3 min read

Easy isn't the goal

Sarah Schulman, Matthew Salesses, Lidia Yuknavitch, Alicia Kennedy

Originally published March 1, 2021

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Radishes sautéed briefly in olive olive and sprinkled with salt.

This morning I’m tired because I stayed up late finishing an essay. I hit the Submit button at the exact last minute and we shall see. The essay is about how I once thought I wasn’t a people pleaser and I hope it will find a home sometime soon.


The Dots

  1. Conflict is not abuse
  2. Give bad suggestions
  3. Easy isn’t always best or possible
  4. “Writing from the deep cut”
  5. Writing about yourself is HARD

How do they connect?

1: Conflict is not abuse & Everything

I’m having a real Charlie conspiracy wall moment.

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From the Pepe Silvia episode (Always Sunny S4:E10)

In the introduction alone, Sarah Schulman skewers so much of what is wrong right now:

“Namely, false accusations of harm are used to avoid acknowledgment of complicity in creating conflict and instead escalate normative conflict to the level of crisis. This choice to punish rather than resolve is a product of distorted thinking, and relies on reinforcement of negative group relationships, when instead these ideologies should be actively challenged. Through this overstatement of harm, false accusations are used to justify cruelty, while shunning keeps information from entering into the process. … Emphasizing communication and repair, instead of shunning and separation, is the key to transforming these paradigms.”

Family issues. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. Everything.

The book is currently backordered on Bookshop but you can read about Sarah Schulman in The Cut from August 2020.

2 & 4: Bad suggestions & The deep cut

On a podcast episode (that I cannot find, trying) Matthew Salesses promoting his new book Craft in the Real World, he mentioned something he does in workshops: Only offers purposely bad suggestions. I think he says that he always works a dog into the suggestion (he was laughing.) He does this because he wants people to come up with their own version of his suggestion. Giving a writer a suggestion can feel like a correction or a distraction. Keeping it bad can help illustrate the point and open up imagination.

So what are good suggestions? I think they’re open ended and generative. There’s a Tin House podcast episode where writer Lidia Yuknavitch talks about writing from where we are wounded. She gives a list of eight suggestions that I return to if I’m feeling stuck. (If you’re curious, I wrote up her eight suggestions on my blog.)

3 & 5: Easy isn’t best & Writing about yourself

It sometimes still amazes me how highly product creators in particular value “easy.” I’m sure it’s based on how highly consumers value “easy” but — have any of them lived, in the world, as a human? It isn’t easy.

On Twitter over the weekend, a guy tweets about his new venture called Easly: “Two friends and I created a new thing to fix online recipes :D” And then “Your favourite recipes except without the ads or life stories.” Because life stories suck? OK, to be truthful, do I almost always click the “Jump to recipe” button on food blogs? Yes. But does that mean I want to devalue food writers’ work? No.

After the fall out where many people made excellent points, the OP came back and said that the point of Easly isn’t to divert traffic/$$ away from food sites. But it took the outcry from food Twitter to get there. That wasn’t easy.

(While we’re on the subject of food: read this from Alicia Kennedy about following/not following recipes)

I wrote two artist statements last week and let me tell you about not easy. Give me fiction any day. Articulating, concisely, what “compels and informs” my work and goals was slow and painful. Two free resources that helped: On the Subject Of [workbook] by Grace Ebert AND How to tell the story of your creative work [guide] by Katheryn Thayer with illustrations by Carlos Sanchez. Luckily, easy isn’t the goal. And writing the artist statements clarified my thoughts so I can get back to writing with renewed purpose.

—Devin