I discovered a great podcast, 3 Books with Neil Pasricha, in which he asks inspiring people to name 3 formative books. I’m loving it! I’ve listened to the illustrator Emily McDowell (who makes fantastic cards), and I felt like such a smarty when I discovered the same weird book that gave her permission to create had also inspired me. David Sedaris had 3 books I love, plus an interesting conversation about aging and money. The pod got me thinking about my three (at least today, so far):
- Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne. Man-0-man! My mom read this book to me, and I adored it. I see us now, cuddled on my twin bed, my pink hula hoop slipped between the bed and wall as a makeshift headboard. The intense kindness and closeness of Christopher Robin and the animals in the 100 acre wood made me feel safe. Yes, they had adventures, yes they were scared, stung by bees, caught in a river, lost tails, grumpy and silly, but the animals always had each other. Things pretty much worked out for Pooh, Piglet and their pals, even miserable Eeyore. My family was tiny, just me and my mom, Winnie the Pooh taught me that even if you aren’t lucky to be born into a huge clan, you can build a family of caring friends.
- Victory Over Japan, Ellen Gilchrist. In college I’d been reading lots of Cheever and Carver and Flannery O’Connor, and was beginning to write short stories when someone handed me this book. Instantly I loved her voice, her frivolity and depth, and her characters who felt more like me (though I am neither rich, nor from the south, nor did I have a doting daddy) than other characters I’d encountered. Her work was closer to what I wanted get on the page.
- Home Cooking, A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin. I found this book when I was a young mother. I fell in love with Colwin’s warm and breezy essays about family and young adult life, complete with recipe! After discovering Home Cooking, I devoured everything Laurie Colwin, her novels and stories, and, oh joy! More Home Cooking.
What are your three formative books?
In preparation for a class I’ll be teaching, Becoming Unstuck, I read Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, by Danielle Krysa. It’s a cheeky and pragmatic look at overcoming the fear of the blank page, at the excuses we use to put off creative work, and at how our inner bully shuts us down (Who am I kidding? I can’t write! I’m a fraud. I have no original thoughts. Who’s going to want to read anything I write? Loser). Krysa, a visual artist, has some great ideas. A few quick ones I love:
- Rebrand your inner critic. Give it a name–like Wilbur. How can you take Wilbur seriously when he tells you you suck?
- Go out of your way to do some seriously bad writing. “Throw one project under the bus right from the start.” Krysa goes further, suggesting the ugly writing exercise could be “a ridiculous amount of fun—especially when done with a group of friends on a Friday night with some delicious food, and maybe a glass of wine or two.” (I feel a tradition brewing!)
- Finally, you know the list of crappy things your inner critic, I mean Wilbur, says? Krysa suggests writing them down and then writing the exact opposite statement. As in, I can write. I have lots of experience getting words on the page, telling stories. My story is mine and no one else’s, it is unique. People will want to read my work. Winner. (Okay, that was torture! Writing out the anti-Wilbur language is really hard.) Krysa suggests not only writing it out, but taping it up on the wall.
What do you do to quiet your Wilbur? To prioritize your creative work?
I’ve made a New Year’s resolution. I wasn’t going to do it. I was just going to stick to the promises I made to myself to lower expectations and embrace mistakes. But, I decided to bake a cake once a month. Cakes are celebratory, delicious and frivolous—all things I want in my life. This week I baked a Banana Cake. I used this recipe, subbing whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour, and, this stroke of genius: I slow roasted the bananas, in their peels, in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. They turned black and gooey and slid from their peels in a disgusting way, but the resulting cake was powerfully banana-fied! Since I try not to eat much sugar, I sought a frosting that didn’t use powdered sugar, hence this! I subbed crème fraiche for the sour cream, just because I had it on hand. It was all delightful. And, the banana cake got me to thinking about my grandma’s love of Sara Lee Banana Cake. (Okay, did you click on that link? What a creepy commercial! It’s like a cake #metoo moment.) I also wrote an essay here! (Thank you, Laurie Colwin for combining recipes and writing.) My entire rainy Sunday was consumed by banana cake, and let me tell you, that was terrific.