Just picked up three comics I'd never heard of, thanks to Free Comic Book Day.
This spring tradition—also known as a marketing push, if you are looking at it through another lens—is an opportunity to sample new works and mingle with others fans of art, storytelling, and illustration.
I highly recommend participating in Free Comic Book Day if you are interested in the form, curious about pop culture, or are simply looking for something new to do. Last year, I picked up a Riverdale comic, which led to me watching the show, which led to this post: 3 Things I Learned from Riverdale.
Plus, you can see a browsing stormtrooper! (I must admit, I couldn't help thinking about how hot it must be in the suit.)
This morning, writing in my journal, I realized I’m writing the same story over and over again. Thinking about that, I remembered an interview I read with Paul Auster, where he shares a similar idea. So, I leaned over to my bookshelf, found The Art of Hunger and sure enough, there it is:
“Like it or not, all my books seem to revolve around the same set of questions, the same human dilemmas. Writing is no longer an act of free will for me, it’s a matter of survival. An image surges up inside me, and after a time I begin to feel cornered by it, to feel that I have no choice but to embrace it. A book starts to take shape after a series of such encounters.”
I’ve never written a book. Do I want to write a book?
I have my work writing, which takes up most of my time, but there is story that has been creeping in to my private writing. It shows up, goes away, slowly seeps back in. It is taking over my journal entries. I see the characters in people on the street, thoughts of how it could be constructed pass through my mind as I walk the neighborhood.
So, I’m writing it.
Will it ever be a published story? Who knows. Will it be good? Impossible to say. The truth is, I’m not at that point yet. What’s important right now? Writing.
Have you read “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen? I read it as an adult, since every kid around me had consumed it. I wanted to be in on the cultural conversation. After reading it and talking to fans of Paulsen’s work, it was clear the undercurrent in all of his survival stories is the same: it’s about the food.
Our desire for food is, of course, attached to our survival. But once our daily nutritional needs are met, it’s so much more. Food can be pleasure, entertainment, and a way to display socio-economic status. Enter “The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World” by Lizzie Collingham.
The book is detailed, full of dates and stats. Written by an academic, it is a bit dense at times but I still found myself returning to the book again and again. Gulping down chapter after chapter. There are so many tantalizing insights connecting what we eat today to a past we rarely think about. Collingham breaks down how although we think of a cup of sweetened tea as British, the English tea time is actually a result of slavery, trade, political power, agricultural innovation, and more. “By the mid nineteenth century there could be nothing more British than a cup of sweet tea. And yet the drink was an infusion of a Chinese plant acquired in exchange of opium grown in Bengal.”
Recommended for history buffs and lovers of culinary creativity, “The Taste of Empire” is an intriguing look at who we are, what we eat, and how Britain created a global food trade.
I think people crave being a part of history. We learn about historic events and wonder what it would be like to live through it. Think about (or rather guess) how we might have behaved given the same circumstances.
Of course, this is a romantic notion. Because living through a pivotal event can be difficult and messy. In hindsight, we might be a percentage of the person we hoped we’d be. But we are human. Humans make mistakes.
These are some of the ideas that rolled through my brain while reading "What Unites Us" by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner. The book is a collection of essays, reminders of the past and telling observations on the cultural and political landscape of America today.
While I appreciated and enjoyed many of the sections—Freedom, Community, Responsibility, and Character—the section of the book on Exploration particularly resonated with me.
I realize I’m biased, that is clear from the impetus to even do this book-a-week project, but "What Unites Us" made clear to me is that I’m on the right path for my own development. I’m still reading the news, seeing movies, and generally being a part of popular culture, but the commitment to reading a book a week is about taking the time to fill my own creative well. Consulting books and art exhibitions and theater performances is a way for me to see different interpretations of what is happening around me. To expand my view of the human experience.
So, as I took this book in, I am again reminded to do what is in front of me. I’ll remember the essay titled Steady in the Character section. How there are times of anxiety, worry, and fear in life. When these happen, I'll remember to steady myself. To stay balanced, to be sensible. To do the things I can to make my life, and the lives of those around me, positive.
Read more. Create more. Participate more. Keep my senses attuned to what is happening. And, of course, vote.
I saw The House Theatre’s "United Flight 232" a few months ago, the story of an airplane crash told through interviews. Interviews with people on the doomed flight—flight attendants, passengers, pilots—created the script. It’s a fascinating story of hope and terror. The verbatim text from the interviews knotted together the tension, emotion, and immediacy. The audience was part of their event. Albeit in the safety of a theater, not in the grip of staring down death.
This comes to mind because braiding stories together is a tried-and-true way to add dimension and appeal. And I thought about all of this while reading “The Girl on the Train”.
Told from three different perspectives, the three women control the narrative throughout “The Girl on the Train”. Yet, the men they love (and lost) were so present, the story felt fleshed out from all angles. Particularly because one of the men - spoiler alert - is a pro at gaslighting, a process of manipulating someone by convincing them to question their own sanity.
I’m typically not a mystery gal, but a handful of pages in, I knew I’d see this one to the end.
Reading “The Girl on the Train” was a reminder of the strength of multiple viewpoints and unreliable narrators. Because, really, aren’t both of those true of stories in everyday life?
** Throughout 2018, I’ll be reading a book a week and posting about each book here. I’m not promising any revelations, just my musings. And a record, for me, of each read. Happy New Year!
About a month ago, I went to see The Rembrandt at Steppenwolf Theatre. There’s a lot about the play to talk about, but one topic in particular has haunted me. When speaking about grieving, one character announced that the way to get through it is to learn something new.
This stuck with me.
I think it can be applied to more situations beyond grief, too. It occurred to me that learning something new is a way to cope with any setback life throws at you. Because, learning something new not only distracts your mind, it enhances your life.
So, as we ready ourselves for the New Year, I plan to learn new things. As many new things as I can. For myself, and my business.
Want to be a writer? Then write.
It’s basic advice, yet many continue to dream of a book with their name on it without putting pen to page or fingers to keys.
Here’s the thing about writing, it takes discipline. Yes, some have more talent than others. Yes, there is an element of luck—as there is in any profession—but the best way to begin tallying up writing successes is to write. Daily.
Not sure where to start? Here are three ways to start a daily writing habit:
How about you? Do you write daily? What motivates you?
When was the last time you took a vacation? Why wait!
I recently left town for a few days and was surprised by how re-energized I was when I returned home. Turns out I needed a vacation more than I realized. I now plan to get more trips on the calendar and I encourage you to do the same.
Here are a handful of reasons to pack a bag and jump town for a few days (or more).
Challenge Your Comfort Zone
I love my work. I am thankful I’m in a field I enjoy but, too often, I use this as an excuse to put my vacation plans on hold. Then I remember, if I want to learn to ski, hike a new-to-me trail, or sleep outside under the starry sky, I should go whenever I can. None of us are getting any younger and getting out in nature refills my creative well.
Spend Time with Family
Traveling solo has appeal—you can keep your own schedule and choose your own interests—but vacationing with kids in tow can open new vacation possibilities. It’s an opportunity to introduce your little ones to destinations you loved when you were small, or take advantage of family-friendly resorts you never knew existed pre-parenthood.
Learn Something New
Is there a city you’ve always wanted to see? Or a music festival you’ve dreamed of attending? A trip is a great way to learn something new, from sipping wines in Bordeaux to attending a craft fair closer to home.
Relax and Rejuvenate
Ok, it’s true, vacations don’t have to be about learning new things, sometimes the best vacations are about letting things go. Sound good? If so, start planning for a cruise, disconnect and spend a week on a beach, or explore the depths of the ocean and scuba dive. Focus on your own personal enjoyment.
New adventures keep your mind fresh and your body active. As you move throughout your life, allow yourself to dive into whatever interests you. Experience the world through art, architecture, food, or stunning views. Choose your passion and roll with it.
So, make a plan…and travel while you can!
Yesterday, I had two articles due. In order to complete them, I was waiting on quotes from a couple local boutiques.
We’d emailed back and forth. I exchanged text messages with a few, too.
Nothing. No quotes.
So, I did something radical (well, radical for me). I called them. That’s right, I got out the old phone and used it for something other than its computer capabilities. Now, this is something I do not like doing. For someone who communicates for a living, I’ve come to loathe talking on the phone.
But, you know what? It worked. I had all the information I needed, lickety split.
I was amazed, but when I gave it a moment, thought about it, it made sense. Turns out, some people like talking on the phone. Especially people with super social jobs, like running a women’s clothing boutique.
You see, I enjoy writing. In fact, a large portion of my income relies on writing daily and returning emails and text swiftly and loaded with information. It’s my job. And like many others, my career is a direct result of what I’m attracted to. That said, it’s not everyone’s job. It’s not even something everyone wants to do. As a result, for some who likes talking on the phone, responding to an email or texting a blurb of copy goes to the bottom of the to-do list.
Whatever we don't like to do, we avoid. We drag our feet.
My comfort zone isn’t everyone’s comfort zone, but stretching myself and working in a new way achieved big results and unexpected pleasure. I realized a phone call is showing that I am dedicating my time completely to one conversation. My interviewees worked through thoughts while I listened, and those conversations grew and braided together new ideas I hadn’t considered. These conversations became the highlight of my day.
Yup, I’ll admit it. Talking on the phone was fun, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call those contacts again if I need more information. I chatted, learned, and enjoyed myself.
Added bonus? The articles are done and delivered, complete with lovely quotes.
So, stretch yourself. If you don't like calling people, do it anyway. Trust me, it works.
I used to live near a co-op, a natural food store that also produced a publication focused on wellness. I pitched a couple of ideas and began writing for them. I contributed to each issue for a year or so.
But, I moved away and the locality of the writing wasn’t something I could continue long distance. I thanked my editor for the experience and opportunities and moved on.
Later, that publication ended up being folded into another magazine. When the new site was launched, the older articles were nowhere to be found (there’s a lesson here, as much as we are told things online last forever…well, sometimes they disappear, too.) I didn’t think too much about it at the time, I was working on other projects and although I was thankful for the experience, those articles being in the rearview mirror felt right.
Maybe it also helped I knew I had the printed versions if I ever needed them. They were filed away. Waiting. A time capsule.
This past weekend, I was typing a blog post for a client when an article I had written for the co-op bubbled into my brain. Next thing I knew I was flipping through files and there they were, in all their newsprint paper stock glory.
Reading them now, I’m able to see how far I’ve come. I remember how nervous I was reaching out to authors and professors for quotes. The drafts I’d labor over, learning how to weave a story together. I can see now, through the power of hindsight, how much I’ve grown. Plus, seeing my past articles has given me fresh ideas, new seeds to fertilize my current projects.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting you sit and read old work daily, or even monthly. That sounds like an exercise in procrastination. But do look back now and then and give yourself some credit.
You may even find you’ve surpassed your goals. And then some.
Mali Anderson is a Chicago-based content creator. She creates blog posts, web copy, original photography, and feature articles.