no more aspirational living

moon in train II

There has been some occasional glumness that follows my increased use of social media. I am thinking especially and in particular of twitter, where I follow lots of arts and literature organisations and lots of writers, most of whom actually are or at least seem to me to be much more connected, aware, and famous-or-getting-there (insofar as a poet will ever be famous in the 21st-century USA) than I am. I know that at the very least my geographical distance from what’s happening in the US means I don’t have the same kinds of access and community with the scenes there. And the UK writing scene is a whole other beast. In any case, most of the people I follow on twitter are writers. The rest are crafty bloggers or artists. Most of the people I follow use twitter much more liberally than I do (meaning, all the time).

I noticed before Christmas that when I used twitter, it often made me feel frantic: there was SO much information and more was being produced all the time. Given some overlap (via retweets and people circulating some of the same announcements) there was still an incredible amount of new information. And we all know, I think, that one function of social media is to act as advertising–to let people know How Great Things Are Going And Where They Can Find Your New [Book, Show, Blogpost, Whatever]. So a lot of the information I was consuming was information about other people’s successes. In itself, nothing wrong with that. I am happy for others to succeed–more success in literature and the arts is good for all practitioners. But to pretend at the same time that a constant flow of others’ success (mingled with opportunities and their attendant ‘ought-to-apply’ feeling, and articles to read, and things to look at, and and and) has no effect on my inner balance would be disingenuous.

At the same time as my twitter-consumption increased, I received the first indication that the future I’d been planning and working towards (staying in the UK a few more years, putting together a community literary organisation) was not going to happen. The loss of control over my own life was so difficult to fathom, but it affected everything. I no longer had the power to decide where I would live (or for how long); that rested with an incompetent university, and, ultimately, the UK Home Office (immigration). This lack of agency in my life combined with my picture of ‘everyone else’ as active, connected, and creative. I felt like I was being marooned in an ocean of other people’s ability and success, right as circumstances in my own life conspired to take away my power and choice.


Coincident with my increased twitter consumption was my use of Pinterest. I primarily use Pinterest as a way of building visual reminders of what I want to think or write about. But, like twitter, built into Pinterest are two things: the promise of a basically never-ending flow of new information, and the reminder that other people have done stuff while I have been sitting in front of the computer gazing at their projects. One thing that disturbed me from the start on Pinterest was (is) the way it seems to be used primarily as a way of aiming toward another life–aspiring to something. So many boards are ‘inspiration’ for something else–artwork, or writing, or how to dress, or what to cook, or what kind of house to have–but I wonder how much of the inspiration actually becomes something. Certainly for me the amount of information I could consume was much, much greater than the amount of things I could make. (This isn’t to say this is everyone’s experience, either. But it has been mine, and it’s from my experience that the resolution I’ll get to a bit further on in this post comes.)

And I felt, from the continual waves of others’ completed projects, beautifully styled and photographed, and from the incessant 140-character reminders that there was more to read, more to write about, more to respond to, not inadequate but immobile. It was as if I kept making more and more to-do lists and never moving out of place. It struck me that what I was doing was living aspirationally: at one point, during my MFA, one of my classmates said something to which I have still not figured out my relationship, but which continues to pop into my thoughts. He was commenting on a poem where the speaker phrased most things in the conditional: she would like, if such-and-such happened. He noted that this was a poem, a piece of art, and therefore the conditional (while possibly representing the real state of the poet, correlated to the poem’s speaker) was unnecessary. Anything could happen in the poem. Why was the speaker waiting around in the conditional, when she could just do?

bookmaking tools

Pinterest and twitter were making me feel like I was in an endless conditional: I would do X, I would read Y, I would write about Z. But first, let me read just a bit more–look at just a few more things. My energy went to a flimsy sort of ‘curation’ (ach, over- and misused word!) instead of to the kind of deep, solitary, creative thinking that tends to produce my best work. I was categorizing, rather than making new.

Then, one day in November, I was talking to my friend about her work. She is an amazing poet, a reinventer of language. Someone whose writing has really informed mine (in part because it is very different from mine). Both of us were struggling with the fact that there is little affirmation out there for writers, especially for writers whose work is in any way outside of the mainstream (difficult, queer, feminist, long, fragmented). And I thought to myself, if I want a book, I have to publish books. If I want more places for strange, hard, thoughtful, feeling work to appear, I can’t wait around for someone else. I need to do this. No more aspirational living. No more making lists of what would be nice someday.

In a way, I live this statement: migrating has taught me to make my house mine right away, regardless of the anticipated length of tenure. I tell my students not to wait for the right time or surroundings or materials to make work, but to make whatever they make now and to call that the work (and I try to practice this myself). I had just forgotten, in the depths of other people’s information, that I still could do what I wanted.

So that was the impetus behind MIEL. And as a result of this resolution, I’ve been baking more, making more, writing more, submitting more. I don’t have photos. I don’t have documentation. I don’t have ten thousand (er. Or even one thousand…or even five hundred) twitter followers. I don’t have an NEA grant or a fellowship or a residency. But I have a magazine. I have a small press. I have the energy to send my work to places and to help build communities for my writing and others’. I forgot about that when I paid so much attention to what could happen.

No more aspirational living. I am ambitious, hard-working, skilled, quick. What can I make, now? What can I do, now, to make things in my life closer to how I imagine them or want them to be? I’m trying to tell myself, every day: No more waiting and only looking and looking. Act on that desire. Whatever it is, it is. Take the materials you have, the time you have, the abilities you have, and make something. Let’s go.

(I will put out to you that if you have a project you want to do but you don’t feel you can get it off the ground–if you really want it, if you are willing to work however you can for it–I will gladly help you however I can. Get in touch. And for E. Fae: thank you for the reminder to ‘make. make.’. It’s hanging by my desk now.)

(13) Comments

  1. No more hanging around in the conditional.
    …I know exactly what you mean about Pinterest (and it applies to many of the blogs I read, too). All this brain activity, all this longing (it is a kind of longing) and nothing to show for it.

  2. YES! Anja! Yes! This longing–that’s right. And it’s a longing with no real object out there (nothing we necessarily have a relationship to), so it’s self-perpetuating longing. It feels good in the short-term (thus perhaps the appeal of the high-school romance movie, where deferral is the mode of relation) but doesn’t make sense for a way of living. I want to MAKE things, not just WANT to make things. Thank you.

  3. So true. Yesterday, I finally took myself by the hand into the sewing nook and started sewing a blouse I’ve aspired to for much longer than necessary. What took me so long? Blog reading, brousing others’ projects, pining after ideas that were not mine… It felt so good to be doing the making rather than watching other folks making!

    Again, thank you for articulating this dilemma. I have sensed it, you have put it to words, now I am going to make it into something!

  4. You know that writing and posting these thoughts that resonant with many people is making and doing something important? You summed up what I have attempted to relate to my husband but couldn’t explain. I’ve had this “something is missing” feeling for a long time that I can connect back to my use of social media. I have a 9 month old babe, so I spend a lot of time nursing and rocking a sleeping baby. It is hard to do anything else, so I look at blogs and twitter, Facebook, Pinterest once he is asleep. I wouldn’t give up this time with him for anything, but I think I need to find a way to focus on my own goals (dissertation being the big one) or to keep my head clear so when I do have time to focus on writing or research I am not worn out by the incessant stream of tweets, updates, and posts. Thank you for putting your thoughts out there!

  5. Or maybe it’s what we do to fulfill the longing? Because the reason why I end up checking twitter all the time is that it feels so good in the moment (unfortunately). It’s a little bit like advertising. Creating a longing and promising to fulfill it at the same time….
    You put it beautifully, by the way.

  6. Anja, yes again. Definitely the same for me–a very quick, very easy fill for the appetite I have for meaning, beauty. But in the end it’s unsatisfactory and it leaves me feeling empty and kind of gross. Thank you for thinking with me! And for the compliment.

  7. hello glorious you.
    inspirational maker
    being you.
    miel looks amazing.
    of course.

    this resonates for sure.
    i think too – us makers are ALONE so much so the draw to community is there. just feeling like connecting – even if it also sometimes feels gross or forcing inaction or aspiration only.
    but brave brave and honest you.
    thank you.

  8. YES! i’ve been thinking the same thing lately. just looking at pinterest, or whatever, and longing to be making all of the things i’m “pinning”. (or, being inspired by things i’m pinning, but not actually setting out to make the things i’m inspired to make) in fact– last night at 9:30pm, after having looked at photos of quilts earlier in the day, i just set out and made something. i got up from the computer, from looking at everyone else’s work and just made my own. i don’t know what spurred me to just do it right then and there, but it was such a wonderful, invigorating feeling. and i need that feeling in my life more.

    also…miel looks fabulous. and i am keeping it and you in the back of my head for my someday fantasy (how ironic to call it that, given what we are talking about here) of creating a cookbook. (not that i think you will publish my cookbook, but i know yours would be the brain to pick when i am ready).

  9. You’ve stated just what I’ve been feeling too. February feels like the longest, darkest month and it’s easy to look (quite literally) for a quick fix to the doldrums of this time of year. But the time spent just ‘looking’ really inhibits my creativity. Instead of being inspired by all the great projects on the internet, I end up feeling overwhelmed and not good enough or creative enough or original enough. I need to work through this by making and to conciously just enjoy the process – not to do it for any acknowledgement or praise from anybody else. Ultimately I do want to sell what I make but I can no longer make excuses – my lack of camera/marketing/etsy/computer skills – I just have to do it. Thank you for this post and congratulations on Miel.

  10. It’s also hard to remember to value what we have already created, and how that continues to live, beyond us.

    I use your book in my intro. to creative writing classes (the students get to choose books), and they love it. They say it makes them look at things in ways they never would have.

    I’m a Milkweed poet too.

  11. I read the following in a book once, and think it might speak to you. Buddha said:

    Do not pursue the past
    Do not lose yourself in the future.
    The past no longer is.
    The future has not yet come.
    Looking deeply at life as it is
    In the very hear and now,
    The practitioner dwells
    In stability and freedom.


    So much we can do with that, huh? The present = ripe with possibilities.

    I’ve been thinking like this lately and it feels good, sane, simple and liberating.

    No more waiting. I quite like that a lot. Thanks.

  12. YES! This is wonderful. I can relate to so much of what you wrote here; sometimes lately with twitter especially it’s become a place for people to promote themselves. Which is fine. It’s just that if you’re participating in that but don’t feel as though you have anything to ‘promote’ at the moment or in general, it can indeed leave you feeling glum. Or as though you don’t have much to contribute. (This is true for me, at any rate.) Cheers to getting back to the making and the creating, just because.

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