Poets & Writers

Say Yes to Yourself

IT WAS 5:30 in the morning when I began writing this. Early in my writing career I heard the Puerto Rican writer Judith Ortiz Cofer answer a standard interview question, and it changed the way I have operated for the rest of my writing life. The question was “How do you find the time to write?” and she said she didn’t find the time. She made it. Actually she said, “I have to steal time from myself.” Cofer said she woke up early to write, losing sleep on account of it. She said what I have often heard writers say. (Usually women writers, I have to note. I don’t as frequently hear a male writer say this.) She said that the world would just as soon give her other things to do with her time. No one was going to give her time to write. She had to take it for herself. Sometimes she had to take it from herself.

There are several quotes that I’ve collected over the years and copied on my computer that speak directly to this idea. I am not going to find them right now while I’m writing this, because if I take the time to open my Google Docs folder to locate the quotes, I run the risk of reading a news story that will compel me to pick up the phone and call my senator (a process that usually takes about twenty minutes of dialing, hanging up when no one answers, and dialing again for every thirty-second “Hello, my name is Camille Dungy, I am a voting constituent from zip code X, and I am calling because of Y-issue” conversation I have with a senator’s aide). Then I might fire off a couple of e-mails regarding the headline that caught my eye. And once I log on to e-mail to send those letters, I’d probably have to do something connected with work because someone would have sent me one of those e-mails with an exclamation point. And even if I managed to make it past the headlines and my e-mail, I might remember that I needed to buy those plane tickets, and then I’d end up on my travel search engine of choice, and while I was online I might find myself also buying a new pair of shoes because I am the reason target marketing exists. Or, heaven forbid, I’d land myself on Facebook or Instagram.

Sometimes, when I notice I’ve been on Facebook or Instagram too long, I think of that movie —this, by the way, is what I do when I am drafting something and I don’t know some detail but I don’t want to go online to check the answer because going online to check would put me at risk of all the things I wrote about in the previous paragraph. Instead of going online, I type or put my best guess in bold to remind myself to go back and check my facts—so I am reminded of that movie whose title I will now type in bold, I think it was called . In it one of the characters started out addicted to chocolate, like she loved chocolates so much she couldn’t stop eating them if she got a box and wound up addicted to wine thanks to the man she falls in love with (I think, “I’ll look that up later”), and at the end of the movie someone explains to her that some people can be around things like chocolate and wine and not consume it in excess, but she had an addictive personality and couldn’t, and all I’m trying to say to you now is that I’ve learned from my relationship with Facebook and Instagram that I have a difficult time stepping away from social media once I’m on it.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Poets & Writers

Poets & Writers3 min read
A Century of Yale Younger Poets
This year marks the centennial of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, the oldest annual literary award in the United States. The prize, which offers publication of a debut collection by Yale University Press, has heralded the arrival of luminaries such
Poets & Writers4 min readSociety
Truth to Power
A BOOK is a timeless medium that can’t be hacked, surveilled, or used to co-opt movements—as political and insurgent now as it was when the printing press was invented. But too often the stories we’re allowed to tell are dictated by an exclusionary c
Poets & Writers3 min read
The Time Is Now
“I received a sign in my dream that you would vanish from me,” Naja Marie Aidt writes in When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back (Coffee House Press, 2019). “But images and signs cannot be interpreted before they’re played out in concrete ev