The Writings of Martin Luther King

Last week I was searching for a new book to read and stumbled upon The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. — on sale for less than a latte. And I realized, I’ve never actually read King’s writing before. The fact that I never encountered even one of his speeches during all my years of education seems somewhat shocking. So I decided, what the hey, it’s on sale.

It comes as no surprise, but King was a great writer. This book collects a series of his speeches, ranging from the years 1956 to 1968. It includes the well-known ones — “I Have a Dream”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, “Eulogy for the Martyred Children” — and a lot of others, ranging on topics from segregation, education, India, nonviolent resistance, and the Vietnam War. All, of course, have one universal theme in common: civil rights.

When I read “I Have a Dream”, I closed my eyes and imagined standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the sun warming my face, as I looked out at the Washington Monument from the exact spot where King delivered his now famous speech. King’s words inspire you to think, to pause, to reflect on what you are doing for the greater good. They’re also relevant — civil rights are still an issue in this country (and, oh hey, the world at large). Today being Martin Luther King Day, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite passages from the book so far.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. –“A Time to Break Silence

There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. —The Social Organization of Nonviolence

Whatever career you may choose for yourself — doctor, lawyer, teacher — let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. –“Speech Before the Youth March for Integrated Schools

I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. –“I Have a Dream

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Sharing Inspiration, Part 2

After the Ankle Incident, my friend Jenny commented, “Wow, you’ve had kind of a rough month.”

“Have I?” I said.

“Well, you got really sick a few weeks back. And now the ankle.”

“Huh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.”

It hadn’t really struck me like that. November has been an introvert month for me — turning inward, staying indoors, having quiet “me” moments. It’s easier to do when it’s cold outside and dark at 5pm. After Jenny’s comment, though, I realized what’s really been taking up my thoughts this month, if only subconsciously — replenishing the creative reserves. October was a big push creatively, what with the 30/30 Challenge and all. And creativity’s cyclical. I’ve still been tinkering away at the editing, but mostly? I’ve been thinking, pondering, reading, listening, seeking inspiration.

So I thought I’d share — what’s been inspiring me lately?

Wonderbook. One day, Jeff VanderMeer’s book will wind up on my book reviews, but my shameful secret is that it’s taken me a year to read it, and I’m still nowhere near done. It’s not because it’s not good — it’s really good — but it’s big. Like, physically big. Big books don’t fit in my purse, which means they don’t get read on the bus, which means it takes forever to read them.


Anyway. This book is full of SO MUCH ruminative goodness. Its focus is how to write imaginative fiction, and it goes into more detail than any other writing book I’ve encountered. It’s forced me to examine my work-in-progress in a new light, to question decisions I’ve made, to answer why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made. And the book itself is quite beautiful — another reason I’m slow to get through it. It probably takes me 15 minutes to go through two pages — in the best way possible. It encourages the mind to check out and drift.

30 and Bookless“. I’ve been recommending this article by Rachael Maddux left and right, and I keep going back to it. It’s a great reminder that, despite my college-self’s ambition to have a book published by now… it’s ok that I don’t. It’s probably even best that I don’t, because I wasn’t the same writer back then that I am now. We’re two different people, producing different work.

Fleetwood Mac. Specifically, this song.

You guys, I just CAN’T GET ENOUGH. I listen to it on repeat, I sing along, I sway to it in the bathroom as I’m putting on makeup. The slow start, the bewitching build. It’s definitely set the contemplative mood for the month.

The Habits of Highly Productive Writers“.My college advisor recently shared this article by Rachel Toor. Nothing in it is revelatory (“Highly productive writers nap four hours a day!”), but there are some good tips. The part that really jumped out?

When someone’s doing a lot more than you, you notice it. It brings out your petty jealousy. And if you’re like me (occasionally petty and jealous), it might make you feel crappy about yourself. Which is, let’s face it, ridiculous. No one else’s achievements take anything away from yours, or mine. The fact that another writer is working hard and well should be nothing more than inspiration, or at least a gentle prod.

Sometimes, some days, that reminder is particularly important.

What are you reading, watching, listening to this month?

Sharing Inspiration

Last week, I attended a workshop about staying creatively inspired when you do the same type of work over and over again, day in and day out (whether that be writing, design, architecture, whatever). If you work in a creative field, it’s a subject that pops up frequently — the relationship between inspiration and creativity, those two nebulous forces fated to be entwined. Inspiration is viewed as the force that drives creativity, something vague and elusive that can’t really be pinned down. When we say that “inspiration strikes,” it implies that it comes out of the blue, when we’re least expecting it.

Over the workshop, two themes emerged: in order to find inspiration and be our most creative, we must 1) seek out inspiration, and 2) create. Both are important (particularly #2, I’d argue — you literally can’t be creative if you don’t create), but #1 has been consuming more of my thoughts. People think that inspiration finds you — that the muse lands on your shoulder and sparks the next idea. That’s wrong. At its core, inspiration is pretty lazy; it’s not going to come and find you, you have to find it. You have to actively work to be inspired — you have to seek it out.

In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon talks about sharing your inspirations, so that other people can also discover the awesomeness and be inspired. So I’m giving it a shot, this whole sharing thing. What’s been inspiring me this past week? A whole lot of random, including…

John Cleese quote via Austin Kleon and 99U

    • The words of Maya Angelou. Lots of people have been sharing her words this past week, which is rad (when was the last time you can think of a poet’s work being widely shared?). The poem particularly resonating with me? “Still I Rise“:

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

  • This old New York Times article about Police Officer Frank Chiafari, the officer who responded to the 911 phone call about a horrific chimp mauling. (Warning: this is a graphic and incredibly sad story. Highly likely to be upsetting.) Seem an odd thing to inspire creativity? Yeah, I agree, it IS totally weird. But — I just finished writing a short story, and this article was swirling around my head the whole time I worked on it. You never know where inspiration will come from.
  • This random quote from musician Kathleen Hanna, via Austin Kleon’s tumblr.

Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the Internet, and we shouldn’t either. I just think, Would Beyoncé be reading this? No, she would just delete it or somebody would delete it for her. What I really need to do is close the computer and then talk back to that voice and say, Fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m Beyoncé. I’m going to Ibiza with Jay-Z now, fuck off. Being criticized is part of the job, but seeking it out isn’t. That’s our piece to let go.

(“Would Beyoncé be reading this?” should become my new life mantra.)

What’s been inspiring you this week? Any goodies to share?


Why We Write

Have you ever read something so perfect, so true to your being, that you had to stop and immediately read it again?

I’m currently reading Writing Down the Bones, and oh — what a joy this book is. A fellow writer recommended it to me, and I’m going to turn right around and recommend it to others. And I’m not even finished with it yet! But there have already been enough gems to prove its worth.

One chapter struck me in particular: “The Power of Details.” I finished that short chapter, and immediately flipped back and re-read it. And then I wanted to go show it to all the writers I know, shove it under their noses and say, “Here here, read this!” I’ve quoted almost all of it here. I apologize for doing so, for putting such a long quote here — but it’s all so good and true that I couldn’t cut much. It speaks to me as a writer, beautifully and accurately answers to the question, “Why do we write?”

Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters and we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.

Yad Vashem, a memorial for the Holocaust, is in Jerusalem. It has a whole library that catalogs the names of the six million martyrs. Not only did the library have their names, it also had where they lived, were born, anything that could be found out about them. These people existed and they mattered. Yad Vashem, as a matter of fact, actually means “memorial to the name.” It was not nameless masses that were slaughtered; they were human beings.


We have lived; our moments are important. This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history, to care about the orange booths in the coffee shop in Owatonna.

Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer’s task to say, “It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a cafe when you can eat macrobiotic at home.” Our task is to say holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist — the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.

— Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Holy yes to life. Holy yes to all of that.

So now I’ll ask you, fellow writers — why do you write? This, for me, is it.

Confessions of a Wes Anderson Fangirl

It’s shocking for me to realize that The Royal Tenenbaums came out 12 years ago. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the movie since, but I distinctly remember the first. Near the end of its theater run, The Royal Tenenbaums came to the dollar theater near Mary’s house. The two of us went to a late-evening showing; the seats were pretty empty. I’m not sure that either one of us really knew what to expect, but we settled in.

Do you know the scene, near the beginning of the movie, where Ben Stiller’s character runs a fire drill at his house?

Mary and I started cracking up. Busting out loud, cannot-stop laughter. But one thing we both noticed — no one else in the theater laughed.

We were astounded. I mean, this shit was funny. The whole movie was. I mean, yes, it had its dark moments, but there was a lot of comedy mixed in with the drama. Why was no one else laughing? Fortunately, their sour grapes didn’t affect our enjoyment. This was an introduction to a slightly off-kilter, sometimes cartoonish, always heartfelt world, where it was totally normal for men and their sons to wear matching red track suits.

Ever since that day, The Royal Tenenbaums has been one of my favorite movies — and it turned me into a fervent Wes Anderson fan. Yes, his movies are twee and quirky and sometimes overly precocious, but I love the worlds he creates, the characters he presents, the quiet yet powerful stories he tells. Over the years I waited with mounting excitement for each new movie release: The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited (his weak spot, in my opinion), Fantastic Mr. Fox. I celebrated each and every one — and the best part? It still felt like my thing. Most of the people around me weren’t that into Anderson’s movies. That meant they were all for me.

And then Moonrise Kingdom arrived.

I agree with most of the critics: Moonrise Kingdom is probably Anderson’s best work. Its leads are relatable, its twee-ness is kept in check, the setting is sublime. And, of course, the whole world went apeshit over it. I mean, how could they not? It was all-in-all just a perfect movie. Suddenly everyone was talking about Wes Anderson. It was like the world had suddenly discovered bacon for the first time. OH MY GOD HAVE YOU TRIED THIS THING I JUST DISCOVERED IT AND IT IS NEW AND INCREDIBLE.

And now the trailer for his next movie has arrived, The Grand Budapest Hotel. And I mean, duh — it looks great. Ralph Fiennes looks hilarious. And oh hello, Bill Murray, yes I still love your dry Andersonian roles. Eddie Norton, glad to see that you’ve joined the Anderson Usual Suspects, you’re a welcome addition. Just like all the previous Anderson movies, I’m incredibly excited to sit my butt down in a theater seat and watch this one.

And yet — the trailer makes me a little sad. Because everyone is flipping out about it. Everyone is excited about this movie. Everyone “can’t wait” to see it. Everyone is suddenly a Wes Anderson fangirl. And just like that, a little bit of the magic slips away.

Now, I hope it goes without saying, but I am incredibly pleased for Wes Anderson and his success. I don’t want this post to read like sour grapes. I get the impression he’s worked very hard to get where he’s at, and God how fantastic it must be to see that hard work pay off in spades.

But of course, this is not a rational feeling. It’s just the way it is with anything you really, truly love. You feel it is yours—and only yours. No one else can possibly experience it as profoundly and intimately as you. It’s why people get so up-in-arms about movie adaptation of novels and comic books—you worry that others will muddy the waters, will wreak havoc on this thing that you love. You don’t want the world to embrace it. It has already been embraced whole-heartedly by you.

Clearly, there’s no solution here. The world now loves Wes Anderson. It’s an issue I’ll just have to deal with. Nothing will ever be quite as pure as that first blush of love, but that doesn’t mean it’s done and over. After all, Royal, we still have the dollar theater.

The Learning List

Last week while walking my usual route into work, I heard flute music. Take 5, to be exact, the notes floating up from the underground bus tunnel. I slowed down to listen, for two reasons:

1) Flute music in downtown Seattle is pretty unusual. We have guitars, saxophones, bucket drums, saw violins and some guy who plays what appears to be a sort of Vietnamese lute. But flutes just don’t seem to happen.

2) I played the flute for seven years, and Take 5 was my song. Not to toot my own horn (to mix musical instruments), but I was a damn good flute player. I was almost always first or second chair — and on Take 5, I always got the starring role. That song was so much fun to play.

Hearing it unexpectedly, downtown — well, it made me want to pick up the flute again. And then I realized, damn, there are a lot of things I want to learn or re-learn or experience and I just never get around to doing them.

So here’s the thought: by typing them up, and putting them out there, I’ll actually get down to business and do some of these things:

  • Pick up the flute again. Get good again.
  • Learn how to draw. I always like to think of myself as a decent drawer, but when I sit down to do it… no. No, this is just not a factual statement. BUT! With practice, I could make it happen.
  • Random, and not really learning, but — go get a tarot card reading. I don’t care what anyone says IT SOUNDS LIKE SO MUCH FUN.
  • Learn how to drive stick shift. This just seems like a good life skillz.
  • On another musical note — re-learn how to play the guitar. I took lessons one summer and really enjoyed it. Why did I stop?
  • Learn how to write a strong, sharp short story. There’s definitely a specific skill set there.
  • Get re-certified in scuba diving. Jacques Cousteau said Puget Sound was his second favorite place to dive in the world — AND I LIVE HERE. I’m missing out!

I’m sure there are others that could be added to this list, but those are the ones that get stuck in my head like a catchy pop song. And you know what ? Most of those items are things that I could accomplish within my own home — simply by sitting down, getting out the flute or guitar or pen or colored pencils and just doing it. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill — and really, I don’t want to be a master at any of these. I just want to be able to do them. But it starts the same way — clockin’ in the practice hours.

And you? Anything you want the Universe and Internetz to hold you accountable to?

Tell a Good Story

It’s been a good week for me, writing-wise. I finished the first draft of my outline (woooo! More on that next week). I got great feedback on it. I started what I think could be an interesting short story. All in all, feel like I’m making progress.

So let’s end the week on a good night — a tiny bit of Friday food for thought:

“We sat around this table talking about every possible kind of ending,” Gilligan says. “Sometimes you start talking really macro. Like, ‘What kind of responsibility do we have to find a moral in all this?’ ‘Is this a just universe that he lives in, or is it a chaotic universe which is more in keeping with the one we seem to live in?’ ‘Is there really karma in the world? Or is it just that the mechanisms, the clockwork, of the universe is so huge and subtle in its operation that we don’t see karma happening?’ We talk about all that stuff, and then, at a certain point, you stop and say, ‘Let’s just tell a good story.'”

That’s Vince Gilligan, talking about writing the end of Breaking Bad. If you have the time, check out the entire GQ article, “The Last Stand of Walter White” — definitely worth your time (Bryan Cranston seems like the kind of guy I’d want to grab a beer with).

And at the very least — that’s some pretty damn good advice to kick off the weekend. Let’s just tell a good story.

Song of the Week: I’ve Got the Blues

I grew up in a blues household. I’m pretty sure “Hit the Road Jack” was the first song I knew all the words to. Family-room walls featured New Orleans Jazz Fest posters from ’79 and ’80. I semi-seriously planned on walking down the aisle to R-E-S-P-E-C-T (a plan that, sadly, did not come to fruition).

But you know — we all go through phases. Without rhyme or reason, I stopped listening to the blues. I mean, it’s not like I stopped liking the blues. It just wasn’t in the rotation. I started listening to more rock, hip-hop, “alternative” (whatever that genre is supposed to mean).

Then Byron — my darling NPR nerd — started listening to this Sunday night program that exclusively plays the blues. And damn but it is good. I had kind of forgotten how it feels to listen to a really great blues song — how it starts out slow and builds, you kind of lean into it, and before you know it BAM!

The blues have been on heavy rotation at work this week, but the number one spot has probably gone to this oldie-but-goodie:

Dr. Feelgood, man. It starts out unassuming and then just hits you like a ton of bricks. And let’s face it — Aretha is the Queen of Soul for a reason. Forget the voice, do you SEE THAT DRESS?? That is Grade-A Diva dress and it is amazing.

So if you need a Friday pick-me-up, I prescribe the good doctor. He’ll get us to the weekend.

Sentences That Stick

Cold it was, and dark, when the vision came to her, for in the far north daylight was a gray dim time in the middle of the day that came, and went, and came again: an interlude between darknesses. — Neil Gaiman, American Gods

My friend Hannah and I were talking the other day about sentences — perfectly crafted sentences. The ones that make you fall in love with the author on the spot, regardless of the rest of the book. The rest of the writing could be crap, the author could be a total jerk — but you’ll always remember that one, breath-catching sentence.

(Side note: this makes me think of Hemingway’s relationship with Fitzgerald. A Moveable Feast has a long chapter depicting how annoying Hemingway first found Fitzgerald when they met. Then Fitzgerald gives him a copy of The Great Gatsby: “When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend.” Good writing, man — you’ll forgive a lot.)

Now, it’s one thing to be in awe of a sentence. But of course, as a writer, I want to study the Why. I want to know what makes that sentence tick and how to emulate it. Dissect it, name its components, do it myself.

The other writers are probably chuckling right now, because the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t always work that way. You can’t always pinpoint exactly why a sentence transcends its basic mechanics and works on a higher level. It speaks to you at the right place, at the right time. There’s the nutshell.

That Neil Gaiman quote — from American Gods, which I just re-read in anticipation of a Neil Gaiman talk tonight (!!!) — is one that’s hard to pinpoint. When I came upon it, I stopped and re-read it three times. Something about it is just beautiful to me. But when I sit down and try to analyze it — it all falls apart. Yes, it has a nice rhythm (“far north daylight” and “gray dim time” sync up nicely), but there’s nothing totally out of the ordinary there. Maybe it’s because I live somewhat north, and know what those long grey days are like. But that doesn’t really explain my gut reaction to it, either. No, if I try to break it down too much, it loses its magic. Better to just read and appreciate.

So how about you? Are there sentences that have ensnared you, that stick with you, that you read over and over again? Let’s share. I’m always greedy for more.

Song of the Week: Girl Power Edition

Growing up, my best friend’s family had the “Song of the Week.” That song played on repeat, ad nauseum, for (you guessed it) one week. The chosen one was blasted through the house’s speaker system, and there were a LOT of dance parties in the kitchen. There wasn’t a cutoff date or anything — one week just seemed to be the lifespan of any given song. And the song was never “officially” selected. It came about naturally, an aural contagion that took hold and spread to the other members of the household.

I apparently never ditched the “song of the week” habit, because I still tend to choose one or two songs during the workweek and listen to them over, and over, and over. When you’re sitting at a desk for 8 hours, you need something to keep you going.

A lot of people prefer soothing background music while writing — not me. I want something with a bit of drive, something that keeps me animated and bouncing and write write writing.

Now, this week, it wasn’t the song of the week — it was the SONGS of the week. Two tunes kept vying for space in my head. And it soon became apparent that they had a common theme: girl power. Not something I intended, but perhaps it’s what I subconsciously needed this week.

So if you want some jams to power you through Friday, might I recommend…

Janelle Monáe is one of my long-time faves, and her new single “QUEEN” does NOT disappoint. Not only does it make you want to get up and dance (or, you know, dance in your work chair) — listen to those lyrics. Kick-ass feminist anthem? YES, PLEASE. (If this convinces you to check out some of her other work, get yourself Metropolis.)

My BFF Mary introduced me to Icona Pop. This song apparently plays over the opening credits of some Jersey Shore spin-off? Which at first made me a liiiiittle ashamed to include it here, but then thought, I DON’T CARE, I LOVE IT. This song makes me grin big. It’s loud and unapologetic and fun. It makes me want get in a car and drive down the highway on a sunny day, arm out the open window. And sometimes, you need a daydream like that.

What’s your song of the day? Let’s turn this Friday into one big dance party.