Hello everyone! We are coming up on Sucker Free Day and I am thrilled to have Sucker Literary and Ann Karasinki here today. Let’s learn a little bit about Ann before we get started.
Ann S. Karasinski’s work has appeared in newspapers, journals, essay collections, and on NPR. She has an MA in Psychology from the University of Michigan and a t-shirt from the Iowa Writers’ Summer Workshop. You can read one of her essays at http://thisibelieve.org/essay/20253/.
(Or what robots, running and Tiger Woods have in common)
In a small frame on my desk, I have a Farley Katz cartoon that I cut out from the New Yorker. There are three robots sitting at typewriters, with two lab-coated scientists standing behind. One scientist, holding a clipboard, says: “The robots have become self-aware and self-loathing. Now all they do is write novels.”
I never meant to be a writer. At least, I never trained to be a writer. My dad, a journalist and frustrated short-story writer, did everything in his power to convince me both of the folly of writing and the lack of talent that I inherited (my high school papers were scrawled bloody with his red pen). My freshman English teacher continued the assault and affirmed my dad’s assessment when he recommended basic English instead of college prep the following year. In their estimation, I didn’t have what it took to be a writer.
As a result, whatever intrinsic writing desire I had slipped deep underground, and in college, I studied psychology. But after completing nearly half a career as a psychologist, the desire to write reemerged (quite spontaneously and surprisingly) after I published an essay for This I Believe.
I had successfully done what all writers strive to do: I listened to an inner voice, documented what it said and shared it with an audience. And that’s all it took to ignore the criticism of the past and resurrect my buried writer, to believe that I had a story worth telling.
But in time, I began to think of my initial success as a happy accident. It wasn’t like winning the lottery but more like sinking a hole in one—and then expecting every subsequent shot to be as good. Every time I sat down to write, I thought I should produce something wonderful and be just as successful. But the size of my rejection folders proved otherwise.
When you are a writer, particularly a self-taught writer (as all writers ultimately are) you spend a lot of time in your own head, which means you bump into all kinds of scary stuff. Fear of failure, doubt, old residual issues. A lot of writing stems from this pain, from the self-loathing; the inner voice, whispering at first, gathers steam until it’s shouting: What, are you crazy? You can’t write!
And yet, I continue. Indeed, writing frequently feels like an affliction, something that requires curing, and I’m reminded of what E. B. White wrote about it in his letters: “It’s something I should have gotten over by now.”
Today, I imagine my three robot friends shutting off the self-loathing and relying on their naturally dispassionate wiring, their “robot” brains. Words, sentences, and stories are free to grow organically without censorship. That top-down voice shouting out insults is subdued with bottom-up production, with the painful pleasure of simply writing. The place, I believe, where writers discover success—whatever that looks like.
When I’m not writing, I’m running. I’m not kidding. I trade in one grueling activity for another. Sometimes, each step is difficult, each breath labored. But other times, I feel as though I could run forever, when everything is clicking, including my robot brain, and every stride is organic, rooted in pure joy. Like writing, running is an affliction, something I have to do. But in truth, many a writing problem has been resolved on the running trail.
So this brings me to Tiger. I believe that if anyone has a “robot” brain on the golf course, it’s Tiger Woods. His drives frequently land someplace other than the fairway; bunkers lure him in; and the rough knows him intimately. And yet despite the errant shots, Tiger can almost consistently keep his head in the game (even after a round of 79!) and get back on track. He is able to shut off the censorship and put together enough good shots to be successful, over and over again. How can I not love this? How can this not inspire me?
I’m reminded of my psychological training and think about “framing”, a psychological tool used to construct a mental border around a problem or situation in order to view it differently. It is a way to make the mind more flexible, to include different points of view so that the old, unhealthy patterns of thinking can be left behind. It’s a way to eliminate censorship, which brings me back to the framed Katz cartoon. For me, three self-loathing novelist robots keeps this whole writing thing in perspective. To be sure, I still have my own self-loathing moments, but then I go run, or watch Tiger play golf, and I sit down and simply write, remembering my robot brain. And sometimes, I’m able to string together enough words to be successful, like writing a good story and placing it in a great YA collection.
When Alex’s bandmates invite a girl to sing lead, a battle of the sexes becomes a battle over something unexpected. . . A girl tells her friend about hooking up with longtime crush Fred, but his kisses are not what makes that night in his car memorable. . . A therapy session with Doug might just make Jason go insane again. . . Wallflower Aubrey hooks up with Gordon after the cast party, which would be fine if he weren’t the most forbidden fruit of them all…Savannah certainly doesn’t sound like a convict’s name, so maybe hanging out with her isn’t all that dangerous. Miki is committed to getting over Dex, yet she can’t get him off her answering machine—or her doorstep. In between puffs of cigarettes and attempts to smear lipstick on her face, Allie’s grandmother dishes out advice that maybe Allie should take. . . And finally, what’s a girl to do with Satan as both her boss and father? Nine short stories pose the questions we obsess over whether we’re growing up or all grown up: Who should I love? Am I doing the right thing? Is there ever an end to heartbreak? In its second volume, SUCKER continues to showcase the very best emerging talent in young adult literature and give (some of) the answers to Life’s Big Questions along the way.
Sucker Free Day – July 20th and 21st
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