Remnants of Past Identification

We carry our past lives with us, through memories, through music, through scars and food and photographs and the objects we can’t quite part with for some inexplicable reason. Some of us even carry our past lives in our wallets.

Our clunky black wallets with too much change and too many balled-up receipts.

Go ahead and open mine up. Never mind the three library cards, the credit cards, the expired gift card to Subway. If you look in the tight plastic-sheathed picture pocket—right there behind my driver’s license—you’ll find a personal identification card, standing tall and proud and vertically aligned.

Expiration Date:  2012 : the year I graduated from high school : recovered from my second ACL knee surgery : kissed my love for the first time : packed up my books and clothes to start down the college road : the year the world was supposed to end but didn’t.

Address: The pale yellow house born in 1925 which I lived in for 19 years of my life. We sold it a year after the card expired and I haven’t driven past it since. It’s no longer mine. This home.

Weight: The weight of a teenager, which I am no more.

Background: Michigan in large, blue, block letters. The Mackinac Bridge (Mighty Mac) streaking across the top. A state engrained in my bones and will be wherever in the world I go.

Signature: Do I still carve my r’s like that? I’ve become lazier these days, no longer taking the care to write Finch. Instead a scrawled, scrunched something or rather like Fil is sufficient enough.

Photograph: First there is the hair, which I have cut and shaved and grown and regrown and shaped and trimmed and now have 1/4 of what appears on this ID. Then, there are the cheeks with apples beneath the surface, the tanned skin of summer, the cheesy “when is this picture going to be taken” smile that only is worn at the Secretary of State. There are the clothes: the red sweater, the leopard scarf. I wore them together again yesterday and I felt as if revisiting an old friend.

The other day as I reached into my wallet for my license, this other self peered through the plastic at me. My boyfriend caught a glimpse of it and asked, “Why do you still carry that thing around?”

Because it’s me. Or it was me. Or it’s all somehow still inside me, swimming around in the fleshy, messy pool of living and forgetting. And I guess I’d rather not partake in the forgetting.


(This post was inspired by an assignment where we were told to bring in one object about which we have more than one feeling preferably (complicated, or conflicted); something that we have not been able to part with. Guess what I brought in?)

Songs to Inspire Creative Flow

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the motivational benefits of music. Christopher Bergland says in Psychology Today, “music and mood are inherently bound.” He says that “you can dial up a mood, mindset or perception on demand by choosing music that elicits a specific emotional response in you,”  whether it’s for athletic benefits, studying purposes, for road trip boredom busting, or to create a certain vibe to match your day. So, given this information, I created a “You Can Do Anything” playlist to help get me through the tests and trials of undergraduate second-semester senioritis.

I still do listen to many of those songs now as a first-year in graduate school, but as of late, here are the songs I return to again and again when I need to be hosed down head to toe with creative energy.

Watch, listen, repeat, and fall in deep, dark love:

The Main Title Theme to Westworld by Ramin Djawadi has become my soul song. I’ve listened to it about 200 times over the course of a week, yet I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the show! No spoiler alerts please!

Zoe Keating uses a looping system to whisper haunting sounds over her own sound, and to invent herself as a stunning one-woman symphony. I saw her perform at The Ark in Ann Arbor in 2014. Her power could stop a whole room’s breath at once.

Emancipator’s “Rattlesnakes” really deserves to be listened to with headphones to fully appreciate its complexities. Imagine dropping ping pong balls off steep cliffs one by one. One by one, they hit water and then rock. Now imagine you are one of the ping pong balls. This song will take you on that ping pong ball’s journey.

Just because these songs resonate with me doesn’t mean they will for you. I only give these as an example and a free treat for your ears. I listen to them often because they are phenomenal works of art, and I highly recommend them for music while writing, painting, or whatever artistic activity tickles your fancy. They’re also quite satisfying to simply sit, listen, and soak. Create your own at-home sonic spa. Listen around and craft your own playlist to suit your personal tastes and styles and motivational needs.

Support artists! Open your ears to beauty! Fuel your creativity!


Admit One

Let’s talk about movies.

Having just finished our 3-week screenwriting module with Julianna Baggott, my brain has properly become molded (or should I say ruined) to never watch a movie again without noting its structure, praising its “break into Act 2” scene, calculating its midpoint, and brooding over the slow and torturous ALL IS LOST/DARK SOUL OF THE NIGHT scenes in Act 3.

There are many celebrated and acclaimed ways to structure a film. A particular method, called the Three Act Structure, was the one we used in class to plot out familiar films, such as Hot Fuzz and On Golden Pond, as well as TV shows (Cheers, Friends From College, Ozark). Basically, there are formulas for successful storytelling and this is one of them. We as story consumers have been primed to expect certain kinds of actions to take place at certain points in the story’s arc. You can learn more about the beat-to-beat moments here:

While we learned this structure in a “screenwriting” class, a story is a story, no matter the medium. Structure isn’t a topic usually hit on in fiction/novel writing courses, and yet, it is so important to ensuring that 1) your readers are following the plot and 2) you are engaging their emotions and moving them to the edge of their seat – or in book talk, your readers are still turning the pages.

In another one of my classes, we’ve been talking about our “touchstone” books to reach for whenever we’re in need of creative nourishment. In honor of the screenwriting class, I’ve thought about my “touchstone” films.

Here is a list of movies I go back to again and again whenever I need inspiration or when I need to deeply appreciate the art of storytelling:

Cloud Atlas: I first read the book and fell in love with the sheer brilliance of Mitchell’s mind. The movie is definitely a different creature than the book. But I’m rather fond of instances where the book and the film are two distinct pieces of art. After all, a book is not a film and a film is not a book. I worship the cinematographer of the film, or whoever was in charge of chopping up the scenes. The scenes were cut and woven together with such deftness that I believe the film can express the theme of the story (interconnectedness, past lives, history repeating itself, textual posterity) better than the limited technologies the book’s chaptered structure could offer. While David Mitchell is the masterful architect behind the story (see my post about David Mitchell’s visit to Ann Arbor here), I am 100% Team Movie. The china shop dream sequence especially makes my heart stop. Even though I have seen the film close to 10 times, I know there will be many more viewings in my future. I’m especially interested in hearing the director and co. talk about the film via commentary.

Amelie: Amelie is the queen of quirk. The film is an incredibly rare blend of both joy and melancholy. There’s fun and whimsy to be had, but there’s also real, honest emotion which is explored throughout the film. Amelie is a girl who celebrates life’s small pleasures (which my love for the movie makes total sense if you know my undying obsession with the British magazine The Simple Things). She loves the sound of a spoon breaking a creme brûlée crust; she plunges her hand in a sack of grain at the vegetable stand; she loves skipping stones on the canal. These moments make her seem real. These moments make me say, “I wish I could meet her and take her to a park so we can watch the clouds and turn them into animated objects.” The other reason I love the movie is that the landscape is familiar, yet fictive. It is a place of saturated colors, of eccentric characters, of talking paintings, of nostalgic accordion music. The film does not try to represent the “real Paris”—it grabs you by the hand and takes you into a dreamworld of its own kind.

Tarsem’s The Fall: See my love for this movie in my December 2017 post for the Michigan Quarterly Review. Otherwise, I could gush on and on.

Moonrise Kingdom: I absolutely adore the whimsy, the awkwardness, the simultaneous rigidity to order and the freedom of narrative structure, and the OCD mindset that is so prevalent in Wes Anderson’s films. This film happens to be the one I return to again and again. Anderson’s camera work also reminds me to use my zoom button when I write. How do I zoom way out? How do I zoom way in on this situation? What is the detail I want to draw my readers eye to in this scene?

Tell me: which movies inspire you? 


On Time Management

People often ask me how I get so much done. How do I possibly go to school and work as an editor and do freelance writing gigs and volunteer and read for fun and exercise and do those frazzling adult errands that must get done and socialize with friends? I’ve even been asked how much sleep I get each night, and when I answer 8 hours, people always look shocked.

I’ve always been a fan of hustling (not the illegal variety – I’m talking about working hard). Many of my artist mentors are also wizards at the art of the hustle, and I find myself looking at them the same way that others look at me. I think, “How in the world does [insert my dream writer or professor] have kids and a good marriage and a full-time job and write and eat and stay fit and thrive as a social being and…?”

I’ve thought and thought about it, and the answer always seems very counterintuitive. It seems that to get “more done,” one needs to be “more busy.” Think about it. The most wasted of days are the ones where  you have long languorous periods of time in a day with “nothing” to do and suddenly the moon is up and the time is 9 pm and you think, “Wow, where did the day go?”

An important note: I am a person who feels satisfied by crossing off items on my to-do list. That mark of achievement gives me great pleasure. It is important to know what it is that gives you pleasure. What are your goals for the long term and how are you going to get there?

Time management really comes down to knowing yourself: knowing when you feel most energetic, knowing what makes you feel fulfilled, what you find rewarding, and when to say yes or no to something else. It’s about setting aside time for the things that are important to you, and sometimes may involve making sacrifices – choosing one thing you love to do over another at any given moment. It’s about creating a ritual for yourself so you can get into your “zone” faster. Time management is just like a sport or a musical instrument. You have to work that muscle memory, so that you can snap your fingers and get into your “working flow.” It’s the closest thing we can do to stopping time, freezing the world around us.

Paradoxically, learning how to manage your time takes time! It’s a practice. You have to want to do it. You have to be dedicated to learning how your individual body needs to manage time. Don’t look at your neighbor. This is a very internal practice.

I’ve created a few exercises to help people reach their full time management potential:

  • Make a list of a perfect day from sun-up to sun-down. Once you have done that, really analyze it. Do you have “tasks” on your list? Do you have social engagements? Exercise? Do you make time to read? Or sleep?
  • How do you stay organized? How do you keep track of what you do or if people are counting on you to do something? What materials do you use? On a scale of yes, this works for me – I could try something better – or no, this doesn’t work at all, how is your method working for you?
  • What kind of environment do you need to be in to get work done? When are you most productive? Describe the setting (room temperature, what you are wearing, desk/bed/couch, noise level, lighting, alone or with others, time of day, what’s the view)?
  • What do you do before and after you are most productive? These will be non-“work” related activities. Do you eat? Exercise? Talk on the phone? Listen to music? Nap? (Remember, this may not be every time you work, but can also be your ideal activities).
  • What makes you happy? That seems like a silly question. But really, list specific things/actions that you do that make you happy. For example, in my note above, I feel happy when I can go to sleep knowing I have accomplished the PRIORITY items on my to-do list. I also feel happy when I have started the day with yoga (which is why I do it everyday first thing when I wake up) and when I have sufficiently exercised. I feel happy when I have read even a chapter or two of a book (not assigned reading – just pure fun reading).

Have fun with answering these questions, and please do let me know how it goes! I’m curious to see if this helps structure or organize anyone’s daily routine. Once you have your answers, the next step is to begin adding them slowly into your life. If you need to buy a planner, do that and use it. If you need to set a timer every day for a 20 minute nap at 4 pm, do that and don’t press snooze. Ask friends and family if they will help keep you accountable for your actions. Ask them if you can check in with them daily or weekly to let them know you’ve completed a certain task.

I recently read a Paris Review interview with Toni Morrison and was surprised to see that she said something very similar to my list of questions. She wrote: “I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”

If Toni says it, it really must be true. Now go boil some tea and have a grand conversation with your most productive self. Interrogate it. Interview it. Squeeze all the citric vitamins that you can from it. And then go off and do great things!