Watching with pride as others make great strides, celebrating the Year of the Tiger & wrestling with the ever-shifting definition of "creative success"
Vol. 2, Issue 2
This week was our winter break. By that I mean we got a break from wintery weather here in Alabama, a short reprieve from the cold and gray. My daughter and I took advantage of the sunny skies and went to the neighborhood park, where it became immediately apparent she’s grown a lot in the last couple of months. She easily navigated playground obstacles that were too tall or challenging for her last autumn. In particular, she scrambled up a six-foot disc ladder without even a hint of fear, and then she took the hand of a kid two years older than her and encouraged her to climb up, too, even though the older girl was still wary of the “big steps.” Eventually, both girls made it to the top, and the other mother and I cheered.
I felt a lot of naches as I watched my little girl run and jump around the playground—and, not for the first time, I was totally bewildered at how my bookish self produced such a strong and brave little athlete. Similarly, it’s been a big month for some of my writer acquaintances, and I’ve felt a lot of pride from the sidelines as two authors I know recently celebrated their debut novels (Sequoia and Eva). Additionally, a workshop friend published a story they’ve been working on for a long time, and in my new role as fiction editor at Newfound, I offered several acceptances to writers whose work will appear in our upcoming issue (including one who will be publishing their fiction for the very first time).
The flurry of good news has been fun to watch, even as I struggle to stay patient for my own big projects to find their homes. But my daughter reminded me the other day that it’s decidedly more fun to climb “the big steps” with friends rather than alone. And hopefully those extra hands waiting at the top might just reach out and make the last few inches my own climb a little easier and fun.
The complicated reality of doing what you love, Vox. “The struggle, for me [as a potter], is between what I want to make and what I assume people will buy; the struggle of wishing I could log off forever but knowing that Instagram is the most direct marketing tool I have. The only solution I have come up with is to have a segment of my work I make just for myself, without concern for the market—or at least with an attempted lack of concern. But making time for that also means carving out time, both for creation and inspiration, for the rest that is required for my brain to think thoughts. This is something I crave more than a new hobby; this is peace.”
How to stop living in ‘infinite browsing’ mode, The Atlantic. “The pleasures of commitment are deeper and more satisfying than keeping your options open, the writer and civic advocate Pete Davis argues in his new book … To make his case, Davis interviewed various ‘long-haul heroes,’ including a Jesuit priest, a Chicagoan who pushed to shut down coal-fueled power plants in her neighborhood, and a man who has for 50 years kept score at sports games at a small Florida college. [Here’s what] he learned from those conversations and how cultural and economic forces steer people away from making all-in commitments.”
Would you take free land in rural Kansas? The Hustle. What does financial success mean in urban areas where even well-paid workers can’t afford homes and basic amenities? What lifestyle trade-offs are young, remote workers willing to make in order to “have it all?”
Happy Lunar New Year! According to the Chinese zodiac, this week marks the beginning of a Tiger Year. (I happened to be born in a tiger year, so my second daughter will have that in common with me.)
These days I’m all for ushering in fresh, restorative energies—from any cultural tradition that happens to offer them. So in honor of the festivities happening right now in Asia and across the Asian diaspora, here’s a small, simple way to creatively channel the bold, brave tiger:
It is an extremely courageous act to be a writer, painter, composer, because you are out on your own, in limbo, totally unprotected, not much encouraged. —Kay Dick
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “success” and what it means in terms of living a creative life—and making a living from creativity. Last year toward the end of my MFA program, I had the opportunity to develop and teach a course called The Entrepreneurial Writer, which introduced students to some of the inner workings of careers as freelancers, authors, and academics in the humanities. The course prompted a lot of great discussions about what, exactly, it means to “be a writer” at this moment in time, and the hardest assignment I gave my students was to ask them to define what success in this broad and unwieldy field actually means to them.
Each of them did much better with the assignment than I could have at their age. Even now, I often feel like “success” is mostly a moving target, with goalposts that seem to retreat ever farther into the distance. But I do have a few specific, consistent things I’d like to do as a writer at some point in my life, and I suspect you have a few secret goals for your own work, too.
Maybe this week it’s worth writing those goals down in a notebook. How do they look on the page? How do they sound when you say them out loud? I’m not asking (or even recommending) that you make any sort of “plan” or outline of steps to move closer toward those goals right this second. I’m just asking you to ask yourself two questions:
What, above all, do I really want to make?
And what do I hope to someday, somehow, make of that making?
You can find Sandra on Twitter, Instagram, and at sandrabarnidge.com. As always, thank you for being here.