Do What You Love: A Story in Parts

CONVERSATIONS ON ART- Do what you love

CONVERSATIONS ON ART- Do what you love

What is that one dream or goal that feels just out of reach? You know the one- perhaps you pull it out of its secret drawer kept lockbox shut to regard it from time-to-time. Maybe, it’s an open secret- something the people around you know you enjoy but don’t understand how fully you would endow yourself if able. Better yet, it could be that thing you are chasing with your full being that keeps you pursuing opportunities with the deft hand of someone who is hungry to fulfill their passion.

Perhaps we share this in common. Maybe you find yourself voraciously devouring articles from your twitter feed with interesting headlines, catching up on your blog reader or judiciously evaluating the stack of books next to your bed to consider which one will accompany you this week on your commute. I’m a firm believer that to be a writer is to be a reader. It makes sense, if you think about it. They go hand-in-hand with one another. To be a writer is to have readers.  Hopefully. Of course, artists exist who come into this connection posthumously.

My call to write came early with the help of a short story I penned about a talking pen named Percy. Later, it was affirmed through a trip to Honduras in high school where I felt called to be a missionary and the vocation to write only grew in intensity. Unlike other freshmen entering college, I didn’t have a crisis of major, but tenaciously set after pursuing my BA in journalism with a minor in creative writing. All the while, I kept burrowing away in dorm rooms, libraries, shady spots on campus with a book open and pages turning. Within me grew a strong desire for story-telling, both other peoples and over time, my own. I swapped one newsroom in which I acted as reporter and later features editor for an internship at the New York Times. I moved forward, settling into the uncertainty of the early 20’s.

The Devil wears Prada and a chance meeting
Something happens when you turn 30. Maybe for you, it happened at 33. I recall experiencing nothing short of a complete re-direction and crisis. External processor that I am, I sat listening to capstone presentations being given by graduate students and found myself jotting down on a scrap of paper in my lap, “I don’t want to be a missionary.” Couple that with a viewing of “The Devil Wears Prada” where a journalist-bound girl deeply ensconced in the fashion world comes to see how far she has strayed. from her original path. In the pivotal scene of the movie, we see the heroine in a limo in Paris during fashion week. We watch her open the limo door and step out of the car, thus leaving behind a coveted job and lifestyle. I found myself awash in emotion. She course-corrected in this fictional tale, could I?

As we were leaving the theater, I ruminated on that sense of leaving my first love, writing, behind as an ancillary activity relegated to “what was left” after work and all of the other busyness filling my days had been done. I did what I do everyday and what I do more often when feeling overwhelmed, I prayed. And this time, that little prayer found its response in a very unexpected way.

There, in the lobby of the Century Movie Theater Novato, in the line waiting for an adjacent movie stood a woman I knew from her back cover head shot. Resplendent in funky glass frames and blonde dreadlocks, Anne Lamott stood several paces away. I don’t have super-fan moments often, but the congruity of seeing someone whose writing has moved, inspired, encouraged and given my own writing wings definitely made its mark. I walked over and let her know that her work is meaningful to me and thanked her for writing. There may have been other gibberish that exited my mouth as well but they remain in the shadows of my mind if they did exist. I took it as a sign. Thus commenced a weekend in which I was thrust, soul-searching, taking the Jacob story of wrestling with God seriously and contemplating “what next?”

In an office of poetry book-lined walls that previous Spring
“Have you thought about an MFA program?”

My former teacher and the late poet Jack Myers asked the question aloud with silence on either end acting as brackets.

“Do you have any work with you?”

I pulled out the slim Moleskine journal from my bag and with it a poem I had been revising. The journal passed from my hands to his. More silence. My thoughts filled the brackets with reading the titles and names of the books in his shelves.

“I think an MFA program would be good for you.”

Disbelief and approval
And just like that, after a weekend of soul-searching and a recommendation earlier that Spring from my former poetry teacher, I began the process of reviewing programs, researching faculty, reading up on their work to see who might be a good fit for my work and from whom I would like to learn. Upon telling my parents that I was pursuing graduate school AGAIN, my mom shook her head in a way that both equated to disbelief and the kind of approval that comes from deep love. My dad responded simply, “While some kids go get their MBA, my daughter wants to get her MFA in Poetry.” Dad-speak for his own brand of disbelief and approval.

Do what you love; love what you do
It’s no surprise to me that my path has been circuitous or untraditional. I find when you write, the act itself is the destination. Far be it from me to say I have arrived. But difficult circumstances have served to remind that everyday is precious. Because of that, the importance of doing what you love is magnified. I get to manage several blogs and writers, which invigorates my joy of being an editor. I have finally adopted a daily writing regimen and found a method that is working for me with a mix of poetry, prose, a sprinkling of recipe development and a hint of reading thrown in for good measure. If doing what you love seems out of reach, consider the alternatives. It’s never too late to course-correct.

Where Neil Gaiman will blow your mind
Which is to say, what is your “mountain” and are you working your way toward it or away from it? Prepare for a kick-in-the-pants or inspiration with this Neil Gaiman commencement address. Think of it as an after-dinner mint for when your breath (living) needs freshening up. He puts it this way, “if you have an idea of what you were put here to do, then just go do it.” I like that he described his end goal as a mountain to which he evaluated all opportunities and whether they took him closer to the mountain or farther from it. If only one exhortation can be remembered from his speech, it is to “Make Good Art.”

May it lift your spirits as it did mine.

Neil Gaiman Commencement Address



  1. Every part of this post was beautiful, Annelies. As I am embarking on an MA program that I hope will lead me closer to doing what I love, it is comforting to read about the parts of others processes. And that commencement address? Yes, my spirits are very much lifted. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Danielle, I’m so glad to hear you’re starting an MA! Is this the one in Paris perchance? Thanks for your kind words. I agree that sometimes hearing other peoples’ processes can help give those little pushes we sometimes need to affirm that that leap we are about to take is right. Coupled with that intrinsic knowledge deep down in our guts, it can keep us moving forward. As soon as I heard that commencement address, I knew I wanted to share it. I have it bookmarked for when I need to be reminded of the truths Gaiman speaks aloud so eloquently. Make good art. Deconstructing this statement alone could be a blog post in and of itself.

  2. Thank you for this post. Doing what you love is vital and that’s something many of us forget en route.
    Right now, I feel like I’m still searching for something that I can love doing for any period of time. It’s certainly not what I’m doing now but I don’t really know where to go from here.
    It’s good to red about someone else having these realizations.

    1. Rachel- I have a hunch this is more common than people let on. How absolutely fantastic (and frustrating) to be in a place where your passions are not being realized. The fantastic part of this is the realization- the frustrating part of this might be the execution of determining the “what else” or “what next.” Perhaps an idea to figuring out what it is that you were made to do involves writing down a list of what brings you joy and then pursuing ways to go deeper into developing those skills or activities? I find evening classes can be great at turning on the lightbulb or letting it fizzle. Go get ’em!

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