How Do You Want to Exist in the World
Greetings from an airport, my first of 2023. I impulse bought a plane ticket to New York City last week to see some of the people (and their pets) who had known my dog longest and best, but also just to have a change of scenery, a shift in my perspective. The house is emptier now — not quieter, really, but nevertheless emptier. I needed to reset myself in a way that a visit to New York always does. I was one way and now I’m another way. This is what travel does for us, but in particular for me when I travel to New York.
Had it not been bitterly cold out I would have probably seen more art, but I did make it to the Nick Cave show at the Guggenheim, which injected my spirit with something grand and glittering.
In the midst of his triumph, he asked these urgent questions of us:
I ask myself these questions pretty much every day in one way or another, in a sort of aching and overly conscious (and potentially annoying to anyone but me, but also, yes, sometimes annoying to me, too) way. I wish I could tell you I lead a chilled-out life where I just daydream and everything is beautiful and easy. But the truth is I am not relaxed. And so I felt an incredible sense of relief when I arrived at these sentences, at being reminded that other people are constantly challenging themselves on the matters of how to be, and I felt less alone in that moment.
Seeing my friends in the city also made me feel less alone. The great love affairs of my life, my friendships. At our dinner, we ate the exact right of amount of food which is to say a lot of it. We drank like we were young people. Toasted my beautiful old dog. At the end, I hugged everyone in the cold, thanked them for everything. Miserable weather, beautiful people.
And now I write this to you hungover from an airport. When I go home I will go to a parade, some parties. Tomorrow I will rest. The thing I see again, know again, is the feeling of being happy in a pure way. I forgot my troubles for a while and while they did not disappear when I returned to them they were lessened. Now there is a new spaciousness within me.
One of the things I talked about a lot with my friends was a letter I had gotten last week. It was from my dog’s veterinarian. Just a short, sweet note, about how my dog had been a special dog, that I had been a good mom to him, and that I had handled the situation correctly. I burst into tears when I read it. It said exactly what I had needed to hear. It was the exact right combination of information and sentiment. Surely she had sent that letter hundreds of times to the owners of pets over the years, but still I felt that she had meant it. And she did not have to send it, of course. So it was extraordinarily meaningful to me.
I thought about how rarely we get letters that tell us just what we need. I write this letter every week to 26,000 of you without knowing what you need, only that you are signed up for it perhaps seeking information on writing or creativity or how to be a working artist. I, in turn, offer you the best of what I know, and what is happening in my creative life at the moment, or sometimes in the past. I read the internet sometimes to get ideas, to see what people are concerned with in their writing lives. Often I mine my journal, examining my current creative stage to see if there is a trend or an idea or some sort of issue that might be relatable to an audience. The unknown audience. It is a one-sided conversation, technically, but on the other hand is it weird to say that I do feel like we are speaking together every week? And yet I will never really know what you all need to hear. It is impossible. Still, I will try to write something meaningful.
Sincerely, all I can fucking do is try to write something meaningful.
How do I want to exist in the world? Like this, writing for people, out there in the ether. People who read letters, who read books. My imaginary audience that is also quite real.
How am I going to do the work? Diligently, steadily, and with compassion.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Memphis Community Bail Fund.
I think because you write these from your heart, more often than not, you manage to write what we need to read. Thank you!
Cave's question rattles through my mind in so many different ways, and his concise phrasing helps so much. Thank you for sharing this - I needed it.