Tips From Emerson: The Key to Happiness

In the fall of 2010, I attained my bachelor’s degree in English Literature, where I found a love for American, classical, and romantic literature. Specifically, I delved into the writings of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and the rest of the lost generation, along with Homer and Sappho, and perhaps most influential, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Did you know that Emerson was only 14-years-old when he attended Harvard Divinity College in Cambridge Massachusetts, known today as Harvard University?

It’s true! At 14 he enrolled in Harvard College with a full scholarship and won a handful of prizes for his writing. When he was 17, he started to keep a journal and continued it for over half a century.

Emerson (1803-1882) was known to be one of the most thought-provoking American cultural leaders of the mid-19th century. He is my favorite philosophical spearhead known to lead the transcendentalist movement in which he spoke out against materialism, formal religion and slavery. Stating that each individual was put on this earth for a reason. Emerson believed in the integrity of the individual. “Trust thyself,” he urged. “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

I’ve made so many mistakes throughout my life based on not “trusting myself,” especially in my younger years. Whether it was not following a negative intuition I had about a friend, or not listening to the bad feeling I had about being somewhere I knew I shouldn’t be. Not trusting myself, nor following my instincts had led me into some trouble in the past, which ultimately steered me in the direction of writing the story of my life, The Pace of Nature. Thankfully, learning the hard way more than once has taught me the importance of “trusting thyself,” listening to my inner voice, and more importantly, making my own path, on my terms, which I’ve kind of always done anyway, now I just do so from a much wiser perspective.

Dreaming Stories?

Did you know that the idea for the Twilight series came to Stephanie Meyers in a dream?

Meyers said that she saw two people in her dreams: an average girl and a good-looking, sparkly vampire boy. They appeared in a meadow in the woods and were engaging in a powerful conversation, discussing problems surrounding how they were falling in love with each other while (he) Edward, had a strong attraction to (her) Bella’s blood. And Walla! From Meyer’s dreams to paper, “Twilight” was born. 

I never dreamed up new characters that I’ve turned into a story. But I often find that when in the midst of writing a story – this happened especially when I was writing my novel, The Pace of Nature – I’ve woken up in the middle of my sleep and in a somewhat dreamlike state, have come up with the best ideas for my stories. 

Hemingway said, “don’t empty the well.” “He said, “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

Not “emptying the well” has always been hard for me to do, mainly because I have limited writing time and I feel a need to get as much writing done as possible during that time allotted. But sometimes the ideas stop flowing and I am forced to break away from the writing chair. I always know though, that critical distance from a story/poem is necessary when it comes to conjuring a fresh perspective on the scene I’m working on. And it turns out, my creativity peaks in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s the silence, or possibly even my subconscious always being on duty, helping me work towards my goals. Who knows?! 

What about you? How many times have your dreams turned into a story? Or are you like me and just wake up in the middle of the night with your thoughts running wild? 

How’s it going out there?

I think it’s safe to say that these past several months have taken a toll on all of us, and/or has disrupted our lives in one way or another. I know for me, things have felt pretty stagnant.

Ben Franklin said, “… write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”

Since graduating high school, I have always juggled a couple of jobs at once, especially while paying my way through college, and then after college, I worked a few part-time positions that have granted me at least a few days a week to “write something worth reading…” – my novel, “…or do something worth writing” – traveling. Through all the hard work I put into each year, I have always had something to look forward to, usually a trip where I could rest, regain my strength and creativity.

I did have a handful more of pocket time this year to write, but usually writing and traveling go hand-and-hand for me, and it just wasn’t the case this year. And so, I have to find other ways to stay positive and creative while cooped up in my home-bubble this winter.

Britt DiGiacomo interviews Shane Cashman, author of Joyless Kingdom

Shane Cashman is the author of Joyless Kingdom: Poems, Prose, and Dispatches From the Plague. His writing has been featured in The Atlantic, VICE, Penthouse, Atlas Obscura, Pitchfork, and The LA Review of Books. He teaches at Manhattanville College and SUNY Orange. 

I had met Shane Cashman when I was finishing my final year, earning my MFA at Manhattanville college in 2014. Our paths crossed while taking an advanced seminar class where we explored the foundational work in critical education and progressive academia theories, and were given the opportunity to practice essential teacher/creative writing procedures that would prepare us to teach college-level writing courses. Shane went on and became an adjunct professor of Narrative Studies at Manhattanville College. He also teaches Poetry and English at SUNY Orange. 

I have always been a fan of Shane’s work and have kept track of his writing career. When Joyless Kingdom came out it provided me with an opportunity to learn more about Shane, his writing process and his approach to the publishing world.

This interview took place late fall on a Monday evening on November 30th from our laptops, where Shane and I sat in our respective homes and enjoyed each other’s company on a FaceTime call. Shane had just finished teaching a creative writing zoom class with his students from Manhattanville college and had graciously carved out time to discuss poetry, writing, publishing, and his latest book, Joyless Kingdom.

Britt DiGiacomo

What is your earliest memory with writing/poetry and when did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Walk Beside Me a Moment

Two things happened yesterday on 4/8 and the first was, I finished reading A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, a disturbing tale about class and race, one where widow, Valerie Alston-Holt, PhD professor and ecologist is raising her musically talented biracial son, Xavier in the quiet suburb of Oak Knoll, North Carolina, where all is good until Brad, Julia and their two daughters, Juniper and Lily move in next door – your typical “cookie cutter” family. But appearances are deceiving, and as the story progresses, the lives of these two families will break in ways the reader never saw coming.

A Good Neighborhood is at times infuriating; the plot revealing qualities of a greed-ridden, narcissist, who spins the truth to get his way, not caring how it affects the people involved if it means attaining the thing he wants.

The story is nothing short of heartbreak, uncovering cruel realities with themes such as unfavorable assessments, racial biases and social cultural ideas about gender and how it challenges the existing norms. It’s maddening how parts of the story feels so true and authentic to what exists in the world today. The conclusion is tragic, a warning from the narrator in the very first chapter, a promise kept.

A Good Neighborhood is at times difficult to read, however in the end, justice is served, leaving the reader with a bit of hope left in their hearts.

Let me tell you a secret

Regret. Ugh. Not only a word but a terrible feeling. One that creeps up in the back of your mind from time to time. Or in my case, things I think about often. Questions I ask myself, like what I’d do differently knowing what I know now. But, would I go back and change things for the better if I could? Going back in time to change one small thing could result in changing much larger things, ultimately changing the person I am right here, right now. Would I want to risk altering the person I am in this moment? Would you?    

 I have two major regrets in my life. My first biggest regret is something I may reveal in the third and final novel to my series, The Pace of Nature. My second biggest regret has to do with me never be able to exercise in a form of running again. And boy, do I long to throw my running shoes on and sprint across the gravel through the windy streets of my townhouse complex. Running used to be my liberation. It meant so much more than not having to pay for a gym membership. It meant, being able to throw my sneakers on after a stressful, frustrating day, and jet right out my front door, knowing that twenty minutes later, I’d re-enter my house in a happier, more fun-spirited mood.

Road to Nowhere? Sharp movements and a shaking fist!

Nowadays the term “starving artist” seems like it’s no longer applicable to an artist’s way of life – at least not mine. Take Hemingway and the lost generation for example. Back in those days, writers spent all their time working on their latest masterpiece, sacrificing materialistic objects such as tickets to plays, and/or dining out at restaurants, and instead lived on a minimum expense, eating canned food and bread if it meant that they could dedicate every waking minute to their art and craft. 

Unfortunately, I, along with other writers I know, have to juggle more than one job in order to carve out little time to write each day. This particular year in general happens to be a rather busy one for me. And it seems like every time I’m finally able to sit down and get back to work on my projects, right as I’m deep in thought with the words flowing, bells from my alarm start chiming and it’s time to shower and get to my other job, my paying job.

Having to force myself to stop writing is highly frustrating and I find myself feeling discouraged and resentful that there’s never enough time in a day.

Let’s talk Game of Thrones: HBO Series Wrap up

For all of you Game of Throne fans who’ve spent the last decade of your life infatuated with the worlds of Westeros & Essos and the lives of the characters within it, then like me, you may be in a bit of shock and denial that the show series has come to an end.

It had certainly been an emotional 6 weeks leading up to season finale. Now that the show series has concluded, and I’ve had a couple of weeks to process the different ways my favorite characters lives have ended, and I’ve had time to process how the writers wrapped-up the storyline in general, I can genuinely say that I am content with how some things ended, but I am also feeling a bit let down by some of the quick plot turns, along with the overall pacing when it comes to certain character arcs.

Game of Thrones had always felt like a carefully plotted, detailed packed story – a story that had once felt so thought-out. I had always assumed the writers of the show would follow through and complete each storyline to its entirely. Sadly, for me, it did not feel that way.


I hear you. The words are blurred, sentences broken, but I’m still able to put the tattered sounds together.
          At lunch you read me my favorite novel. I know by the names of the characters: Barkley, Henry. I feel the warmth of your hand on mine when you get to the part where the two escape on a boat to Switzerland in the middle of the night. I can tell by the swift change in your voice, and tight clench of your hand, that the part where they almost get caught is near. Gently, you brush your fingers against my arm when they make it to safety, able to start their lives together. But you end it there. I hear the clap of the book fold. You never read all the way to the end.
          You grab my hands between yours and tell me that when I wake up, you and I will start our lives together. You say we’ll have our own adventures.
I respond, telling you we’ll be going home soon. Not to worry, everything will be like it once was. You never hear me. No matter how loud I scream – you never hear me. I feel your tears roll onto my face, down my cheeks, and into my mouth. I taste the salt from your body, and wonder if I’ll ever taste anything more of you ever again.
          At night you sing to me. You rest your head beside mine singing the lyrics of Bobby McGee softly into my ear, telling me ‘you’d trade all of your tomorrows for one single yesterday’. We sing the chorus together, like we always do. You kiss my forehead; brushing your fingers through my hair, putting me to sleep, like you’ve done every night since we’ve been together.


Above the Mark: Part I

Sophomore year in high school there was this teacher, Mr. Martello who taught American literature. He had this energy about him when reading Emily Dickenson or something jarring from Edgar Allen Poe; his eyes would brighten and he’d sway his hands as if conducting an orchestra. He taught me about Emerson’s lead in the transcendentalist movement and Thoreau’s adventures living at Walden Pond. He once handed out a picture of 35-year-old Walt Whitman standing in a field of grass wearing a black-top hat with a hand on his hip. He then spent the entire hour sharing stories about the war and how Whitman sought out hospitals in D.C to help the wounded. And how Whitman was one of the firsts to change the style of poetry, breaking away from traditional formats; no rhyme or meter. Like a man soaring through the sky and flying as if he were a gust of wind, Whitman wrote freely!

I was fascinated with Mr. Martello. Not in a romantic kind of way, but in a way in which I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could from him. Pick his brain and all that.