Monday, October 17, 2011

What is success?

I've been perusing two folders I have on my laptop hard drive, one created after I had already forgotten about the first. "Blog" and "Writing" are both in my "Work" folder, in a feeble attempt to put my dreams into some sort of action. Neither folder contains many documents. A few I could delete because they really did end up on this blog in some form or another, which I'm pleased about. One I wrote when I was incredibly depressed and I must say it is incredibly good. It will probably never find a place to be displayed for other's admiration for fear of it's implications of my mental health (despite the fact that it's been over a year since writing it.) One I just wrote because I realized I need to write every day and I tried to relax and I couldn't stop thinking about everything and I had read two articles today about relaxing so what should that say to me? In the "Blog" folder I also found a draft of the first ever post I put on this blog. The draft had absolutely nothing to do with the version that ended up being the inaugural post on this blog, but it certainly got me thinking tonight.

When I was 12 a church leader read this poem to my class one Sunday and I have never stopped identifying it as most likely my favorite poem. I was supposed to learn about Ralph Waldo Emerson in one of the classes I've already taken as an English major but either I never actually learned anything or I already forgot it (the curse of being forced to obtain knowledge as opposed to the sponge I can be when I get to learn on my own time.)

What is success?

To laugh often and much
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends
To appreciate beauty
To find the best in others
To give of one's self
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition
To have laughed and played with enthusiasm and sung with exultation
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
This is to have succeeded.

Forgive me if I've blogged about this before, I really can't remember and lack the patience to search through all of my old posts to find this poem. I've been contemplating attempting to get a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Non-Fiction (i.e. the genre I'm writing this blog in, e.g. memoirs, personal essay, etc.) There are so many variables, I started to type them out here and realized my own brain doesn't even want to deal with these issues so it pushes them in the back of my mind. More than anything, I wish I could ask my current creative non-fiction professor "Am I good enough? Will I get accepted by a school with faculty I will love and write like and then get published as I teach other students this craft, preferably at a college in the Pacific Northwest?" I doubt he would give me answers, let alone the ones I wanted to hear.

And in the end, does it matter? I define my personal success now as praise from my current workshop class and acceptance into an MFA program and being published somewhere, somehow. But Ralph tells me that's a pretty crappy yardstick. Underneath my constantly reeling brain and ever-bleeding heart, I think I'm inclined to agree, but I often forget (so much that I question my belief in his measurement system at all.) But then there's  this blog post, that I'm actually really pleased with. And the wonderful comments I get from family and friends (maybe not the most critical judges, but they sure do help my self-esteem) on so many of these posts. And the tingling, giggling feeling I get when I read incredible essays assigned for my class. It's an odd rising feeling starts just below my sternum and pulses through my clavicle and esophagus, and hovers behind my eyes in a mist that never comes out of my tear ducts (for which I am grateful) that manifests to me that I really want to do this, more than I've wanted to do anything before. That's not to discredit my absolute passion for crime-solving or firefighting as a (younger) child, or my dream of directing a high school band that disintegrated a few short years ago. It's a different kind of manifestation that includes a nugget of hope that I'm not as bad at this as the dementor-like specter would have me believe. It usually sits just inside my left ear and starts sucking out my confidence immediately after I hand in an essay for my workshop class to critique.

I've achieved a lot of the points on Mr. Emerson's list, and I'm still just a baby, so I think I'm doing pretty good, all things considered. Sometimes it's hard to remember that. Someone said this to me once and I love it for it's impeccable attention to the detailed connotations within words we use. I try hard to follow it always: follow your bliss.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A letter to and from Brian Doyle

So a) check this guy out, Brian Doyle. He's awesome and he has published a ton of awesome pieces but "A Sin" is recent and was near the top of my Google search so that's why it's linked here. I wholeheartedly recommend his most recent book Grace Notes, which I just had to read for my class. When he came to my class last Thursday to be interviewed by my classmates and me, I asked him about his lack of Wikipedia page, so don't try looking there because none of those Brian Doyle's are him.

b) I went to his reading, open to the whole campus, on Friday afternoon and since I had one of his books, I stood in line afterwards and got him to sign it. I shook his hand and said thanks for the reading, and that I had 15 minutes in line to think of something intelligent and failed. He laughed and said he should've done the same thing (thought of something intelligent to say) and then wished me well and I left.

c) I was really bothered by this exchange and he had already admitted to the auditorium that he responds to every single e-mail or letter he receives so I went back to my office and wrote him the following letter, and his reply follows that. Enjoy.

From: Laurie
To: Brian Doyle
Subject: You just signed my book at BYU . . . 

I stood in line thinking of something to say for 15 minutes and came up with something, but when I finally got to hand you my book, I got too nervous. In hindsight, I've decided that what I came up with is kind of a nice thing to say about someone and his or her writing, so I think it's worth an e-mail. Sorry for giving you more letters to wade through.

I love reading your writing because you're such an optimist and I'm such a cynic, and I feel healthier after I read your words. Thank you for that respite from myself.

To: Laurie
From: Brian Doyle
Subject: RE: You just signed my book at BYU . . . 

Aw, that is the kindest gentlest loveliest note I have had for a long time. Thank you, Laurie. I savor the youness of you. Brian 

Don't worry, I got/get misty-eyed when I read/read it.