I Am Not My Work

Art by Benjamin Gabriel

Not too long ago, I wrote about how being a writer is meaningless. I’ve continued to think about that idea, and today I just want to share some thoughts about it.

I used to want to be a famous writer. Actually, I had a very specific goal — to have my works included in literary text books for high school and college students. I wanted my writing to be considered definitive of an era. After all, anyone can write a book, but in order to feel that I was really a good writer, I needed to be the best writer.

My entire identity and self-worth was wrapped up in this idea of being a great writer, and if you’ve any idea of what the publishing industry looks like right now, you can probably imagine how this is a problem. No one wants to publish your book? Probably because you’re worthless as a human being. That was pretty much my internal dialogue for a few years.

The prospect of earning a living as a writer was terrifying. I loved writing because it was literally my main tool for navigating the world. I trusted no one but my own writing, and I was completely wrapped up in my own inner world, which is why I had no close friends for a really long time. To turn that into a source of income made me feel too vulnerable, and I was unwilling to do any writing I didn’t really love.

At the same time, my yoga practice was starting to teach me, “You are not your job. You are not your belongings. You are not your social status.” I still struggled with the idea that I needed to be something more, something better. I needed to be great but couldn’t wrap my mind around what that meant.

Only when I started teaching yoga did that change. When I’m teaching a class, I don’t want to be famous, to prove myself, or to impress anyone. All I want is to do a good job for the people in front of me. When they visibly improve from one class to the next and say “thank you” to me at the end of the day, I have the most amazing feeling of success I’ve ever had.

I no longer feel that need to prove myself as a great writer. I write because I love it and because it’s a good tool for me. Writing is now part of my yoga, part of how I understand the world, but it’s no longer my identity.

After all these years, I realize:

I am not a writer.
I am a me.
Writing is something I do.
My writing does not define me.
I do.

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Weekly Assignment: What Do You Need?

Take what you need

Here’s what I want you to do right now. Take stock of how you feel.

What’s your energy level like? Rate it from 1-10 where 1 is falling asleep and 10 is bouncing off the walls.
What’s going on in your mind right now? Just make note without dwelling on it. Are you thinking about 15 different things? Writing your to-do list?
Are you worried about anything? Holding on to anything? Obsessing about anything?
Are you bored, anxious, or angry?
Are you hungry?
Just pay attention for a minute to what it’s like to be in your body, in your life, right now.

Now, here’s the important question: “What do I need or want right now?”

I try to ask myself this question pretty regularly, and I get a variety of answers depending on the day. For example …
friendship
a hug
to be heard
a few minutes of silence
really loud music
an escape
money
something to work on
therapy
medicine
a nap
a walk
a kitten
a vacation
to get laid
to feel appreciated

The follow-up question, of course, is “What can I do to address that?”

Do it every day this week, and indulge yourself. If if what you want is an orgasm every day, you just go the heck ahead and do that, guilt free, ok? If anyone questions you, tell them I said you could by the almighty power of the internet. See how you feel when you grant your own wishes.

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Being a Writer is Meaningless

Writer's Block I

When I was a little kid, I wanted to write books. I don’t know how I got the idea, but I think it had to do with feeling that I was strange and other people didn’t understand me, therefore I was bound to be some kind of artist. Also, I won some silly little writing contest in the first grade, so I thought, “There we go! I’ve figured it out. I’m a writer.” It was handy for all those tedious years when adults incessantly ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A writer,” I would say, thinking it made me sound quite smart. I never did get the awed response I hoped for, but I did start to believe in this idea of being a writer.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me that a writer is not a thing you can just be because it doesn’t mean anything. You have to write something. And before you can write something, you have to care about something. When I tried to write fiction, I was completely unable to care about the characters. Sometimes it happened with essays, too. I’d realize after 200 or maybe 500 words that I was rambling on about nothing in particular, just thinking out loud. I feared this was a sign that I should give up because I obviously didn’t have anything to say, but I couldn’t just quit writing.

When I had strong feelings about anything, I needed to write it down in order to figure it out. For a while, I only wrote when I felt strongly about something, and I avoided cultivating any one topic for too long. Most of my ideas and projects would eventually bore me or prove to require more effort than I could to give. To be perfectly honest, I flaked out a lot because I didn’t care as much as I thought I should about my writing. Journalism was the worst for me because most of my assignments felt pointless, and I didn’t feel equipped to handle big stories without prior reporting experience. Writing in and of itself, done purely for its own sake, didn’t interest me at all.

I gradually accepted the truth: My childhood dream of being a “great writer” was based on a complete misunderstanding.

That’s when I realized I needed to tap into what I was most passionate about — not writing for its own sake or books in particular, but the things that mean the most to me. I experimented with a lot of different topics, but it took a while to find something that consistently inspired me. When I started talking about creativity, spirituality, yoga, and meditation, I knew I’d struck a nerve.

Now, I don’t know if what I’m doing is “good” writing. I don’t know if it’s entertaining or interesting. I have no clue if anyone besides me laughs at my cheesy jokes. But I’m noticing that I haven’t gotten bored with it, either. I haven’t stopped caring or run out of material. And the fun part is, now I get to trust my training and leap into the wind. All those years spent trying to shape perfect metaphors and construct clear sentences aren’t going to waste because I finally have something to say that’s worth the effort. At the same time, I have so much to say that I can’t obsess over every sentence, nor do I want to. If I’m trying to express a difficult idea, I pick the best metaphor I can and run with it and just cross my fingers that I’m getting it right. This work feels like riding my bike down a big hill — it’s exhilarating, and little risky, not the tortured process I put myself through in the past.

The other day I asked myself: Am I still a writer?

And do you know what the answer was? I don’t care.

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Weekly Assignment: Fortune Telling

Zelmoe Zandini

Wanna know what your future holds? It’s not as hard to predict as you might think. Stop and think about your life as it is right now. Think about your family life, your work/school situation, your general state of mind, your habits.

Write or draw the answer to the following question: What will my life look like in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years if I continue on my current path? This is not a fanciful exercise in which we imagine what we want and pretend that it’s going to magically happen. Look for the likely natural outcome of your current actions. You might like some of what you see, and you might dislike some of it.

Maybe you see yourself getting some promotions. Maybe you imagine finishing your graduate program, publishing your first book, directing a play, starting a family, or traveling the world.

Or maybe you see yourself thinking “I shoulda quit that job when I had the chance.” “I should’ve said what I really felt.” “I should’ve tried just to see where it would lead.”

What can you change right now to make sure you get a little more from column A and a little less from column B?

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The Best Mix CD I’ve Ever Received

Feel The Music!

This is the playlist from the best mix CD I’ve ever received. I’ve lost a lot of good mixes over the years, but I managed to hang on to this one from my brother, who has possibly the best musical taste of anyone I know. He gave me this CD in the early 2000s when Modest Mouse was one of those bands you’d mention pseudo-casually to see if anyone noticed how cool you were for knowing about them. I’ve reconstructed the playlist on Youtube in order to share it with you. 🙂

As I was listening to this CD, I felt compelled to share it for several reasons. First of all, every track on here is pretty stellar. Second, I don’t know anyone else who can put Frank Sinatra and NOFX on the same playlist and make it work. Third, I find it fascinating how music stays with me over the years, and songs somehow take on more meaning. Anyway, I’m utterly in love with this playlist, and I’ve even considered having a listening party in which this CD is the focal point. Give it a listen and see what you think!

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