I Hate Exercise

To put it kindly, most writers tend to be of the pasty and pudgy variety, if not distinctly overweight, then at least soft to the touch. We spend a lot of time in front of a screen and are fueled by a combination of caffeine and a short list of specific “nutrients” that we probably buy in bulk and eat with 9-hour stretches of no-eating in between. To an outsider, it’s a quiet work. If you have the energy to lift a cup of coffee, then you can write a novel.

But we all know that even if your body is not hopping around doing jumping jacks, there’s a grueling, demanding labor going on inside you. Writers use their entire being to think. To quote Haruki Murakami: “The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”

In short, my brain is an Olympic Warrior. On the inside, I’m a raging warrior goddess who bows to no one.

But on the outside . . .

Last spring I traveled to the UK and hiked my way from Scotland to London over two months. I loved it, and except for one strenuous adventure on Scafell Pike, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Walking, I loved—and also scenic English countryside. Then I got home, and suddenly my world was consumed by school and work.

Work means: writing (of many varieties), editing (also of many varieties), ghost-writing, reading so many manuscripts. School means: reading and writing. Free-time: reading and watching all five seasons of Parks and Rec so my brain can decompress. If reading burned calories, I’d look like Heidi Klum.

I’m not saying I spend every minute in front of a computer. I do stuff (I do!). But the ratio of computer-sitting to movement is significantly disproportionate. I started doing yoga because I was worried that after ten years of sitting hunched over a laptop, I was going to look like this:


And I enjoy it immensely; it makes me feel better, even though I’m possibly the most inflexible person alive. But basically—how I do it—it’s an hour of glorified stretching. Me and my back need the stretching—and the inversions and deep breathing. But there’s no cardio. It’s good for you, but does not require a lot of physical exertion. My body was starting to take on what the Oatmeal calls “computer shape”:




What to do?

I decided recently on running, for a number of good reasons.

1) You can do it for free. We all know what would really happen if I forked out $50 a month for a gym membership. That would be two very expensive sauna trips per month.

2) It’s outside. So . . . sun (ew), and fresh air.

3) Alone. ‘Nuff said.

4) Remember my Olympic-sized brain? Being alone with my thoughts for an hour is not only not boring and not difficult, it’s also probably necessary so my head doesn’t explode. I do this anyway, when I walk, but now I will just . . . go faster.

5) I can eat more carbs.

Once I decided to do this, I spent more time reading memoirs about running than actually running. I thought about running a lot. And then finally, eventually, there was nothing to do but go. People run all the time around Provo, they’re basically part of the scenery, so I wasn’t self-conscious. I figured I’d go for roughly half an hour. That was a good beginner’s start right? Besides, I’m not a completely non-athletic person. I hiked the UK. I played basketball and tennis in high school. I ride my bike and walk most places I need to go. I’m not a total newbie to exercise.

After half a mile, half a mile, my face was flushed into my ears and as I slowed to an unsteady walk, I thought seriously that I might pass out on the side of the road. I’ll just walk for a minute, I thought. Five minutes later, I tried again, with same results, only it happened faster, less than a quarter mile this time. The running app on my iPod asked, “Do you want to post your time to Facebook?” Um, no. Actually, I thought I should probably turn around soon so that I wouldn’t need an EMT stretcher to take me home.




On one of my multiple breath-catching moments, this shirtless guy passed me (going uphill!!), and he didn’t even look like he was breaking a sweat, mouth closed and serene. Maybe slight dampness at the temples. I thought: You are an alien or you are lying.

In fact, everyone who says they love running is a liar.

This is the only explanation.

Because it suuuuucks. When I finally got home, I was thinking, is this what running is going to feel like every time? Is each run going to mean confronting this pain, shame, and rage? Why do people do this?



I mean, to be fair, I know this was the first time. I will probably give running a few more chances before kicking it to the curb. Actually, even if it sucks indefinitely, I will most likely still do it because computer shape is worse than the agonizing torment of jogging (maybe).

But do any of my readers run? Is there a way to make it less torturous? ANY TIPS? Or is this going to be a necessary evil in my life no matter what I do?


I’ve gone to quite a few lectures and panels and classes taught by skilled writers, publishers, and editors. Always, if they open up for questions, I ask them this: “What’s one thing you would do differently?” and “What’s one thing you’re still glad you did?”

One of my favorite answers came from Sara Zarr, during an intimate, 7-person bootcamp. She said: “Well, I don’t really regret any part of my journey because it was part of getting me to where I am now, but I do wish I would have relaxed—and not worried that people younger than me were getting book deals, or people in the same place as me were getting better book deals, or making more sales, or whatever.”

Good advice for us all. Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. I think this is because it’s so competitive (second most competitive career in the country, no lie), and the reason it’s so competitive because there are not enough readers to go around. You can’t say, “There’s room for everyone to succeed!” because it’s not true. Really good writing is often rejected because there’s no space on the market. Limitation breeds envy.

But it’s hard, right? All I’ve ever wanted is to be one of the most brilliant writers in the world (cough). Thanks to Twitter, I now know I’m not even one of the most brilliant writers in my small community.

I saw this on Humans of New York a few days ago:

"I’m always checking the Wikipedia pages of my idols to see where they were at my age."

“I’m always checking the Wikipedia pages of my idols to see where they were at my age.”

I was so delighted! I thought I was the only one who did this. Of course, I only do it with writers I admire, but the point is still there. It’s a fever, a madness. I see a new book hit the lists and I go straight to the author’s website, seeing if they’re young or old, my age or even—crap!—younger.

Anne Lamott has said: “Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.”

Envy—comparing, festering—sucks. Literally. It sucks the joy right out of writing, taking what we loved about it and souring it. And there’s something inherently chilly about a feeling that is dependent on another’s misery and failure.

But the root of envy is often desire—we want to accomplish something—and how do you be a writer without desire? That same feeling that leads you to send a manuscript out to be rejected again and again, that same feeling that urges you to write another book, is the same source of what makes us jealous.

(I’m about to quote “The Lego Movie.” Just thought I’d brace everyone.)

The main prophecy, part of the repeated theme of the movie, is the claim: “You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe.”

And this got to me, because isn’t this sort of what we all want, just a tiny, tiny bit?

I read this story in the New Yorker, about a woman who says to the writer of the article, unabashed, “I want to be a star.” What awed this writer was not that she wanted to be a star—didn’t we all?—but that she’d say so, flat out. “I thought if you had the gumption to say what you wanted, you’d probably have the nerve to get it. And I was, in fact, impressed by her desire. Most of us wanted the same thing, but we tried not to know it. Such grand wants exact a price. Better to content oneself with the small success.”

Here’s what I think. I think it’s fine—even good—to want to write something brilliant. To be, as it were, a brilliant writer. But often we confuse the desire to write with the desire to be validated in our efforts.

The spiritual teacher Krishnamurti once told his students, “We want to be famous as a writer, as a poet, as a painter, as a politician, as a singer, or what you will. Why? Because we really don’t love what we are doing. If you loved to sing, or to paint, or to write poems – if you really loved it – you would not be concerned with whether you are famous or not. Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing. The result has become more important than the action.”

In 2006, a public school teacher had her students write letters to famous authors, asking their advice on the arts. This is the response Kurt Vonnegut sent back:


You have experienced becoming! Isn’t that fantastic?

So go—be a brilliant writer! Have the gumption to demand to be an artist. Go make your soul grow! Write an awesome poem about envy, then tear it up and let it fly.

Writing Spaces and Scarves

It’s hard to justify writing time to the people around you if you’re not, in their eyes, a “professional” writer. And by that I mean you’re bringing home a paycheck for your efforts. Until then, writing takes on the visage of “hobby” instead of “actual job.” People think it’s okay to bother you as you’re clacking away at your laptop, family members will complain that you spend too much time on the computer, and pretty soon writing only happens on your “days off.” (That’s a lot of scare quotes in one paragraph; is my sarcasm being properly conveyed?)

A few weeks ago, I was at Utah’s amazing “Writing For Charity” event and went to a panel about deadlines. It started off kind of jokey, about procrastination and generally how writing makes you crazy, lots of elbow nudging and I-been-there raised eyebrows at each other. But then Shannon Hale goes, in this simple, matter-of-fact voice, “I rarely miss deadlines. I don’t mess around with my writing time.” She went on to explain, not in a bragging way, that even with four young kids, she was more productive than some of her writing friends who had no kids.

I have to say, there was a slight shift in my vision, like suddenly my struggling writer mind (which resembles a clenched fist) wrote X’s over the other writers on the panel and drew a circle around Shannon Hale as the type of writer I wanted to emulate. The kind that gets shit done, in other words (except she’s a nice person who probably never says words like shit).

This means make a ritual, create a space, carve out time, give precious hours up to writing as a humble offering, and then guard that sucker like a medieval warrior. But what if you live with five other roommates (like I do), or you’re a single parent with three kids, or don’t own your own computer, or have three of the sort of weirdly intuitive cats that lay on you keyboard just as you’re starting to write?

Here I use the advice of another writer I listened to at Writing for Charity, Maryrose Wood, who said that life ought to be a ceremony (isn’t that lovely?). She said, somewhat lightly, that perhaps you could have a special writings scarf that you donned whenever you needed to write.

Illustration by Fukari

Illustration by Fukari

This, I think, is a marvelous idea. It’s the equivalent of Clark Kent taking off his glasses to become Superman. One minute, you’re a regular person, with bills and responsibilities and insecurities, then you strap on that scarf and transform into Writer Extraordinaire.

Let me share my ritual with you, since I’m rarely able to write in the same place at the same time two days in a row, such is my hectic existence. I get my Diet Mt. Dew. Much like the Pavlov dog experiment, my brain now literally equates this drink with creative time. I pray for silence, but since that’s rare, I plug my headphones into Orson Scott Card’s Pandora channel “Writer’s Trance.” He’s carefully weeded and trimmed this channel so only classic music plays, and nothing robust or distracting, but almost like lyrical white noise.

Then I put on my purple scarf (which I also spray with lavender occasionally, so my brain further is triggered by this smell, knowing that it’s about to be put to use by writing). The scarf was given to me by a dear friend in Hungary, her favorite, so I’d remember her. Then I plug Anti-Social into my computer. Since I write a lot of historical fiction, I find myself using Google a lot while writing, otherwise, I’d use Freedom. But the list of sites Anti-Social blocks for me is very long. Basically I’m allowed Google and Wikipedia, and that’s it.

Then I write.

And it works. For me, it works really well. So do whatever you have to do, but at least take your writing time seriously. Take your need to tell a story seriously.

Some thoughts on Love Day

Writing prompt: level Valentine’s.

When it comes to love, I can basically sum up my experience with this video:

But even as a single during this time of single awareness, I still appreciate that we have a holiday specifically devoted to celebrating love. And so, for this week’s post, I share some rambling thoughts (helped by PostSecret), on love.



We ascribe a currency to our words. If you look at a sandwich, and you say to that sandwich, “Dear god in heaven, has anything more beautiful graced our mortal earth?” then you turn to the person you love and say, “You look nice,” they will think they have all the attractive qualities of a wilted piece of lettuce.

But then imagine standing next to someone, both of you craning your necks back to see the luminous display of the aurora borealis, your own frosty breath swirling around your heads like a heavenly cloud, and this person says (behind a yawn), “Well, this is certainly above average.” And then they look at you, with a whole new expression, and say, “You look nice.” Suddenly, your face is more mesmerizing than a rainbow collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in high altitude atmosphere.



So much of what I think about love is defined by expectation, not experience. But all of us, saturated by books, movies and television’s portrayal of love, expect something of the same. We enter movie theaters separately but emerge two hours later as one, with the same experience, same guided emotions, and the same moral. A million schools teach as many curriculums, a million churches feature ten thousand sects with twenty times as many sermons—but the same movie shows in every place. And we all see it.

Daydreaming about love—in all aspects, physical and emotional—seems to be pretty common. But what about romantic daydreaming? Do you stop daydreaming once you’ve found a partner who fulfills everything you need? A daydream is a break from reality, but most of the time, my present is not so bad, but I do this anyway. Sometimes, if I have a romantic fantasy, the guy takes the place of the Subway cashier who smiled at me that day, or if I don’t have an immediate crush to fill the role, then he just becomes a faceless dark and handsome substitute.

And I wonder how damaging it is, really. Is it just a natural, healthy response to loneliness? Or a simple expression of aspiration and the desire to make things better than they are? (Or nothing—actually nothing). Or, since your daydream can be whatever you want, filled by the expectations of movies, are you setting yourself up for constant disappointment, and as a result, more loneliness?



The symbol of love is the heart. A hundred times some realist will always point that our actual hearts look nothing like the red, romantic shapes. But part of the reason this organ gets the honor of representing love is because that’s where we so often feel it, there in our chest—in the hammering pace when we feel attraction. Actually, though, it’s our blood. It makes us warmer or colder—when our heart is racing, more blood is pumped more rapidly through our bodies, an influx causes a sensation in our chest. Too little, and we lose our breath, dizzy, since less oxygen is moving through our veins. There’s no way to symbolically represent blood, except like, a squiggle? So the heart was the next logical choice.

Probably a good thing. Imagine comforting your sniffling friend. “I have broken blood,” she cries.

“Just follow your blood and you’ll do the right thing.”

“I promise, from the bottom of my blood.”

“You’re so nice, you have big blood.”

“We need to have a blood-to-blood talk.”


Loyalty is the best L-word. Better than love. The crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

In the mid-thirties, a traveling salesman (he specialized in jeans and Western gear) walked into a shop in Trinidad, Colorado, hoping to make a sale. When he saw a stunning young woman working at the counter, he asked her out for a Coke instead. They went on a couple of quick dates before he got back on the road. He continued traveling and their courtship unfolded almost entirely by mail. They married in 1939 and remained madly in love until he died in 2001.

This is from one of his letters:

Si, dear, I just know that someday you are going to be very successful. I don’t know why, but somehow I have all the faith in the world in you. Some people go through life without having any ambition or ideas, and you are full of them. Your new idea sounds grand—much better than a fox farm or even the Trading Post and camp idea which was very good. Your idea for having a children’s wear store with a sort of Alice in Wonderland or Mother Goose set-up is just swell because it is novel, and this seems to be an age when novel ideas or anything that is just a bit “different” goes over big. BUT (there always has to be a but) an idea like this would take an awful lot of capital for it couldn’t be put over in half measures. That is the main drawback. The idea of having midgets as clerks isn’t so very practical. You might have one or two as a special attraction, and then regular clerks just petite girls. But darling I think it is a grand idea and I think you are simply marvelous for being wide-awake enough to think of it. Did you have anything definite in mind? Let me know what is what, dear.

This, to me, is the most beautiful picture of what love means. Someone always behind you saying, “That is sensational, darling.” Again, and again, until you have to believe that at least they believe it. Even when you know are not sensational. “That is the most daring and spectacular C on an exam I’ve ever seen.”

I guess you want someone to challenge you, too. Be honest with you. But lots of people will do that. How many will tell you you’re sensational? Is it so unbelievable to think that you might be so greatly admired that constant support and compliments would be genuine? It is the reassurance that you are never alone. Loyalty is the anti-Loneliness, not love, since love is contained within loneliness, like webbing between these two ideas. You can love and still be lonely.



One of the tragic ironies of life is that we all feel so separate from each other by the very feelings we have in common. The first time this occurred to me was secondhand, when someone else said, I feel like I was born another planet, delivered here by accident. And my good friend Donna told him, Well, we all feel like that sometimes.

I almost asked, “Wait, really? Everyone? Not really, though.” I knew that feeling; it was like watching a fleet of ships travel together, fast and full of purpose toward the horizon, while my dinghy of a boat was tut-tutting in another direction, passed by and unaware of the destination anyway. But it was possible no one was in the fleet of powerful, impressive ships—the thought had just never occurred to me.


“I don’t know. What love? I think it’s a habit. We didn’t have any love. We went out, we walked around. True love is only on TV. We didn’t have that. We had friendship, we lived happily, we loved each other, we shared life’s endeavors. That was our love.” – a 71 year old woman from Siberia, Russia, interviewed by 7 Billion Others.


On nearly everyone’s top five expressions of ultimate love (I have asked), you will find *~the dishes~*.

Doing the dishes is the sum of all romance, the first brick in every road to forgiveness. What is it about the dishes—I mean particularly?

Even with roommates, of which I’ve had plenty—it’s never the trash or the vacuuming that gets noticed, it’s the dishes. I now do my dishes very efficiently and well, but it’s not because I’m a particularly tidy person. Over the years, I’ve responded, like Pavlov’s dogs, to the pleasant chime of praise and affection when I do them.

It really is romantic. And so, I’m wondering, if romance isn’t really just kindness, but given a different name when considered with courtship and marriage. I feel like what I’m really saying when I say I want romance is that I’d like a steady stream of kindness in my life.

Soul mate:

According to Theosophy, whose claims were modified by Edgar Cayce, God created androgynous souls—equally male and female. Then the souls split into separate genders, perhaps because they incurred karma while playing around on the Earth, or “separation from God.” Over a number of reincarnations, each half seeks the other. When all karmic debt is purged, the two will fuse back together and return to the ultimate.

I don’t actually believe in soul mates, mostly because I consider myself an intelligent person and intelligent people don’t believe in soul mates—despite the occasional evidence to the contrary.

Except this one time I came home after a generally awful date and I threw my purse at the wall and I figuratively screamed at the universe, “Where are you keeping the other half of my soul?! Cough him up! Where is he?!”

Or she. Does your soul mate have to be the person you’re intimate with? Discovering your best friend is a little like falling in love (so says Elizabeth Wein). Or maybe a sibling is like a soul mate. I believe there are people you’re bound to meet, who you’ve probably already met in some way before you “meet” them again, and they’re people who bring you to your own attention so you can change your life.

But do you marry them? I think sometimes, you do. But sometimes you don’t and it’s not that great a loss.


Bashert is a Yiddish word that means “destiny.” It is often used in the context of one’s divinely foreordained spouse, who is called “basherte” (female) or “basherter” (male). Nowadays, Jewish singles say they’re looking for their bashert, meaning they are looking for that person who will complement them perfectly, and whom they will complement perfectly. Since it’s considered to have been foreordained by God whom one will marry, one’s spouse is considered to be one’s bashert by definition, independent of whether the couple’s marital life works out well or not.

So yes, I do believe in soul mates, but I don’t think it’s synonymous with true love. True love you choose. For children love is a feeling; for adults, it is a decision. Children wait to learn if their love is true by seeing how long it lasts; adults make their love true by never wavering from their commitment.

Art Isn’t Free



Obviously, this topic is sort of close to me since I’m attempting to make a living doing what I love, and what I love is books, writing them and reading them. Something we like to say, especially within the art communities, is DO WHAT YOU LOVE. We read Steve Job’s Stanford commencement address and we watch videos like this, which ask the question, “What would you do if money were no object?” and of course the assumption is to think that means, what you do if it didn’t matter how much money you earned. But in the comments section, someone posed another aspect: I need money to get trained to do what I love, so now what?

I really, really believe in doing what you love, and that it takes a lot of courage, and a lot of people give up on themselves unnecessarily. However, the other side is expressed in this article. It argues that, “Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce. For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story.”

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege. And that’s what I’m getting at. Doing what you love to do is special, not to be taken for granted. Anyone can choose to do it, yes, but not everyone gets the chance. That’s reality. And yet, passionate artists are taken advantage of. That same article says, “Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.”

Especially in fashion, media, and the arts, people are persuaded to do their art for free. There aren’t many attorneys or doctors hanging around the web offering free services–and if they were, we’d be suspicious. But there are hundreds of writers, musicians, and artists putting up their wares online for no price to the viewing masses. Most of them are not complaining about it–and in fact, that’s how they find fans and build a following. Almost always, however, attached to the free thing is a way for you to support that artist by buying something they’ve produced.

Well, what if you’re broke too? If you read a book you loved, SHARE IT. Talk about it! Celebrate the wonderful art that enters your life! The literature community survives because people still love books and still want to share that joy with others.

For some other awesome ways to show your support, check out this article: Be More Than a Reader: How to Support Your Favorite Authors. I will now take one tiny step higher on the soapbox I’m already on, to stand on a mini-soapbox to say: the less we support our artists, the more art is undervalued, AND THE WORLD NEEDS ART. It is (and I’m being serious) as important to our society’s well-being as law and medicine. *stands off soapbox*

So maybe this month you can skimp on one nicety in your life (like no chocolate for a few weeks?) and find a way to make a small contribution to an artist you support instead. (:


Yesterday, a friend shared a post from Humans of New York on my Facebook wall.

Don’t ask me how, but I’d never heard of this project, and I love stuff like this. I crave it. I have hundreds of portrait photography collections in my library. And I love hearing different people affirm that we are all so similar while simultaneously different. I love movements like PostSecret and 7 Billion Others.

But amazingly, I had not heard of this. I went to the homepage and went through the archives for an hour, totally crying at my laptop at the university library. And because this is a writing blog, and writing is about seeing and empathizing and witness and recording the intricacies of human life, I’m sharing it with all of you.

This is the HONY post my friend put on my wall (ha):

"Facebook is telling me that everyone has a house, a kid, and a dog. So I’m just trying to calm the fuck down."

“Facebook is telling me that everyone has a house, a kid, and a dog. So I’m just trying to calm the fuck down.”

I don’t even want to take away from the wonder of the the sites I’ve laid out for you to explore, so I’ll just end with a few thoughts. The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer – every scrap, even the longest and most boring of conversations. Do stuff. Be curious. Don’t wait for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is the lifeblood of ideas! It connects you with others. It makes you eager, and we need to be eager.

Part Two: Calm the Crap Down

This is the second half to last week’s post, “Take Yourself Seriously.” Because, let’s face it, there is a tendency among writers to take ourselves a little too seriously. Sometimes I think I’m going to grow up and look back at some of these blog posts talking about writing in this ethereal-holy-calling-of-unicorns way, and I’m going to sigh and say, “Geeez. Calm the crap down, Your Highness. It’s not bloody Shakespeare.”

Let’s talk about why we all seem to have bats in the belfry. The temptation to be a little nuts is understandable.

It’s an isolated, lonely business—which, hey, most of us like because we’re all neurotic introverts.


We must toe the line between self-hatred and egotism, since you need enough humility to improve and progress and enough confidence to push forward in the face of endless rejection.


Nobody actually knows what they’re doing, but everyone will tell you a different way to do it.


Because it’s such an introverted business, we tend to be really self-absorbed. As a result, praise makes us do this:


And criticism makes us do this:


Until all at once, these kind of emotional cycles are commonplace.



And then this friend steps in:


Followed by this friend:


So, fellow crazy-writers, I pass along the best advice I’ve heard on this subject, from Elizabeth Gilbert.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, here’s the best nugget that encompasses what she’s saying:

“We writers, we kind of do have that reputation, and not just writers, but creative people across all genres, it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable. And all you have to do is look at the very grim death count in the 20th century alone, of really magnificent creative minds who died young and often at their own hands, you know? Somehow we’ve completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish.

In ancient Greece and ancient Rome people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, okay? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity “daemons.” Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar. The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.

So brilliant — there it is, right there, that distance that I’m talking about — that psychological construct to protect you from the results of your work. And everyone knew that this is how it functioned, right? So the ancient artist was protected from certain things, like, for example, too much narcissism, right? If your work was brilliant you couldn’t take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame. And this is how people thought about creativity in the West for a really long time.

You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.”

So—calm down. Stay sane. Separate yourself from your work. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. And have fun!