Getting Rilke with Lesley Arfin

We all want someone to talk to, who understands us, and maybe that’s why generations of writers, readers and searching souls have responded so strongly to Rainer-Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. We’ve asked some of the brightest stars today to either answer questions drawn from the text or write a letter to their teenage selves. Today, we have Lesley Arfin, whose work we first encountered in the pace-setting Australian fashion magazine, RUSSH. We’ve since fallen in love with her regular advice feature, ASK BARF, where she sagely doles out memorization-worthy gems like, “You can still be obsessed with him, but be obsessed with other things too.” Her first book, Dear Diary, based on a wildly popular column, is a collection of updated diary entries that comes with a foreword by Chloe Sevigny. Here are Lesley’s answers to some eternal questions.

1) Why must you write? What would you do if you weren’t a writer? (Or, what was the best job you had before becoming an author?)

The only reason why I write is because I can’t NOT write. I don’t know why. I would not choose it if I had any say in the matter. If I wasn’t a writer I would love to be a 1. Famous Rocker 2. Talented Ballerina 3. Really Hot Fashion Model. 4. Mad Scientist. 5. Billionaire/Batman 6. Meryl Streep. 7. Nurse.

2) What two books do you find indispensable? Who has given you the greatest experience of the essence of creativity, its depths and eternity?

Part 1 of this question: I think ‘Forever’ by Judy Blume would have to be one. The other would have to be ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ or maybe The Bible. Part 2 of this question is vast and  deep. I’ll give you a vast/deep answer: everything/everyone.

3) If you could not send a reader all of your books, which one would you recommend first?
Because shipping fees are so expensive, right? Easy. I’d send them Dear Diary.

4) Which question did you once have, that you love most in retrospect (and have since answered or not answered)?
I used to ask myself/others all the time, “How I can I be a better writer?” While I don’t love the question, I do love the answer, which is “Work hard.”

5) Where is the place in which you most love to write?
I love writing with other writers (even though it makes it harder to get stuff done). So wherever that is; a coffee shop, an apartment, an office, whatever.

6) What is the value of solitude to a writer?
I get more done when I’m alone.

7) What advice would you give to a young person, or your younger self, about love?
Hard one. I think, if this makes any sense to a young person, treat love as though it’s an action rather than a feeling. In writing they say “show don’t tell.” I think the same goes for love.

8) What is the value of sadness to a writer?
Sensitivity I guess, but I find there is greater value in anger. There’s a slippery slope with sadness that often leads to self pity, and that’s just gross for anyone, writer or not.

9) What book, story or poem brought you greatest comfort as a teen?
I loved the book The Secret History by Donna Tartt because the characters were so well developed. When I was reading it, I felt like I was hanging out with friends (albeit twisted friends). When it ended I had separation anxiety.

10) In closing, what single best piece of advice would you give to a hopeful young writer, in a sentence
To thine own self be true–Shakespeare

You can find more of Lesley Arfin on her blog or by following her @lesleyarfin

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