I‘ve said it before and I’ll say it again—one of the best things for writers (and humans in general!) is to read. In fact, one of my biggest goals for this year is to get my nose in more books and to set aside time in my schedule to browse through content I discover or enjoy. Almost a year ago, I created my online reading lists, but now these have morphed not only into personal records, but (hopefully) a source of inspiration and relevance to others, too.
This early March reading list of 2019 is a mix. There are pieces about failure, dancing, pain, creating believable characters as an author, and even a monthly column on periods! This is strange, crazy, heartwarming, and heart-pounding collection. I hope you enjoy (and please feel free to comment below!)
1. The truth about failures.
We’re always thinking about our achievements as a mark of our success, but this NY Times piece made me think differently about the way I see ‘mistakes’ in both my personal and professional life. Perhaps the times we fall down are actually beneficial for our future success. Maybe instead of a resume always listing our successes, we should consider a ‘failure resume,’ too.
2. The importance of dancing.
I follow the bulletins from this literary journal and I’m always fascinated by the content they create, compile, and send. As I was going through a previous week, I found this article, which talks about dancing and movement as a means of human expression. I love how the author explains this dancing (and his inability to dance well) as a means of connecting himself to people and places. It made me think about my experiences and how dancing has also played a major role in the way I communicate and celebrate with others. I met my boyfriend at a bar where we were both dancing—like the author said, there is a freedom there.
“Moving to different cities, I learned how physical expressiveness was actually necessary to many people’s daily lives, either ingrained from an early age, or always encouraged for its freeness, for the relief that pours over you while dancing. Somehow, everyone wanted to go dancing, and everyone needed to go dancing.”
3. The value of creating a character we can believe in.
As a writer, I’m fascinated by the way other writers create their characters, and particularly in the way they build these characters as people we can resonate with, understand or find comfort in. This piece, “The Dog,” by Carol Dines, opens with a father, daughter, and mother heading to pick up a dog for the daughter’s tenth birthday. Through third person narration (via the daughter) we learn about her mother and their mother-daughter relationship. It’s explained beautifully:
“She stared at the back of her mother’s head, brown frizzy curls tied back in a ponytail. The mother’s voice filled the car as she turned to look at the father. The mother’s voice filled up the car. “If she’s a vegan, I could make a vegetable curry with coconut milk.” Mouth-wrinkles pinching, unpinching. The daughter was glad she looked like her father—blue eyes and blond hair. The mother could talk about the smallest, most insignificant things—whether bagged carrots were chemically treated, how long eggs were safe, whether nail polish was toxic. She had this amazing ability to make a big deal out of everything. The daughter worried she would inherit this trait. She had huge feelings, feelings that moved inside her like birds crossing oceans, no land in sight. She sensed she was on the verge of understanding truths that would cause her pain, would make her angry, particularly at her mother, who, having had four miscarriages, loved her daughter with an urgency that confirmed the daughter’s importance in the family but also frightened the daughter with a sense of unending responsibility.”
This article also described what it’s like to have a dog, which I really resonated with, “The family would not have admitted it to one another, but they all sensed they needed something else to love, something beyond themselves. They stood close, smiling at the small furry bundle curled in the daughter’s arms.” so perfect.
Have you read something that you could just feel the tension, feel the character, feel the emotion? Feel free to comment and/or link it below.
4. The necessity of being open and vulnerable about sensitive topics.
What? No, seriously. This is actually an introspective monthly column on periods where the writer, Franny Choi, talks about menstruation (obviously), femininity, female bodies, self-love, etc. The thing that struck me, though, is that it’s not what you’d expect. This is far from battle cry poetry, angry Feminism or strange quotes about womanhood. It’s one woman’s look at her body within the larger female/trans/bi experience and how we are all connected. She explains it beautifully in this quote:
“I’m trying to write, not how about menstruating amplifies my womanhood, but to ask: given the strangeness of gender, given that I am a woman and also a queer person of color and a cyborg and a squid and a riverbank, how might thinking about what leaks from my body help me think about other kinds of leakiness, too?”
4. The importance of seeing outside the characters you create.
As a writer, I’m often fascinated by how other authors craft their stories, and in particular, their characters. I loved this bulletin by author Siamak Vossough. He talks about how he can both see and create outside his own political belief, and how this is so essential for building a character people can relate to. Not every character you make will be similar to you, and honestly, they shouldn’t. Here’s what he has to say about making a character become real.
“Once I feel that I can write about each character with an awareness that living is a hard one for them, then I think that political beliefs can be very revealing of who they are. A writer only runs the risk of being preachy or dogmatic if he or she makes a character of one political belief less three-dimensional and human than that of another.”
5. The power of pain.
Pain is something that we all experience, and yet, we are all so isolated by it. We often feel as if we’re the only people experiencing what we’re experiencing, and it leaves us downhearted and alone. I found this particular essay on trauma interesting. In it is a quote that really made me think, not only about myself and my pain, but about my writing and how this form of communication/expression truly connects us.
“You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you suffer less.”
— James Baldwin
This really struck me. Our pain, in the grand scheme of things is so small; yet when we face it, when we unpack it, and when we try to help others based upon our own experiences, it becomes powerful. And we heal.
Featured Image Credit: Annie Spratt