It’s Not Extra, It’s Essential

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Emily P.G. Erickson at the Loft Literary Center's Wordplay in July 2023 in Minneapolis, MN

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

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang in Emily P.G. Erickson's bookshop

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: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life by Dacher Keltner in Emily P.G. Erickson's Bookshop

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.

Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood in Emily P.G. Erickson's bookshop

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.

Check out my Bookshop here for more excellent reads!

Let’s Connect!

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Published by Emily P.G. Erickson

Emily P.G. Erickson is a freelance writer specializing in mental health and parenting. She has written for popular digital publications, including Everyday Health, Health, The New York Times, Parents, Romper, WIRED, and more. Emily is a professional member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ). Previously, Emily researched PTSD for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and earned a master's in psychology. You can find the latest from Emily at

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