I was in Spain for the nine days before Christmas, and occasionally thought: It might be nice to post a Letter from Andalucia. Instead, I lazed around in the sun and enjoyed hearty Spanish food and the company of little dogs running around freely on the streets. We visited the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Sevilla, and watched the sun set over the famous gorge of Ronda. In the last two years I have done a fair bit of travelling, but this is the first time I haven’t had to rush somewhere every two days and pack a week’s worth of exploration into three days. The days were slow and languid, and the Spanish siesta makes it easier to breathe and let go. With a semester to go till the end of my undergraduate years — which have flown by — I have been thinking about the future. In coming to Europe for university I persuaded myself that these would be the formative years of the person I become, and in this I think I have been proven mostly right, for better or for worse; any other decision would have seen me become a much more different person. Maybe it is as Karley Sciortino’s mother says:
“If you’re happy in the present, the past seems perfectly designed—both the good and the bad—because you know if just one thing was different, you wouldn’t be where you are. But if you’re unhappy in the present, you can’t help but look back and try to pinpoint all the bad decisions you made, all the things you could have done better.”
Maybe I am able to live (fairly well) with the choices I have made because I can accept the person that I am, or — a horrid thought — because I have not really seen that person. Thinking about advice from one writer’s parent leads to advice from another. My favourite fashion blogger Garance Doré interviewed writer and actress Rashida Jones, and I have been turning a piece of advice from her father over and over in my mind for a few months:
“What is the best advice they have given you?
I would say it’s not particularly career advice but life advice. My mom was all about following your heart and instinct. As I have gotten older, I have connected more with my instinct, which is good. And my dad always said to make decisions based on love, not fear. It’s so good. Why am I making this decision? Is it because I’m afraid I’m not going to get a job again? Well that’s fear. Or I love this thing so much I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it. That’s still a huge thing that guides me in my life.”
In short: Do it out of love, not fear. Coming to London and watching all these smart young people around me who know exactly what they want and have careers waiting, that put me in a huge state of panic. My peers have always been more pragmatic and realistic than I am, and most of them would have taken some of the more sensible decisions in life that I turned down. It’s never been more obvious, now that the dog days are over and the question of money looms ahead in the hazy future. At some point I was standing in the middle of London, a couple miles from The City, and thinking: Maybe it’s time to become a banker, or an accountant, or join a consultancy. (No, I had no idea what a consultancy was, either.) Later that day I came home and read the Rashida Jones interview, and it hit hard. I’ve tried to ask myself this question every day now: I am doing this out of love, or fear?
The question keeps coming back in different guises. Once in a while I will think of Marina Keegan, the only stranger whose death has really stayed with me, and I will try and find something she wrote that I haven’t yet read. Not longer ago I found this article written one year after her death, on how her parents were coping. Anything Keegan wrote always changes me — I read everything she wrote carefully and slowly, knowing that there would be no more to come — but these words, recounted by her father, made me smile:
One of the last times he saw his daughter, Keegan told her how proud he was of her. “She said, ‘I am going to live for love — the rest will take care of itself.’ That was her philosophy.”
“I am going to live for love — the rest will take care of itself.” Isn’t that amazing? Yet this is a story with the ending we already know: She barely lived, and then something in the universe clicked, the way it always does when all senseless things that shouldn’t, happen anyway, and the living came to an end. For me loving Marina Keegan always involves some vanity, because she was a young woman my age who did so much and had so much more ahead. I always wonder how many young women would have benefitted from reading Marina Keegan, the way we read Joan Didion and Nora Ephron, if that night had passed peacefully and she had gone on to her position at NYT. Then I look at Tavi Gevinson, who accomplished more at 16 than any of us will in a lifetime, and I think: To each her own, in her own time.
Take for example: John Hyduk. I discovered his work around the time of Marina Keegan’s death, through his essay for Esquire, The Loading Dock Manifesto. John Hyduk is a writer, more than many people who write for a living ever will be, but his source of income is blue collar work. I spent one night reading all over Hyduk’s work that was available online — much of it appeared in print before digital publishing became profitable. His pieces are short and to the point, and his sentences uncomplicated. Hyduk’s writing style reminds me of short story writers like Alice Munro and George Saunders, and for me he is the epitome of a writer gone undiscovered. John Hyduk is sixty one this year, and he has kept writing all his life. Mostly for Cleveland and Ohio magazines, with the Esquire piece being the highlight, but he writes most strongly when writing about his hometown and home state. When I think about Keegan I think about Hyduk. For me the two are two sides of the same coin, the two best possible outcomes of a writer’s life, rich but short, and a writer’s life, long but sparse.
All that to say: I’m trying my best to live for love, in the big decisions and the little ones. To write like Hyduk and live like Keegan, to watch like Didion and laugh like Ephron. When I was six I read Chuck Jones’ autobiography, a huge, funny book with many family anecdotes and behind-the-scenes work of his animations and I thought, I want to be Chuck Jones. I never stopped feeling that for writers, artists, film makers and other creative individuals who didn’t fall quite into any one category — but nothing ever quite matches up to the first time I closed that big blue and orange book and realised that people get to make the things that they love. That it is possible to do what you do because of love.