The other day I hand-wrote a letter to my friend Angie — something I haven’t done in far too long — because I was craving that mental-motor connection, and because when I write to her, it’s very free-form. Whatever I’m thinking and feeling gets laid out on the page. It does not get evaluated. It does not get analyzed. It does not get polished.
“Where is the place for rough drafts in life anymore?” I asked my friend. The irony of course being that my letter to her was one such place.
With Instagram and Facebook showing constant highlight reels of people’s lives — and as a writer struggling to make her way through a competitive and fast-evolving publishing landscape — it often feels like every word I write and every photo I take has to be perfect.
But perfection isn’t attainable. And perfect is the enemy of good.
Especially here. Sometimes I forget that this is just a blog. This can be a space for rough drafts. People come here looking for genuineness, not perfection.
It’s been a busy, stressful summer, and I’m not sure that autumn is going to be too different. But I want to feel differently about it. I want to feel energized by the activity, instead of drained. I want to be inspired instead of deflated. I want to be productive instead of overwhelmed.
Most importantly, I want to give myself permission to be imperfect. To revel in my rough drafts. Because rough drafts are practice. And practice may not make perfect, but it does make better.
Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.
As part of We Heart YA, I recently joined a diversity-focused YA book club, with the goal of putting my money where my mouth is and further supporting #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Our first selection was LIKE NO OTHER, a modern-day Romeo & Juliet story set in Brooklyn, featuring a Hasidic Jewish girl and a West Indian boy. The book resonated deeply with me, due to my own experiences with interracial relationships, and due to what was going on while I was reading. You can learn more about the book and its elements of diversity in this Q&A with author Una LaMarche.
Everything that this child is starts right now. The country, the city, the neighborhood, the block, the house — every detail of where babies are born begins to set their path in life, begins to shape them into who they’ll be. A newborn doesn’t choose its family, its race, its religion, its gender, or even its name. So much is already decided. So much is already written.
This quote is loaded. It could spawn a whole post by itself. It makes me think about all the paths that were laid out before me, all the balls set into motion, long before I was born. And before my parents were born. Before my friends were born. Before my own children will be born.
It also reminds me of the idealistic notion that everyone is equal. In terms of inherent value, that’s true. But in terms of equal footing, equal playing field? Unfortunately not. That’s why the idea of privilege is such a hot topic lately.
I am ashamed that my selfishness has caused me to miss a moment I’ll never get back – even if it also created a moment I’ll never forget.
This is the double-edged sword of selfishness. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s both.
If left to her own devices, Devorah would never be anybody but herself. It would never even occur to her. Other people put on disguises every single day — brand-name clothes to make them seem cooler than they are, makeup to cover up their flaws, personas carefully cultivated to make them more popular — but Devorah never does. She is always, almost helplessly, genuine. And that is endearing as hell.
I strive to be this kind of person. Natural, genuine. It’s not as easy as one might think. There are a million voices, a thousand pressures. Magazines, marketing, trends. All trying to sell you something, shift your perceptions, change your priorities. It’s hard to tune out and listen only to yourself. (Especially when self, as mentioned earlier, is actually formed by a lot of factors that are outside your control.)
She’s trapped by too few choices, while I feel trapped by too many. It’s too bad we can’t share some choices and even it out.
This is the double-edged sword of choices. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re both.
“It’s easier for you. You can pass back and forth. I’m afraid that if I leave, I won’t ever be welcome home again. And I don’t hate it, you know?” Her chin trembles as tears fill her rain-cloud eyes. “My family is everything to me, and there’s so much I love… I want to be able to have both. You and them.”
This is the double-edged sword of family. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s both.
Okay, that’s probably getting old.
It’s true, though. Most things in life aren’t black or white. They’re black, and white, and every shade of gray in between.
I have to take control and make a choice. But there is no choice that will bring all of my fragmented soul together. No matter what I decide… part of me will be forever lost.
A rock and a hard place. A game without a winner. (Which is subtly, but significantly, different from a game without a loser.) I’ve been there before. I’ll probably be there again. Is this what adulthood means? It’s not fun.
“She was my mother, and I felt her sadness like it was my own.”
“A Letter to Aspiring-Writer-Me from Debut-Novelist-Me” by Natalia Sylvester
Looking back, the moments you’re most proud of won’t be your big successes; they’ll be your biggest failures, and the fact that you kept going in spite of them.
Your book may be your whole world, but to the whole world it is a book.
“On Marriage :: A Year Later” by Lisa Congdon
I will do everything in my power to protect this person from pain, comfort this person in her grief, love this person with every bone of my body, honor this person in every way possible, and to be absolutely truthful to this person.
“For Love or Money (And If You Do It Right, BOTH): Choosing a Career in Art” by Greg Ruth
Value what you do, and fight for its value. If you don’t do this then how can anyone else? Don’t wait hidden in some ancient cave like a treasure to be discovered one day, get out there and make yourself present and get discovered. That said, you don’t need to be a dumbass about it. There is a tangible difference between ego and self-worth. Fighting for a better page rate reasonably is different than refusing to do a book tour unless you get a limo. Being an artist is a natural declaration of hubris, and you will be reminded of this by friends and family more than you’d like. Don’t take it too seriously, but don’t undervalue it either. It matters because it matters to you — it doesn’t need to matter to a million others to have value.
Confession: If I’m a bit quiet lately, it’s due to wedding planning. Everyone warned me that this would be a stressful process, but I thought that by choosing something small, quiet, and suited to me, I could escape the drama. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The concept of a wedding is all tied up with tradition, family, and culture — beautiful, powerful things — and some people have very strong opinions about what a wedding should be. Disagreements quickly dissolve into emotional tailspins. They create canyons in what you thought was solid earth. They pose problems that don’t always have easy solutions — or maybe no solutions at all.
As I try (and sometimes fail) to deal with all of that, I find myself thinking about the short story “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell. In it, a group of human girls and boys are born to wolves. The wolves love their children, and take care of them for a while, but eventually they allow the kids to be taken away and raised by humans, because that’s what they think would be best. Despite some initial fears and sorrow, most of the kids do adapt, and even become happy. Then, at the end of the story, one girl goes back to see her wolf parents, and only then does she understand the gulf between where she came from and who she is now.
Dark night, bright parlor, long line. I step in and take my place behind all the couples and families. I am the only one here alone.
Flavors are handwritten on a chalkboard behind the counter. I scan the list, pick two I want to try, and then settle in for the wait. My hands are too full to check email, Twitter, or Facebook, like everyone else is doing. So I default to people-watching and eavesdropping. Common pastimes for a writer.
The girls behind me are trying water yoga tomorrow. One of them can’t swim. Another one is named Avery, and she has the best hair. Wavy and blonde, with a braid framing one side. All of them are stylish and thin, somehow managing to look both hipster and preppy at the same time.
There are a lot of maxi dresses in here.
It’s been a long day, but I’m avoiding my hotel room. I’d thought it would be wonderful to have a clean, quiet space to myself. Somewhere new but predictable. Somewhere without responsibilities.
Instead it feels lonely.
After checking in, I escaped to dinner. I chose a place that I had been to once before, years ago, with people I loved. But even the memories of them aren’t enough to keep me company tonight. I text one and call the other. It helps.
Finally it’s my turn, and I ask for wildberry lavender and “Buckeye State.” I like complementing fruity flavors with chocolate. When the cashier hands me the receipt, I accidentally sign in the wrong place. I feel like an idiot, but she just laughs. It’s a good reminder to find the humor in things.