It’s been seven years since lauded poet Yrsa Daley-Ward shook the literary world with the book nayyirah waheed called “a symphony of breaking and mending.” In bone, Daley-Ward introduced us to her very particular brand of eloquent excavation, and it was the way she so expertly dug beneath the surface of obstruction to always find flowers that captivated her readers. Later, she’d dig into her own bones in a memoir titled The Terrible, which won the 2019 PEN Ackerley Prize. Now, she’s asking us to do some mining of our own. The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself, which arrives on November 2, is a brilliant reminder that the answers we seek are within ourselves. Perhaps you’ve known that but lost touch. Perhaps you’ve never met yourself at all. Whichever pocket you fall in, Daley-Ward’s words — as they’ve always been — are a guidepost, a reminder, and a welcome home.
“I think life is just a whole series of coming back to yourself, and the self is always different,” she tells R29Unbothered over the phone. “The self is always altered, is always changing, is always growing. But there's a lot of inquiry, and I think we journey back to ourselves all the time if we're lucky enough to be able to do so and notice it.”
In the section titled “If We Were Different, We’d Be Perfect,” Daley-Ward thoughtfully examines what it means to remain rooted in self in a society that so often pulls us from what makes us whole. It’s a call for discernment, one that some have likely grappled with amidst the stillness of the pandemic. Are the choices we’ve made in the past and the present aligned with who we truly are?
“This year shone a light on so many things that we do on autopilot just to appease the people or be part of a group,” she says. “You then realize you do it so often you forget that you don't want to do it. It just becomes part of a weekly or monthly thing or whatever, down to personal relationships, friends that you have had for a long time, but when you really reassess and you think about it, it doesn't bring you joy.”
She calls The How “a call to center,” a nudge to go within and reconnect with what brings us back to ourselves.
“I don't have the answers for anything, but it's supposed to be a reminder to take a walk inside your own self and figure out if what you're doing are actually the activities that bring you the most peace, that bring you joy, and you're not just doing them out of habit, out of duty,” she continues. “It’s a promise that when you do make the time and space for yourself, when you do take time to read, look up at the sky, deep breathe, meditate, [then] inspired thought comes to you. But it cannot come in a life full of distraction, other people's noise and other people's agenda. It's an invitation to that quiet space so that you can access yourself, because everybody deserves that.”
Read an excerpt of “If We Were Different, We’d Be Perfect" from Daley-Ward's forthcoming The How below:
Can you hear your thoughts clearly today? Are you breathing as deeply as you might? Do you feel alert? Energized? Connected to the bones of yourself? I ask because these times are testing, and many are seeking The How. We are in a constant state of trying to improve, to maintain, to cope, to stay ahead. And we are living in brash, incessant economy where everything is competing for our attention. Sales. Precautions. New information. Warnings. There are countless messages coming from everywhere, all of them urging us to be different than we are. The messages are infinite. So much work goes into each one of these commands too, and together they create a low-level and overall hum of not-quite-thereness. They are coaxing you out of yourself, promising you the world if you will only agree and conform. We all know better, and at the same time, we don’t. Even if we have gotten better at not listening to the machine, the noise continues on in the background. When we try to ignore the messages, they seep into the meat of us and settle in our bones. As such, we take them on, whether we rebel or comply, whether we mean to or not.
Sometimes it is pressure to join a culture, group, or political leaning. What if your feelings do not align with theirs? What if they don’t truly resonate? You swallow it down. You grow insecure. Sometimes it happens within your religion, when you judge yourself against teachings and feel less than “good.” Sometimes it is the loud and constant pressure to look different than you do. Sometimes the comparison is not so obvious or conscious, but it happens, slowly and surely, weathering you on the inside. You see someone’s social media feed and you keep score on how much they seem to be excelling. Now you twice about what you are eating, or what you are wearing, or if the relationship you’re in is really the best you can get. Sometimes the coaxing is a call to action, or politics. Sometimes it is a new, expensive thing that must be acquired. Sometimes it’s a thing to help you live longer, at least in theory. It is a persistent, insidious ache, so dull and so common, appearing in any direction we turn.
And we are bewildered. If we drink as much water and exercise as often and eat green and as fresh as we should and if we water our plants and check our teeth, breasts, and testicles and if we look after our money and stay on top of our taxes and if I write all of the stories in my head and keep my eyelashes long and my hair soft and stay in contact with my family who need me and pay it forward and mentor and meditate and learn to do handstands and backbends and other yogic feats, if you and I try to do all the things we are told to do to be the very best that we can be, then we will never rest.