This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
It’s been a while. How are you? Writing a column or blog post is such a different muscle than the writing I’ve been doing during my break from teaching. And here’s the magic: I actually have been writing. I finished the first revisionary read of my memoir and, as a form of procrastination, have written and submitted quite a few smaller pieces. But this isn’t to say everything has been peachy. I’ve also been rejected from pretty much all I’ve applied to, have felt like an imposter in my own skin, have discredited the work I’ve done. This break has been about relearning success, about taking care of what’s most important — my creative muscle — and trying to not equate its worthiness to the workshops or bylines or acceptances I receive.
Which is fucking hard. You get enough rejections and it feels like what am I even doing here? Nothing is clicking into place, and other people are getting published so why can’t you?
Over the break, I received a message from an old high school friend. They told me they’d been keeping up with my column and would love to meet up while they’re back home. It meant the world to me because it was the first time someone reached out to me because they thought something I was doing was cool. For the rest of the day, I giggled around my apartment and felt all special.
When we finally met up, it reminded me that how we see ourselves is often the harshest light. To the people around us we are impressive and thoughtful; our accomplishments speak for themselves. Here was someone I thought was killing it, who I often compared myself to, and they saw me! To discover my friend had often felt like they weren’t doing enough allowed me, for really the first time in a while, to admit I was doing alright.
I titled this column “Eating Fruit Before it Molds” because I’ve been struggling with what should be a simple concept: eating your fruit before it molds. The winter is a time for citrus and so I’ve piled high the lemons and limes and oranges and grapefruits inside my fruit basket, squeezing them to the point of blocked airflow. It’s my own self-sabotaging that is leading them to mold overnight, growing powdery white and blue and green in the span of hours. An inner degeneration finally made visible to my eyes. I go about removing the fruit gone bad, but never know what to do with the bodies nearby the effected: Does a subtle swipe of the mold on a fruit’s exterior render it disposable?
You would think it’d be easy to devour this gorgeous fruit I’ve purchased. And some days it is. The lemons go quick from my kitchen. I use their zest in desserts or pasta dishes, their juice in just about everything. Other weeks, they squish down into the bottom where I can’t see them and ultimately forget their presence. Until that acidic scent wafts into the air and I go searching for its cause.
And I love oranges in the winter. How they remind me of brightness and what awaits us in just a few months. Still, despite my love, sometimes I forget about them, too. Their consistency in my life. The pop of their sharp juice and firm skin. When I do finally eat the fruit before it molds, I chastise myself for how simple it was.
Which is all just one big metaphor for recognizing and remembering our worth, our successes, for what they’re worth. I’ve had some pretty wonderful wins so far in my career — graduating with my MFA, being published by Roxane Gay and The Columbia Journal as well as a few other journals, being given the opportunity to write this column every other week. And yet, I’m so quick to forget or discredit that work. Yeah I got an MFA, but a lot of people do. And I didn’t get it from Iowa or Columbia so who knows if I’ll ever get a book published. Or I haven’t gotten an essay accepted anywhere since May so maybe all my good writing was only ever the result of workshops and other people’s input. And this column. Am I consistently writing up to standard?
It is so easy to throw ourselves under the weight of other people’s accomplishments. To see the tweets (if you’re still on Twitter) or Instagram stories applauding all the good stuff. It’s easy to forget the lemon at the bottom of your bowl and lose that vibrant light of color to the trash. And screw the idea that lemons and an abundance of them are sour! Lemons are bright, they’re interesting. They are the perfect last squeeze into a dish that makes it delicious. They’re a reminder of what’s to come in even the darkest of winter and, my goodness, did you know there’s over thirty varieties of them? All different, all unique, and all good.