This week, my new book came out. I would say that this is an important moment, except essays like “How To Make Out With A Raccoon” and “Why Carrots Should Be Afraid Of Me” don’t sound very important.
But if you like to laugh: Click here for the paperback.
If you have a Kindle, click here (Note: the book is free through Kindle Unlimited).
As you finish writing projects, you’re going to hear a lot of negativity. Even in the most exciting moments, when a draft is out to editors for example, or when there’s interest from film producers, people are going to talk to you about their concerns. They’re going to ask a “serious question.” You’re going to get rejected, or face delays, or told what doesn’t work.
But don’t listen to any of this. Don’t focus on the negative.
I always make a goal of one in ten. If one in ten editors loves something, that’s great. Or as my agent – Adriann Ranta at Foundry – always says, “We only need one.” And it’s important to remember that goal.
Because in the gate-keeper moments, it’ll feel like most of what you face is negativity, sometimes even from friends or family. But remember that your fans, your readers, the average people out there, they love your work. They think you’re a good storyteller, or an interesting poet, or an engaging essayist, or whatever.
Also, you can only control what you can control. You can’t worry about other people’s concerns. You can’t worry about other people’s strong opinions. You can’t worry about what bothers people who aren’t making art.
You simply have to create your best work. Draft, revise, edit, and produce.
Then move on to the next thing.
As a teacher and writer, I’m constantly thinking about the trap of social media, how much time it takes, the emotional trade off, and how little I learn, all of this balanced by the relationships I make online (which I do value). So is it worth it?
I also think a lot about how much we consume in our culture – entertainment-wise – rather than create, the scales not being balanced in the least. I worry about each time I zone out watching a screen for more than a few minutes. If I want to create, and to create quality work, I have to consume less and create more. And when I do consume, it has to be high-quality art (great books, poetry, lyrical rappers, paintings, sculpture, essays, etc.).
But that’s me – how I would say it. Here’s someone else’s voice…
Quoting Benjamin P. Hardy (from Medium):
“Invest At Least 80% Of Your “Off” Time Into Learning
Most people are consumers rather than creators.
They are at work to get their paycheck, not to make a difference.
When left to their own devices, most people consume their time as well. It is only by investing your time that you get a return on that time.
Nearly every second spent on social media is consumed time. You can’t have that time back. Rather than making your future better, it actually made your future worse. Just like eating bad food, every consumed moment leaves you worse off. Every invested moment leaves you better off.
Entertainment is all well and good. But only when that entertainment is an investment in your relationships or yourself. You’ll know if it was an investment if that entertainment continues to yield returns over and over in your future. That may include positive memories, transformational learning, or deepened relationships.
Even still, life isn’t purely about being entertained. Education and learning is also key. And although both are essential, education will provide far greater returns in your future.
The world’s most successful people are intense learners. They are hard readers. They know that what they know determines how well they see the world. They know that what they know determines the quality of relationships they can have and the quality of work they can do.
If you are constantly consuming junk media, how can you possibly expect to create high value work? Your input directly translates to your output. Garbage in, garbage out.”
Pretty good, right? Blunt and to the point, but accurate.
On the topic of high-quality art, here are three novels I’ve read this year that were incredible:
1. Zadie Smith’s NW (Note: the structure of this book is so mind-blowing, it could never be made into a movie.)
2. James Welch’s Fools Crow (US and native history collide with fiction – I’ve thought about the perspective in this book every day for two months, since I finished it).
3. Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night (I don’t know if I’ve ever read protagonists as real as the ones in this book).
Scott Landfield and Tsunami Books are hosting an open haiku tournament tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 17th, and 7 PM, Eugene, Oregon. Come watch or compete!
The open tournament will be followed by a 19 haiku death match between Virginia’s haiku poet Raven Mack and me (PS – I’m hoping not to embarrass myself – maybe do some pop-culture haikus?):
Here’s a new poem I wrote (in Spanish – with my translation following):
Sonidos En El Oscuro
Ya té extraño en
Este mundo en donde
No hay que decir nada
Porque el agua
Se desliza pasado nosotros
En la noché, se susurra,
Sueños, cantos, los sonidos
De pies descalzos sobre la suciedad.
Las alas de insectos largos,
El momento antes de
Una danza, la vibración
De fruta pudriéndose
En el suelo.
Sounds In The Dark
I miss you already
in this world where
there is no need to say anything
because the water
slips past us
in the night, it whispers,
dreams, chants, the sounds
of bare feet on the dirt.
The wings of insects,
the moment before
a dance, the vibration
of fruit rotting
on the ground.
This is the story of struggle, of trying hard but not always succeeding. The following selection is from my current novel draft, a book about a teenage girl who stays behind in her neighborhood after a natural disaster – The Cascadia Earthquake – destroys and floods her city.
Cielo is narrating this section which I just cut. She’s questioning fate. And while I like the idea, the pacing of this whole passage seems wrong:
I thought a lot about both of those books after I read them. I thought about my life, about living in this garage. I wondered if this life was fated for me, and what was fated for my future. And sometimes I wondered if there was a destiny for my mother, if her coming to this country was all part of some larger plan to land me in this particular location for a particular reason.
Now I look at the wreckage all around me, the upside down car in front of the Blue House, the black Mercedes CLA with its door splayed open as it sits on its roof, waiting for rain, for rust, for the coming of fall.
That’s maybe the strangest thing about the wreckage. I’m so used to seeing broken things fixed. There have never been any shabby houses in this neighborhood. Every house is nice, and people call repair men immediately. These men pull up in tool vans. They smooth problems over. Fix windstorm-damaged roofs the next day. Reattach loose mufflers. Replace fence-slats. And nothing is left to overgrow. Yard-maintenance workers manicure front gardens and walks each Monday and Tuesday, use leaf-blowers to scour the corners, edgers and trimmers to straighten the seams.
This is the world of natural decay. My freshmen science teacher taught us that there is a law in physics that everything breaks down, everything tends toward decay. He said, “Entropy always increases.” He also said that there are two types of entropy, “thermal” and “configurational.” And I watch for both now. I sit on the roof of my garage and imagine the heat of the sun as something visible. Blue and yellow streaks of light and heat radiating down. At the same time, I imagine the fast-forward decaying of the houses all around me.
In my mind, there’s a movie of the house next door falling apart. I watch the wood turn to rot, the nails loosen in the wood, gutters falling off, siding and roof shingles easing, then sliding from the outline of the house. Then the lean of the frame increasing, the angles changing at every corner, wood warping, the twang of boards springing loose, springing free of their moorings to other boards or framing. Piece of the house crumbling, then the outer walls swaying one final time in a gust of wind and the motion increasing until there’s one final sigh of the house as it collapses.
During the quake, none of these houses on the block fell flat. It doesn’t look like a town after a tornado. But none of the houses are unscathed either. They’re all standing at strange angles now, like fun rooms at a carnival, as if I’m looking at the entire world through a set of curved mirrors, as if the world has forgotten the logic of right angles.