A recap of the week at Atticus Review, along with some extras.
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Dear Friend,

This week's newsletter intro comes from Michelle Ross, Fiction Editor at Atticus Review.

Last year, I read this essay that I’ve since thought about so many times that I was surprised to find just now when I searched for it that the article was published in late November of 2016, barely six months ago. I feel like I’ve been reflecting on it for much longer than that. The article is If ambition is ruining your life, you need to read Thoreau by Kathryn Hamilton Warren.

In the essay, Warren talks about the problem of ambition, a drive that concerns itself so much with what others think of us. Upon rereading Thoreau when she teaches him for the first time, she finds that he too is deeply concerned about ambition and the unhappiness it often brings, and that he offers a solution:

In one of my favorite passages from Walden, Thoreau points to another path. He describes an Indian trying to peddle baskets and thus capitalize on his creative talent, only to find no takers. No one wanted to buy his baskets because “he had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them.”

Thoreau then draws an analogy between the Indian’s baskets and his literary creations: “I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.”

The conclusion Thoreau reaches is significant: creation, not marketing. Passion, not publicity. Impractical though the suggestion undoubtedly is, here Thoreau proposes something radical: One should try to circumvent the market. Find a way to pursue your passion for its own sake, for when the act of creation becomes dependent on there being a market for it, misspent energy and human waste is the result.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t be reading this newsletter if you didn’t have some ambition. Most of us who write want our work to be read. We hope that someone will find beauty in what we create. We hope to connect with others through our writing. We hope for some measure of success. 

I’m not sure that completely shedding ambition is a realistic goal for many of us. Maybe it’s not even a worthy goal. I don’t know. What is certain is that ambition can easily become toxic. It can lead to unhappiness and depression whether or not we experience success because the tricky thing about ambition is that it’s never really fulfilled. There’s always more to achieve—more prizes, more accolades, more that others have that we do not. 

If we want to be happy or well, for that matter, we need to strive to keep ambition in check. Perhaps not everyone values happiness and wellness above ambition, but I think that most of us do. 

The solution seems to be to keep sight of why we write (why we create) in the first place. With there being so many other things we could do with our time, and many of them far more lucrative than writing, making art, making music, I think it’s safe to say that most of us who engage in some kind of creative endeavor are driven by much more than ambition. We create because we love it or because it’s as fundamental to our survival as the air we breathe. What stands out for me in Thoreau’s words quoted in the passage above is this: “I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling [my baskets].” Publishing and winning awards are cool as long as they don’t become necessary, as long as they are not the reason we write.  

We're glad you're here.

Michelle Ross, Fiction Editor


FERAL TOWN by Adam Gustavson

By Michelle Ross

"The kinds of things that make a less-than-stellar impression are almost always cases of the writer including gratuitous information. So I thought I’d share a few examples of what is unnecessary to include in your cover letter."

Review by Cija Jefferson

"This book reminded me that our family—the people we surround ourselves with—is the solar system and we orbit one another nudging one another along to our futures."

By Meg Pokrass

"Malloy couldn’t wait to show off his new boat. We walked behind the yacht club to where the cruisers, sailboats, and pontoons bobbed on a gentle morning chop. Our wives remained under the veranda, sipping Mimosas in their straw hats. Bloody Mary in one hand, the other free to gesticulate, Malloy talked about what a sex machine Niki used to be."

Boo Trundle

Boo Trundle discusses READING RILKE by William H. Gass. Also Angels, and fleetingness, and love, and lovers. And wombs and bees. ("If you find a hive of bees in your womb... you gotta get rid of them.")

By Sharon Goldberg

"Jupiter is the purple planet. Nexium is the purple pill. The “purple orchid three” is a sweet potato. A purple state is equally divided among Democrats and Republicans. The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers wounded in battle. Purple “Live Strong” bracelets are worn to support cancer, lupus, migraines, domestic violence. Purple prose is overwrought, elaborate, embellished, luminous language lush with alliteration and literarily lofty."

By Lisa Seidenberg

A filmmaker and moving-image artist, Lisa Seidenberg started professional life as a video journalist working in broadcast television in New York for Reuters, ABC News, WNET and MTV and traveling extensively for international news stories. “You Live” developed during a time when she was feeling stuck -- artistically, physically, mentally.

Copyright © 2017 Atticus Books, All rights reserved.

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