Jorie Graham on Capturing the Past

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the poet Jorie Graham.

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Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”

Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Graham is known for her deep interest in history, language, and perception; the critic Calvin Bedient has noted that she is, “never less than in dialogue with everything. She is the world champion at shot-putting the great questions. It hardly matters what the title is: the subject itself is always ‘the outermost question being asked me by the World today.’ What counts is the hope in the questioning itself, not the answers.” Graham has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

“There’s no way back believe me.
I’m writing you from there.”

— Jorie Graham, Overlord: Poems

It seems like a sign or an interesting coincidence that I should come across this quote from Graham so soon after finishing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was concerned very much about returning to the past. When I saw I thought immediately of a scene near the middle of the book, when the narrator, Nick, is talking to Gatsby about his longing to get back Daisy Buchanan, a girl he had to let go some years before, and who he hope to get back.

Gatsby has been throwing one of his famous parties and invited Daisy to attend. She didn’t have a good time nor did she seem to like the company Gatsby is keeping. He’s a bit disappointed at not being able to please her and make her understand what he is trying to do. Nick listens and advises him not to be too hard on Daisy, after all, “you can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby replies:

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”

Nick goes on to wonder about Gatsby:

“He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…”

Of course, Gatsby’s longing to return to the past, to go after Daisy and try to recapture what they had will be his downfall, that is how these kinds of stories go. If he had only moved on, and let her move on to, he might have made a good life for himself. Or if he had discovered writing and found a way back to the past that offered closure and cleansing

The laws of this universe are such that time moves one way and one way only. The past can’t be returned to, but we can express our frustration at being forced to live with no instructions or guarantees and no ability to go back and fix what we got wrong. We can express our heartbreak and our loss and our suffering/. We can even express our wishes and our dreams of what might have been had we turned left instead of right at the fork five years ago. We can’t relive the past but we can sure as shit rewrite it.

It’s strange to think too that everything you read is from the past and everything you write is to the future. I mean, I know that but to consider the past, and the future too, as a physical place that writing is either going to or coming from feels weird.

By the time you are reading this, I will have left my place behind this screen and gone on to finish my day. You may even be reading it days, weeks, maybe a year or two from now. I wonder where I am? I wonder what twists and turns my life has taken in that time. I wonder what wisdom I could send out to myself, or to you from here?

As for the past, I may not be able to speak to my old self, but I can comfort the part of me that is still hurting. I can talk with an old self who feels joy and hope. I can sit with myself as a child and capture a bit of her innocence again, in a way.

This is the loophole, a poor one, but it’s all we have for now. We’ve been gifted with an ability to vividly imagine new worlds, and we have cultivated out knack for language and learned to share those worlds with each other. We found a way to beat time, to loop back, to jump forward, to redo this life or make a new one entirely. We can live on this planet or another, light years from here. We can live in another time. We can travel to heaven or hell. We can see our lost loved ones again and tell them what we never could in life. We can fall in love, give birth, beat our enemies, become the leader, the savior, the hero, the genius, the one that everyone wants to have or wants to be.

We can be Gods.

But only in our heads, and only on paper, and that just has to be enough. Trying to go back never works. It can’t be done. Writing can help though. It can get you through your feelings. You can get them out, you can find closure, you can have what you want, in a way. Writing can be your therapy and your friend. It can help you discover the thing, that part of yourself, that you missed and reclaim it. It can keep you from getting stuck.

We’ve never been able to revisit the past, but somehow we have never gotten over the desire. We’ve never been able to let go of regret, but we found another way with writing. Take advantage of it because there is no other way back.

Trust me, we are all either writing from there, or writing about then, and we should know.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Joriegraham.com and The Poetry Foundation

Featured image via Unsplash

The Error of Arrogance

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“I am a member of a fragile species, still new to the earth, the youngest creatures of any scale, here only a few moments as evolutionary time is measured, a juvenile species, a child of a species. We are only tentatively set in place, error prone, at risk of fumbling, in real danger at the moment of leaving behind only a thin layer of our fossils, radioactive at that.”

— Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species

Have you ever heard of the Greek goddess Aidos? She was said to be the daughter of Prometheus and the personification of the feelings of modesty, humility, and shame, reverence, and respect. She was said to be a companion to the goddess Nemesis who punished men guilty of arrogance before the gods.

Together they represent the shame and respect that keep men good, and what can happen when we lose sight of how small and fragile we are. Or, put another way, they represent the “emotion that a rich person might feel in the presence of the impoverished, that wealth was more a matter of luck than merit,” and “righteous indignation aroused by the sight of wicked men receiving undeserved good fortune.”

Humans have accomplished much on this planet. We’ve colonized every continent, invented culture and society, found math and the sciences, conquered nature, and each other, and soon even the distance and emptiness of space between the stars won’t be left untamed. We are the pride of our planet, and of the universe as far as we know. Most of us believe this reality was made for us to rule, many of the rest believe we have earned the right, I say we haven’t earned shit, and nothing here belongs to us.

I say we need a little humility, a little shame for the way we are acting, and a bit of respect for or planet and the life on it. I say we need to remember that we got here purely by luck and we shouldn’t be so damned arrogant. I say it’s time for some righteous anger for those who forget that and act carelessly, putting all our futures in danger.

Humans are what we are because of our big brains, and our thumbs, and the ability to walk upright. Our feelings of empathy and self-awareness, our ability to reason and work together, and our unwavering curiosity have taken us far, but when you put our accomplishment on the scale of time from the beginning of the universe, we are less than a blink of an eye. On the scale of space, we are less than a speck of dust; we are very nearly nothing at all.

Yet, here we are acting like it all belongs to us. Like gods deciding who gets to live and who dies. Gods who cannot give life to the ones we take it from and who cannot fathom a future farther than our own. We are polluting the planet, killing off species who have been here long before the first thing even resembling a man was born. How is this much ego even possible?

There will be a price to pay for our arrogance. There will come a time when we’ll regret being so damn stubborn and stupid. We’re going to wish there had been more respect, reverence, and shame to keep us good. We will wish we had been better. I can see it now, and every move we make in the name of ideals as short-sighted as money or convenience makes me cringe.

Of course, I am speaking of our President, a man who seems to made entirely out of foolish pride and extreme short-sightedness, but I am also talking to people who refuse to see what is happening around them and refuse to listen to reason. The science is conclusive, the rest of the world is leaving us behind, the future is coming and you cannot stop it.

I’m talking about climate change. I’m talking about us thinking that cutting down the trees, dumping chemical into our rivers, throwing plastic into the ocean. I’m talking about hunting for fun and profit. I’m talking about taking land that animals need to live. I’m talking about the blood on our hands, the death we are bringing now and for eons to come.

I am talking about the way we treat our home and the life that fought just as hard right alongside us to get just as far as we have. I am talking to anyone who believes that we have the right to use this planet for our own ends. I am talking to those with no shame and no respect!

Arrogance is a human emotion that comes far too easy and one we have to be ever aware of. We have to fight it to keep from acting stupidly, another human tendency that comes far too easily. We are a species that has learned to imagine the future but only so far as it concerns us personally. We have difficulty holding vast expanses of space or time in our minds, but we have grown in numbers and strength that affects whole planets and eons of time when they act. We literally possess power we do not understand, but instead of stopping for a moment to grasp the impact we have, we stupidly move forward. We double down in the face of facts and warnings and become bolder and more arrogant. No good can come from this.

This week, take a moment to check your own arrogance. I have found the easiest way to do this is to take time every day to look up at the sky, particularly if the stars are visible. Or maybe get out into nature. See some tress, not ones we have planted but old ones that were here before this place had a name. Get out of the city and away from the influence of other humans if you can.

I have found that looking at the sky reminds me how small I am and that finding my way into nature reminds me that this world does not need us to go on turning, growing, and creating. We have only just gotten here and so much happened before us and will happen after we have destroyed ourselves once and for all. We are not gods and this universe does not bend to our will. We are not omnipotent nor omniscient. We have no right or claim to this world.

 

We are small, and dumb. We are barely beginning to be anything at all, but we do have some power, and it would be better to use it for good than for bad. It would be better to stop here, realize our recklessness, and make a change but it has to start within each of us.

It has to begin with letting go of our pride and letting ourselves feel some awe and gratitude and a sense of protection for what we have been given.

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Douglas Adams on Where Ideas Come From

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from Douglas Adams.

4Douglas Noël Adams, born March 11th 1952 was an author, scriptwriter, essayist, humorist, satirist and dramatist best known for his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which originated in 1978 as a BBC radio comedy before developing into a “trilogy” of five books that sold more than 15 million copies in his lifetime and generated a television series, several stage plays, a comic book series, a computer game, and in 2005 a feature film that was completed after Adams’ death.

Adams’s contribution to UK radio is commemorated in The Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame.

Adams also wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and co-wrote The Meaning of Liff, The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Last Chance to See, and three stories for the television series Doctor Who; he also served as script editor for the show’s seventeenth season in 1979. A posthumous collection of his works, including an unfinished novel, was published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002.

In the early 1980s, Adams had an affair with novelist Sally Emerson, who was separated from her husband at that time. Adams later dedicated his book Life, the Universe and Everything to Emerson. In 1981 Emerson returned to her husband, Peter Stothard, a contemporary of Adams’s at Brentwood School, and later editor of The Times.

Adams was soon introduced by friends to Jane Belson, with whom he later became romantically involved. The two lived in Los Angeles together during 1983 while Adams worked on an early screenplay adaptation of Hitchhiker’s. When the deal fell through, they moved back to London, and after several separations and an aborted engagement, they married on November 25th, 1991.

Adams and Belson had one daughter together, Polly Jane Rocket Adams, born on June 22nd, 1994.

Adams died of a heart attack on May 11th, 2001, at the age 49.

 

Toward the end of his life, he was a sought-after lecturer on topics including technology and the environment. He was known as an advocate for environmentalism and conservation, as a lover of fast cars, cameras, technological innovation and the Apple Macintosh, and as a “devout atheist.”

“The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.”

— Douglas Adams

I’m suffering from a real writing crisis here. I am a writer with no ideas! I love to put pen to paper, to type away all day the thoughts that pop into my head, thoughts that don’t mean much and in the end don’t leave me feeling very fulfilled, accomplished, and are not at all as lucrative as I’d like.

To say I have no ideas isn’t exactly the truth. I have ideas, they are just bad ideas, and I don’t know how to find good ones.

I want to be a good writer, and that means that I can’t write stupid or pointless things, but I’m not a good writer, yet. The catch is I can’t become a good writer without writing all the stupid and pointless things first. It seems simple enough, just write, and you will get better, so write already! But the embarrassment hurts! It’s paralyzing to be such a noob! The shame of being bad at what you love and sharing it with the world freezes you at your keyboard.

But summer is coming, and I have to use the time to move forward. I’ve been stuck lately. I had found something, a community and publication to be a part of but just as I was really getting into it, they decided to move in another direction. I’m sad, but I’m trying to think of it in a positive light. This was never something that I thought I could do as a job, it was always a stepping stone, a place for feedback and practice. I’ll miss that, but maybe now I can finally make something of my own. But what?

I want to be a freelance writer, but I’m afraid without school or a ton of connections that dream feels too far away.

I want to write a book, but I’m not sure I have enough passion or talent for fiction.

I want to be an artist too but my confidence is low, and I have no idea where to begin.

Nothing feels small enough to start with. I don’t have experience, I don’t have mentors or peers to learn from and work with. I only have idols who are light-years ahead of me and the internet which seems severely lacking in information about how to go from knowing nothing about writing to knowing something about it.

Oh, sure there is plenty of information on the rules of writing and the best practices of publishing. Even if everything contradicts everything else you at least have an idea of where to start, but what do you do if you have a desire to be a writer or an artist, but you have no idea what it is you are trying to say or how to even say it?! What do you do when you feel like a stupid noob and you can’t muster courage enough to start?

I know how to write a blog post, I know how to fill a page of my journal, I don’t know how to make something someone might pay for. I don’t know how to put together a project that is unique and valuable. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I have no idea where to begin to get an idea.

But maybe I am going about it all wrong. No, not maybe, I am certain I am. I am waiting for the ideas and the inspiration, to come to me before I get started and if there is one piece of advice I have read over and over again from author after author it has been that you just have to do something until you stumble upon something worth pursuing and sharing.

So, I’ve been rethinking everything.

I’m pushing my big dreams back to work on something small, something tangible, something that feels like a place to start. I’m working with what I know and love. I love non-fiction. I love essays. I love creative non-fiction and stories about real people and what we feel and know. I love I am putting that together with simple art, doodles, and collage, and I’m spinning these ingredients around in my mind for a little bit every day and seeing what I can come up with.

I am taking the summer to make something, and I’m doing it before I have the inspiration and the ideas all squared away. I am just going to drink coffee and bang my head until something interesting happens.

And you know what? I have a feeling that is what everyone else is doing too. It isn’t magic, or maybe it is, just not the kind of magic we are used to wishing for. We want to walk through fields of flowers, or fall in love and let the words just come to us, but that’s just not how it works. Instead, maybe we just have to brainstorm like hell, write something, post something, draw something, and decide what we think afterward. Then wake up tomorrow and do it again, only a little bit better, and a little bit better, and a little bit better, again and again. You gotta bang your head like hell and drink liquid energy, or liquid courage, whichever you need, until one day someone declares that you are finally a “good writer.”

That is the fucking magic. That is where the ideas come from, and that is the only way to get the work done. The miracle is doing the work, and I plan to work until magic and miracles happen for me too.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

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You Have to Believe It

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“What makes you think you deserve to be happy?”

Thigh High

I read this some weeks ago, and my immediate thoughts were not positive ones. What does make me think I deserve to be happy? Who told me that and why do I believe it? Maybe none of us really deserve it. What does it matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos whether or not any of us is happy, or suffering miserably until death? It doesn’t.

So, why do I think that just because I was born, and I am here, I should get something out of it?

A feature of the human condition is endless frustration between ourselves and the universe over what we feel we deserve but are not getting out of life. We’ve all heard that life is unfair. We don’t want to believe it when we are young, but we learn it as we grow older. We learn that you don’t always get what you want and that good doesn’t always win. We learn that our hard work and sacrifice will more often than not go unnoticed and that the universe doesn’t owe us a damn thing.

We come to understand this, but we draw the wrong conclusions.

We grow bitter over time and sometimes, having nowhere to direct our pain and feeling a desire for understanding and control we turn the bitterness inward and believe that we don’t deserve happiness. It must be something within us that makes the world hate us so. There must be a reason that the scales are so tipped against us. There must be a reason that other people get ahead and we are stuck where we have always been, doing what we always have, and feeling shitty as ever.

But the real truth is, sometimes it is that shitty feeling that keeps us from moving forward.

Sometimes we hold on to these toxic worldviews, worldviews that, often, other people have put into us. People who didn’t believe they deserved better or happier either. People who were frustrated with the indifference and unfairness of it all. Those people drew the wrong conclusions too. They thought that because they didn’t deserve something, that you don’t either, but they are wrong.

The sad part is we all deserve better, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get it. The good news is, just knowing that can give you a better perspective and change things. Just knowing that you have the right to reach out and pull all the good things that come your way into your life and that no one has the right to take any of it away, can make your world a very different place.

If you think all you have is all you are ever going to get, you stop looking for more. When you think that this is what you get you think of your life as a punishment you accept and even seek out pain as a punishment. When you think that you don’t deserve to have the same as everyone else you set yourself apart as less than anyone else and inflict the greatest cruelty on yourself. If you do this and expect that some sign or someone will come along, tell you differently, and magically change things, you will be disappointed, because even if they do, it won’t make any difference.

You have to be the one to say it. You have to be the one who tells yourself that you have earned every breath, every joy, every hope, and opportunity. You have to be the one to tell yourself that you deserve more and better, and you have to believe it because no one else can make it so.

No one has the authority to tell you what is for you and what isn’t. No one is judging you or weighing what you have given against what you get. There is only you up against a very harsh and hard world. You may not be able to have it all, the world may not open for you and suddenly show you the way, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can and get what you can, while you can.

This week, walk like you deserve to be here, work like you deserve more, and talk like you deserve to be heard. Love and accept love like you have earned the right to. Imagine a life where you are happy in all the ways you aren’t now and simply tell yourself that is what you deserve. You deserve more money, more consideration, and more respect. You deserve not to have to hurt so much, worry so much, stress so much. You deserve to feel good about who you are and what you look like. You deserve to be confident and to be accepted.

I’m not asking you to do anything different, I just want you to know, you are deserving of better and more. I want you to tell yourself that until you believe it, and when you hear your mind ask back, why? I want you to have an answer.

Maybe the universe doesn’t care, and maybe it doesn’t really matter either way in the long run, but I care, and you care, or you should, because you only get one chance at this, one chance! If there is no other reason why it is that. You get one chance, and no one has the right to limit you or give you less than what you’ve earned.

You, like everyone else, was born, has lived, and suffered. You were given a beautiful but limited gift and whether or not it was only down to chance doesn’t matter, because we all have the right to make the most of our miracle.

But you have to believe it to make it so.

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If you like this post heck out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

 

You Have a Right to Be Here

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”

― James Baldwin, Collected Essays

I’m working on being honest about all the bad things I think about myself and how damaging those thoughts are. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’ve gone from the bad thoughts occurring to me and me just accepting them as truth, to being able to see them for what they are. They are thoughts that come from somewhere that is not me, somewhere in my mind where I have less control and so, and am less responsible.

Understanding that has made a huge difference. What I hear in my head is an echo of my past that has become a habit, a habit so ingrained that it takes real effort and strength to fight. The more I remember this, the more I fight, the easier it gets, but old habits are hard to break and sometimes, I still believe that I have less right to life than anyone else on this Earth.

When I was young, I was told I was stupid a lot.

Now, as an adult, I believe that my mind works in some defective way and that the ways it is defective are somehow my fault. If only I would be better, think better, learn to grasp something obvious and easy then I could finally stop being such a burden and a hindrance to everyone around me. I believe that I am the reason that the people around me are frustrated, angry, sad or stressed. I believe that my stupidity it the cause of all the problems around me, even the ones that aren’t mine.

I believe that this, and my many other flaws and deficiencies mean I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to be loved or to love myself. I don’t deserve to be successful or to feel pride in my accomplishments. I have no right to look another human in the eye or to demand respect, to be heard, to be counted among the beautiful, the intelligent, the “normals”.

These thoughts live in the back of my mind and subtly influence the way I walk through the world, the way I carry myself and speak to people. These thoughts make me small and quiet and cautious. They make me feel sad and serious, and constantly anxious. I worry about overstepping my place or lowering myself further by saying or doing more stupid things every day.

It’s hard to live this way, and it’s wrong.

There is part of me that knows none of this is true. There is a part of my that genuinely knows that I am smart and good and worthy of all the good this world has to offer and so much more. I am strong and talented and capable. I am loved and deserving of that love. I am something special, and I am just as normal as everyone else.

I have the right to live and breathe and make my life into something I can go to my grave satisfied with, same as anyone else. No one else has the right to hinder that, but we often forget the ways we can hinder a life and a pursuit of happiness. We put our shit on other people and forget how our own wounds never closed and how a few words can break a person.

I have been a victim of other people putting their shit on me when I was vulnerable, like many of you.

So many of us carry around false ideas of who we are and what we are and are not worthy of. So many of us were told by someone who’s opinion we held dear that some part of ourselves was “bad”. So many of us have internalized this filth, and we are having the damnedest time letting it go.

We think we are ugly and stupid. We think that we never have and never will get it right. We think that we are broken and beyond repair. We think that we were set apart and built wrong from the beginning. We spend our lives hiding, making ourselves small, putting ourselves lower than anyone else because we think it is our place.

We all have it so wrong. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t fighting a battle, who hadn’t been hurt, who was suffering and struggling same as me. Every person I have ever met, even if we had nothing in common, even if I didn’t like them, even if I thought they were mean, or hateful, or toxic, I have never met a person who I thought didn’t deserve to be on this Earth.

This week, I want you to know that you that you deserve to be here, and I want you to practice saying that to yourself.

Try talking to yourself like someone you love and respect, someone you think the world of, or simply someone who has done you no harm and whom you have no desire to do harm to in return. Remind yourself that no one is perfect, that no one has all the answers that not one of us is inherently better than any other. Each and every one of us is lucky to be here and that lucky accident should never be wasted on believing such filth about ourselves.

This week, I’m asking you to tell yourself that all the bad things you think about yourself are not your own thoughts, they are the result of other people being people and forgetting that their words can hurt too. I’m asking you to remember that every person matters, and that means you too.

It isn’t easy but I’m asking you to believe, a little more every day, that you have the right to every breath, every step, and every bit of happiness and peace you can get your hands on because it is the truth.

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If you like this post heck out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

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When You Can Only Do a Little

Hello, and happy Monday! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

— Edmund Burke

Most Monday’s I do well. I wake up motivated and get right to work. I write. I plan. I work. I do all the things that look like I am on my way somewhere in life, and then, I fizzle out by Tuesday morning.

I never make it further than that because every week I go from feeling like I can do anything to feeling like my dream is too big, too impossible, too hard to ever achieve. And anyway, I’m not smart enough, or interesting enough, or good enough to get there. So, I give it up again and make no progress.

Sometimes I have to give up because my body is too tired. Fatigue kicks my ass. I overdo it one day, and I need two to recover.

Sometimes I give up because other obligations get in the way and leave me with nearly no time for my personal projects and dreams.

But mostly it’s my own mind getting in the way, telling me I am too small to do big things in this world, telling me it’s better to do nothing than to do a little.

My mind is lying.

I can’t count the number of times I have looked back and thought that if I had only done a little something every day, I would be so much further along by now. I wish I had done one small thing every time I sat staring at a screen feeling anxious and overwhelmed before opening Twitter or Facebook and giving up. Sometimes I get caught up in that though, in self-pity and disappointment, and I do nothing still, but I want to try to find a better way.

It’d be nice to have the time, the energy, and the confidence to do big things all day every day but I have to accept that just isn’t me. I have to accept that for me it will have to be a lot of tiny step all adding up over time, for now. I have to look at my dream in a new light. I have to break it all up into little bits that don’t feel so overwhelming or impossible for little old, boring, and bumbling me. I have to work through it all, one tiny step at a time, looking down at the path rather than up at the destination.

Today, I can take a few notes. I can think of one idea. I can write one post, one paragraph, one sentence. I can draw one little doodle. I can find some inspiration, or ask one question. I can reply to one comment. I can learn one new thing. I can research one step pf the process. I can read a few pages. I can do one lesson.

I can find one useful thing to do, in just five or 15 minutes to get me where I want to be.

This week, do one small thing every day that brings you closer to the life you want. Don’t think about the big goal. Don’t think about all the reasons you can’t do this. Don’t think about all the other people in the world who do it easily and better than you. Don’t think about the impossible. Just think about this one step, this five minutes. Do one small thing and celebrate it when you finish.

You can apply this to anything too. Want to help the environment? Produce a little less trash today. House is a wreck? Clean just one room, one corner, one shelf. Want to get healthier? Drink one glass of water. Take one walk around the block, around the building, to the water fountain and back. Want to feel happier? Write one good thing that happened today. Say one nice thing to another person. Don’t know where to begin? Ask one person for advice. Ask one person for help. Ask one person for support. It all starts with just one step.

Big things are scary, but small steps are easy. Give yourself permission not to be perfect. Tell yourself it’s okay that you aren’t there yet. You are trying, and you did something!

This week I am going to make a list of little things I can do when the big things feel too big. I’m going to take it all step by step, moment by moment, and when I look back a year from now I will be a little closer, or hopefully, a lot closer, but it really doesn’t matter, as long as progress is made.

P.S. A bit of caution before you go, sometimes procrastination and small things look too much alike. When you do small things, you have to do them with mindfulness. Ask yourself: How is this small thing helpful?

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Margaret Atwood on Existing in Two Places

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the Canadian poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood.

mg_5527Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born on November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Because of her father’s work and research in forest entomology, Atwood spent much of her childhood in the backwoods of northern Quebec and traveling back and forth between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Toronto. She did not attend school full-time until she was eight years old.

Atwood began writing plays and poems at the age of six and realized she wanted to write professionally by the time she was 16.

In 1957, she began studying at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where she published poems and articles in Acta Victoriana, the college literary journal. She graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in philosophy and French.

She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.

She has also published fifteen books of poetry. Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works.

Atwood is also the inventor, and developer, of the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents.

She is a noted humanist, and, in 1987, she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

“I exist in two places,
here and where you are.”

— Margaret Atwood

This week I’m thinking a lot about Atwood and her book The Handmaid’s Tale. Of course, because today her book becomes a show, and I’m pretty stoked about that since I recently read it, but I’ve also been thinking about time. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be the writer and the reader, and for time to pass between both. I’ve been wondering what it means for me to exist as I am now, and for me to exist again with you when you read these words. I wonder in what forms I will exist when I am read after I am long gone?

I know that I am a human and I know that all humans are mortal and still my own death seems impossible to me. How can there ever come a time when I will not breathe, or think, or write, or love, or look to the sky and feel small, and here, and so myself and so a part of everything that exists? How can there come a time when my heart stops and with it the thoughts in my head while the world goes on spinning and humans go one warring, inventing, and evolving, doing things I will never witness or be a part of?

This makes no sense, and yet it is a certainty, and it hurts me so every time I remember it.

I am afraid, I admit, not to be anymore. I want to face the fact, but I also want to keep it out of my mind. Why let the inevitable distract me and keep me frozen? Then again, the fear can be a motivating and focusing force until my end comes. If I want to live on after my death, I must remember that I am going to die and use what I have to limit my fading into the nothingness.

When I read the words of other writers they come into me, into my time and place, or some form of them does anyway, and I am happy to give them life again. I suppose I want a bit of that too. I want to know what it feels like to exist again and again and yet still be me, growing and changing here and now.

I want to live in every human and in every time after this one and words seem to be the only way to do that. It is a selfish thing to want, but I can’t help wanting it either. I am afraid of not being.

I am angry too. To be limited to this body, to this mind, and to this time feels so petty and unfair. One day there may be better ways to circumvent these pesky limitations, but for now, all I have are words. I have the imperfect ability to write down who I am and the improbable hope that in the future, minutes or eons from now, you will read them and remember me.

But who will it be that you remember? By the time this goes out I will be a little different, and the longer the distance between now and then the more the difference between the Lisa that wrote this and the Lisa that exists. So, I suppose no part of me will live on really, only bits of who I was. Only a snapshot in my history. Still, it’s all I have, and I am happy to give it to you.

Because even though I am not that Lisa anymore that does not mean she cannot be of some use. She can be a friend, a comfort, and warning, or a dream for you. She can walk with you when you feel alone, same as she walks within me. She can exist far longer than I. She can travel through space and time and be what I cannot.

And because the Lisa I am now is jealous of where that past me is able to go and where she is able to be, I will send this out and immediately sit sown to write again. I will send myself out to you over and over again, and one day, if all my works, everything from my little notes and journal entries, to the stories I’ve endeavored to tell here, and the books I may one day write, were to be put together it would be the closest a person could come to time travel. To real, complete, existence in another place and time.

I hope it happens for me one day, and that something like magic will allow me to feel what it is like to be here and there, now and then, and me, with you.

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Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Margaret Atwood on Writing Poetry

Featured image via Unsplash