Earlier today, I read one of Raymond Carver's great stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” The title of this story always amuses me, and with Valentine's Day steadily approaching, it seemed appropriate to discuss it.
In Carver's story, four friends drunkenly sit around and swap their accounts of love---horror stories about suicidal exes, words of affirmation to their current spouses, philosophical descriptions of exactly what love is to them. By the time the gin runs out and the story ends, the characters sit in silence, unable to produce any further thoughts on the matter. It's a quiet, dignified exit that sticks with me as much as the title.
And this silence, my friends, is exactly what we talk about when we talk about love. It's a glaring inadequacy to generate the words to describe exactly how love makes us feel.
But my god, don't we as writers try our best? In fact, I'd go as far to say that every story revolves around love. Sure, they aren't all dripping in romantic moonlit walks and roses, but I believe that every author pours so much of their soul into their work, no matter the genre, that the sheer passion makes every word pulsate with love. At the heart of all literature is a writer who longed to let a story free. The person at the beginning of those words wrote everything they knew, experienced, or dreamed about---and they dedicated months or years of their lives trying to perfect the words. If that's not love, I don't know what is.
And it's not necessarily all for the reader. In my experience, the entire act of writing is inherently selfish. There is something inside of us boiling so fervently---fear, passion, betrayal, insecurities---that it must be unleashed or we'll likely implode.
Reading stories through this framework makes them so much more interesting to me. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying transforms from a tale of calamity to a migrating love story of husband and wife. Ginsberg's seemingly random poems become monolithic odes to the writers and countries he loved, and the family torn away from him. Even Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss is a loving nod to all marginalized and forgotten creatures.
Even if they're not explicitly discussing romantic themes, love lies in the subtext. Did they capture those feelings successfully? That's up to you as the reader to decide.
What do any of us talk about when we talk about love? We experience feelings so intense that people dedicate lifetimes assigning words to them. And even then, language often fails to capture what's in our hearts. But it's our mission as writers, and more importantly, as humans, to never stop trying.
“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
- Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”
This week, I drank some delicious wine with my husband, took in some excellent Oscar-nominated movies (Room and Bridge of Spies), and ate far too much homemade pasta. Now onto the first installment of Sunday Link Roundup!
Food for Thought
Ever wondered how some of the world's greatest minds spend their mornings? My Morning Routine features hundreds of interviews with famous writers, CEOs, models, artists, and the like talking about what gets them going creatively.
Restlessness is something I struggle with quite often. See how Michele Catapano at Tiny Buddha deals with it here.
If you're not already reading Yes and Yes, you absolutely need to. Sarah Von Bargen always posts great pieces, but her article on living her life on purpose is one of my favorites.
A gentle reminder that you are allowed to do/think/feel pretty much anything unapologetically.
This Tumblr account is trying to put a positive spin on February with Love Yourself Month.
It's still a bit early to be thinking about summer, but Mod Cloth just introduced this fabulous line of colorful, body-inclusive swimwear. The green T-Rex set, in particular, is awesome.
Things I Want to Eat
If you're looking for something a little bit lighter to ingest alongside the mountain of potato chips on Super Bowl Sunday, consider these delicious-looking buffalo cauliflower “wings.”
I've been a vegetarian for almost eight years, but every once in a while I crave meat-laden comfort food. Thankfully, Naturally Ella must have known this and posted a recipe for these curried vegetarian meatballs.
In a constant quest to embrace leafy greens, I'm adding this kale pasta with garlic sauce to my must-make list.
In Case You Missed It
Check out my posts this week on 10 Brilliant Books That Inspired Me, Truth of Writing #2: Your First Draft is Garbage (and Editing is Wonderful), and Thoughts on My Better Half.
Line of the Week
“The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.” - Stephen King, On Writing
If you found any awesome things hiding in the internet this week, I'd love to hear about it! Please leave me a note in the Comments section or on my Facebook page.
Happy Sunday, everyone!
"My love, you are sunlight falling through trees. You are laughter that breaks through my sadness. You are the breeze on a too-warm day. You are clarity in the midst of confusion. You are not the world, but you are everything that makes the world good. Without you, my life would still exist, but that’s all it would manage to do." - The One, Kiera Cass
Six months ago, on a chilly day in Duluth, one of my dearest friends read this during my wedding ceremony. I look fondly on so many moments from that day, but this one elevates itself---standing at the base of the stairs in the Glensheen Mansion, my closest friends and family looking on, and hearing this, knowing it to be so very true.
Seeing as this coming Monday is our six-month wedding anniversary, and Valentine's Day is just around the corner, it seems appropriate to introduce you to the better half of this Harris duo---my husband, Evan.
Beginning when I left the safety of home for college, I've wandered in what seems like an endless stream of bad relationships. Men who used me, boys with ill intent masquerading as men, a few who truly loved me but I found it impossible to feel the same. These relationships drained me yet taught me more than years of school could, and for that I will never regret them. And then Evan came along.
I had all but given up on the idea that someone could actually make me happy, and so committed myself to a period of self-improvement and challenge. During that time, I started a golf league at my office; on our first meet-up, one of Evan's team members canceled at the last minute, and I took their spot. Being the slowest walkers in the group, we strolled together, chatting and laughing; within the next few weeks, we went on several more golfing expeditions and enjoyed many episodes of Seinfeld, airing of grievances, and feats of strength.
After our third date, something inside of me knew that we were destined to build a life together.
I don't share this story because I feel you need to know the chronology of our relationship or the exact events of the last four years, but rather to reiterate the sentiments of the opening passage. I never knew the magnitude of choosing to share your life with someone, particularly when that person is everything you didn't know you lacked.
Evan serves as my steady rock when my anxiety gets the best of me.
He laughs at my jokes, even when they're not worth the chuckle.
He smiles and tells me all of my cooking is good, even when I force him to eat tofu.
He agrees that Ghost Adventures is one of the finer American TV shows, making me feel less ridiculous.
He pushes me to challenge myself and take risks.
He is my Sunlight.
He is my Breeze.
He is my Laughter.
He is everything that makes life wonderful.
And there's nothing more beautiful than that.
With Valentine's Day approaching, I'm looking for ideas on how to make the day extra special. Do you and your significant other have a Valentine's Day ritual? If you're single, how do you treat yourself? Tell me all about it in the Comments section or on my Facebook page!
Also, check back tomorrow for the first installment of Sunday Link Roundup, where I'll share all of the cool/interesting/bizarre things I've found during my life on the internet this week.
Nobody sits down and writes a bestseller on the first try. To my knowledge, it's impossible to find a person, much less an experienced writer, who puts forth a grammatically correct, perfectly balanced, and shiny piece of literature at first chance. The genre doesn't matter---poem, book, short story, research paper, that dull statistical analysis you're writing for work---more likely than not, they'll all fail to impress when written the first time.
And that's okay.
I don't mean to be pessimistic; I only intend to stress the importance of rereading, rewriting, and editing. As a full-time Editor myself, I can't emphasize it enough.
(As Stephen King once said, “To write is human, to edit is divine.”)
Your first draft is your chance to get all of those ideas flying around in your head like anxious birds on paper. Release them. It doesn't matter where they fly at the moment; just let them out so they can stretch their wings. Type (or write) your thoughts and see where they take you. Right now, your grammatical skills or the amount of passivity in your sentences doesn't matter. Just write.
Now that you're sufficiently pleased with releasing those birds and they've calmed down a bit, it's time to get them in order and read what you've written. My process usually looks something like this:
You'll find that, not only will rereading/editing your work in multiple drafts make you a better writer, your piece often goes in an unexpected, and better, direction. To view an example, let's look at this poem I created for the purpose of this exercise.
First Draft (Free writing):
It definitely needs work. Let's move on to how it changed when steps 1 and 2 were applied.
Summary of revisions made: Capitalization where necessary, em dashes inserted when breaks between lines weren't full sentences, “within” the current removed since it was strange
Now that this is moderately presentable, it's time to really look at it.
Summary of revisions: “It's hard to know sometimes” section revised and moved to end of poem for emotional impact; "It's hard to know sometimes" changed to "I often wonder"; “Floating from river to ocean” added to tie in river theme; “then, too” added for clarification; “under the weight” removed since currents don't really have weight (do they??)
And the finished product...
I'm not touting this as the best poem ever written, but even this short piece shows editing works wonders. This blog post itself will undergo the same editing process before it's posted.
Returning to the original point: your first draft will likely need some work. But spend the time looking it over, revising it, and giving it a little love---and you may create something magical.
It's official. There's just too many good books in the world.
If you were to ask me my 10 favorite books, I'd stumble for a bit, and then sheepishly request a few more hours to give you a proper answer. Even within one genre, I can think of 10 books that I love and would reread to the point that their spines gave way.
And that's the beautiful thing about books. The magic that one book contains differs greatly from another written by the same author or about the same subject.
So instead of taking on the impossible task of listing my favorites, let me tell you about the ones that inspired my writing in one way or another. I hope that some of you out there have read and enjoyed these as much as I.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Seriously, guys, if you haven't read this book, drop what you're doing and go get it now. Okay, well maybe wait until you're done with this post, but seriously, get it. Just Kids is the memoir of famed queen-of-punk Patti Smith. The book is a beautiful mix of memoir and poetry. Smith, a poet herself, masterfully weaves together stories in a way that's minimalistic but rich at the same time.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I'm going to be honest and say that I'm actually still in the middle of this one. How I've made it through an entire liberal arts education without picking this up is beyond me. Despite the fact that I've yet to complete it, it absolutely warrants a spot on this list. King uses the book to provide advice to writers the best way he can---by telling stories of his own life. Never have I wanted to pick up a pen and start writing so badly as during this book. As a hardcore fan of King's books, it's also thrilling to read the origins of some of his biggest hits, including Carrie. It's an enriching reminder that some of the best stories originate in your own experiences.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Okay, this might seem like a little bit of an odd choice, but I read this book so quickly, I felt like the pages were going to catch fire. Rubin's book focuses on a self-discovery project where she tried to make herself as happy as possible for one year via measurable standards and tasks. The reason I find this book inspiring (besides the fact that I'm a sucker for a good self-improvement tale)? Rubin manages to take scientific thoughts, statistics, and methodologies and make them addicting. That is a skill to be admired.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
I won't bother to summarize this classic, as I'm sure (and hope) you're all familiar with it. Besides the fact it's simply a great piece of children's lit., I admire Sendak's ability to succinctly create a world and fill it with lovable monsters. There are no good guys or bad guys---we're all just Wild Things at the end of the day.
Helter Skelter : The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry
Helter Skelter tells the story of the famous Sharon Tate murders by the notorious cult leader Charles Manson. Written by the lead prosecutor on the case, Vincent Bugliosi presents a horrific event in a very detailed, enthralling light that reads almost like a novel. Bugliosi's true-crime narrative was my first venture into crime writing, and I often return to it when I'm in need of a little spark.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
I feel like any of Mary Roach's books belong on this list, but Stiff in particular deserves recognition. Roach manages to write about a normally squeamish, taboo subject in as normal a manner as talking about your weekend plans. This book made me think that I could be a non-fiction writer, and also convinced me to become a whole-body donor through the University of Minnesota (also, PSA: Save lives and be an organ donor, folks!)
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
As with Where the Wild Things Are, this pick doesn't require much introduction. Seuss was an immense talent at crafting stories using bizarre sentences, words, and rhymes. The Lorax happens to be my favorite of his, and it began my fascination with children's literature.
Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters by Hart Crane (Author), Langdon Hammer (Editor)
During college, I took an American Poetry class that changed my life. Our professor journeyed with us while we read some of the great American poets---Dickinson, Whitman, Ginsberg, and the list goes on. None, however, opened my eyes to the beauty of poetry like Hart Crane. Immediately after our session on Crane ended, I ran to the library and picked up this behemoth of a collection. For my love of reading and writing poetry, Crane deserves credit.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
True story: I actually started a list while reading Lolita of all the words that I had never heard before. This list is extensive, and I still don't know what most of them mean. Nabokov's controversial book uses some of the most beautiful language I've yet to read, as well as the greatest opening line in literature. One of these days, I'll revisit that list and learn all of those lovely words.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Okay book snobs out there, hear me out on this one. Yes, I know that the story is eerily similar to Battle Royale, but I'm asking you to ignore that for the time being. The Hunger Games made the list simply because it had all the ingredients of a bestseller: complex yet approachable writing, an epic battle, and engaging characters. Collins creates intricate worlds and complex human and social dynamics, and does so it effortlessly.
My list of inspirational books could go on forever, but I won't bore you with that. Instead, I'd love to know what books inspired you in any aspect of your life! Please leave me a comment with your thoughts.
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Writer, editor, and storyteller living in the Twin Cities.