead of about love and myself. I intend to continue. You've been warned. Worse Things Have Happened Alana

I have an unintentional custom of binging on the works of an especially devout Christian writer for about a month every year. I consume their work ravenously, cry often, and generally conclude that my destiny is now and always has been to be a servant to the Body of Christ before cowering at the prospect of encountering grace again. Most recently this was Leo Tolstoy whose exceedingly long fictions are deceptive cover for the short and simple truths contained therein. I'm a born cheater who lives for movie spoilers and knowing my birthday presents in advance so I often read quote aggregations from authors I'm reading and let me tell you, Tolstoy's were a treat.

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Though his thoughts on God and on love were most compelling, I was drawn to the ones about stories and art. I usually roll my eyes sufficiently hard to sustain energy when I read the precious, self congratulatory statements by writers about writing but these were an exception."To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can't eat it," he said, justifying my decision to write my first book with a tone and language that many will understand.

harry concerned

One quote that I can't find the source for but appears frequently in aggregations of his is, "Happiness is an allegory. Unhappiness is a story." It resonated immediately because I have been happy lately but have difficulty locating a single source or event of this happiness. My relationship brings me a peace I'd forgotten and the sale of the second book brings me a sense of security that I have something to do for the rest of the year. I am proud of my recent publications even when they haven't traveled far on social media. Happiness, like depression, is found in the particles in the air surrounding you rather than in physical objects or events. Depression comes as a heavy particle,  burdensome in its weight. Happiness is one that lightens you, a mild but noble defiance of gravity in your step.

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But unhappiness is different from both, it is not a passive mood but an active disposition. From this active disposition, I could mine more easily for conflicts to write about. It has been the absence of this disposition that has seen the well of stories that often turn into my columns dry up. But instead of running out of things to write about, I've looked instead to things I am moved by or even that make me happy or make the more idle muscles of my brain work. Many of my stories used to go:

Negative Experience --> Explanation of Its Social or Personal Origin--> Alternative Approach to Looking at That Experience.

These days, they go more along the lines of:

Compelling But Value-Neutral Experience --> Exposition of Experience --> Acceptance or Championing Of Experience Source

Or something like that. Without further ado, I've linked and excerpted them below if you're into that sort of thing.

harry styles concert weird

 

"The Clique Imaginary"

“ 'Clique-y' is the pejorative used to describe young women in a friend group that is perceived to be exclusionary. But this dismissal dehumanizes them and disregards their personal reasons for maintaining a tight-knit circle of friends. The suspicion aimed at cliques targets female intimacy, particularly when it shared between women with social capital. My friend and fellow writer Rachel Syme once noted, 'Two powerful men being friends is an inevitability. Two powerful women being friends is a conspiracy.'”

"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Empty My Shelves"

"Books have influenced my life immeasurably. They have expanded the breadth of my knowledge and unlocked possibilities in my moral imagination. Literature has taught me new ways to touch and taste the world. It has offered artful instruction in the countless ways to fight and to love, how to accept the world’s gifts and how to resist its dangers. I have learned my native tongue anew hundreds of times over and become friendly, if not entirely familiar, with dozens more. Most of the books that mattered to me are absent from my bookcase, but their fingerprints cover every inch of my heart and skin."

"How Online Fashion Copy Found Its Voice"

"Brands with a fully realized response to why they are even here are the ones thriving in today’s growing ecommerce space, regardless of naysayers dismissing all brand creativity as inherently compromised. The most compelling part of any of these brand stories is not their high-minded mission statements but the fact that they find their purposes in the products themselves...These brands know that their clothing is not doubling as life rafts for polar bears or feeding a low income child when recycled at select locations. Their purpose is to clothe and otherwise adorn their customers to make them feel a certain way and achieve a certain look, and that is more than enough reason to exist."

"Stop Telling Me To Throw Out My Clothes"

"I experience most of my memories in my gut rather than in my head, and the corporeality of my memories gives meaning to the clothing that covers the part of my body where the memories live. Both my head and heart are tied up in these items. Coats are stained with invisible tears of the dates that devolved into the shouting matches that catalyzed the break ups. Blazers worn to job interviews carry a thin residue of professional luck. A white tulle summer dress worn to The Party That Changed Everything hangs like a warning and a survival trophy in my closet."

"How Far Can You Run When If Run On Dunkin?"

"For the first few weeks of attempting fasting cardio, bass lines and endorphins made it possible to arrive at the very edge of Coney Island and return triumphantly to my home on the subway to eat bananas and almond-butter toast without ever feeling hungry. But deprivation has a way of accumulating in secret and coming to collect its debts unexpectedly."

 

 

 

 

GLAMOROUS DREAMS ARE NOT WINNING THINGS: A Fashion Story

There once lived a peasant girl who longed to be glamorous.

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But most, she just scampered about her woodland home, unaware of the terrible world beyond.

scamper manon

She tried to find the latest fashions but the wicked villagers kept her from her glamorous dreams of couture elegance.

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Little did the townspeople know, there was a cohort of the most elite members of the glamour brigade in desperate need of a look that might inspire them.

famine of beauty

There were some that approached the great emperors of glamour with great courage and stunning looks.

i like glamour linda evangelista

They were quickly rebuffed, not because they lacked beauty but because they lacked courage.

anna wintour frightened of fashion

There was also a contingent among the glamorous that did not understand the intellect required to be the great beauty for the brigade.

cindy crawford

The Great Empress tried to make them understand the gravity of the undertaking.

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Alas, the spoilt fashion babies would accept none of her truths, defiant until the very end.

shut the hell up gemma ward

The seasoned veteran, Her Royal Cheekbones of Glamour, would try to tell them what's what.

you're an idiot naomi campbell

But the little beasts attempted to excuse their sloth as if it were something cute.

sitting on my butt

But cute does not cut it in the world of glamour and the maidens incited ire in their mentors.

yelled at a girl tyra

But one day, Sultan Sunglasses spotted a woman out of the corner of his eye whom he thought might undue the glamour famine.

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She was taken aback by this creature, the likes of which she had never seen.

Frightened Manon

But he put her mind at ease by telling her his theories of glamour.

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And he gave her some practical advice as well.

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Suddenly, everyone who had once derided her had an opinion on what she ought to do with her life, her career, and her glamour, offering her suggestions on where to take her career that meant little to her.

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Some of it was kind, but basically vacant.

treasure yourself

Some, even more so.

dont worry cara

The young maiden grew angry that she had trust the German vampire in shades, growing irate.

you are a nobody

He conceded as much when it came to glamour.

never went to fashion school

She realized this was largely a world of frauds and made a swift decision to return her to her golden locks.

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The Great Empress was not impressed with this fiasco.

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Her Royal Cheekbones of Glamour was even less forgiving.

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And so she did what anyone might do in her situation: conjured the powers of fashion Hell.

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The peasant girl quickly ascended to where she ought to be: the heavens above where she could embrace peasants like herself.

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It was a day for great lessons among the cohort for who stood a chance and who did not.

luxury or nothing

And the Angel of Glamour Truth sent out a decree that very day, warning other peasants and even her own colleagues of what comes to pass for those who tread in their waters.

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Personal Writing: On What Is Disfigured and What Is Whole

I am very late to the game in remarking to the fiasco of sorts around "The First Person Industrial Complex" as it was titled in Slate but this is my blog and I had money-earning writing to do, dammit and so it took me a moment, OK? I think that there is a lot of value in what Laura Bennett wrote and I also agree with many of the critics of the piece. But again, this is MY BLOG so I want to talk about my experience as it relates to this piece. My quote appears in the Slate story as follows: Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.16.52 AMThis snippet came from a thoughtful, cordial one-hour interview on the phone and as much as I want to be outraged that the full depth of my relationship to first-person writing didn't make the cut, I know that I have  similarly cut conversations into quotes for the purpose of both clarity and brevity. I stand by this quote and believe there was far worse that it could have been finagled into. In reality, a fuller depth of that experience was better captured in a section of a story that was ultimately cut in my piece "The Cult of Work" for Hazlitt. It read:

Because I make a comfortable living as a writer, people expect me to feel exempt from the pull of monetary incentives. And in an economy that demands that the overwhelming majority of us work for a living, to express ingratitude at my position would be distasteful and tone-deaf to the point of being mean-spirited. I am indeed grateful to be a writer now but this gratitude is a sigh of relief rather than an exuberant shout. Writing has disfigured my relationship to my interior life as I seek to monetize its every fiber, transforming a once thoughtful exercise in self-reflection into a spreadsheet of experiences arranged in order of their potential monetary value.

There are no longer minutes but seconds between when I have a peculiar thought or experience and when I consider how I might sell it to a publication. Even as I write this, I withhold the darkest and the least linear elements in this particular constellation of thoughts in the knowledge that an editor would cut them anyway. I hoard my most clever turns of phrase even when they are apt for a conversation. My hope is to one day insert them into a project that will not be metabolized at the speed of the internet. It is not an entirely ignoble plan but the lived reality of which results in rampant self-censure in my personal encounters.

The point of this passage was not to say "Woe is me, I can't write as freely as I want!" but to express that no matter how graphic the detail, how intimate the prose, and how much a reader relates to the experience at hand, they are not reacting to a fragment and not a whole. Their relating to the story I wrote is authentic but it is not relating, necessarily, to me as a living, breathing human.

An unedited documentary of my own life would be profoundly dull and most of my thoughts and feelings are ordinary as fuck. But there are pieces that emerge from the quotidian and the extraordinary alike to which I say, "You belong to others too, I think." I then take a gamble on whether or not others will relate to them and craft a story based on that experience, thought, or moment with myself. I reconfigure it not to be deceptive but to explain it in a language that people speak. Sometimes it has a dream-like quality that matches the moment at which the thought happened even if the thought itself felt uncomplicated and sometimes it is expressed with more linguistic authority than I've ever actually felt in my body. In any case, it is a reimagination of the original feeling as a means of both self-preservation just as much as a means of self-disclosure.

 Personal essays are often a middle chapter in a life. A mark of punctuation. A turning point. A milestone.  They are made more poignant by being incomplete, teetering on the edge of some resolution but not entirely resolved. And though they are abridged version's of the writer's reality, they have the power to make readers feel something like resolution. These essays take what people thought was disfigured in them and readers recognize it as a familiar scar. And in showing the distance between the writer and the wound, proving that they can be made whole again.

10 Sentences I Wrote That Remind Me I Can Write Sentences

Surprise! I have made my blog which used to be sort of about One Direction and my selfies into a ~writing blog~ of sorts. And since my writing process is mostly me just clicking away in a fevered rush until I suddenly stop and start sobbing onto very expensive electronics about my utter incompetence, some of this blog is going to be about the self-care I do in writing to pick myself back up. What I have struggled with over the last few days is creating sentences that I care about or that mean something to me or are clever or use words well or whatever it is that sentences are supposed to do. It is easy in those moments to think I've exhausted all my best ones and should call it a day. But I have felt that many times before when I wrote a sentence I was especially proud of. And so this post involved me rereading a bunch of previous work and selecting ten sentences that I am especially proud of. I can look at them and either laugh or have a little heart ache or just be grateful to be entrusted with language for a living.

So here they are, sentences I wrote and am very happy to have done so:

"To commit suicide in the beginning or the middle of a story was to radically refuse to participate in the narrative as anything but a ghost. There was something familiar about wanting to haunt a story rather than tell it."

"Summer is in full swing and you know what that means: it's time to do ho shit."

"The reliable ghouls at the Post run a cover photo of the moment right before the cruelly small blade enters Foley’s neck. It turns out that the beginning of an era looks a lot like an unfair fight between metal and bone."

"Chill is what Cool would look like with a lobotomy and no hobbies...Chill presides over the funeral of reasonable expectations. Chill takes and never gives. Chill is pathologically unfeeling but not even interesting enough to kill anyone. Chill is a garbage virtue that will destroy the species. Fuck Chill."

"Sorrow does not have a circumference. It has a weight that slumps the posture and disfigures one’s good sense but it is a weight like heavy particles in the air more than weight like a watermelon on the shoulders."

"I thought of many ways that the delicate magic of children’s lives might be disturbed by the practicalities and cruelties of everyday living. And this was all just the neurosis of encountering eight little shoes."

"The first rule of ending casual relationships is that you have to end casual relationships. There are too many people that just choose to stop responding to text messages to end things. Those people are weasels that eat trash and wet popcorn and deserve to be set adrift on ice floes and left to the mercies of the deep ocean."

"Yoga, in the minds of many straight men, is a placeholder for light but effective exercise done primarily by women. It is a sanitary practice, a form of exercise uncontaminated by sweat or gender-neutral footwear. Something that pretty girls do three times a week in flattering pants."

"We laugh and shake our progressive heads when a little girl wants to be a princess, gently clarifying, 'No little one, I mean how do you hope to toil so that you and your family might not starve?'

"At the center of this dying universe was a living god. And that god was full of impossible, unconditional, and undeserved love. But just as New York’s light pollution obscured the beauty of the skies, its pace and indifference had dulled my senses to godly love. And so I invented stories about the particular clarity of Connecticut skies."