Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Artistin Marcella, 1910

There’s a whole chapter on perfectionism in Bird by Bird, because it is the great enemy of the writer, and of life, our sweet messy beautiful screwed up human lives. It is the voice of the oppressor. It will keep you very scared and restless your entire life if you do not awaken, and fight back, and if you’re an artist, it will destroy you.

My pastor said last Sunday that if you don’t change directions, you are going to end up where you are headed. Is that okay with you, to end up still desperately trying to achieve more, and to get the world to validate your parking ticket, and to get your possibly dead parents to see how amazing you always were?

This is not going to happen. They are either so dead, like mine are, or they are insatiable, or so relieved that you did not end up divorced—or if you did, then heavily into drugs, like the Woodson girl, or more out of shape than you are, like Esther’s son. It’s hopeless, and this is the good news.

Putting those tiny pesky parental voices aside, what about, oh, say, the entire rest of the world?

Do you mind even a little that you are still addicted to people-pleasing, and are still putting everyone else’s needs and laundry and career ahead of your creative, spiritual life? Giving all your life force away, to “help” and impress. Well, your help is not helpful, and falls short.

Look, I struggle with this. I hate to be criticized. I am just the tiniest bit more sensitive than the average bear. And yet, I’m a writer, so I periodically put my work out there, and sometimes like all writers, I get terrible reviews, so personal in nature that they leave me panting. Even with a Facebook post, like the last one, do you have any idea what it’s like to get 500-plus negative attacks, on my character, from truly bizarre strangers.

Really, it’s not ideal.

Yet, I get to tell my truth. I get to seek meaning and realization. I get to live fully, wildly, imperfectly. That’s why I’m alive. And all I actually have to offer as a writer, is my version of life. Every single thing that has happened to me is mine. As I’ve said a hundred times, if people wanted me to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better

Is it okay with you that you blow off your writing, or whatever your creative/spiritual calling, because your priority is to go to the gym or do yoga five days a week? Would you give us one of those days back, to play or study poetry? To have an awakening? Have you asked yourself lately, “How alive am I willing to be?” It’s all going very quickly. It’s mid-May, for God’s sake. Who knew. I thought it was late February.

It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion—your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)

Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction—and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.

Here’s how to break through the perfectionism: make a LOT of mistakes. Fall on your butt more often. Waste more paper, printing out your shitty first drafts, and maybe send a check to the Sierra Club. Celebrate messes—these are where the goods are. Put something on the calendar that you know you’ll be terrible at, like dance lessons, or a meditation retreat, or boot camp. Find a writing partner, who will help you with your work, by reading it for you, and telling you the truth about it, with respect, to help you make it better and better; for whom you will do the same thing. Find someone who wants to steal his or her life back, too. Now; today. One wild and crazy thing: wears shorts out in public if it is hot, even if your legs are milky white or heavy. Go to a poetry slam. Go to open mike, and read the story you wrote about the hilariously god-awful family reunion, with a trusted friend, even though it could be better, and would hurt Uncle Ed’s feelings if he read it, which he isn’t going to.

Change his name and hair color—he won’t even recognize himself.

At work, you begin to fulfill your artistic destiny. Wow! A reviewer may hate your style, or newspapers may neglect you, or 500 people may tell you that you are bitter, delusional and boring.

Let me ask you this: in the big juicy Zorba scheme of things, who fucking cares?

moments lately/end of summer vibes

  1. Black tea as a way of remembering to breathe, to taste things instead of rushing through in my usual way. Honey and a splash of milk. 
  2. I packed up my desk at the the Globe — the office calm and blue-toned, every desk piled with scattered papers — took my last stack of reporter’s notebooks to the car and drove away.
  3. Crouching on the curb on Boylston Street, strangers cocking their heads at the sight of me in a summer dress, crying on the phone. Scattered, nauseous. 
  4. Harvard Square, the air sharp with the coming fall, wrought-iron tables, scattered leaves: trying to pull as much of it into me as I could.
  5. Riding a cheap rental bike along the coastline of a tiny Maine island, so staggeringly beautiful it seemed unreal, from the jagged cliffs to the tangled wildflowers to the impenetrable blue of the ocean with the sun glinting off it in all directions. A chicken salad sandwich with salt-and-peppered summer tomatoes, lobster toast, Maine blueberries.
  6. True summer: tangled sheets, a thriller read entirely in bed until 2 p.m., long doldrum silences. Too lazy to do anything, too restless to be totally still.
  7. I got to pull the ropes as we sailed through choppy water on Boston Harbor, the boat slicing toward the outer islands. We ate salt and vinegar kettle chips and drank Blue Moons and laughed even as we almost sunk the boat heading back — feeling at peace, really, alive, in the thick of it.
  8. The not-unpleasant mindlessness of packing.
  9. On my last night in Boston, I drank a glass-bottle Coke on the Esplanade at golden hour. The beauty of it was almost too much, the air so clean and cool and fresh it felt as if I could never take a full enough breath. 
  10. Seeing my best friend, my college roommate of four years, was a rush back into total comfort, into something so easy and forgiving it was hard to stop talking. Here we are, both 22, both stuck in different ways, both fumbling for the next thing.
  11. The electric, desperate messiness of a crush.
  12. Lunchtime beers in a wooden booth at my favorite college bar with two of my best friends, and coffee later with another: a relief to remember their solid presence in the world. 
  13. On a couch at home with my dog at my feet, I drank a not-cold-enough beer and read Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help, or the first half of it, anyway; it’s slow going when you’ve got to remember to breathe after every devastating paragraph.
  14. My dad told me last night, “You’re not an adult.” He meant it with love. He meant I need to shake off the weight of the word, to stop trying. “It just happens,” he said.
I’ve discovered over the years that the simplest explanation is almost always the right one; and that hunger of one kind or another—desire, by another name—is the source of almost every sorrow.

quick note to say sleeping on a hardwood floor in an unfurnished apartment was so so worth it to drink rosé with elesheva, who is exactly as funny and bright and cool and all- around wonderful as you would expect

Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

just a quick shoutout to my high school lit mag advisors (english teachers), who, when I submitted a story for our flash fiction contest about a despairing businessman who hangs himself with his tie on a plane filled with sounds of crinkling pretzel bags and “no one notices,” didn’t send me to a psychiatric hospital or alert my parents but instead just awarded me second place instead of first, printed it in the issue, and distributed it schoolwide