August 11, 2022
By Ellen Hagan, faculty, writing for children and young adults
As artists, we are building and creating, crafting and sharing and going quiet and community-ing and stretching and growing, laughing and making mistakes and trying again the next day. We are gathering and editing, shaping and changing. We are crying in frustration or aching with fear. We are celebrating and honoring, loving and challenging. We are taking it all in—always. At least, that is how it feels to me. Never ending. A continuum of emotion. Feeling all the time. And for me, writing is where all that energy lands and so I try and write as much as possible. And share with my people. And through it all, I am working on building a kind of balance and figuring out how my art exists. How does your art exist?
It is just the beginning of August. My most recent young adult novel just arrived in the world a couple of weeks ago. What is normally the season for taking a break, has been ramped up for me with readings, events, and interviews. It has felt invigorating and exciting. Sure, maybe a little exhaustion is thrown in there, but every morning I wake up energized and ready for what is next. This life, I keep thinking, is relentless and that stamina that I worked on for the last twenty years post-graduate school is the same stamina that is carrying me through publication. What drives me? Why do I write and create? How bad do I want it? Who do I want to share this work with? How do I get it out and into the world? What kind of community do I get the chance to create? How many new people do I get the chance to meet? These are the questions guiding me now. What does it mean to wake up ready for the day ahead? This is the forever kind of work.
For the last few years, I have tried to guide my life by this saying: expansive, not restrictive. What does it mean when I say yes to things that scare me? What does it look like for me to take a risk and then another one? How about failure as an artist? That lives close beside me too, and rejection is always an email away! At 43 years old, I am still engaging in my own magical thinking. My grandmother is 103 and so often I do the math. If I have 60 more years to live on this planet, what will I do with all of that time? What kind of work will I create? Who will I craft it with? And so I stay making lists. Where are the books I need to write and read, the stories I need to tell, the places I would like to travel, the food I would like to eat, the people I would like to spend all my time with?
What does it look like to live my biggest life—the one I have always wanted? And so I make more lists and goals and think about what I want my life to look like in five years and then ten years and then even more. Try and let go of vanity a bit and even more my ego, which has been fed for so long. I try not to spend so much time in front of the mirror or googling myself or giving all of that so much attention. That is not where I want to spend my good love. Look at my calendars all the time. Am I spending enough time with my partner and with my kids? What about my friends—the ones who uplift me and share their best news with me. Am I seeing them, talking to them, hearing all that beautiful news? Are we celebrating each other enough? And what about art? What are the books that I want to read and the art I want to see and the shows I want to experience? All of this feeds the work I create and the stories I tell. This is all a muscle I want to work out. If I let it go, I will get soft and lose all that muscle mass. I want to not only be strong in the world, but nimble too and flexible.
I say these things to my students and my own children all the time. What kind of life do you want to live? How can you build your most fulfilling and most joyful existence? It takes work. It takes focus. I don’t want to spend my afternoon on social media. I want to call my friend and walk along the Hudson River from Taszo coffee shop with a large iced latte all the way to the Little Red Lighthouse and walk up the bike path on 181st Street. Want to see the wide and expansive sprawl of the George Washington Bus Terminal. I want to dance as often as possible. I want to be writing poetry while watching people walk by. Want to be heading to an open mic event and sharing the work that scares me. I want to be celebrating other artists and cheering them on. I want to live wildly and big, but sometimes quiet too. Want to feed myself as an artist—as much as possible.
So this August, find ways to shine. Find your people or find a quiet space to fill your imagination. Keep thinking about your work and what it takes to exist in this world. What does expansion mean to you? Follow it. Own it. Be your own kind of relentless. Looking so forward to gathering and connecting at the end of this season. Here is to the summer you have been dreaming of.
Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her books include Don’t Call Me a Hurricane, Blooming Fiascoes, Hemisphere, Crowned, Watch Us Rise (co-written with Renée Watson) and Reckless, Glorious, Girl. Find her @ellenhagan on Twitter and Instagram and at www.ellenhagan.com for prompts and updates.