Issue 77: Fundamentals and foundations
6 min read

Issue 77: Fundamentals and foundations

Lately, it feels like the days aren’t long enough. The pace of things picks up in September—work starts focusing on year-end deadlines, submission windows for literary magazines open, fellowship applications become available etc. Not to mention the importance of continuing to make time for family, friends, exercise, cleaning, cooking, and so many other things that I want (and sometimes need) to do. There are only so many hours in a day, and lately I’ve been falling into bed exhausted and unsure if I’ve had a “good day.”

I loved this reframing of time and energy from Mandy Brown. Rather than thinking of time as something consistent, we should think about whether the activities we do give us energy. She acknowledges the promise, practice, and ultimately, limitations of time-management tactics: “They’ve pomodoroed, for fuck’s sake.” (Guilty!) Instead, she asks us to consider how “energy makes time.”

It turns out, not doing their art was costing them time, was draining it away, little by little, like a slow but steady leak. They had assumed, wrongly, that there wasn’t enough time in the day to do their art, because they assumed (because we’re conditioned to assume) that everything we do costs time. But that math doesn’t take energy into account, doesn’t grok that doing things that energize you gives you time back. By doing their art, a whole lot of time suddenly returned. Their art didn’t need more time; their time needed their art.

Ezra Klein did an interview with GQ earlier in the summer about his daily routine. It was interesting to read how he’s become less precious about his routine and broken away from optimization culture, in part because of his children, who have helped force him out of the illusion of control. “I’m just much more interested in the question of a good day than a tightly managed day,” says Klein.

Doing so has helped him find more fulfillment because he understands that the things that make him “productive” might not outwardly look productive. His productivity relies on fostering his relationships and creating space in his mind. He emphasizes the importance of a few fundamentals:

Nowadays, there are four things that are gonna decide if I have a good day. Did I sleep enough? Did I connect deeply with people I love? Did I get some time to myself? Did I make choices for my body that felt good—like, did I take a good walk, did I eat healthy, did I exercise? If I get those four things in place, usually my days are pretty good. The more they begin to fall apart, the worse everything else gets. So those can be built on habits, but they’re not exactly habits. The hard thing is that when they begin to degrade, it actually becomes harder to keep them in place. If you’re more disconnected from people you love, it's harder to sleep. If it's harder to sleep, you're more irritable. So I have to think of things as being less about habits and more about fundamentals.

Kara Cutruzzula’s new journal, Do It (or Don’t), which was just published this week, is all about boundaries: setting boundaries, sticking with them, and thriving within them to make progress in your personal, professional, and creative life. (I’m also a huge fan of her daily creativity newsletter, Brass Ring Daily.) She similarly considers how it’s common for folks to “keep churning along the same path, afraid to rock the boat, afraid to appear unkind, afraid to disappoint someone. But what if the result is disappointing yourself?”

I came to the realization lately that my inability to draw boundaries often led me to sacrifice my own creativity, skills, and future plans. Sometimes if you give up too much space to other people, you’re left without any ground to stand on yourself.

Cutruzzula emphasizes that our habits create behavior, and it often comes down to a decisive “you do it…or you don’t.” It’s easy in theory, but infinitely more challenging in practice. The way forward? Much like Klein, she advises you to “consider your priorities and the ideal foundations to support them.”

I’m trying to pause and better understand my priorities, so that I can lay the right foundations that make me feel energized rather than depleted. Here are some questions I’m reflecting on:

  • What must happen for you to call it a successful day? (Kara Cutruzzula)
  • What can I do to make it likeliest that I can meet the situations I'm in with a better rather than worse version of myself—and a more present rather than a more distracted form of my attention? (Ezra Klein)
  • How does doing what I need make time for everything else? (Mandy Brown)

Programming note: I’ll be attending the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Media at the end of the month, so I’ll be back in your inboxes in early October.

A tweet that says: "wild how art manages to get made at all. I have to clean my apartment so many times in life. Never mind the times I have to walk somewhere. Then, of course, I get hungry."
via @jpbrammer

Creative resources

  • Emily VanDerWerff on art criticism: “You do not have to like those choices. You do have to engage with them. You have to take the work seriously on some level, even if you're going to write an excoriating review of it. Otherwise, you just end up being mean.”
  • A compilation of literary journals opening up for submissions this month
  • Elisa Gabbert on writerly jealousy: “There’s a bad double bind in being a writer: If you don’t write about things people are interested in, nobody is going to read you. But if you write about things people are interested in, other people are writing about them, too.”
  • Apply for the online Tin House Winter Workshop by September 20! I participated this past February and loved my workshop and the affinity groups. I also learned so much from all the craft lectures and industry panels.
  • “How to have 155 ideas in 31 days” by Chrissy Hennessey

Recent reads & other media

My friend James Park published his first cookbook, Chili Crisp: 50+ Recipes to Satisfy Your Spicy, Crunchy, Garlicky Cravings, and it was so fun to celebrate with him at his Books Are Magic launch event! I did some recipe testing and 100% recommend the spicy cream cheese dip with smoked salmon.

I read Knockout by Sarah MacLean and it’s my favorite so far in her latest Hell’s Belles series. I’d heard polarizing opinions from friends on Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, a satire about racial diversity in the publishing industry. While it was a quick and engrossing read, I don’t feel like the book arrived at any conclusions beyond the obvious, as Terry Nguyen writes in her review. Large swaths of the novel take place exclusively between the protagonist and Twitter, and while it’s an accurate depiction, “satire grades into mere citation.”

E and I watched Beef, starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun as two strangers whose road rage incident escalates. It’s a fascinating exploration of rage, masculinity, race, and money. As described in Vox, “class struggle is told through a distinct Asian-American lens” and the show understands that “the Asian-American experience isn’t a monolith.”

(Since the show was released in April, series creator Lee Sung Jin, along with Wong and Yeun, gave a lackluster statement condemning costar David Choe’s fabricated “story” of his assault of a Black female masseuse. I appreciated reading Soleil Ho’s perspective and Frankie Huang’s essay about the separation of art and its makers.)

Recently read short stories: “What It Means to Be a Car” by James Patrick Kelly, “A Pregnancy Test, A Pack of Condoms, and a Box of Tampons” by Tierney Oberhammer, “Screen Time” by Alejandro Zambra

Note: Book links are connected to my Bookshop affiliate page. If you purchase a book from there, you'll be supporting my work and local independent bookstores!

~ meme myself and i ~

I’m fine. Get it (the elevator). How it feels to ask your friends to send you the pictures you took earlier. When you accidentally text “ahahaha.” Donuts really solve everything. A barbershop interpretation of “I Care.”

Snoopy tans on an orange towel in the backyard. The sun is high overhead with four empty lemonade glasses strewn about.