Brand new website for writers!

It’s official: I am incapable of keeping any kind of New Year’s resolution.

However, I have been insanely productive in pretty much every other way in the past three months. The most exciting thing that’s happened, the reason I’m back to blogging here, is that my friends and I have started a new website for writers! It’s called It’s Just Brunch, and we just went live today! 

The point of It’s Just Brunch is to give writers a space to talk in a laid-back kind of atmosphere…like brunch! During the week, we post blogs about different aspects of the writing life; the three of us come from different places and have different interests, so you can expect a pretty wide variety of stuff! And every Sunday, it’s brunch: a short video from the three of us, chatting about writing and other ridiculousness over mimosas. We’ll have special guests dropping in and guest bloggers, too!

I’m so excited to share this new project with you guys. If you like what you see here on my blog, you’re going to LOVE It’s Just Brunch. And if you’ve got requests for a blog or brunch topic that we can cover, let me know in the comments and we will put them on the menu! (Get it?)

Thanks for reading,

~Kate

On freedom.

I got my mind soundly blown yesterday.

It was Alumni Day for my MFA program, a day for graduates like me to invade the residency in progress and get our semiannual fix of high-level literary exchange (and cheap wine and friends).

I almost didn’t  go. I was driving north on 95, toward the little island where the residencies take place, and I almost just kept driving: out of Connecticut, into Rhode Island, and back to the dark silence of my apartment, now cat- and wife-free. It had been a long week for me, and so much of me just wanted to collapse in on myself and not think, or talk, for a while. The thought of having to tell a new audience how “okay” I was in spite of everything, after doing that non-stop with friends and family over the holidays, drained me before I even took the exit.

But I had to go. Because Baron Wormser was going to talk about Emerson.

(If you don’t know Baron Wormser, you’re doing it wrong. And by “it” I mean reading, and living in general. His creative works are rich and introspective and fresh and can be so damn funny. He reads a passage of poetry or prose aloud and a new, deeper meaning slides into place. I had seen him give a seminar in the past on James Baldwin and ran out and bought Notes of a Native Son. In short: read everything Wormser has written, and then see him in person if you can.)

I can’t capture everything Wormser said about Emerson and put it here for you; even if I could, I wouldn’t. But what I can tell you is that I am still thinking about the seminar twenty-four hours later. I am still thinking about freedom.

In the passages of Emerson that Wormser presented and analyzed, the idea of freedom was always in the foreground: the freedom to know one’s true self, the freedom that comes with genius, the freedom of writing what others are scared to say. In America, the word freedom has been manipulated commercialized to the point where it’s hard to know what it means to be truly free anymore. But to Emerson, it was simple: freedom is the opposite of security. Freedom is fear.

We’ve put a premium on security. We surround ourselves with stuff: tangible, material goods that make us feel prosperous, important, safe. Feel real. But if Emerson is right, and I think he is, all this stuff that we touch and hold is a wall we build between us and the knowledge that reality lies in the intangible and the abstract. And that’s scary.

Maybe I’m way off. Maybe this isn’t what Emerson meant at all. But as Baron read his words aloud and as people around me weighed in, I sat quietly and wrote only this, because it buzzed in my head and wouldn’t stop until it was down: what you fear most is the only thing you can know for sure.

I am afraid of many things right now. Nothing is stable; nothing is certain. But in Emersonian fashion, I’m letting myself feel the fear and the instability. Security rushed out, and I’m not filling the vacuum with stuff or meaningless relationships; not this time. I’m sitting with the uncertainty, and with my fear.  I am face-to-face with this very human terror, but it’s as if I am outside of myself, above myself, able to acknowledge that I am scared, able to experience the fear, but it doesn’t consume me. I am leaving the void open, and rushing into it is a deeper understanding of not only myself but also the nature of fear. And I am freer than ever before.

The terror we feel about the unknown is more real than anything we can hold in our hands. Security is an illusion that shackles, stunts, suffocates life and creativity. Embrace fear, embrace the void, and you are free.

On wanting it.

This post didn’t start out negative. I swear.

A writer friend of mine recently shared this slideshow that offers tidbits from the collection Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do. In the slideshow were several pearls of wisdom, but Susan Orlean’s quote is what I’d like to address today: 

“Wanting to be a writer is a huge percentage of what makes you be one. You have to want to do it really badly. You have to feel that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”

That’s sure easy for a published author and New Yorker staff writer to say.

I originally thought this post was going to be about how reassured I felt by Orlean’s words—how I know now that I’m really a writer, because I want it so badly. I thought I was going to talk about how we can’t base our success on how much someone pays for our work.

And then I realized: that’s bullshit. Bullshit that I keep saying, because others keep saying it. So, one poor writer to another, let’s dispense with hollow platitudes for a moment. 

Wanting it isn’t enough sometimes.

The Orlean quote reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch from the 2008 election season, when Hillary was officially out of the running and Palin was the VP nominee for the GOP.

Image

FEY AS PALIN: It just goes to show that anyone can be President. …All you have to do is want it.

POEHLER AS CLINTON: (LAUGHS) Yeah, you know, Sarah, looking back, if I could change one thing, I should have wanted it more.

The idea that “all you have to do is want to be a writer and you are one” falls in the same category as “anyone can succeed in America” and “you’re guaranteed a job with a college degree.” They are delusions that people with money keep perpetuating, to the continued frustration of hardworking have-nots: are we not trying hard enough? Do we not want it bad enough?

I know Orlean isn’t saying that “if you want it enough, you’ll be a successful writer and make a boatload of cash.” She’s saying, “if you want it, you already are a writer.” But this means next to nothing in the land of capitalism, household bills, and student loans.

There was a time when writers could make a living for themselves on their talents alone; they didn’t live like royalty, but they got by. But this age of freelancing and adjuncting and the ever-shrinking list of periodicals that publish and pay for original work, especially from emerging writers without a platform, makes that whole “I write for a living” thing seem pretty impossible. Very few places are able (read: willing) to pay writers a living wage, leaving us to piece together a full-time, zero-benefits schedule between community colleges and jobs off Craigslist. And who has the desire to do anything but sleep at the end of that kind of day?

I’m not going to feed you a line of bull that this life is easy or that it even feels worth the trouble every day. Sure, it’s important to believe in yourself. And, yes, even without any viable prospect for a life in which my writing pays for itself, I will continue to write and continue to try. But the longer we deny that money  matters, that being well compensated for our work is as important as the act of creating it is, I don’t see the landscape changing in our favor.

…And in honor of the Ladies of SNL theme: This post was brought to you by Debbie Downer. Womp womp.

debbie

The write music. #amwriting

I find I often need to get to a place of intense longing or sadness in order to write anything of substance.

Here are a few songs that take me there.

“L’hymne à l’amour” – Edith Piaf

Pretty much anything by Edith works wonders. This one especially.

“If it kills me (Casa Nova Sessions” – Jason Mraz

Unrequited love. If longing runs deeper than that, I don’t wanna know about it.

“Jolene” – CAKE

A genuine jam, a girl taking a chance in the night to break out of her quiet life, out-of-control love. Yeah, yeah.

“Gravity” – John Mayer

I’m usually not a fan, but damn. Keep me where the light is.

“Grey” – Ani DiFranco

…And it’s October 2007 again. (Used only when completely necessary. Knocks the wind out of me for hours.)

What are some of your writing songs?