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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“ '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.'”
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."