I'm so grateful to share Carla Jean Whitley's words here today. She is a dear friend who has encouraged me in so many ways over the past several years She was one of the first people who said I was a writer. And she taught me to never leave home without a book. I hope you enjoy this installment of The Story Cures Interview and check out some of Carla Jean's work mentioned in her bio below.
1. What's something you've read recently that has stayed with you?
My rule of thumb is if I send my mom a book, it's hers to keep or give away. That wasn't the case with Anne Gisleson's "The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading." Gisleson's book recounts how her Existential Crisis Reading Group helped her cope with a number of tragedies. Her city, New Orleans, was recovering from Hurricane Katrina's lasting effects. Gisleson herself was coping with the suicides of her twin sisters. Her father's death added to her existential grief.
Mourning isn't a straightforward process, and that's obvious in Gisleson's tale. Her sisters' deaths occurred years before the book club's formation. But loss lingers.
One of my sisters died in January 2017, and I turned to one of the best coping mechanisms I know: reading. "The Futilitarians" was actually an assignment from BookPage, but it was also one of the most relatable books I found in this first year of loss. A sibling's death prompts a number of big questions (or so it has been in my experience, and in Gisleson's). The details of our losses are different, but in Gisleson I found someone who has walked the path before me.
I sent the book to my mom with instructions to pass it on to my other sister, then send it back to me. I suspect it will be a source of comfort for years to come.
2. What's one of your favorite writing prompts?
I don't use writing prompts on a regular basis. However, for the past two years, I've referenced "10 questions to capture the year in your journal" from Day One. That list guides my contemplation as I move into a new year, and it helps me prepare for any changes I may want to make.
3. Why do you think it's important for us to nurture our creativity?
In so many ways, creativity gives us life. Nurturing it allows us to experiment and take risks. That can have effects in many areas of life, as it gives us confidence to try new things.
4. Where have you noticed grace recently?
I mentioned my sister in my first response, and we're rapidly approaching the anniversary of her death. I've been touched--honored, even--by friends who have reached out to say they're thinking of me. Our lives create ripples in the lives of others, and it's beautiful to see how my sister has affected even people she didn't meet.
5. What are your thoughts on any connections you notice between reading, writing, creativity, and/or grace?
Reading helps me understand others' experiences, and in turn, I'm able to apply grace to myself and people in my life. I am often too hard on myself, convinced that I must be perfect. But I also believe perfection is a myth. Seeing that played out in the world helps reunite me with that belief.
Carla Jean Whitley is a writer and editor who is curious about the intersection of culture and community. She shares those stories through the written word as well as audio, video, social media, speaking engagements and teaching. That includes her role as features editor of the Glenwood Springs (Colorado) Post Independent, as well as past experience at AL.com, Birmingham magazine and the University of Alabama. Whitley co-hosted and produced the Triple Take podcast, and is the author of three books, “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City,” “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” and “Balancing Act: Yoga Essays.”