Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Hank Green on Growing Up

Because every now and then I step back and look at my life and consider my age and wonder why I don't feel more like a grownup:

Growing up is what you want it to be. We're grownups now, and it's our turn to decide what that means. Being silly is still allowed; that's not excluded by adulthood. What's excluded by adulthood is thoughtlessness. So be silly and thoughtful...

We pretend like we live in a world of harsh edges, but there are no harsh edges. There are no borders between these things. Those hard lines are all imaginary, and they're just created for convenience. Whether it's loving or growing up or raising a child or having a job, these aren't destinations; they're not achievements to unlock. Life isn't a video game; it's a journey. Everything is a journey, and we get to travel it together. And I hope, I hope that you enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Kristin Cashore on Starting Over

Last Tuesday I attended an event at Books of Wonder that was run in an unusual way: three powerhouse writers who knew and really loved each other and each other's work (Kristin Cashore, Melina Marchetta, and Gayle Forman) sat down together and just had a conversation about books, and writing, and relationships, and equality. What was essentially a planned converging of such smart minds made the event the best signing I'd ever been to, and today's Tuesday Muse is just one of many inspiring snippets from that evening.

When asked what the best advice she'd ever gotten from her editor was, Kristin Cashore answered with one sentence from the editorial letter she received in her first round of edits on Bitterblue: "Would you consider starting from scratch?"

Can you imagine—to have written a novel of Bitterblue's length and, moreover, of its incredible complexity of depth and character, and to be asked to scrap it and start again from a blank page? And yet, Kristin said, it was freeing. She knew where the novel was going at that point, but could never have gotten it there trying to mold the words she had written into the right shape. Instead, she wrote the New York Times bestseller on her belief in the story she had to tell and the characters she had to tell it, and on the faith that throwing all those words out to begin anew would redeem them.

They talk about being willing, as a writer, to "kill your darlings." Hand in hand with that, though, goes a willingness to rethink everything, to go back to the drawing board, and to start from scratch. So finish your novel. And if it doesn't work, that's okay. Would you consider starting from scratch?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Where the Hell is Matt? Dancing and Building Community

It started out as one man dancing badly (his words, not mine!) all over the world. Over time, it became one man bringing people together to dance with him all over the world:

And this year, Matt hit the road one more time, this time to learn dances from as many people as he could:

As one friend of mine pointed out, he travels to countries and areas some of us may never have heard or or dreamed of visiting. He dances in countries that are torn by war or silenced by oppressive governments, and he dances across lines drawn by deep prejudice and international conflict. And in all cases, his dancing brings people together without pretension and without bias. It inspires people to learn, to teach, to build community, and to enjoy simple pleasures. To me, that says so much about the power of dance and the incredible joy of teaching and learning.

I can't be sure, but this video feels like Matt's farewell and thank you to everyone who's come together to dance and to watch. And it's an appropriately touching tribute to the unity brought about by as simple an act as inviting someone to dance and celebrate with you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Taking a Different Approach to the Ordinary

I think I noticed the sculptures in mid-May. It was oppressively, bone-draggingly hot out, and my coworker and I were walking (which we already regretted) to a food truck several blocks from our office. We cut across Madison Square Park and I pointed out the gravel walkway that seemed to have been created recently. It was dotted with benches and picnic tables, and bordered with brightly colored fences and, well, these slug-like, amorphous blobs of colored metal.

"I'll never get this side of modern art," I said to Laura, and then we kept walking.

Because honestly, it was hot.

It was only last week that Laura and I finally walked up that new gravel walkway and sat down on the benches encircled by the installation. I rested my hand on one of the sculptures and, to my surprise, it sang. Not the echoing tone of metal struck just the right way, but loud, discordant, electric music.

And then suddenly both Laura and I were on our feet, flitting from sculpture to sculpture and calling back and forth to each other about what we heard. There was a purple sculpture full of sound so faint we had to kneel on the ground, press our chests to it, and parse the vibrations for sound. The yellow sculpture we could barely keep from singing; the slightest breath seemed to set it off. The gray sculpture, its toppling heap of a shape already suggesting over-abundance, was alive with sound that swelled and rose the longer your hand rested on it.

And suddenly I'd found whimsy in that which I had nearly overlooked, reminding myself once again that sometimes when you think you need a new concept, all you need is a new approach. And, perhaps even more so, that discovering something magical where you expected only the mundane can be more delightful than magic itself.

Charles Long's Pet Sounds will remain on view in Manhattan's Madison Square Park until September 9, 2012.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Real Life Fantasy Worlds in the American West

This week's Tuesday Muse (and the reason I was M.I.A. last week) is Zion National Park in Utah.

I've spent much of my life possessed, like many habitual readers, by a soul-deep desire to find something more in this world. It's not just the hope that one day the back of the wardrobe will reveal a forest or that a letter from Hogwarts will come in the post, but rather a cognitive dissonance that arises between your perception of the world, largely gleaned through books, and the image that the world presents. It's a sense that there must be another world that's richer, somehow, than our own. A sense that we're owed an adventure or two there.

But, visiting Zion National Park last week, I realized I might never have needed to feel that way if I'd known exactly what the park held. It's a fantasy world all in its own right. So here's to discovering uninhabited places and unconquered wildernesses. They've reminded me of the magic of this life: not the same as the magic of fantasy worlds, but entirely comparable in its own way.