Review: ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

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I finished this book three days ago, yet I still find my mind wandering over hills and streets in Afghanistan that I have never seen with my eyes.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a gripping tale of female heroism set against the backdrop of war-stricken, Taliban-ruling Afghanistan. It is a tale that brings to light the grimy details of war and female oppression, but most importantly, one that illuminates the strength and endurance of the human spirit.

Hosseini seamlessly weaves together the first-person narratives of two female characters, Mariam and Laila, whose lives inadvertently intersect in a world that seeks to divide. They form a bond, this unlikely pair, as strong as mother and daughter, one that is underlined by relentless fear and abuse.

As a woman, I couldn’t help but reflect on the phrase… It’s a man’s world. The sufferings of Mariam and Laila swelled that phrase into a whole new meaning for me, transforming it into a real face with very ugly features. This book may be a work of fiction, but the injustices faced by women in Afghanistan and many other places around the globe—in our modern era—are anything but.

The narrative moves quickly with its fluid, straight-to-the-point prose and a pace that never misses a beat. The details Hosseini provides are carefully selected, never overly descriptive or sympathetic, transporting us to an unfamiliar world that ends up feeling rather familiar. In the end, when the stage is stripped away and all the costumes are hung up, we find that no matter where our place in the world, pain is pain, need is need, and love is love.

With this book, Hosseini has painted a beautiful and heartbreaking portrait of life behind an Afghani woman’s burqa veil, all within the intriguing context of Afghanistan’s turbulent history, changing seasons, and various landscapes. This is not a simple tale of hardship and triumph. It is one of love, endurance, hope, and forgiveness. In Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, the power of love in an anguished world truly shines.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you think!

The not-so-magical time between stories

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Writing is a magical process…

Magical because the whole experience of creating a world from nothingness is so mysterious and so beautiful that you can’t possibly explain what it’s like to a non-writer.

But what happens when you’re done with a writing project?

Take reading, for instance… do you ever take some time to process a book when you’re done with it? Let it simmer in your mind for a while before you pick up another? I do… and quite similarly… I take some time between writing stories. When my brain is coming down from its writing high and relishing the small but earned break I give to myself before I tackle the next world I have on queue to create.

I write short stories. I can only work on one story at a time (even though I may have 10 other story ideas poking at my brain all at once). Coming to the end of a story draft is a glorious time filled with light and hope and happy dances and the feeling that you might actually be able to call yourself a writer after all.

I print my draft, feel the paper in my hands, my inked words, my tangible imagination—it feels so good!—I read it over with a pen, circling, underlining, running a line through sentences, words, paragraphs, praying that I won’t hate this draft in the morning; I email my story to a few trusted readers who promise to get back to me with feedback. And then I wait.

And I wait.

And I wait some more.

I might pluck a few guitar strings while I’m in this time zone between stories.

I might write a poem or two. Or bake some cupcakes. (I don’t bake very often, so the latter is a big deal.)

I might peruse through other story drafts, scratch my head and wonder where to pick up and continue the narrative.

I might binge on a TV show I neglected while I was being so good sticking to my writing routine all those weeks, before I arrived at “The End.”

And all the while the glorious feeling of having finished a story begins to slowly fade. The time between stories stretches along and I realize I should probably stop waiting idly for feedback from my readers and start working on another story while I wait.

But I need closure! I need closure for my finished story draft. I need it to be a final draft, which is much different from a finished draft, mind you. And so I’m working through this struggle that is moving on to the next story when the one before isn’t exactly done yet. (But can a story ever really be done? That’s another post all together…)

I’ve been doing really well with my writing routine this year and I’m proud of myself. When I’m on a roll, I’m on a roll, and I feel invincible as far as productivity goes. But when I finish a story draft… that’s another… well, story. I’m finding that I have a hard time gearing back up into writing mode again.

Does this ever happen to you?

I guess the trick is to not spend too much time away from writing. Celebrate the fact that you’ve finished a draft, but don’t hang by the camp fire long enough for it to go out at your feet. Initially, I extend this time between stories because I’m waiting for feedback from my readers… I can’t work on another story until I get feedback about the story I’ve just finished…

Excuses, excuses!

And yet… I know that taking time away from finished drafts is important for perspective. If you’re like me, you’ve read your story draft 1001 times and you can therefore no longer read it objectively. So you do in fact need some distance from your story, so you can come back to it with the fresh perspective needed to revise it fully and completely.

But I need to get better at controlling this time between stories. I can’t linger in this limbo for too long… I need to learn to set my finished story aside and move on to my next project a little faster. I’ve been getting better at consistency as far as writing regularly goes, but the juncture between one story and the next has proven to be a little trickier to navigate.

How about you? Do you linger in the time between stories? If so, how do you spend this time? How long does it take you to bounce back into the writing zone—into your next writing project? Or do you not take a break from writing at all?

I’d love to hear from you!

When I Write

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When I write, I suddenly remember that my room needs to be dusted. I see the particles on my window sill, I hear them calling me, accusing me of being lazy. I am suddenly aware of my clothes everywhere. The clean and the dirty and the in-between. And that I should probably get to sorting them, because let’s face it, I’m not going to come home one day and find that my dog has so kindly decided to help out with the chores.

The priorities in my life, it seems, are mounting, and my eyes keep lifting from my computer screen, shooting disconcerting glances at pairs of shoes and socks tossed in a corner, and the despicable pile of mail that swells larger on my shelf each week.

My room is my comfort. My cocoon. It holds me like a giant pillow. No one disturbs me here, at least not directly. The walls are not sound proof (I need silence when I write) but it’s where I do my writing, usually on my bed with my back against the wall because I have no headboard (I don’t know why I have no headboard, I just don’t).

I have a small desk that I bought at a yard sale a few summers ago. The old lady’s hair was a fizzy, blonde-grey. She sat in a folding chair and smiled so jovially that you just felt drawn to oblige her. She seemed very pleased with her collection of unwanted things, among which was the desk. It might have been a school girl’s at one time (or boy’s, I suppose). Its pale yellow paint was chipping all over, revealing streaks of wood underneath, and I found the desk’s imperfections to be charming.

Now it sits in my room holding a small hill of clothes and a stack of books and papers that I should really get to sorting. It’s spotted with post-it notes and I don’t remember the last time I used it for writing.

Oh, yeah… writing. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

Why is it that I get so paralyzed when I sit down to write sometimes? All these menial chores that sit on the back burner of life suddenly rise to eye-level when I pull up my work in progress. If only my characters would tell me how they felt instead of beating around the bush so much. I spend so much time prodding them to trust me. I feel like a shrink in a clock-ticking room: Talk to me about your childhood. Tell me your most precious memory.

I enjoy getting to know my characters, but sometimes it’s exhausting. Sometimes they’re so tight-lipped and snooty faced I wonder why I even bother. I threaten to kill them off or thrust them into tragedy, until finally they uncross their arms and agree to tell me a juicy secret, albeit reluctantly.

It’s easy coming up with story ideas. They come to me multiple times a day, hitting my brain like jolts of caffeine, making me giddy. But sometimes when I write, the white page pours over me like salt water. I wonder, is this even a good idea? Maybe I should do laundry first. I just took my dog out but maybe she needs to go out again. Do you need to go out again? Huh, girl? But my dog is napping, of course. You should really get a job, I tell her.

Sometimes when I write, the words flow through me like a waterfall, and I feel like I’m swimming, no—gliding, with so much exuberance and grace, that no one, not even my noisy neighbors, can disrupt my immaculate flow, and I feel like the writing gods have lifted me up in the palms of their hands, holding me up high, past the clouds, far above the earth, in a perfect and complete glow of illumination and transcendence. Yes!

And then I retreat into the book I’m reading and I think—how did the author do that? What an asshole. And my characters all of a sudden look like flailing fish on my page, squawking like ugly one-eyed birds, and I sulk, and wonder about my plants and the last time I watered them. They’re probably thirsty. And I’m kind of hungry, come to think of it.

There is magic to writing, but mostly hard work. You have to do it everyday, religiously, I keep hearing. I am getting better at consistency. At ignoring the pointy finger of my inner perfectionist who says (because he always has something to say): Well, this is a step up from the rubbish you wrote last week, but not by very much, I’m afraid.

I just know that I love stories, and that even though I struggle, I’ve decided to use my stubbornness for good and work hard to not give up on my characters. They need me, but I’m finding that I need them more. They are real. They dwell inside me, lost in an avalanche of words, and the only way to dig them out is to keep writing.

Keep writing!

Or I can just go for a run. It’ll make me feel totally refreshed and ready to take on this next scene I’ve been drafting, which is going to be epic, by the way. So epic! And it’s going to look marvelous on paper. Just marvelous! And all the world will rejoice because I didn’t give up on my stories. All will be saved and all will make sense. There will finally be peace on earth.

And then I can finally get to dusting my room. It’s not going to dust itself, you know. And I would just hate for the dust bugs to grow into a monster and clog my air passages at night and choke me while I sleep. Because then how would I get my writing done? You can’t do much when you’re dead. And writing is serious business.

escape

only the sound of our breath
on the wind,

as stars explode,
sprinkle overhead,
poke holes in
peach-colored
sky;

bugs tell stories
in the dirt,

roots of trees
protrude from the earth,
like stiff
serpents;

weeds are welcome
here;

my dog,
sniffing along by my side,
picks up sticks,
consuming
all

with a twitching nose
pressed to
soil;

her collar tags
clicking, clacking
like keys,
tell me where she is;

stopping to rest on a log,
not a bench;

stopping never
for man-made red;

stopping never
to wait;

let’s make tracks
in the dirt,

speak only with
our eyes,

watch the sun dip,
dip,
down,
and away,

the pale sky
swells to
black,

and you find my hand;

let’s soak in silence,

forget the noise,

peel it away from our
skin,
cut it away from our
hair,
tuck it away in a mason
jar,

bury it beneath

unpicked,
flowers,

beneath
rocks
that dot the earth
like buttons,

beneath
leaves that fell away,
away,

away from branches,
twigs and stems;

the air is warm
but not for long;

the sun is rising
elsewhere;

she can’t escape her
purpose.

Give your Gift: Reflections from a Week of Service in Montgomery, Alabama

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A year ago this week, in the spring of 2013, I embarked on a service immersion trip to Montgomery, Alabama with nine undergraduate students. During our one-week stay we served some unforgettable communities and learned a great deal, through various tours and personal stories, about the Civil Rights movement. We met people whose faces and stories will forever be etched into my mind, and in this reflection, I hope to give my humble thanks to them—with a special thanks to our most generous hosts Ms. Michelle Coe and Father Emanual—for opening their hearts and lives to us, for teaching me the power and importance of community, and for making us feel like home in a place we had never been before.

Finding Community in Montgomery

WP_20130324_025Alabama is truly beautiful. Its soft hills and endless fields of green lulled me into daydreams. I was mesmerized by the commanding presence of nature all around as we drove through the state. An enormous wall of trees bordered the highways, clumps of leaves and tangled moss dangling from perpendicular branches, the sun glazing over the windshield, poking its yellow beams through knots of leaves in the trees. Every so often the wall of trees would drop, and my eyes would suddenly gaze over a serene scene of land where cows and horses grazed just beyond a fence that separated nature from concrete. They appeared as a mirage, the animals, detached from the complex world of the modern human. They were undisturbed.

I’d always intellectually understood the importance of community, of kindness, and of giving yourself to a larger purpose. But the week I spent in Montgomery last spring refocused my understanding completely.

I realized that community is sacred, not just important. That kindness is necessary, not just a matter of manners or convenience. It’s easy to be kind when you’re in a good mood and when you like the person to whom you offer your kindness. But how about when your spirits are low and the people around you feel like hungry hyenas? That’s when it’s most important to be kind. It’s certainly not easy, but that’s why it’s so necessary.

“To strengthen the muscles of your heart, the best exercise is lifting someone else’s spirit whenever you can.” Dodinski

I realized that giving yourself to a larger purpose is essential to peace, to positive change, and to the understanding of self and others.

WP_20130325_009I am a part of so many communities. My work community, my social community, my family community, my neighborhood community, my local, national, and global community. Many others too. We all are.

But what does this mean?

I began to reflect on my role within the communities that I populate. And that’s just it—am I merely populating them? Am I just a seat filler, a street address, a name on a family tree? If I were going to be exiled from my communities, what would I say as a defense for why I should stay?

What is my unique contribution?

Everybody has a unique gift. Even the act of being a good friend is a unique gift (and sometimes even a treasure) to someone’s life. I believe one of the purposes of life is to discover, hone, and give your unique gift to those around you. We are all born with unique gifts that can be nurtured into talents and skills and strengths. Some gifts are more obvious than others; some gifts may take years to develop or be discovered.

WP_20130327_007And these gifts, once found and honed, are meant to be given—not hoarded, not placed inside of a glass case or beneath a fancy title for admiration. Gifts are meant to be given. Stories are meant to be shared. If we have the courage to give our gifts and share our stories, the world will feel less daunting, coarse, and lonely.

“Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely. And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.” Stephen Cope from The Great Work of Your Life

My week in Montgomery taught me the importance of being an active member in my communities. I’m not saying you have to run for PTA president or dedicate your life to social activism (although, hey, if that’s your calling, go for it!)… What I’m saying is that it’s important to be cognizant of the powerful impact that you can have where you stand, wherever that may be.

WP_20130325_023I learned that it doesn’t suffice to carry on in your life, in your own personal radius, chasing your own personal ambitions, content in the thought that so long as your actions aren’t harming anyone, you can do as you please. The question that should be asked is: are your actions helping anyone? Whether that anyone is a friend or a family member or an animal or a person you may never even meet.

The problem is that people tend to underestimate the difference they can make in their communities. Everyone thinks: “Well, I am just one. What can I do?”

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.” Dalai Lama

I don’t think you can strive to be the best person that you can be without your communities. And that’s because we are social creatures. We are interdependent. We need each other. We are reflections of each other. We are all connected in one way or another.

WP_20130329_024Retreating to your personal radius is necessary; believe me, as an introvert, I know. But my week in Montgomery helped me recognize just how important a role I can play in my communities. Being active—that’s what kneads bread, builds roads, draws smiles, sows gardens, teaches children, nurtures friendships, molds strength, creates art, cultivates growth, inspires ideas.

Community is more than just a physical location. More than the environment you occupy. Community is a smile to your neighbor, a kind word to a stranger or loved one, an empty can that you pick up from a lawn that isn’t yours, and speaking of lawns—community is picking up after your dog!

Community is the giving of yourself to that which you belong.

WP_20130905_007Community is about nurturing and celebrating and appreciating people.

And it’s true. The one thing I learned from living in different countries is that the people make the place. I cannot stress this enough. Not the aesthetics of buildings or streets. Not the attractions or amenities or affordability of certain luxuries. Not even the climate or geographical location (although I do love beaches). It’s the people that make the place. It’s the friendships and bonds and memories you create… with people in that place.

Families turn houses into homes. Neighbors turn streets into magical childhood settings, plots of dirt into bountiful community gardens. Children and teachers and staff turn buildings and campuses into schools. And in that same way, we human beings make this earth. From the earth we were shaped and to the earth we shall return.

WP_20130329_022And so I came to understand that civic health is not less important than physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health. To be civically healthy is to be aware of what’s happening outside of your personal world, to engage in your communities and strive to make them better so that you too can be better, so that future generations can be inspired to be better.

And we can only be responsible for what we do in our communities. And it’s up to us to figure out what we can do. It’s overwhelming because there are so many needs in this world. Where does one even begin?! How does one even try to make a difference?

And the answer is in your gift. Find your assignment. What is it that you’re good at or passionate about?

There is where you can make a supreme difference.

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Bringing Change Home

The thing about inspiration is that it’s so potent in the moment, but sadly, like perfume, it fades. But my experience in Montgomery, Alabama last spring was so transformative and illuminating, it awakened in me a heightened sense of duty towards the communities in my life, one that has permanently changed the way I view myself in this world.

Since Montgomery—I read my neighborhood’s community newsletter, which I would have trashed into the recycle bin before.

WP_20130626_018Since Montgomery—I have volunteered at my neighborhood’s community garden.

Since Montgomery—I have made more of an effort to call and visit my beloved grandmother. My overall sense of appreciation for the loved ones in my life has magnified ten times over.

WP_20130525_021Since Montgomery—I have participated in a global protest against Monsanto, the corporation responsible for GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Since Montgomery—I have become a member of Illinois PIRG, “a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety”.

Since Montgomery—I have strived to educate my family and friends on the evils of puppy mills (I’m passionate about animal welfare as far as pets are concerned), and on the importance of adopting, not buying, cats and dogs.

10342-custom-ribbon-magnet-sticker-STOP+Puppy+Mills+++Adopt+a+shelter+petSince Montgomery—I am more conscientious about buying from small and local businesses as much as I possibly can.

Since Montgomery—I have started this blog, which may sound silly, but it has given me a channel through which I can share my gift—my passion for writing—something I didn’t have the courage to do before.

But most of all, since Montgomery, I have recognized that I do play an important role in the people in my life, a role I shouldn’t underestimate, a role I must live up to.

I have learned that I must always have the courage to give my gift and share my story and stand up for the things that are important to me.

I have learned that service comes in many forms, and that you truly can make a difference anywhere you are, and in many simple ways. You just need to be willing. You just need to step outside of your personal world a little bit, look around you, be a part of your community, and arm your heart with hope, faith, courage, and the power of love and persistence.

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Celebrating small victories

sunflower_on_blue_sky_by_stock_by_kaiI’m hard on myself when it comes to my accomplishments. It’s good to have high expectations for yourself, but not to a degree that makes you dismiss your small victories. My friends and family tell me I never give myself enough credit for anything I do, and they’re right. In my mind, many things that I’ve achieved have simply been “not enough”… in comparison to the bigger picture of what I hope to accomplish.

I have a hard time celebrating my small victories because I am a person who always strives to keep her mind on the bigger picture—and usually that is a good thing. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is calming to me, most of the time. The bigger picture offers perspective, reminds me that in the grander scheme of things, I will be okay. All will be okay. The bigger picture helps me align my priorities. It keeps me in check.

But I’m slowly realizing that my bigger picture is also casting a shadow on my small victories. The bigger picture can be overwhelming. Like the sun, it can sting you if you look at it for too long. It can make you lose sight of the smaller pieces that you’ve put together that ultimately… make up that bigger picture.

There are so many things I want to do—dreams I want to see to fruition. And in this context, the bigger picture of all that I hope to accomplish ends up paralyzing me instead of motivating me. It all becomes so overwhelming. There’s just too much to do!

So I retreat.

I camp outside my mountain of dreams because the mountain hovers too high. I can’t imagine where on earth I would begin my climb, or how I would even survive such a climb.

Well, needless to say, that approach has gotten me nowhere.

I woke up one day and realized that my small victories had gathered like dust in the corners of my room. And instead of using them as building blocks, instead of seeing them as reminders that I’m on the right track, that I’m doing something and there’s still more to do, I left them there to dry… to blur into the background of my life.

Celebrate your small victories! Make a big deal out of them. (Maybe not to the extent of throwing a party and inviting all your friends, but…) In your mind, they should always represent a check point on your road to your bigger picture, your vision of your success. Small victories are evidence of growth and progress. Evidence that you are an active member of life.

And realize that you should always have a vision of your success—there should always be something you’re chasing, something that will push you and inspire you to do better and be better. There’s no such thing as “arriving” at your success. People who “arrive” at their successes and decide to kick their feet up only get passed up by the rest of us who don’t stop moving forward. And I don’t mean to say that life is a race and that we should compare our successes to other people’s—no. What I mean is that once you lift from your mind this idea that success is a destination, you will be able to relax to a degree and appreciate your small victories.

And it’s not easy. We see our goals, our hopes, our dreams… we see them as shimmering palaces in the far distance, and we become weary wondering if we’ll ever find our way there. But life is not a prize to covet, it’s an experience, and so it is with success and accomplishment. Small victories, like memories we accumulate over the years, are a part of your bigger picture, a part of your experience, a part of your success, a part of your story. They are significant.

So celebrate your small victories; don’t just keep your eyes on the prize, on the big mountain of your dreams. Without your small victories, there would be no mountain… and your dreams would just be wishes in the wind.

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There is Nothing to Writing

I sit at my desk, typing then backspacing, typing then backspacing. Highlighting paragraphs. Deleting, undoing, rewriting. What’s wrong with me? I look at my dog who looks up at me helplessly. What? You want to go for a walk? I’m busy writing, okay?

Well, not really…

I get up to make coffee.

I think of Hemingway’s words: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And of John Gardner’s words: “The dream must be vivid and continuous…”

And of Anne Lamott’s words: “Perfection is the voice of the oppressor…”

Why would anyone want to be a writer?

I’m hard on myself when it comes to my writing (in case you couldn’t tell). It’s healthy to be self-critical of your work, necessary to hone an objective eye, but not to a degree that makes you lose confidence. I want my writing to be perfect. Perfect! But this yearning for perfection has only gotten in the way of my writing. The quest for perfection is nonsense. It’s distracting, and not the point of writing at all.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say the most valuable of traits is persistence.” Octavia Butler

You know what else is distracting? Comparing yourself to other writers. They cannot write your stories just as you cannot write theirs. So focus on your own work.

I have my coffee now. I look down at my page and think of Hemingway’s words again, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Well that’s great. I suppose I should whip out the band aids. (Or does he mean internal bleeding? Probably both.)

But I love this quote so much because it gives me hope. It reaffirms that I’m not crazy. That the path to the most coveted words “The End” is supposed to be thorny, is supposed to draw blood. That I feel the way I do about my writing because I am a writer. All writers have their insecurities, moments of self-doubt and agony. But real writers write their way out of these emotional trenches. Real writers don’t stop writing.

Because writing is a passion. We don’t write for money or recognition (and certainly not for physical well-being). We write because we have an aching in our hearts, a story to tell. A story that occupies our daydreams and keeps us awake at night. A story that we need to set free into the world so we can finally set ourselves free.

A story worth telling and a story only we can tell.

There is nothing to writing. So I sip my coffee, roll up my sleeves metaphorically, pet my dog because she calms my nerves, and get to writing.

I have this ache in my heart for a reason.

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Writing is Hard (and other writerly problems)

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Writing is hard.

It’s the process of extracting with tweezers the intangibles (thoughts, dreams, ideas, images, emotions) from your mind and heart, and molding them into beautiful tangibles (inked words on paper) that not only have to make sense to another mind, but must provide a certain level of enjoyment, deemed worthy of a reader’s time.

Forget inspiring your reader to revelations, evoking thoughts and epiphanies. That will grow on its own time… later.

You just want to write.

You just want to create the conditions by which your reader will keep reading beyond the first few lines… keep reading the words that you poured so much of your blood into… so much of your blood… that you’re now lying dizzy and dehydrated, hallucinating slightly… and not water, not love, not fresh air, not a child’s hug or a cat’s purr can bring you back… because what you really need are more words… more words from your churning imagination.

Perfect words.

Writing is hard.

It’s excruciating, and feels near impossible sometimes.

It can drive you to madness… to doubting yourself (am I even a writer? Why am I doing this to myself?!)… to talking to or about your characters as though they were real human beings… to laughing out loud when your characters say something funny, only to realize… that you’re alone on your couch with your dog, and your laptop is burning your lap, and you’ve been holding your bladder for hours and you haven’t eaten since morning and you’re somehow sitting in darkness and your neighbors can see through your window, and they’re waving at you.

Writing is hard.

It’s walking through a dark room, hands along the wall, and each word you find is a light switch that makes the room a bit brighter, so that you can finally see the window on the other side, and make your way to it; the window that will show you the world from an angle that makes sense… so that you can finally understand… something… a little better.

Writing is hard.

It’s a thrill. To see your mind’s fruits BECOME. To CREATE… and then cast that creation into the world. 

Here! you yell from the mountain top, wind tousling your hair. Here is a piece of me! And you rip that piece of you from your chest, and it drips. Here is my offering, my sleepless nights and daily ponderings! Here is my contribution to the endless stream of consciousness that envelopes and connects us all!

Only for your book to end up in a used-book store with a $2.00 price sticker. All that agony of pulling images from your brain and surgically manipulating them onto a page, of saying no to friends and family because “I can’t, I have to write”, all that despair of wondering if this is the right idea, the right word, the right way to frame this scene, the right pace, the right allusion, the right calling for your life…

All that, and your book ends up in a donation box somewhere, or worse— a recycling bin— or worse— an attic or basement— dusty, unknown, forgotten.

And you just want to write.

You don’t want to be forgotten.

Isn’t that what writing is, partly? A validation of sorts? A confirmation of I Am Here or I Was Here?

You need only to scroll through social media to see how much people want that validation… that desire to be heard… that platform on which to announce to the world: I AM HERE. I MATTER. THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY. DO YOU SEE ME? I AM HERE.

Writing is hard.

You just want to create an oasis in a world of chaos. You want your book to be a refuge, a parallel universe unaffected, though very much inspired, by the truths and lies and questions of life. A safe place to visit. A place of comfort and enjoyment, but also a place that stirs you.

A place that reassures you: you are not alone in this wonderful explosion of thoughts and emotions and experiences. You are not alone and you are not crazy. And if you are crazy, then by all means be crazy. Be fabulous crazy. Be brave crazy. Be you.

Writing is hard.

But when you write…

Write with all your heart and blood and soul…

Write like your blood cells are letters in every single language that ever existed, and you’re the only translator left…

Write like it’s an involuntary bodily function, like your lungs need it more than air…

Write until you fall to the floor in hopeless exhaustion, then close your eyes and let your dog sniff your face (because that’s what dogs do and you love your dog), and when your dog’s done sniffing, sink into beautiful sleep, where your imagination can play and wander in your dreams, unbridled… where your words can simmer and bubble in your mind’s subconscious.

And when you wake up, head straight to the kitchen to make coffee— strong coffee— then sit your ass back down and write some more. Because you’re a writer, dammit. It’s what you do.

Also, don’t forget to eat. (And take your dog out.) You’re only human, after all. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The Plight of the Artist: Inspiration vs. Habit

ImageInspiration is an elusive and mysterious fellow. I imagine him to live in the tree tops where he can observe the comings and goings of mundane routine from a safe distance. (He doesn’t do too well with monotony.) At times he might find a person of interest and decide to perch himself on his or her shoulder, and linger there awhile to the very delight of said person. Other times he might remain far and aloof, on a hiatus of sorts because apparently Inspiration too needs time to rejuvenate.

That said, I don’t trust Inspiration much. I adore his company and would never ever turn him away (obviously), but I have learned to not rely on him, to not wait for him to do my work. Inspiration will always be nearby somewhere, camouflaged in the tree tops, playing outside your window, or anywhere around you really if you would only quiet your mind and pay attention. But he’s fickle. He does not like to make himself readily available. He’s shy, has his insecurities like any artist, and thus seems to reveal himself only when he’s got his best suit on. Which is why, when he does finally arrive — it’s amazing! But frankly, I don’t have time for that.

And so I discovered my sturdy friend, Habit.

Now let me tell you. Habit will get you where you need to go. He will bee-line through any mess and screech to a stop right at your feet just to pick you up. Habit, in short, makes things happen, gets things done. Inspiration lounges, kicks his feet up, stays awhile only when it pleases him. Habit moves, demands attention, calls you to action.

So much for productivity, Inspiration may mumble, a cigarette hanging from the side of his lip as he watches us from a cloud. Habit on the other hand is a bull: fierce and proud and utterly dependable, once you learn how to harness him, of course. You must earn Habit’s trust before he will work with you.

I wasted spent a good many years waiting around on whimsical Inspiration. Declaring that I cannot be creative until I’m in his magical company. But I finally realized, thanks to a professor in one of my writing workshops, that I had it all wrong…

The art of living artfully is a matter of choice, a matter of prioritizing. Not a matter of waiting for the right idea and the perfect moment. We must set up the stage for the right idea and the perfect moment. We must plow through hideous drafts and forgive ourselves instead of punish ourselves when a piece we’re working on refuses to take the shape we want it to.

Inspiration may give us vision, but Habit is what helps us bring that vision to life.

We need Inspiration. His purpose is entwined with ours. And in time, he will come. He always does. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with a bang. He may visit us in our dreams or at the doctor’s office. He lives in a single moment; he’s as essential as a match. But ultimately, forging a strong partnership with Habit is how we can set ourselves up for success.

Habit will keep us moving through the streams of our imaginations even when those streams seem low and almost dry. Habit will keep us disciplined and determined and hopeful. Inspiration is a wonderful visitor. We must cultivate patience and keep an open window in our minds so that we’re always ready to welcome him into our creative process.

Inspiration without Habit often leads to unfinished projects and half-baked ideas. But Habit nurtures Inspiration. Habit keeps the artist going. Habit is the difference between a passive artist and an active one.