words words words

I subscribe to Restaurant SmartBrief’s daily newsletter to stay current on foodservice trends (and, let’s be honest, watch for the thrilling appearance of ads I’ve written in their natural habitat); the quote-of-the-day feature is worth scrolling down for, too.

I think back to high school me, who didn’t have the internet. She did have her bulky Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and an urge to scribble down meaningful words. This habit came in handy in college when, as an RA, I could impose my obnoxious optimism on a captive audience of freshmen. (But, guys! You CAN become the change you want to see in the world.)

2003. Such a simpler time. There are too many words now and they start to lose their meaning. We live online in a land of quote overload. Inspiration is forever at the ready.

There it is!

There it is!


One day in June, I caught myself deleting multiple newsletters I’d flagged because the Q-O-T-D had hit the mental spot. I noticed a trend: They were all about perseverance. 

“Everywhere I look,” I thought, “things are literally telling me: DON’T GIVE UP.”

Creative work is hard, y’all. So much time spent feeling like you suck. (Maybe all of the time, forever? I heard an interview with certified TV-genius Norman Lear, who said—at age 94—that he still doubts himself. Still.)

You may get the occasional little nugget of outside affirmation. You treasure this nugget and for a while it energizes you. But soon enough you’re back to the daily grind, and daily grinding will wear down a happy nugget until you’re left with just a shriveled grape-nut of self-doubt.

(You’ll even find yourself doubting your nugget-based creativity analogies. It’s rough.)

But that’s the game. It’s nice to be reminded that so many quotable notables have played it too. So. In honor of that, here’s some annotated scribblage:

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.
— Babe Ruth, baseball player
pretty obvious, right? but he should know. imagine B.R. pointing his famous finger AT YOU.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
— Calvin Coolidge, 30th US president
oh dang, Calvin! we just got served. (successful men without talent: also a thing.)

Jumping at several small opportunities may get us there more quickly than waiting for one big one to come along.
— Hugh Allen, musician
but, like, big ones are nice too.

Be as you wish to seem.
— Socrates, Greek philosopher
this one tickles my brain. that was Socrates’ whole deal, though. makes sense.

Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.
— Gail Sheehy, writer
shut up, Gail. (this one makes me whiny. sorry, Gail. that’s on me.)

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.
— Sven-Goeran Eriksson, athlete and sports executive
I imagine a name like “Sven-Goeran” is a barrier in itself. way to overcome, S-G. 


I have 118 saved drafts on my blog. This may sound startling, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve earned a black belt in not-finishing-what-I-start. I’m an Eagle Scout of procrastination. The Miss America of over-commitment… You get the idea.

So tonight, eager to blog but anxious over starting anything new, I dove (dived? duve?) into a few of those drafts. Sidebar: The difference between “anxious” and “eager” was drilled into my brain by a journalism professor in college. For example, “I’m anxious to go on vacation” means you’re scared to travel, not excited, though a majority of writers/talkers get that wrong. I couldn’t tell you with confidence what I wore to work a week ago, but I remember this little nugget of syntax correctness. Brains are weird.

Back to the drafts. (Backdraft.) It’s like opening a time capsule, reading these things I started but never shared with anyone else. Seeing where I didn’t quite finish my thoughts or polish them to my liking. (I am, after all, a gold medal winner in the perfectionism decathlon.)

The unedited, untitled draft below made me very happy. It’s a cryptic little nonsense poem, but I deciphered that I wrote this after watching the Oscar-nominated animated shorts at the Moxie in 2014:

An inspiration sandwich with a side of delight

A city full of anthropomorphized inanimate objects conspiring to help a blue umbrella find love

A squirrel looking for his lost scarf encountering modern philosophy

An OCD French robot in a mechanized future learns to expand his life for the sake of a lost dog

Got in my car, smiling wide, “That was so effing magical!”

(Feb 19, 2014)

The_Blue_Umbrella_(2013_film)_posterRead without context, it feels like fever dream ramblings. But I like it; maybe it’s a story I’d like to know more about. If I weren’t me.

This happy accident of reading down the rabbit trail of discarded effort led me to rewatching the short below. The one about the lovestruck umbrella. One of the lovelier of all Pixar shorts, which I’d completely forgotten existed. (And chances are you’ve never seen, since it screened before Monsters University.) Oh! And it wasn’t even nominated. It was on the shortlist of honorable mentions.

They didn’t win, but they did finish. So maybe none of it was ever wasted time. And now my drafts count reads 117.


2015: 13 books, 140 characters

It’s 2016. Let’s live our truth: I finish fewer books and I write fewer blog posts per year than I used to. Blame the busyness of life, the ease of sharing ideas online in smaller quick bites, the existence of the internet in general.

But also, I think, my twentysomething self (who started blogging in earnest in 2007) was a more obsessively introspective, self-discovering and self-centered type of self. (As she should have been! That’s what 20s are for! You go on and find yourself, baby SJ!) Whereas now, I’m a little more grounded in who I am, and feeling better about it (thanks, therapy!), and enjoying the things I like without the need to justify, explore or explain. This is all good.

Wasn’t expecting that nugget of self-discovery. Just occurred to me while writing. Funny how that works.

2015 was good to me. I still read 13 books, not too shabby considering that roughly 20% of adults read NO BOOKS at all. Oh my, internet, say it ain’t so!


So here we go. Keeping with tradition (2009, 20102011, 2014), here’s my tweet-length year of reading in review:

On Writing | Stephen King
My very first S.K. book, and it’s not even a “Stephen King book.” Practical and poetic guide to the writing process—from somebody who knows.

Lizz Free or Die: Essays | Lizz Winstead
Memoir by Daily Show co-creator and feminist icon…I didn’t love it. But that’s okay. Not all comedy is for me. (Lookin’ at you, Master of None. I SAID IT.)

Man Seeking Woman | Simon Rich
Hilarious, bizarre series on FXX is based on a book by former SNL writer. So, duh. Inventive, of-the-moment romance chronicles, rated NSFM (Not Safe For Mom).

Syllabus | Lynda Barry
Part nonlinear graphic novel, part handwritten creative journal, part offbeat instruction manual. All fun to read and digest.

Attachments | Rainbow Rowell
Delightful YA novel recommended by my writing group. Set in 1999, the pre-Facebook story feels retro, as romance unfolds (or does it?) via intercepted emails.

Better Than Perfect | Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo
Perfectionism survival guide. 6 of 9 “Does this sound familiar?” intro statements sounded just like me. Scrawled inside cover: “So, wait, everybody’s self-worth isn’t determined by how well they live up to their own harsh, improbable standards?” (Not really joking.)

Harebrained | Meg Myers Morgan
Written by a college classmate and available at an amazon near you! I wrote a longer blog post singing its praises already. Go read that.

Theatrical Husbandry | Susan Mann
Not on shelves yet, but will be. Have gotten to watch the process as my writing group friend worked her way through revisions. Now she’s moving toward publication. How cool is that?

Funny on Purpose: The Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy | Joe Randazzo
This book gets me. Funny, practical primer on all things comedy. He had me on page 15, with this horrifyingly, comfortingly accurate list:


Hey look! That’s me!

Writing Television Sitcoms | Evan S. Smith
Somebody wrote a whole book about this! Can you believe it?! (Exciting to only a small sliver of the population, but I’m one of them.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up | Marie Kondo
The title doesn’t lie. KonMari has changed my life for the better, and I’m still in process. Some of her philosophies seem foo-foo, but they also work. (Magic.)

“If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.”

Mr. Puffball Stunt Cat to the Stars | Constance Lombardo
Happenstance while roaming kids section at Barnes & Noble. Almost didn’t buy it (see above, buying less), but very glad I did. Delightful and clever for film-buffs, cat-buffs and tiny-silly-joke buffs.

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers | by Mike Sacks
447 pages of pure inspiration. Creators of Parks & Recreation, Cheers, National Lampoon. Writers for The Onion, New Yorker, Tonight Show. All in one book! And you can buy it!