dear sugar, life lessons, words for the heart

Dear Sugar: We are all savages inside

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Dear Sugar,

I’m jealous. I’m jealous of people who succeed at what I do (write literary fiction). I’m jealous of them even if I love them or like them or respect them. Even when I pretend to be happy when my writer friends get good news, the truth is I feel like I swallowed a spoonful of battery acid. For days afterwards I go around feeling queasy and sad, silently thinking why not me?

So why not, Sugar? I’m 31. I’ve written a novel that I’m currently revising while searching for an agent (which is turning out to be more difficult than I imagined). I received a first-rate education, holding a BA from a prestigious college and an MFA from another prestigious college. Several people in my social and literary orbit have gotten the sort of five and six-figure book deals that I dream of getting. A couple of these people are jerks, so I don’t feel guilty for resenting their good fortune, but a few of them are good people whom I like and respect and, worst of all, one is a woman I count among my very best friends.

It makes me sick that I don’t feel happy for them, especially when it comes to my close friend, but there it is. When I think of their successes, it only reminds me of what I don’t have. I want what they have, but it’s more than that: them having what I want pains me. When other writer friends are met with failure (rejections from agents or publishing houses, for example), I admit I feel a tiny lift inside. The feeling is more relief than glee—you know that old saying about misery enjoying company? I don’t truly wish others bad. But neither do I honestly wish them well.

I know this makes me a shallow, awful person. I know I should be grateful that I have a decent job that allows me time to write, good friends, wonderful parents who are supportive of me both emotionally and financially (they paid my tuition for the above mentioned colleges and have helped me in countless other ways), and a generally great life. But I find it impossible to focus on these things when I hear the news that another friend or acquaintance or former grad school peer has sold a book for X amount of dollars.

How do I deal with this, Sugar? Is jealousy simply part of a writer’s life? Are my feelings what everyone is feeling, even when they pretend otherwise? Is it possible to purge these negative feelings and feel other, positive things when I hear someone else’s fabulous news?

Talk to me about jealousy please. I don’t want it to rule my life, or at least if it’s going to rule my life I want to be reassured that it’s ruling everyone else’s life (secretly) too.

Signed,
Awful Jealous Person

……..

Dear Awful Jealous Person,

We are all savages inside. We all want to be the chosen, the beloved, the esteemed. There isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t at one point or another had that why not me? voice pop into the interior mix when something good has happened to someone else. But that doesn’t mean you should allow it to rule your life, sweet pea. It means you have work to do.

Before we get into it, I want to talk about what we’re talking about. We are not talking about books. We’re talking about book deals. You know they are not the same thing, right? One is the art you create by writing like a motherfucker for a long time. The other is the thing the marketplace decides to do with your creation. A writer gets a book deal when he or she has written a book that: a) an editor loves and b) a publisher believes readers will purchase. The number of copies a publisher believes people will purchase varies widely. It could be ten million or seven hundred and twelve. This number has pretty much nothing to do with the quality of the book, but rather is dictated by literary style, subject matter, and genre. This number has everything to do with the amount of your book deal, which is also related to the resources available to the publishing house that wants to publish your book. The big presses can give authors six figure advances for books they believe will sell in significant numbers. The small ones cannot. Again, this has no relationship whatsoever to the quality of the books they publish.

I feel compelled to note these facts at the outset because my gut sense of your letter is that you’ve conflated the book with the book deal. They are two separate things. The one you are in charge of is the book. The one that happens based on forces that are mostly outside of your control is the book deal. You could write the world’s most devastatingly gorgeous book of poems and nobody would give you $200,000 to publish it. You could write the world’s most devastatingly gorgeous novel and maybe get that. Or not.

My point is, the first thing you need to do is get over yourself, Awful Jealous Person. If you are a writer, it’s the writing that matters and no amount of battery acid in your stomach over who got what for what book they wrote is going to help you in your cause. Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause. It is not to get a six figure book deal. I’m talking about the difference between art and money; creation and commerce. It’s a beautiful and important thing to be paid to make art. Publishers who deliver our books to readers are a vital part of what we do. But what we do—you and I—is write books. Which may garner six figure book deals for the reasons I outlined above. Or not.

You know what I do when I feel jealous? I tell myself to not feel jealous. I shut down the why not me? voice and replace it with one that says don’t be silly instead. It really is that easy. You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel like crap because someone has gotten something you want you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else’s success has absolutely no bearing on your own. You remember that a wonderful thing has happened to one of your literary peers and maybe, if you keep working and if you get lucky, something wonderful may also someday happen to you.

And if you can’t muster that, you just stop. You truly do. You do not let yourself think about it. There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart. If you let it, your jealousy will devour you. Your letter is evidence that it has already begun to do so. It has depleted your happiness, distracted you from your real work, and turned you into a crappy friend.

You know that woman you mentioned who recently got the book deal—the one you describe as among your best friends? She knows you’re not truly happy for her. She knows it even if she’s convinced herself that she doesn’t know it; even if she’s tried to explain away whatever weird vibe you emitted when you pretended to be happy for her about her good news. She knows because you can’t fake love and generosity of spirit. It’s either there or it isn’t. The fact that when someone you profess to care deeply about shared with you something excellent that happened to her you had to fake your joy sucks way more than the fact that you haven’t yet gotten the five or six figure book deal you’re so convinced you deserve. And if you want to have a real, true, deep, authentic, satisfying, kickass, righteous life, I advise you to get that shit straightened out first.

I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too.

Most of those people did not come to this perspective naturally. And so, Awful Jealous Person, there is hope for you. You, too, can be a person who didn’t give up. Most of the people who didn’t give up realized that in order to thrive they had to dismantle the ugly jealous god in their heads so they could instead serve something greater: their own work. For some of them, it meant simply shutting out the why not me voice and moving on. For others, it meant going deeper and exploring why exactly it pained them so much that someone else got good news.

I hate to tell you, but my guess is that you’re in the latter group. A large part of your jealousy probably rises out of your outsized sense of entitlement. Privilege has a way of fucking with our heads the same way a lack of it does. There are a lot of people who’d never dream they could be a writer, let alone land, at the age of 31, a six figure book deal. You are not one of them. And you are not one of them because you’ve been given a tremendous amount of things that you did not earn or deserve, but rather that you received for the sole reason that you happen to be born into a family who had the money and wherewithal to fund your education at two colleges to which you feel compelled to attach the word “prestigious.”

What is a prestigious college? What did attending such a school allow you to believe about yourself? What assumptions do you have about the colleges that you would not describe as prestigious? What sorts of people go to prestigious colleges and not prestigious colleges? Do you believe that you had a right to a free “first-rate” education? What do you make of the people who received educations that you would not characterize as first-rate? These are not rhetorical questions. I really do want you to take out a piece of paper and write those questions down and then answer them. I believe your answers will deeply inform your current struggle with jealousy. I am not asking you these questions in order to condemn or judge you. I would ask a similar series of questions to anyone from any sort of background because I believe our early experiences and beliefs about our place in the world inform who we think we are and what we deserve and by what means it should be given to us.

It is a way of going back to the roots of the problem, as it were. And I imagine you know I’m a big fan of roots.

You might, for example, be interested to know that the word prestigious is derived from the Latin praestigiae, which means conjuror’s tricks. Isn’t that interesting? This word that we use to mean honorable and esteemed has its beginnings in a word that has everything to do with illusion and deception and trickery. Does that mean anything to you, Awful Jealous Person? Because when I found that out, every tuning fork inside of me went hum. Could it be possible that the reason you feel like you swallowed a spoonful of battery acid every time someone else gets what you want is because a long time ago—way back in your own very beginnings—you were sold a bill of goods about the relationship between money and success, fame and authenticity, legitimacy and adulation?

I think it’s worth investigating, sweet pea. Doing so will make you a happier person and also a better writer, I know without a doubt.

Good luck selling your novel. I hope you get six figures for it. When you do, write to me and share the wonderful news. I promise to be over the moon for you.

Yours,
Sugar

***

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inspiration, read it love it, words for the heart, writers

Madame Clairevoyant: the only “horoscope” I read

MC

As mentioned in last week’s Three Things (which will return to its regular scheduled time next week!), I dabble a wee bit in checking my horoscope out. But really, the one I have loved most, for years now, is Madame Clairevoyant. She used to write for The Rumplr, The Rumpus’s tumblr, then The Toast, and I’m so stoked she found a weekly spot on The Cut.

Maybe I love them the most because they’re not rooted in real astrology. But I definitely love them because they are beautifully written and always provide words of wisdom — whether they’re brought from the state of the planets or not — they’re words that help me stay rooted in the week ahead. And they’re words that are often eerily spot on.

Madame C. once wrote:

I am not a real astrologer or a real writer, and so it’s strange and great that people actually read these, that people are connecting with a thing that I work on. At first, when Molly asked me if I’d write horoscopes for the Rumpus, they were so silly—I really wish I were still as funny as this—but then before I even really realized it, they got serious

What I love the most about astrology, what I love most about really any field of knowledge, but especially the ones that lots of Serious People dismiss (astrology, magic, ghost stories, even religion), is the specific structures and vocabularies they give us for understanding our realities outside of common sense or linear time or the rules of science or whatever, the tools they give us for understanding the actual weirdness of our lives.

It is comforting and even fun, sometimes, to blame bad things on Mercury going retrograde; it’s comforting and fun to use astrology to understand the terrible parts of your own personality or your mom’s personality or your friends’ personalities. One of the homeless youths I work with likes to talk to me about how tarot is the only way of looking at the world that makes any sense to him. Everyone rolls their eyes at this, but it’s so real.

I still know hardly anything about actual astrology, though. A lot of people have really put in the time time to learn about the nuances, the complicated parts, the houses and trines and decanates and all of it. I am not there. I am better (I hope?) at paying attention to the people around me, the weird bendy logic of our lives, the emotional textures of the world. My roommate and my sister are both Leos, and they’re utterly different, but there are all these eerie coincidences and resonances in their lives. All the Tauruses I know are totally different except that they aren’t totally different, and I can’t put my finger on what exactly makes up that strange little core of sameness, but that’s where I try to locate these horoscopes.

 

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What ultimately led me to write this post in particular, was this week’s horoscope in particular. For me, it struck me right in the heart. So, without further adieu, one of my favorites to date.

Taurus: Your wildness isn’t too much: Even as it loves, a person’s heart can buck and bristle. It’s possible for loyalty to mean something other than a quashing of your own emotions, your own strangeness, your own rebellion. It’s possible for faith to be critical, and for love to challenge and protest. It’s a week to be true to your people, and a week to stand boldly on your own side, too.

 

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So, go on now, find yours here.

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anxiety, dear sugar, life lessons, march 2017, read it love it, three things, vulnerability, words for the heart

Three things.

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After two months of having been without our beloved Patrick, I’m able to look at dogs again without bursting into tears… well, usually. This dog, Rusty Rodas, has an Instagram and it is epic.

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There are many things I love about Man Repeller. But far above all the reasons lies Leandra’s courageous honesty. Her life, personality, closet—all can ignite a flame of jealousy in the best of us, but that’s not her intention. You just know it from reading her words. She genuinely wants to have a community within Man Repeller. She cares. She wants you to know she’s just as real as her readers. And in a time when Instagramming and Blogging have taken a turn for the unattainable—perfect homes, “little ole papas & mamas,” and unblemished images—it’s so effing refreshing. No matter your home, your lot in life, your career, your closet… we are all humans. And being a human is hard. Why deny it? So thank you, Leandra. Thank you for your openness. And thank you for plucking this issue right out of my heart (and brain for that matter).

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I’m rereading Tiny Beautiful Things for what seems like the hundredth time. It’s just as good as the first time. And just as relevant as ever. Here are 10 of the best entries from the Dear, Sugar column (of which the book is compiled).

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faith, poetry, words for the heart, writers

World Poetry Day 2017 || Max Ehrmann

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Yesterday, my dear friend Helen shared the following poem. Since reading it, I can’t get it out of my head. It’s beautiful, timely, and every time I read it, I feel as though I’m praying.

Max Ehrmann

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

See past World Poetry Day posts here.

 

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life lessons, poetry, saw it loved it, three things, words for the heart

Three things.

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sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love

… a beautiful E.E. Cummings poem “Sweet Spring“, plus six more since it’s the first day of Spring (finalllllly).

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Have you seen Grey Gardens? It’s fascinating. In every sense of the word. There’s not a Fourth of July that goes by that I don’t want to recreate Little Edie’s “Flag Dance.” But I remember being really struck by the amount of books they had lining the walls of their home. So when I saw this article from the Paris Review, I knew it was going to an interesting read. And I wasn’t wrong.

The Grey Gardens shelves are also lined with what can best be described as pastime books, leftover from luxuriously idle beachfront childhoods: turn-of-the-century children’s and nursery books, collections of poems and crossword puzzles. (“Cross word puzzles are my delight,” wrote Little Edie in one book, which contains one unfinished puzzle with only two filled-in words: “Qarter” [sic] and “WASP.”) Yet the Beale family apparently also read, or at least owned, heartier fare: the complete works of Byron, Shakespeare, and Balzac stand alongside volumes of Milton, Burns, Proust, and Browning. (Little Edie reportedly wrote her own poetry until her death, in 2002). The conditions of these books run the gamut, from gently aged to wholly destroyed; one first edition of Gone With the Wind actually appears to be melting, an effect I’d never before seen in a book, no matter how misused.

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Things I’m trying to accept about myself and not care if it’s too much for someone else.

“I’ve stopped being sorry for all my soft. I won’t apologise because I miss you, or because I said it, or because I text you first, or again. I think everyone spends too much time trying to close themselves off. I don’t want to be cool or indifferent, I want to be honest. If I love you at 5AM, I’d damn well rather that you know I felt it. If I love you two hours later, I’ll tell you then too. Listen, I won’t wait double the time it takes for you to text me back because I don’t want to. I don’t care enough to be patient with you. I’m happy, you made me feel that way, don’t you want to know? So that’s how it’s going to be. I’m going to leave myself as open as a church door. And I’m going to wake you up before the crack of dawn to tell you that I’m fucking joyful, no pretending, not from me, not ever. Would you like some coffee, would you please kiss me? Here, these are my hands, this is my mouth, it is all yours.” – Azra.T “Don’t Wait Three Days to Text First.”  

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articles, growing up, life lesson, little reminders of life, read it love it, wise words, words for the heart

"Be careful what you tell the heir to your throne."


Be careful what you tell your children (column) by Chloe Allyn

Be careful what you tell your daughter. Take care with the words you lend to her ear. 

Imagine your voice as the thunder on a summer evening, moments before she leaves to see her friends. Your diction is either lightning, striking down on her youth, or the familiar rumble of summer cloud cover. Your parting words will come as a rainstorm or a blanket of deep blue-gray warmth against the breeze of nighttime. 

Be careful what you tell your daughter. At the dinner table, she should open up to you, her stories should bubble up and out to glide softly into your heart. Listen, empathize, empower. Do not spell “why did you let him do that?” in her alphabet soup when it’s not her motives that must be questioned. 

Be sure your hands conjure a force, a tornado raised from the ashes of sacrificed women before her. Instill within her the majesty of a queen, who loves her kingdom, will sacrifice for her kingdom and will lay down her pride for her kingdom. 

To teach your daughter how to walk down the street and turn every head in awe is the goal. You must build her up, not break her down with the stigmas that she is but an instrument of beauty. 

Your daughter is not just beautiful. She is bold, she is human, she is graceful, she is intelligent and she is the unforgettable whirlwind of charm that leaves behind strands of hair like tokens for all who will praise her. 

Do not teach your daughter that she’s capable of anything less than the distance to the moon. Your daughter is not a mother; do not treat her as one. Tell her every day that until she dies that she still has time. Tell her that until her parting breath. She has the same amount of potential in her pen, in her ballet slipper, in her tennis shoe or in her theories as the universe has energy. 

Never limit your daughter to merely a role in the kitchen, a role as a victim or a role as a supporting part. Your daughter is the hero, your daughter is the antagonist, and your daughter is the author. 

Be careful what you tell your son. Do not replace his tears with daggers. Do not teach him the flaws of the past. His gender and skin color do not define his power. 

Remind your son that he’s made of atoms that once composed the silken petals of roses. That the definition in his biceps is for raising people up, not striking them down. Be cautious that you are not the third Little Pig; do not build your son with stone. 

Never justify your son’s mistakes with “boys will be boys” because boys will be foolish, boys will be heart broken, boys will be warriors, boys will be nurses, but boys will never just be boys. 

Do not teach your son to be a puzzle piece, that he belongs somewhere. Teach your son to be a beacon. Teach your son to be a leader, to be an individual. 

Encourage him to watch scary movies. Encourage him to be afraid. Encourage him to be bold enough to check under his bed for monsters. Teach him that fear isn’t meant to be hidden, teach him that fear is meant to be faced, and at no time does shame marry the feeling of terror. 

Teach your son that he is every color of the sunset; he is the pink blush of gentility, he is the rich gold of success and he is the vivid orange of creativity. 

Be careful what you tell your son. Tell him that he has every right to be a man and a stay-at-home father, a choreographer or a fashion designer. Your son was not born to be just A Man. 

He was born to be himself. 

Be careful what you tell the heir to your throne. Be kind and thoughtful in the messages you convey to the flowers you grow. Do not define the limits they will reach. Do not confine the limits they will reach. Do not intervene with heights they will reach. 

Be careful what you tell your daughter, be careful what you tell your son, and be careful that you don’t limit their access or love of this kingdom under the sun.


There are no words, except one: Yes.

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found it loved it, lent 2013, read it love it, words for the heart

Borrowed definitions.


LATITUDEn.
“We’re not, like, seeing other people, right?” I asked. We were barely over the one-month mark, I believe.
          You nodded.
          “Excellent,” I said.
          “But I have to tell you something,” you added – and my heart sank.
          “What?”
          “At first, I was seeing someone else. Only for the first week or two. Then I told him it wasn’t going to work.”
          “Because of me?”
          “Partly. And partly because it wouldn’t have worked anyway.”
          I was glad I hadn’t known I was in contest; I don’t know if I could have handled that. But still, it was strange, to realize my version of those weeks was so far from yours.
          What a strange phase – not seeing other people. As if it’s been constructed to be a lie. We see other people all the time. The question is what we do about it.

Oh the leaps and bounds we encounter utterly clueless. Utterly hopeful.
xo-
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