Forwarded from a friend?
During her episode on the podcast Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan said that, for her, writing completes an experience.
Writing completes an experience.
I’d never heard that one before. What I have heard (and said) is that writing can help you make sense of the world. And that’s certainly true — nearly every time I sit down to write, I realize something I didn’t before. The page is my second, better brain.
But that isn’t what Egan said, and the difference is more than semantic. To me, writing as sense-making slots it in as after-the-fact nice-to-have, rather than an incorporated, required component. It’s the difference between leaving garlic out of your pickle brine and calling it good to seal a handful of dry cumbers in a jar.
I love Egan’s insight about writing completing an experience because it reminds me — in a broad sense — of other practices that I mistake for extra, but are actually essential. For me, I think meditation fits in this bucket. Talking with friends. Making time for joy. All go go go with no downtime sounds like optimization but what is actually means is that I am attempting to operate without all the ingredients needed to function.
This picture of me is from one of those extra-but-not experiences. I snapped it at the Loft Literary Center’s Wordplay festival (Minnesota’s summertime celebration of readers, writers, and great books).
I almost talked myself out of going (I was on deadline, leaving all three kids with my husband all day is a lot, and and and…) but it was good for the soul to attend author talks in 3D and connect with the literary community. To wit: I read poetry that touched me so deeply that I cried in public at Button Poetry — a Minneapolis-based publisher I had never heard of before. I heard an author of How We Do It: Black Writers on Craft, Practice, and Skill say “How selfish to assume it’s just your poem.” I scribbled just that line, but I think he also said that the fact is there are so many forces that come together to help a poem take shape and that, once done, the art exists separately from you. As a writer who struggles with fear of judgement of my work, the idea that it’s not only mine is deeply freeing.
What I mean is: Experiences like these aren’t trimming, they are transmutation. Pickles without garlic is a bummer if you’re a garlic-lover like me, but cucumbers without brine isn’t pickles. Don’t forget the brine.
What about you — what can be mistaken for extra, but is really essential in your life?
New Writing From Me
Summertime = Vacation time
…including for your therapist.
Understandably, mental health providers need time away for fun and other reasons. But, for clients, it can be difficult to navigate a break in the mental healthcare you’ve come to rely on. So I asked experts for advice on how to cope while your therapist is away for Everyday Health.
Here’s what they said: What To Do When Your Therapist Is Away.
Books I Think You’ll Like
I asked a local bookseller for a book to suck me in before bed, and he handed me Yellowface by R.F. Kuang. Phew boy. The glowing reviews (from The New York Times NPR, and taste-maker Reece Witherspoon via Reece’s Bookclub) were not wrong: This book is great. Well-conceived, well-paced, and well-written. The protagonist is all kinds of unlikable — she steals her dead friend’s unpublished manuscript, for one — and she responds to the controversies that unfold in shocking ways. One part searing critique of the publishing industry, one part Disney-villain-esque narrator, all parts entertaining, this novel deserves all the praise.
Awe is buzzy right now, and I’m happy to add my murmurings to the mix. To back up a minute, awe is wonder, that sense of a small self you get looking at a big river (I see you, Mississippi), night sky (Hello, Milky Way!), and through other experiences. Most importantly, awe is an emotion that researchers increasingly think is critical to psychological well-being. To tell you all about it properly, I’d need a whole book. Luckily, one of the world’s foremost researchers on awe already wrote a great one. If you’re awe-curious, check out: Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life by Dacher Keltner.
I picked this one up as background for a project I’m working on, and I’m so glad I did. Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood is a rare habit book actually written by a scientific researcher. Why should you care about habits at all? Well, about 40% of what we do each day is habit. That’s a whole lot of activity that can either work for you or against you. Maybe because of its relevance, it seems like every guru on the block offers a book or course on harnessing habits. In my experience, some of the content clicks, and some seems idiosyncratic. If you’re curious about what an evidence-based approach to habit looks like, I recommend this book.
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