Writers on Reading

By Emily Harnden April 13, 2016  |  Uncategorized  |  no responses

There are certain books I make a point to re-read every year. Like meeting an old friend for coffee, someone who knows me better than most, these are the books that tell me all my modern-day worries (MFA-related or not) are not so grand and unmanageable as I believe. Really, they remind me of what it means to be a human being navigating an uncertain world in an undefined time in my life (mid-twenties, which as of late, feels like the new mid-life crisis though my mother will tell me no, not quite, try again later). Ultimately, these texts remind me that trying to be the person/reader/writer I desire to become is not a feat achieved overnight, or a month or a year(s).

This past spring break, instead of tackling my closet or scrubbing out the kitchen cabinets or going to Moab (something it seems like everyone in FoCo did besides me), I got to work organizing my bookshelf and in the process unearthed an ol’ standby: Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

Joan Didion is someone I have routinely turned to when I need to bust out of a funk and/or require a good kick in the ass. When it is high time to buck up and realize all the work will somehow be accomplished. That summer is really not so far away and each and every worry, fear, stress, heartbreak, headache, is only of the moment. None of it, a forever and always thing. Didion’s words manage to de-clutter all the negative I-can’t-do-it-not-todays floating around in my head and make the world clear. She is my equivalent to a day-trip to the Shambhala Mountain Center for a meditative retreat and a nice drive home listening to Laura Marling as the sun sets behind me, a cup of green tea in hand. I leave the page feeling calm, rejuvenated, hopeful.

Her essays: On Self-Respect, On Going Home, and Goodbye To All That, in particular, have stuck with me most.

There’s a line in Goodbye to All That, the first actually, that I come back to again and again: It is easier to see the beginnings of things and harder to see the ends.

Simple, okay, she’s got you there. But there is so much truth brimming over the top of it, I can hardly stand such a gem of a sentence! And this is the thing: It is only a sentence, but it holds so much more than that, at least for me.

Though I am really only at the beginning of my time here in Fort Collins, I often worry I am wasting it. By not writing enough, reading enough, being MFA-y enough (if that makes sense? Let’s say it makes sense). I think a lot of us feel this pressure to make the most of everything this program has to offer us, but as this Year 1 draws to a close, I also think it’s okay to slow down and remember we have time. As the semester begins to speed toward its final stretch, with all its endings, deadlines, and last minute this and thats cropping up like road-signs warning us to be careful and cautious of all the things that need doing, forms that need filling, I am going to make a promise to myself via bl0g-post to hit pause (or at least try very, very hard).

Don’t worry so much, is something I hear a lot. From my mother, twin sister, co-workers, friends. But when Joan Didion says it, I listen. More than that, I believe her.


Emily Harnden


Emily Harnden is finishing her first year as an MFA candidate in Fiction at Colorado State University.

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