Ocean Vuong Recommends...

“When I am stuck, I don’t like to force out work/words. If I’m having difficulty, I just walk away from the desk—sometimes not returning for weeks at a time. I find

a quiet place in the day and stop. If I’m at home, I lie down on the carpet. Then I do this thing where I just say ‘thank you’ to all the things and people who helped me. I say, ‘Thank you, light, for helping me. Thank you, flowers in the jar, for helping me. Thank you, mom, for helping me. Thank you, Sivan, for helping me. Thank you, Eduardo, for helping me.’ Of course, simply saying ‘thank you’ does not awaken any creative force; it just reminds me that the work I am doing is not validated by quantity, but rather, by the connection it builds between the world and myself. Yesterday, I said thank you to my friend, the poet Mahogany L. Browne. I am not one for hyperbole, but I can honestly say she is one of the few people who can, and does, save lives with her words. So when my own work is not coming along, I stop and think of people like her. I stop and recognize the person doing the same challenging, at times unforgiving, art—and I feel happy. I think it’s hard, in our day and age, not to think: ‘It’s me against the world’ or ‘I have to do this for my career because everyone else is hammering away and if I stop now, I will fall behind and be forgotten.’ But that’s a toxic and self-defeating gaze. I think we are more productive, even in stillness, when we can recognize one another, when we say to each other: ‘Thank you for doing this with me. Thank you for carrying on when I cannot.’”
—Ocean Vuong, author of Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)

Photo credit: Peter Bienkowski