Disappearing

I love to write this blog. I love that I can complete something every day. I love that I have a venue to write about what interests me most – the intersection of creativity and everyday life – and that there are readers who return every day to see what I have to share. I love all of these things and rarely does a day go by when I do not pause in a moment of private gratitude for the opportunity.

And yet not once do I look forward to writing the blog. Never. If I experience any anticipatory feeling it is dread—dread that I will not be able to sink my line low enough into the waters to find what I want to say. It is odd that it is even possible to not look forward to or even to dread something you love, and yet it is so.

Rarely am I inspired. Most days I sit down with nothing but the memory of having been satisfied with what I wrote the day before. Most days I begin feeling as if this subject is a rag I have finally wrung dry.

Which is precisely the gift this space affords me. I have used up all the easy ins. I used them up in the first three months. Now, if I want to find a way in I must silence all thought. I do not always want to be silent. I have a lot to say. I have a voice and I like to use it. I have thoughts and I like to think them. No matter. Silence is my only portal.

And if I am lucky, if I become very still—I might even disappear. This is the greatest gift of all. Beneath the current of ceaseless thought, beneath the noise and the bright circus of life, there is a space where waiting is enough. Here you must do nothing for something to come to you. Here you must forget all judgment, forget all ambition, forget your past and all your old hurts and grievances. You must forget all of it and remain perfectly still or be cast out. Here, for a time, you remember you were never any of these things, that you couldn’t be these things, that you are that same empty space in which anything can be heard.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Rejected Readers And Other Myths

If you like to make things, whether those things are books, poems, movies, or quilts, you will eventually run up against someone who doesn’t like what you make. That person might decide to tell you they don’t like what you’ve made; they might even decide to tell you why they don’t like what you’ve made. The best response to someone who doesn’t like what you’ve made is to calmly and without any defensiveness whatsoever explain, “You don’t like it because it wasn’t made for you.”

This answer is the absolute truth, but it is easy to see why someone might take it personally. Writers have to contend with rejection all the time, but readers must contend with a form of rejection as well. Whereas a writer’s rejection comes in the literal form of a letter, a reader’s rejection can occur silently as they come to understand that the book they began reading is like a poorly chosen blind date. The writer, in writing this uninteresting book, has rejected the reader’s aesthetic.

But of course the writer hasn’t. The writer has merely directed the arrow of their story toward a target that lies outside the circumference of certain readers’ interest. We all shoot for the broadest target we can, but no target is so broad as to incorporate the entirety of the reading public. It may seem quite obvious that you, a writer, are not rejecting any reader, but it was worth considering. Some readers get very angry when they read books they don’t like. Some writers become very angry when they receive letters telling them an agent or editor did not like what they have written. Are the angry reader and the angry writer really so different?

In the end they are not. Rejection as we know it does not exist. It is a mirage of language we have come to believe. No one really ever rejects anyone, but sometimes people go where they don’t belong. It’s an honest mistake, and the honest answer is, “You don’t belong here.” Sometimes we learn this ourselves and sometimes people tell us, but in the end, the result is the same. We must go and find where we do belong. That is what you are looking for. You are not looking for any agent, for any publisher, you are looking for those agencies and publishing houses where your work belongs. When you find these places, it will not be a question of acceptance and rejection because you will soon see that in many ways you have always been where people are now inviting you to stay.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Welcome Home

One day when I was a waiter a quiet cook with whom I’d worked for years but with whom I’d rarely spoken looked up from his station and said, “Hello, Mr. Wally!” (That was my nickname.) “You are always smiling, aren’t you, Mr. Wally? You are always happy.”

This pleased me more than I could share with him. There were days when my world seemed like a ruin of failure and misguided efforts, and I would drive myself to that job feeling trapped in a cage of my own construction. I would arrive at work, ready to hate the place and everyone in it.

I was glad then that this cook saw me as always smiling and always happy. It was the least I could do. I could not tell this man that simply by smiling back he had saved me from myself. I could not tell this man that his mere presence required that I leave my hole to greet him. You climb out of the hole thinking you’ll dive right back in after hello, but then there’s someone else you know, and now someone’s telling a story, and now you don’t feel like going back in the hole, it’s so dark and lonely and bitter down there.

Plus, there was something so easy about seeing the best in other people. I might have felt the darkness closing in on my own life, but everyone else’s light seemed to burn so bright and clear. Why, they’d only let some fear and confusion obscure that light. If I looked past the fear, if I trained my gaze through the shadow and onto their light, it was as if we could meet there, the two of us, someplace happy we’d both forgotten.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Bad Idea

Sometimes I think that the worst thing you can possibly have is an idea. Sometimes, having an idea is like having the flu. The idea will drain you of energy and give you the sweats and send you to your pillow. Strange, isn’t it, that this wonderful idea seemed to give you such a shot of energy when you first got it? You lie in your bed feeling betrayed, trying to remember the enthusiasm you once had for this idea’s potential. Now the enthusiasm is gone and all there is left is an impossible burden, trying to bring back to life something which appears never to have been alive at all.

When I was a freshman in college, an earnest and scholarly young man turned to me and said, “Bill, you seem intelligent. You seem like someone who likes ideas.” I knew he meant it as a compliment, but at eighteen I already suspected that I did not want to be someone who liked ideas. I wanted to love life, not ideas, but the difference was beyond my powers of expression.

I had seen the difference. I had seen someone close to me tell me about his great ideas. The ideas always seemed perfectly plausible. The ideas were always well thought out. The ideas could have worked. And the ideas never did. After the ideas didn’t work, there was the search for answers. The answer, from my view, was always the same: the enthusiasm that had launched the idea dissolved long before the idea could bear fruit. Was this the fault of the person or the idea?

Neither, I would say. This same person had a habit of getting married and divorced and married and divorced. Each marriage was yet another idea for which his enthusiasm dissolved. Until one day the enthusiasm did not, and twenty plus years later he is still married.

There are as many ideas in the world as there are potential lovers. Ideas come to us as ceaselessly as strangers pass us on a busy street. To see the potential in an idea the same as we might see the potential in a stranger is perhaps generous but ultimately unworthy of our pursuit. Just because an idea could work, doesn’t mean it will work for us. No idea can spark your enthusiasm. It is impossible. You are enthusiasm. An idea either matches your enthusiasm and allows its unique expression, or requires your enthusiasm to twist around it, bending your enthusiasm beyond recognition until all you’ve got is an idea—and no you.

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

500 Love Letters

What would you do if you had to prove that you loved someone? What would you do if in order to be with the man or the woman you loved you had to first prove to a skeptical third party that your love was genuine and not a convenient ruse?

This was precisely the situation in which chef/author Tiberio Simone found himself when he sought to marry his wife-to-be and gain citizenship in the United States. As Tiberio explained to me in our upcoming interview, he had led a rough and dangerous life to this point. He had been homeless, a male prostitute, and falsely accused of murder. Not exactly an attractive candidate for citizenship, and precisely the sort of person who might fake a marriage to get out of trouble. So what do you do? How do you prove that you love someone?

Tiberio’s proof was love letters. Though he had little formal education, during their courtship he had composed 500 love letters to his fiancé, which he presented during his hearing. The immigration officials were convinced, and he was granted his citizenship.

Many years later, Tiberio would sit down to write his first book. He was much intimidated by the process. “I am smart,” he told me. “I know I am smart. Smart people like other smart people and I like smart people.” But was he writer smart? He did not have a high school degree, he reminded me, and he had never written.

“But you had,” I said. “You wrote 500 love letters.” His face brightened with understanding. They may not have been ready for publication, but those letters directed him toward the source of all the best writing the world has ever read. All writing at its best is a love letter. Though often disguised as a poem or a story or even a blog, they are love letters all the same, proof enough of what we believe our lives are made.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Willing Listener

I always end my interviews by asking the writers with whom I’m speaking what advice they would give to a less experienced writer. While this is by far the most generic of all the questions I ask, and is in fact the one question that has remained essentially unchanged since Author’s very first interview, I still find the answers as compelling as ever.

For although the writers appear to be entering teacher mode, appear to be speaking from a pinnacle – however high – of wisdom and experience, this moment is often the most intimate and personal of the entire interview. With few exceptions, the writers are talking to themselves. The advice they give are the lessons they needed to learn to find themselves in the chair across from me. The advice they give are often lessons they themselves must continue to learn, and in that moment they become both parent and child, speaking backwards and with love to that part of themselves perhaps still not convinced that he or she has arrived at a destination that had once seemed unreachable.

I wish everyone in the world could be given a chance to be interviewed in this way. I wish this for the same reason that I know everyone has an interesting story to tell. Whether you grew up on the streets of Bombay or the suburbs of Philadelphia, you have an interesting story to tell. Not everyone, however, is ready to tell that story. Not everyone is convinced yet that their story is different enough, or exciting enough, or dramatic enough, or heartbreaking enough, or triumphant enough to bother sharing with another person.

Which is why my success as an interviewer will always depend on my willingness to listen without judgment. Everyone has their fears, even bestselling writers, and the open space offered by the attentive listener is the friendliest platform from which to speak. Sometimes it takes only one wiling listener for a voice to feel heard. Sometimes, as on the page, the one listening and speaking are one in the same.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Kindest Mirror

When you are the Editor-in-Chief of an online magazine, and when your face is on the front cover of that magazine, and your voice and music begins and ends the magazine’s interviews, and you write a column every day for this magazine, it can often feel as if you already have a website. In fact, I do not, and so I have recently set about the business of making one.

I love to help people, I love to encourage people, I love to write things that people read and are helped and encouraged by, but when it comes to ringing my own bell, I get a little squeamish. And yet that is exactly how I began, listing all the “bestselling and award-winning authors” I’d interviewed, dropping as many names as I could, referring to myself in the third person, and generally trying to make it sound as though the entire publishing industry depended on my voice and words to continue lurching forward. I hated it. It was precisely the sort of website from which I would have extracted whatever information I needed and then immediately vacated before I was sold a used car. My wife rolled her eyes when I told her my plight and said, “Just make it like one of your blogs.”

Which is to say, even my own website shouldn’t be about me. It was like the game my wife, my youngest son and I played last night. We took turns trying to make each other laugh. I took a minimalist approach. I got the idea I could make them laugh without saying or doing anything. It worked. I would just look at them until they laughed. “How did you do that?” my wife asked.

At first, I wasn’t sure. But I understood this morning. I didn’t make them laugh. In fact, the moment I tried to make them laugh I couldn’t. Rather, I let them make me laugh. I looked at them until I found them funny. Once I found them funny, they laughed. They weren’t laughing at me. They were laughing at themselves.

Wouldn’t that be the perfect website? A website where the reader arrives to learn about you and leaves knowing themselves a little better. Now that’s a website I’d visit more than once. The kindest mirror in the world—one that reminds you of something close you’ve forgotten and something distant you can reach.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Wasteland

Once, when I was about eight years into a seventeen-year stint at a job I disliked, I turned to a coworker and asked, “Does any of this mean anything at all?”

“No,” he said. “But the sparkling lights and pretty pictures keep you distracted.”

Life had become a wasteland. I had followed a path that had led me to a place where nothing grew, where nothing I made came to anything. Even my wife and children, whom I adored, had become burdens of sorts, their basic needs binding me to a life I realized was the very nightmare about which I had long dreamed.

The mind plays tricks in the desert. Desperate for water and relief, it sees shaded pools where there are only rocks and more dust. Such a guide cannot be trusted to lead you out of the wasteland. The mind makes enemies of other artists, turning them into greedy farmers who possess all the fertile land. In the mind’s desperation for answers, it narrows the world to a place of empty survival, where the fittest are allowed to stand a few more meaningless moments before being snuffed out just the same as the weak.

I would have been well advised to look more closely at those sparkling lights and pretty pictures. I would have been well advised to wonder where they had grown. The lights and pictures were not trying to distract me at all, but to awaken me from that nightmare. Within everything beautiful ever made lies a truth that belongs to the viewer alone. The artist’s job is not to guess at that truth but to allow it through the inherent generosity of beauty, through that exquisite moment where he surrenders his ego in the service of what his soul requires.

Fortunately, the soul is as patient as eternity itself. The soul does not measure time in years spent in dull jobs or lousy relationships. The soul doesn’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve done. The soul is a river forever flowing, and if you listen carefully, even in the driest and darkest of wastelands, you can always hear it. When you reach its banks, surrender to the current. You don’t get to know where you’re going, but you know you’ll like it when you get there.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Thoughts Of Love

This month’s issue features two authors discussing the challenges of forgetting history while writing about history. That is, the author knows what’s coming, but the characters don’t. In Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks’s narrator cannot tell the story of a seventeenth century Native American attending Harvard University as a kind of sad prelude of the violence and conflict to come.

Similarly, the tension driving Erik Larson’s recounting of life in 1933 Berlin (In the Garden of the Beasts) derives entirely from the story’s two central characters, the U. S. ambassador and his daughter, not knowing that the men beside them in the opera and telling jokes at dinner parties, even the giant swastikas hanging outside public buildings, would soon be synonymous with evil.

Evil, however, is almost always a label for what has happened, not what is happening. We can’t undo what we have done, and if what has been done hurts another, the temptation is to condemn the perpetrator to monstrousness, to strip him of free choice, to see his violence and crimes not as the expression of a choice, but of simply what he is, as if he had no power to choose otherwise, the same as a cat cannot choose to bark.

Yet in every single moment of my life I feel the burden and liberty of choice. There is nothing in the world that can be done to me that could deprive me of the power of choice. You could put me in a prison cell, chop off my arms and legs, gouge out my eyes, and still I could choose, if only what I am thinking. It is quite literally who I am. I am not my body. My body is a tool to express my choices, not that which makes those choices.

We call Nazis evil in part to make ourselves feel safer. Those men did those things because they were evil, as if they had been born deprived of the power to choose otherwise. They are different than us. They are monsters. And yet the moment I condemn another to monstrousness, even Adolf Hitler himself, I allow that it is somehow possible to lose the power of choice. If it is true of Adolf Hitler, then it could be true for me. The moment I believe in monsters is the moment I believe it is somehow possible to be prevented from thinking a thought of love.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Only Hero

I have just finished the first draft of a kind of memoirette, the first book-length work of this kind I have ever written. For years I avoided my own life as source material for my writing. If my fiction reflected my own life, which I knew it would, so be it, but I would not travel back where I had already been.

That was before I began writing this blog and was driven by the need for material to dip into my own experiences. I soon learned that biographical stories could be as compelling as fiction as long as I remembered this one very important rule: I am not the hero or the victim.

It is very tempting to represent myself as one or both. I’m a nice fellow, after all. I have, as best I could, cheered others’ successes where I have failed, and I have from time to time made the right choice when the wrong one was readily available. What’s more, ex-girlfriends have in fact cheated on me, friends have lied to me, and stepmothers have force-fed me mashed potatoes. I’m writing a story, after all, and doesn’t every story need someone to root for? Doesn’t everyone want to root for the man who selflessly chooses right over wrong and whose suffering is always at the thoughtless hands of others? With some well-meaning editing, I could be that man!

Except I don’t want to be that man. The memoir always triumphs the instant its author’s suffering disappears. Without suffering the hero and the victim do not exist. Without suffering, there is nothing for the hero to fight against; without suffering, the victim has not been wronged. And so I must focus the lens of my memory and extract a different tale from all the stories of woe and righteousness I have told myself, one in which I am avoiding or lamenting a pain to which I am actually immune. It is always the story of a man frightened of shadows, unaware of his own strength, and heroic only in the moment he understands he had never been a victim of anything other than his own stories.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter