In Praise of Panic
For me, the urge to write lays atop of a bedrock of panic.
When The Sewanee Review first assigned me a craft lecture to write, I put it off. Then I put it off again. There came a point where I couldn’t put it off and show my face. These craft lectures are my favorite feature of the Review since Adam Ross took it over in 2017. The list of authors who have participated is star-studded: Danielle Evans, Sigrid Nunez, Rachel Cusk, Garth Greenwell, Monica Youn, Melissa Febos, Alex Chee, the list goes on and on. I decided to reread a few beloved pieces to get in the mood.
The mood I put myself into was panic. What the fuck was I thinking? A lot of these writers are seasoned teachers, academics or scholars, the kind of people who have accumulated an electrifying and rich wisdom. While trying to put the essay off, yet again, I said to managing editor Eric Smith, “I don’t know what I have to offer”. He said, “You have Stephanie Danler to offer.”
And I was like, “Um. Ok. Not sure what that is but I’ll try.” Partly that’s Eric being a good editor and nudging me along. But what he said is something I think most of us should be reminded of: if we are to be original thinkers, develop an honest style, write something sticky, that leaves a mark, we can’t rely on imitation, or even competition. We can only rely on our own stunted, strange, and racing minds.
So I leaned into myself. Hard. I wrote a craft lecture I hadn’t seen before. It is a diagram of my brain. It looks like this:
Panic, anxiety at Whole Foods, SSRIs, Money, poetry by way of Elizabeth Bishop, Kevin Young, Louise Gluck, Basho, some thoughts from Lauren Berlant, Barthes and Cixous, the form of elegy, funeral readings, graduate school, the success of Sweetbitter, Clarice Lispector, and my very annoying literary tattoos.
The essay is live over at The Sewanee Review. I’m emotional every time I see myself in print, but even more so with the Review. This is my fifth piece for them (!), and not only are these among the best things I’ve ever written, I’m in mind-blowing company.
I know paywalls are a hurdle but that is how these precious magazines survive. For your money you receive an incredible (& portable) resource: a library of work from some of the best writers on the planet.
I’m so indebted to Adam Ross and Eric Smith, and everyone who touches the pages of The Sewanee Review. And thank you to Kevin Young and Knopf, who gave us permission to reprint his glorious poem “Rapture” in full.
Though I’m always saying this, it’s for good reason. Thank you so much for reading. Spending your time with a writer’s work is pure generosity. It means more than you can imagine.
Sending love & panic.
SMD at TSR
Her Kind: A Reaction to Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (free to read)
Corona Correspondence #9 (free to read)
Stray (free to read)
Write What is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.