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Stuff worth reading

“Becoming a Mapbuilder” by Danielle Lazarin

What you notice as a writer isn’t an accident, nor is it objectively interesting. This sense of recognition, of compulsion toward a subject or character or storyline, is the layering of the lenses of your childhood and your adulthood, your jobs and your relationships, the series of small and large decisions we make, life’s little accidents constructing our fictions as much as they make our real lives. By indulging yourself in these raw materials, allowing them to be the match to the kindling of the world you walk through every day, you’re likely to start a story that matters to you, one that you can’t help but write, because it comes from your gut.

“The Fear of Not Saying Interesting Things” by Kimberly Bunker

For a long time I wrote because I thought of interesting things. I didn’t identify myself with it, and I didn’t think about it most of the time. As soon as I changed methods—when I started chasing after ideas, when I started “perspiring,” because that’s what real writers do—the words became more elusive. I had become a writer, but I’d changed the methods that let me write in the first place.

This isn’t to say I plan to sit around waiting for lightning to strike. It’s certainly more nuanced than that. For instance, I think it’s possible to cultivate a mindset that’s receptive to but not obsessive about ideas, and to be methodical about pursuing the ideas that seem worth pursuing—i.e., finding a balance between waiting for lightning to strike, and getting behind the mule.

GoodReads Q&A with Laini Taylor

But it boils down to priorities and believing that you deserve it. If it’s a dream of yours to write, then don’t let anybody—yourself included—diminish its importance in your life. When you’re “prepublished,” it’s hard to feel like you’re a “real writer.” It’s really hard to ask other people to prioritize and possibly sacrifice for your dream. But you have to.

“Stop Reading My Fiction as the Story of My Life” by Jami Attenberg

Fiction is a magic trick of sorts. But at its best it doesn’t just conjure up an imaginary world; it makes the real one disappear, it makes the author disappear. Only a book can do this — let you lose yourself so completely. So, if you can, forget about everything else. Just be there with the book.

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Unexpected delights

A couple years ago, Andy and I decided to get season tickets to our local Broadway series, along with another married couple we’re friends with. It’s the perfect excuse for all of us to take a step back from our busy schedules and catch up with one another, enjoy some good food, and support and appreciate the arts.

In that time, we’ve seen a lot of good shows — and a couple not-so-good ones — but there are two that I can easily single out as my favorites so far.

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Like the band Death Cab for Cutie, the musical Kinky Boots has a name that intimidated me. I was bracing myself for something very provocative and in-your-face. Instead, I found myself quickly charmed by a story about shoes, fathers, friendship, and being true to oneself.

The musical numbers are clever and catchy, and personally, I can relate to Charlie’s struggle between following his own path versus taking over the family business.

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Apparently there was a movie version first, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I love. It was available on Netflix, so I watched and liked it, but still prefer the musical.

And the whole thing is based on a true story, one that might be particularly relevant to today’s political climate: A small shoe factory in a working class English town, reluctantly partnering with a group of drag queens in the hopes of weathering an economic downturn. Hmm, what parallels could we possibly draw from that…?

The other show I’ve loved most so far is Something Rotten, a hilarious satire of celebrity culture, the writing process, and musicals themselves.

The show is full of inside jokes for a theater- and literature-loving crowd. I laughed nearly from start to finish. Shakespeare as the ultimate douchebag celebrity is hysterical, and trying to identify all the shows spoofed in the song “A Musical” is quite the game.

As lighthearted as it sounds, Something Rotten also has heart. I appreciated the brotherly bond, the sweet little romantic subplot, and the shoutout for feminism.

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Purposeful imperfection

A couple weeks ago, my friend Mary was visiting me, and she shared a cool anecdote from her family trip to Turkey.

They were touring a rug factory and learning about the traditional process of hand-weaving, when their guide mentioned that because the weavers tend to be Muslim, they believe that only Allah is perfect, and thus they purposely weave imperfections into each of their rugs, out of respect.

They intentionally mess up.

Now, in fairness, these imperfections are probably too minor to be noticed. But still!

This practice reminds me of the Japanese concept of kintsukuroi — or “fixing with gold” — even though they’re a bit different. One is about embracing imperfections; the other is about deliberately creating them. But both go beyond the idea of simply accepting flaws, and that’s fascinating to me, especially on a creative level.

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Little steps

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For the past two nights, my little girl has slept the whole night in her crib in her nursery by herself. It wasn’t exactly planned, but we knew it was on the horizon. She is getting too long for the bassinet we keep by our bed, plus she has become a pretty good sleeper, and I was starting to feel (or at least wonder if) we were disturbing her more often than the other way around.

Part of me is wistful about the change. Even though we had to keep a light on and a fan running, it was nice to have her next to me. I could just peek over at her sweet face anytime I wanted.

But a bigger part of me knows that this is best for her, and that’s what’s most important. That’s what growing up is. Little steps toward independence.

Luckily we’ve still got a long way to go.

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Here’s to the fools who dream

Over Christmas, my parents came to visit, which meant that Andy and I were able to sneak away for a few hours while they watched the baby. First we dined at our friend’s new restaurant, which was amazingly delicious, and then we went to see La La Land, which I really enjoyed.

  • The colors. From the opening scene to the final montage, the film makes really good use of vibrant color. It’s a refreshing choice for a “serious” film, particularly in contrast to the dark tones that seem to dominate current popular media. I especially loved the visual of Emma Stone’s character dancing with her roommates, each in a different brightly hued dress, the four women moving in prismacolor around their apartment and through the street.
  • The chemistry. I was already a big fan of both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and this film really underscored why. Ryan is naturally suave and radiates charm. Emma’s doe eyes captivate. She’s also in that special category of actress whose face can convey a hundred subtle things without her having to speak a single word. In every movie I’ve seen with either of these two in it, they manage to inhabit their roles in a way that somehow makes me forget who they really are, and yet simultaneously feel like no one else could play the part so well.
  • The theme. Most of all, I loved that this movie was about the ups and downs of creative life, and the costs and rewards of pursuing your passion. Obviously that is a topic that hits quite close to home. I found myself in tears, not over the love story, but over the hopes and hurdles that the two characters face throughout their careers.

It wasn’t a perfect film, but it was fresh and ambitious and intentional. I can only hope that people would say the same about my work.

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

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