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    The New York Times Company | Ellis Avery | 8/10/19 | 5 min
    18 reads14 comments
    9.3
    The New York Times Company
    18 reads
    9.3
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    • erica
      Scout
      7 months ago

      I loved this article. I went to a surf contest on the west coast of Puerto Rico last weekend and saw exactly what the writer is talking about: these pro surfers spent very little time actually catching and riding waves. Most of the time, they were paddling or sitting astride their boards. But they were surfers through and through! Makes me think about how I studied creative writing in college, but I never had the self-confidence to call myself a writer.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
        7 months ago

        Wait. I love this thought, but I want some more information to connect the dots between the surfers and you describing yourself as a writer. Taking creative writing classes in college doesn’t make you a writer. Obv. For proof, just think about how many non-writers were in those classes with you! :P

        Surfers surf. Writers write. That’s that. Right? But I think I understand what you’re getting at (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) — You can (1) do the act to take on the identity OR (2) you can take on the identity in order to start doing the act.

        My experience as a meditator is a funny counter-example: I get very different responses from people when I say, “I meditate for an hour every day,” versus just, “I’m a meditator.” The truth is that I do 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at night, and several long, tech-free walks throughout the day. Surfers, for whatever reason, don’t need to say, “I caught 12 waves in the last 48 hours,” in order for us to believe them. Perhaps because anyone can sit and close their eyes but surfing has a steeper curve to get up-and-running.

        So much to think about in this article. I’ve read it twice!

        • erica
          Scout
          7 months ago

          You can 1. do the act to take on the identity or 2. take on the identity to start doing the act. Yes, but I have the same question as you re: quantifying the act. How frequently do I have to write to call myself a writer? What do I have to write (emails, journals, reflections, poems, stories, books)? Do I have to be published? Why can’t saying “I’m a writer” be the same as saying “I’m a surfer” in that you can be a writer even if you’re not writing all the time? What makes the people in my classes “non-writers”? Does that mean you assume they don’t write now?

          • bill
            Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
            7 months ago

            (A) EMAILS don't make you a writer. Not by a longshot. They are communications - so, for example, you don't need to think, "who am I writing to?" because you know who you're writing to - the person in the To: field, and maybe also the CC: or BCC: fields. To writers, writing is art. Art is made to/for a higher power/calling, even if that calling is just, say, "beauty." Emails aren't art.

            (B) JOURNALS. Of course.* Writers, by nature, are always exploring different forms, approaches, tech, etc. Writing by hand moves the brain in different ways compared to writing by keyboard, which makes journal writing an indispensable (and fun! cathartic!) learning tool for writers. If you write in journals and never publish, it's like running by yourself and never joining any local 5k races. You can claim the title ("runner" or "writer") but you're missing out on an awesome community aspect of the experience.

            (C) REFLECTIONS. Same as journals.

            (D) POEMS - Good God yes, of course. If you put poetry writing anywhere in your life, you deserve extreme applause and you are more than just a writer, you're a carrier of the eternal golden chalice of wordsmithing and word-appreciating. The world needs more poets and more poetry.

            (E) STORIES - Yes. Same as with poetry, although with slightly less fervor.

            (F) BOOKS - Yes. Again. Same as with poetry, and this time with all the fervor back. Books = culture = civilization.


            That's a vortex of questions! I, for one, know, deeply, in my heart, that I'm a writer. It startles me awake in the middle of the night and explodes before my eyes during transcendent moments of clarity. So there's that. But also, I'm a writer because my life is so rich and wonderful when I'm doing it (and publishing is double gravy! the more readers the better!!) and, on the flip side, it's dark and sad when I'm not doing it. So I try to do it all the time. It's a heart thing, not a brain thing.

            This is just like how most iPhone "photography" isn't photography. It's taking pictures. Photography is art. With a lot of intention I suppose you could make art with an iPhone, but I think that once you set off on that path you'd quickly decide to switch to a new device/medium to create your art.



            *I thought a lot about this one, because part of me thinks that writers need readers. I should hope that Emily Dickinson would have introduced herself as a writer. She damn well had a right to, even though she kept 99.5% of her writings to herself. (I just did the math.) Her poetry was completely unknown while she was alive.

            • erica
              Scout
              7 months ago

              I could not disagree with you more on emails! Do letters count as writing? As someone who has spent hours and hours poring over correspondences in archives - Virginia Woolf’s letters to other members of the Bloomsbury Group in Cambridge, Carson McCullers’ heartbreaking letters to her husband in the Harry Ransom Center in Austin - I cannot imagine anyone would say letters don’t constitute writing. So why are emails, which can be analogous to digital letters, different? When William Carlos Williams started writing (e.g., This Is Just To Say), people got angry that he called it poetry. But now the canon acknowledges he’s a legend. Don’t be on the wrong side of history!

              I love everything else you wrote. Reminds me of Bukowski: unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don't do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don't do it.

              • bill
                Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
                7 months ago

                Haha. No! No no no. Rethink this. I think that some of the sloppy logic here is my fault. This conversation started with an inquiry about writing as an identity: Being a writer and calling yourself a writer. Now we're talking about an entirely different question: "What is writing?" That Virginia Woolf and Carson McCullers - novelists (!) - wrote some bangin' personal letters has very little to do with their rock solid identity as writers.

                Here's an attempt to break my position down into really simple terms:

                • There are two kinds of writing: practical writing (ex: to do lists) and art (ex: poetry)
                • When we call people "writers" we are referring to those who do the latter
                • Art is art because it is intentional.
                • Email is something that (almost) everybody does every day. It can perhaps be elevated into an art form, just as you could claim that brushing your teeth is performance art.

                The sound of a microwave isn't music (although it can be).
                A smear of grease on a wall isn't a painting (although it can be). A transcription of the very boring phone call I just had with a Bank of America customer service representative isn't poetry (although it can be).

                Imagine that you met someone at a bar who said they were a writer. And then you said, "What do you write?" And they said, "I just really focus on my emails, making them as good as possible." You would probably, for good reason, think that that person is a fraud.

                • erica
                  Scout
                  7 months ago

                  I disagree that their letters have little to do with their identity as writers. Of course they would still be epic writers even if they didn’t write letters because of their novels. But writers write - letters, emails - beyond what they publish, and the personal lives we read about in their letters shape their identity. I agree with your big picture point about intentionality.

    • Pegeen7 months ago

      “Instead of waiting to be well so I could be myself again, could I be me while sick, too?” That was the pivotal question I, myself, faced when I became seriously ill 7 years ago after loosing everything in Superstorm Sandy. I went from being totally fit and super strong to not being able to get out of bed. It was a six year dark journey into fear, confusion, anxiety and not knowing who I was or how to reclaim myself. Physical changes prompted deep internal ones. I am not the same person I was 7 years ago. How could I be? Suffering removed many “masks” that I never even knew were there, stripped me to the bare, inner core of “no self” where Universal Love was my only salvation. It was certainly the darkest, most terrifying time of my life but the compassion, empathy and need to connect and share - my sense of purpose - was worth it in the end. This author’s journey was mine and so many other’s out there who travel the gauntlet of illness and transformation. Some can not only survive but thrive from such experiences. Some never recover, which is heartbreaking.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
        7 months ago

        Boom! Such a meaningful (and personal) expansion on the big picture idea behind the article. Absolutely wonderful.

        That fear, confusion and anxiety can be blessings is SO hard to process, but also (as you experienced) the key to recovery and growth. Learning to “roll with the punches” is basically the ultimate life skill.

        PS Your comments really are a gift to the entire Readup community. I’ve heard from more than one reader recently that they specifically enjoy your comments on here! So don’t stop. :) Such good energies!!

        • Pegeen7 months ago

          Thanks Bill. You know I feel Readup is a gift to me - one that keeps giving everyday. Your quest to create a community of deep, caring readers that enjoy sharing and connecting is working! I consider Readup a healthy habit, like brushing my teeth or meditating. It’s definitely part of my self care!

      • Jessica7 months ago

        Thank you so much for sharing your experience and growth!

        • Pegeen7 months ago

          Thank you. I feel this is a “safe” community in which to open and share oneself. And I also feel sharing deeply an important part of connecting. When I read this person’s story, I truly felt it was my story too.

    • bill
      Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
      7 months ago

      Yep. Life’s good. Every minute is a gift. Why is that so damn hard to internalize sometimes??

      • jeff
        Top reader this weekReading streakScoutScribe
        7 months ago

        Because it could be better!