On Gratitude

ET Winn, May 15, 2019

I’ve been reading “Writing As A Way Of Healing” by Louise DeSalvo and gleaning innumerable bits of good advice, reminders, and practical tips to guide a writer in their craft. I’m sure I’ll end up discussing this book again because it has been a wildly informative teacher to me, first as a therapeutic text recommended by my therapist and then as a book that I dove into to help my writing and finally as a guide for grounded living as a writer.

Right now, I’m diving into my gratitude. DeSalvo makes a case for reading as both a tool to help us write and also as a means to connect with other humans. She argues that reading allows us to form deep connections in our community, to strengthen friendships, and to bring us into contact with those we admire. She advises us to practice gratitude in as many ways as we can possibly think of. One way she suggests felt new and especially important to me: to thank our favorite authors.

I felt drawn to this way of practicing gratitude because I so often feel isolated from a writing community that is present in my life. As I prepare to eventually attend graduate school, I work in a flower shop. I find time to journal and practice gratitude mindfully, but my waking hours aren’t built around writing, reading, or revising. This makes the time I have with my favorite works all the more special. Spending time with Sharon Olds might mean, very literally, sacrificing time I would be writing my own poetry.

To me, this sacrifice enriches my own writing and also reminds me to be grateful for the time I make for myself to visit these authors and their handiwork. And so, after reading DeSalvo’s advice, I composed a short tweet and sent it into the universe, very simply thanking two writers (Ada Limón and Maggie Smith) whose work has had a profound influence on my writing and my very self. I felt centered, calm, and appreciative. I had taken some very good advice and felt satisfied in my doing so.

Never expecting any reply, you can imagine my swell of thankfulness and delight when both authors responded to my simple missive. DeSalvo’s assertion that gratitude not only brings us into contact with our best writing and our best selves but also with others was proven true in such a timely and important way for me. Feeling that responsiveness from people whose work has deeply moved me. I want to urge everyone who wants to be a writer to thank those who inspire you. Not only are they probably sacrificing time and energy to consume and create work that moves others, they are also most likely practicing gratitude in their own ways. Breaking down walls of separation and competition between writers serves us all, and I feel lucky to have taken such good advice and also to have gotten such kind responses.

The practicing of gratitude takes many forms: journaling, prayer, verbal affirmation. Making that gratitude personal taps into what drives us all to write: desire to connect with those around us in ways that build up the human spirit and keeps us all connected to our roots and deepest yearnings. Thank you for reading this piece, thank you for joining us at roam, and most of all, thank you for writing.

On Vulnerability

–ET Winn, April 3, 2019

I wasn’t taught that being vulnerable is the best way to write. But the best writing I’ve ever produced comes from writing about the things I don’t want to write about. It sounds simple. And it is, but it’s deceptively simple. To pick at the places we’d rather not visit takes a willingness to return to what we’d rather leave behind.

I should probably shudder to think how many people have read poems and pieces that are the equivalent of my diary. I’ve covered topics from my own mental illness to my experiences with addiction, all in admissions essays– an admittedly risky move that really has paid off. I’ve made myself able to be wounded, the Latin meaning of the word ‘vulnerable.’ I’ve shared things online the average person wouldn’t want their grandma to read. On Facebook. Where I’m friends with my grandma. Who definitely read them. And if she’s going to disown me, it hasn’t happened yet.

The return of grace, kindness, and openness has shifted my understanding of vulnerability from something scary to something necessary for creative growth. I may not be able to tease vulnerability out of you, or even myself all the time, but I want to give you permission to be so for yourself. To open yourself up to write the painful, the messy, the worst things that have happened to you. The embarrassing, vitriolic, sensual, shameful, and painful. To tackle your experiences of sex and death and see where you get reborn. To be willing to be wounded, to share the parts of you that don’t feel fit for public consumption, to reckon with yourself and come out holding a piece of writing that you’re proud of.

Explorer’s Notes: Tips for Roaming is our weekly blog where we share our visions as editors, as writers, and as humans. It’s our field guide to navigating the world. Join us!