Samuel R. Delany's Memoir 'The Motion Of Light In Water' Beautifully Reminds Artists That It's OK To Take A Break Sometimes

Ad failed to load

I wish I could say that I discovered Samuel R. Delany as a book-hungry teen, like I did with so many of the other sci-fi legends. I wish I could say that I've been reading his books for years, or that I've always given him due credit as one of the fathers of modern speculative fiction, or that I've been lobbying for an HBO adaptation of Dhalgren. But the truth is, I'd barely heard of Samuel R. Delany before I picked up a battered, third-hand copy of his memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village.

I think it was the subtitle that hooked me. That, and the cover: a grainy photo of a young, shirtless Delany, holding a guitar, with a rainbow gradient filter layered on top. To a modern reader, it looks more like a Tinder photo than a book cover, but it sets the stage well. This is a book about Delany coming to terms with himself as a young, black, gay science fiction author in the late '50s and early '60s, when that intersection of identities was all too rare. It's a time capsule, a portrait of the American '50s as they actually were—not just milkshakes and poodle skirts, but police raids and experimental theatre and crossing state lines to obtain an interracial marriage certificate.

And it's a must read for every young artist out there.

Ad failed to load

The Motion of Light in Water by Samuel R. Delany, $19.26, Amazon

Delany, you see, started writing straight out of high school. By the age of 22, he had published four novels (and written five). Each birthday spurred him on to write more and write faster.

Ad failed to load

Whenever he finished a project, he plunged directly into the next one. Slowing down or stopping was a terrifying prospect.

Ad failed to load

Delany had also got married straight out of high school, to the poet Marilyn Hacker. Their marriage was open and complicated (both authors now identify as gay), and when Delany wasn't writing, he was cruising around Manhattan for sex. Or exploring the burgeoning art scene of the '60s. Or bumping into the likes of Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael, W. H. Auden, and James Baldwin, some of the innocuous walk-on characters who appear in his memoir alongside a memorable cast of artists and lovers.

This account of life, love, and New York's ever-evolving subcultures is more than enough for a fascinating piece of literature. But The Motion of Light in Water goes beyond a simple recording of Delany's first few years of adulthood. It's a contemplation of how art intertwines with identity, as much as it is a window into another era.

The more the young Delany writes, after all, the more he feels an aching anxiety rising in his chest. He wakes in a panic and experiences dizzying, irrational, crippling fears, triggered by everything from heights to subway cars. He compares it with the same feeling he experienced years later, after losing the only copy of his manuscript for the novel Voyage, Orestes!

Ad failed to load

Finally, Delany lands in the hospital, where he begins to come to terms with the extreme pressure he's been putting on himself—pressure to write more and write faster, in a genre that most people regard as "pulp" and "trashy." Pressure from society, to hide his sexuality, to exist at a tense intersection of multiple identities.

Ad failed to load

Living in this "pivotal suspension," though, has exhausted him. Delany doesn't ever suggest that he was wrong to write with such determined enthusiasm, or to love science fiction, or to experiment with who he was and how he fit into society—but he is brutally honest in showing just how those pressures can grind down a young artist. And how important it is to take a break. To care for your own psyche. Young Delany only begins to feel free once more when he finally gives himself permission to rest, and to talk openly about his experiences.

Ad failed to load

Whenever I feel that sinking sensation, that sense that I am desperately behind everyone else and about to be consumed by internal and external pressures, I reach for The Motion of Light in Water. Delany captures the joy and the beauty of creation, whether you're a sci-fi writer, a poet, a shirtless guitar-player, or something in between.

But he also captures the importance of balance for young artists—of creating time and space to rest, to recover. And to explore living within your own personal "play of ambiguities," like light moving across the surface of the water.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

I Wore 'Dad Shoes' For A Week & They Were SO Much Cooler Than I Thought They’d Be

It’s no secret that fashion loves a good polarizing trend. Not too long ago, Birkenstocks made their high fashion runway appearance at Céline and Crocs followed suit on the runways of Christopher Kane and Balenciaga. Now, it’s time for the "ugly" sne…
By Dale Arden Chong

7 Surprising Things That Happened When I Went A Month Without Drinking

If someone asked you if you could take a break from drinking alcohol, would you be able to do it? You may think it’s no big deal to take a month off from drinking, or you may think it’s a *huge* deal, as alcohol seems to be the center of many social …
By Natalia Lusinski

5 Books Under 300 Pages That Are Perfect For St. Patrick's Day Weekend Reading

The grocery stores are stocked with corned beef and cabbage, the local pubs are starting to advertise a particular shade of beer, and in city streets all across America, signs about parade routes have been posted for everyone to see, so you know what…
By Sadie Trombetta

8 Ways Younger Millennials Communicate That Older Millennials Don’t Get

When comparing the ways our parents grew up communicating and the way we all grew up communicating, it seems like their generation and ours grew up in a different world. The technology our parents grew up with was so basic, it's ancient in comparison…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

This Is The ONE Sign That Won’t Be Affected By Mercury Retrograde This Month

It really doesn't seem fair that one astrological sign can ever enjoy the benefit of escaping the wrath of Mercury retrograde — that is, of course, unless that sign is your own — but it happens. Occasionally, the stars just align in the right way for…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Why My Boyfriend & I Started Couples Counseling 6 Months Into Our Relationship

Right away, Kurt and I agreed on almost everything. We had met through a mutual friend in 2015, but we didn't start dating until we came across each other on Bumble a few years later. That's when we discovered that we were on the same page when it ca…
By Rachel Simon

This Lace-Front Wig Is Going Viral Because No One Believes It's Actually A Wig

To understand how Zendaya easily goes from a pixie cut to voluminous curls or how the Kardashian-Jenners switch hair colors as frequently as they change clothes is to know the power of a good wig. Now that there's a lace-front wig going viral, the Tw…
By Summer Arlexis

This Primer & Mascara Combo Literally Doubles The Length Of My Eyelashes

Even as someone who loves beauty, I was never been particularly passionate about finding the perfect mascara. And then I got lash extensions for the first time. While I enjoy the long, full lashes that lash extensions provide, I always found myself j…
By Olivia Muenter

I Accidentally Fell In Love With My Friend With Benefits & It's Painful

Against my better judgment, I have fallen in love with my friend with benefits. I think I may have fallen in love with him month ago, but being stubborn AF, I fought against those feelings, tooth and nail, and, when it was suggested by a couple close…
By Amanda Chatel

This Viral Post About A Woman Breastfeeding In Public Actually Has A Happy Ending For Once

And today in things that will warm even the coldest of hearts, we have this: A story recently posted to the r/TwoXChromosome subreddit about a dad’s response to his daughter shaming a breastfeeding parent is everything. Posted by Redditor u/starsonwi…
By Lucia Peters

These March Beauty Launches Require Your Immediate Attention

I write one of these beauty editorials every month (feel free to check out January and February 2018 if you're in need of even more products to shower yourself with). Sometimes, I get worried that there won't be enough newness to share — especially b…
By Amanda Richards

Here's How You’re Most Likely To Get Your Heart Broken, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Getting your heart broken can be one of the most painful experiences you can have in your life. But if you're into astrology, being familiar with your zodiac sign can be pretty helpful. For instance, when you know the ways you're likely to get your h…
By Kristine Fellizar

Finger Piercings Are Trending & The Internet Is Very Divided About Them

A new "accessories" trend is asserting itself on Instagram and it's subversive, non-traditional, and so darn precious. It also looks a tad painful but the end result is worth it. Dermal diamond finger piercings are a thing and they may make actual ri…
By Amy Sciarretto

How I Learned Losing Your Job Isn't The End Of The World

Two and a half years ago, I was taking a day off from my marketing job at a San Francisco tech startup to host a friend when I got a call from the CEO. Apparently, I'd missed a pretty big day: 80 percent of the company, including the whole sales and …
By Suzannah Weiss

Meghan Markle's First Appearance With The Queen Included An Homage To Princess Diana

Fashion pundits love keeping a close eye on what the women of the monarchy are wearing, especially when there's an overlap with Princess Diana's sense of style. We're nothing but nostalgic when it comes to Princess Di and her on-point aesthetic. Find…
By Marlen Komar

Why Arizona's Exit From 'Grey's Anatomy' Is A Huge Blow To The LGBTQ Community

Whenever I re-watch Grey's Anatomy, I don't start with Derek Shepherd waking up in Meredith's apartment after their first hookup. I start with Season 5, when Callie first meets Arizona in a bar. I start here, because I want to watch someone like me f…
By Martha Sorren

I Couldn't Find A Beauty Campaign With Plus Size Models, So I Made One Myself

In the fall of 2015, I visited relatives in my hometown, a small suburb of New Jersey. There isn't much to do there, apart from dining at Applebee's or hitting the mall. As a plus size woman, cruising through a shopping mall is a mixed bag. Certain d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Signs You're The Emotionally Unavailable One In Your Relationship — And How To Work On It

It can be a weird feeling when you realize your relationship isn't working. But it happens — even in a long-term relationship — that, despite spending months or years together, you can realize that something is just missing. Sometimes that thing that…
By Lea Rose Emery

The 21 New Books That Goodreads Users Are Most Excited About This Spring

Despite the fact the Northeast is being pummeled by yet another storm that threatens to trap the region in snow and ice for eternity, winter is finally almost over, and you know what that means. No, I'm not talking about April showers or May flowers …
By Sadie Trombetta

Chelsea Clinton Gets Real About Twitter Trolls & What REALLY Infuriates Her About Trump

Before you read the first word on the first page of Chelsea Clinton's new book, you already know one thing: Strong women have always been a big part of her life. There's her mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was the first woman to run for president…
By Erin Delmore

If You’re Addicted To Rewatching ‘The Office,' There’s An Actual Reason For That

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I was looking for fans of The Office who can't stop, won't stop rewatching the series, and that they should email me if they'd like to contribute to an article about their obsession. By the next morning, I had 32 messa…
By Lia Beck

Pregnant Chinese Women Have Been Eating Pearl Powder For Generations To Give Their Kids Clear Skin

If I were to line up next to my sisters, the difference is immediately noticeable: where my skin is a bit patchy and unmemorable, their skin radiates. Both of their faces have a discrete, poreless glow, and I’m certain you could bounce a kernel of ri…
By Angela Chen

This Is The Most Common Myers-Briggs Type

If you've ever really wanted to get to know yourself, you'll probably want to try out the Myers-Briggs type indicator test. You've probably seen a lot of articles online, and wondered about what the most common Myers-Briggs type is, as there's a lot …
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Halo Brows Take The Unibrow To New Heights — Literally

If there's one thing you can count on Instagram to deliver, it's some of the wackiest makeup trends, especially when it comes to brows. Considering beauty enthusiasts are all too eager to get creative with their arches, it's no wonder halo brows are …
By Summer Arlexis