Self-help and the regimen of creative living

I asked for exclusively books and NYU (the college I will be attending next year) paraphernalia for Christmas because in my life I am trying to become less materialistic. (Obviously, I haven’t seen my ego as an issue thus far.) Many of these books happened to be on writing because I figured that if I can’t take classes from best-selling authors, I can probably get a good course worth of advice from their platforms by reading their secrets of the trade.

Yet writers, as it turns out, believe that they are not only masters in writing but masters in life, because the writing was almost exclusively petty, self-indulgent ramblings on unbacked theses that I can envision having a pseudo-cult following. The root of these books is the same root of every self-help book ever: don’t be afraid to do it. Fear, they explain, is the only thing holding you back from you and your dreams. Want to be a writer? Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write about your grandmother dying or your brother’s hemophilia or that one morning where you woke up in that apartment in New York with that guy and you felt just like Amy Schumer. Would you look at that! You ARE a writer! And then, as you continue to whirl your pen around the page, your two-hundred-square-foot apartment will turn into a raving penthouse with parties every night and somehow grass will grow and flowers! Oh, the flowers will sprout like wildfire the minute you place your pen to the paper, so what would keep you from doing it?

Self-help books, although helpful, neglect the sole purpose of writing for publication. In my experience, there are two types of writing: writing for publication and writing for therapy. Rarely—very rarely—do I see writing done for both purposes. Not because people neglect to live vicariously through your healing at that one lake house after mourning the loss of your dog but because many people, unfortunately, lack the celebrity in order to pull off that sort of thing. If Lena Dunham didn’t write Not That Kind of Girl, would I have liked it? Absolutely not. And don’t even get me started on that stunt Mindy Kaling was able to pull off. What these books neglect is the nature of improvement and of skill.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was her own platform to explain to you that you are good enough because you are just like her. She didn’t think she was good enough either but would you look at that, she was! Eat, Pray, Love was made into a movie for God’s sake. But what Gilbert was able to do was invade my subconscious to the point of surpassing my judgment. A book has never altered my actions so directly.

Christmastime, 2015. Per usual our family packed up everything that was within ourselves (our pride included) and headed down to Dothan, Alabama, where my extended family lives. My mother had mentioned something about this probably being one of our last Christmas holidays with our grandparents due to their advancing ages, and let me tell you nothing whipped up a jolly sense of blood-borne, red-nosed, hearty-caked sense of Christmas spirit faster. Everything went according to plan and we celebrated a year of moving forward: my getting into NYU, my dad’s work accomplishments, and my brother’s ability to conjure up enough reasons for my mother to allow his hair to grow so long that it matted along his ears and curled over his eyes. Yet, Christmas felt a bit different this year because I didn’t really want anything that badly, which confused me because I also wasn’t very happy. You get what you want, you are happy. That’s all we’ve learned but I settled for a huge number of books that I probably wouldn’t make it through and a ton of NYU branded crap so that I could boast around my future and prompt further conversation during the “big family” party on the day after Christmas.

The previous week I had also contracted some sort of demonic stomach bug that kept me retching over our toilet until my core muscles all but snapped off their ligaments, so I was looking forward to a week of calm, creative relaxation. But that simply couldn’t be because guess who was in town. An ex, a bad one. I almost bailed on seeing him but I was reading Big Magic, and somehow I was under its spell. Yeah I know, she was the writer of Eat, Pray, Love and you’re right. Honestly, if I were a little bit more stubborn I wouldn’t have gotten the book because I know too many people who do things only because Eat, Pray, Love exists and I would refuse to give Gilbert any more obscene attention than she already has. I am so opposed to this because the people that do things because of Eat, Pray, Love are not the ones that are depicted in Eat, Pray, Love. These people tend to be elitist hippies who go out to third world countries because they feel “whole there” and “love the natural culture” when in fact they are “destroying the economy” and “raping the ecosystem.”

But, by some sort of against-my-will wizardry, Big Magic convinced me to text an ex who lived in the vicinity. This was my first mistake.

I got there early (as I do when I’m nervous) and took Big Magic out of my bag. The Barnes & Noble is the biggest retail building in Dothan aside from the shiny new sports emporium a few blocks down. Bookstores were meant for small towns and this one nestled in quite nicely. Starbucks was as busy as ever though (as it always is), which gave me a good bit of downtime to do what I do best: panic.  If it were a talent, it would be on my resume and if it were something to be lusted after, I would be a supermodel. But it’s not, and I’m not, and I was panicked. “Can I have a caramel macchiato with an extra shot—oh and a croissant.”



“Layered or stirred?”


“Whipped cream?”

“Yeah.” How embarrassing.

“And the croissant, do you want it warmed up?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“On a plate?”


And then I spent eight dollars. And that’s why I don’t go to Starbucks. She also gave me butter. (Alabama, right ladies!)

I sat down across the isle from a woman with a deep accent and an iPad. Opening my book I tried to breathe normally which I can never seem to do when I’m trying to do it. I began the next chapter.

When I contemplated things even further, I realized that what had transpired between me and Anne Pritchett could have been the aristic vision of mutiple discoveries–

Then a little boy approached the woman next to me. “What did you get, Mama?”


“What did you get?”

“A coffee and this cake.”

“Can I try it?”


I tried to continue reading.

A term used in the scientific community whenever two or more scientists in different parts–

“It’s good!”

There’s no logical explanation for why this occurs. How can two people who have never heard of each other’s work both arrive at the same scientific conclusions at the same historical moment?

“Hey. William?” And then I looked up and he was there.

And this is where I will stop for now, as I have proved my point and somehow I still have a bit of respect for my own private life. I will tell you this though, it didn’t go very well, despite Gilbert’s insistence that it would.

And why did I go to see him? Because it was art!

I was sitting with a friend during Writing Fellows earlier this year whom I had grown very close to in a very short period of time and while this was usual for me, she usually took longer to warm up to people. Upon questioning the hasty relationship, she told me exactly what had drawn us together.

“I was at a party a few months ago, and one of them asked me ‘what do you do?’ and I told them I was an artist. When they asked ‘what kind of artist?’ I told them that I was a life-artist. That I deliberately live my life artistically. And I see that in you—I feel that you do that as well. Deliberately or not.”

And it was Elizabeth Gilbert that led to this specific instance of living artistically, and it practically destroyed me. Do not do just for art. They will tell you it’s wonderful, it’s artful, it’s expanding the reaches of your agency but it’s not.

David Rakoff, an amazing new wave American humorist stated: “Hanging out does not make one an artist. A secondhand wardrobe does not make one an artist. Neither do a hair-trigger temper, melancholic nature, propensity for tears, hating your parents, nor even HIV – I hate to say it – none of these make one an artist. They can help, but being gay does not make one witty… the only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.”

So here I am, telling you that no matter what—unless you practice and have skill (not just some sort of art so obscure that you can name it your own genre, and therefore be the best—sure you can be a WINNER but you won’t be able to escape the fact that I’m judging you along with the rest of us) you’re just going to have to keep looking, because it’s not going to stumble upon you while you’re out making mistakes on purpose.