What keeps you going?
In the past, I’ve found traveling abroad re-energizes my writing and provides a renewed sense of motivation to create. In recent years, I’ve had so many opportunities to explore the world: I went to Korea with my mother on a research grant to meet my extended family for the first time and to see the city where I was born. In Turkey, my husband and I did a four-city trek from the ancient mountain ranges of Cappadocia to the cosmopolitan, multicultural mix of Istanbul. Most recently, we journeyed to Belize, where we hiked and rode horseback through the jungle, waded in knee-high rivers, and did some light-duty climbing through caves adorned with Mayan relics. (We also attended the Annual All-County Belizean Rodeo in the capital city of Belmopan—one of the unexpected highlights of our trip.)
These journeys were such an incredible high, and each time, I returned to my Chicago home starry-eyed, alight with creative possibilities and full of a conqueror’s spirit! There’s so much to learn! We could live anywhere in the world! I can climb this urban tree and probably not die!
But of course, just weeks later, idealism begins to sag. River-wading in the jungle becomes puddle-wading on Michigan Avenue and I think longingly of eating fresh, piping hot kahl-goog-soo noodles in a tiny diner in Seoul as I stand in my own kitchen and drop a block of ramen noodles and freeze-dried seaweed into a pot of boiling water.
I realize this is a very privileged problem. I admit this with embarrassment. I am SO very lucky to have these opportunities to travel the world—but I never want to become dependent on exotic expeditions in order to feed my creative momentum. No matter where you call home, the dull pressure of daily life can make your surroundings feel colorless, but I want to stop using my fortunate life in Chicago as a boredom-driven excuse to become apathetic about writing. Thus, I’m always curious how other artists and writers find glints and glimmers of inspiration in their daily lives… and have started jotting mine down in an effort to feel more appreciative for all the little things that keep my writing going everyday:
TASTE: The Chicago Fine Chocolate and Dessert Show
This past weekend, two close friends and I attended the Chicago Fine Chocolate and Dessert Show, located in one of the festival halls on Chicago’s Navy Pier. When we first peaked into the enormous show room, I was filled with dread. Were we about to be bombarded by pushy salespeople who were merely concerned with hocking a product and making a profit? Yeesh. But to my delight, this wasn’t the case. The exhibit featured vendors, pastry chefs, and artists from all over the U.S. who believed chocolate was not just a sugary substance for consumption, but a multi-sensory experience. We saw sculptures, met molecular gastronomists, and learned a surprising number of ways that people can infuse the world with chocolate. During a cooking demonstration, an instructor from The French Pastry School said it himself, “You can spend your whole life learning about chocolate.” I loved that. I love meeting people who look beyond simplistic, automatized thinking to see art in everyday things. Here are some pictures. Cheers to the bakers, painters, and chefs!
LISTEN: Welcome to Night Vale
Since this podcast has been #1 on iTunes for months and months on end, I imagine that many are already aware of its existence. But if this is the first you’re hearing of Night Vale, please consider listening. Welcome to Night Vale is a fake radio broadcast from a peculiar, fictional town, self-described as “a friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” I enjoy this show because there’s an odd, dichotomous tension that runs throughout each episode. The town feels both quaint and unsettling; a place where you’re friendly with everyone, but know nothing about them, where life is simultaneously simple, yet darkly complicated. The host, with his rich and soothing voice, warns listeners of hooded figures that lurk about the city’s electrified fences, and of the new man in town with a perfect haircut who claims to be a scientist. Although Welcome to Night Vale is patchwork of disjointed news, the magic is found in how complete each episode feels—how seemingly unrelated pieces comes together to create an ominous and satisfying whole. It’s amazing how engrossing a fake show about a made-up town can be, but it’s so well-written and vividly narrated, a little part of me believes Night Vale is out there, waiting to consume me if I turn an unmarked corner and wait too long to turn back.
[Welcome to Night Vale: Free on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/welcome-to-night-vale/id536258179]
FEEL: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
It’s fairly obvious that to a writer, reading good books is essential. I’ve read a handful of fiction and non-fiction I’ve enjoyed (including a wonderful collection of essays called The New Kings of Nonfiction – edited by Ira Glass) but Adelle Waldman’s latest, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. was a real standout in my mind. While discussing this book with a friend, I realized why it was such a source of inspiration.
These days, I find countless novels with descriptions that sound much like this: Four generations of a Polish-American family are woven together in a story that spans eight decades and five continents—where the bonds of blood are tested through warfare, catastrophic illness, religious persecution and a sexually-motivated assassination plot that ultimately teaches a legally blind, one-legged wolf-woman the meaning of love and rebirth…
The ending got away from me there… but you know what I’m trying to say. I harbor no ill-will toward ambitious novels. In fact, despite my cheekiness, I really respect them and am greatly intimidated by the mere thought of attempting to write one. But every so often, I find it refreshing to read a novel with a more specific field of vision that accomplishes much through a deceptively simple subject. Aside from Waldman’s intricate and incisive writing and the deeply compelling, psychological access she provides to our point-of-view character, Nate Piven, I admired this novel for its ability to prove the profundity and importance of a fairly commonplace activity: dating. Due to the topic, I could imagine some “serious” readers might cast this book aside, dismissing it as trivial and weightless… but that would be a mistake. Nathaniel P. is a book that reveals much of the shameful, secretive inner monologues of selecting and evaluating romantic partners—showing how narcissism, insecurity, anger, and our own damaged self-perceptions work their way into the complicated web of decisions in dating. It felt both exceptional and familiar. Despite the unyieldingly close, third-person narration on a single point-of-view character in a truncated period of time, Adelle Waldman left an epic impression on me as a reader, writer, and someone who is interested in the intricacies of love.
Click HERE the New York Times review if you’re interested.
LOOK: Bear Playing Tetherball
My best friend Cindy sent me this video last week: http://youtu.be/Vz_JCip9Ihs
It’s exactly what the title states: a big brown bear playing tetherball, unopposed. Here’s my unnecessary interpretation: I imagine that this bear was sitting on the edges of the forest, peering out into a clearing only to find two humans engaged in a simple game of Get-the-ball-to-go-this-way-around-the-pole. No, this way. No! This way! Perhaps the bear, with his hind quarters covered in leaves and dirt, weary and disheartened from the unsuccessful pursuit of a deer thought, “Those people seem to be enjoying this day more than I am.” And even though any common bear would likely see that his bear physicality would be an unhappy match for tetherball, we soon learn that this is no average bear.
As Cindy said, there are moments were the bear tries to eat the ball. There are times where he seems startled and afraid. At an especially low point, he hits his big bear head on the pole. But he persists… and some truly hilarious and abundantly joyful moments occur as a result. I’ll leave it at that.
Nania Lee completed her MFA in fiction writing at The University of Michigan and was a Zell Post-Graduate Fellow. Before coming to UM, she received her Masters in Rehabilitative Speech and Hearing Sciences from The George Washington University and worked in Medical Rehabilitation. She currently lives in Chicago, IL. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, traveling, and sending things via postal mail.
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