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Rhythm/Devotion of Lily Herman

Rhythm / Devotion is a series of interviews intended to illuminate the connection to ritual & rhythm in our daily lives. This series explores the intimacy of routine, the magic of the ordinary, & how these small acts of devotion set the stage for larger workings in the world ~

What is your name & where are you in the world?

My name is Lily Herman. Broadly speaking, I’m in Baltimore, but more specifically & magically, I’m in a cafe where the Ghostbusters theme song is playing. 

How do you define yourself & your work?

I’m a writer–mostly poetry and essays–though I think sometimes I was brought to earth specifically to be my brother’s sister.

Will you walk us through what a day in your life looks like? Begin with how you greet the morning & guide us until you close off the day in the eve ~

A day in my life varies a lot depending on whether or not I have to trade its hours for money. So!

Let’s take a weekend day: I’m an early riser (usually at or before 6AM) and consummate breakfast-eater, though what I eat relies heavily on mood, season, whether I’m feeling chaotic or calm or heartbroken (smoothies only for heartbreak). Sometimes I like to run before breakfast, and this kind of pushes my appetite back till I’ve showered, when it returns bloodthirsty. I drink coffee every day, and like my mother, I make one cup and then leave it all over the house as I get into little tasks, reheating it over and over within an inch of its life.

I walk a lot of the day away if I haven’t run. I set myself pilgrimages around the city–whether it's a treat or a creek or a friend. Sometimes it’s a literal, actual pilgrimage, when I visit a cathedral in north Baltimore. If it’s a Sunday, I usually visit with my brother–we walk more. Some other activities are often mixed in–farmer’s market, cooking, reading, watching old episodes of ER. My sweetheart cooks a lot and I bake a bit or read to him while he's in the kitchen.

Beginning this year only, I’ve been pretty diligent about submitting work, shooting for two contests or magazines per week. I've also been applying to programs to become a therapist, so some work around that happens. 

I wear the same oil blend every day (sweet orange, frankincense, lavender). I engage with one of my ongoing and ever-shifting obsessions. Right now it’s the history of the Troubles in the north of Ireland. I visited Belfast this past fall, and I remember how, when I was a kid, the name of that city was meant to encompass so much disorder, suffering, and extremity. It was barely allowed to live in our minds as a city. I’m taken with things like this–real people, places, and things, which become symbols in our consciousness, placeholders for more complex systems or ideas. It's an undue weight to put on something that is just trying to breathe. 

Anyway, I floss (almost) every morning, and every night I cuddle Arfur, a stuffed animal dog I’ve had since I was three.

You are a poet, essayist, & love letter enthusiast ~ how do you prepare yourself &/or your space to enter into these practices? What is the rhythm of your writing/creative process? 

My writing process is so tied to movement–moving my body, moving my life geographically, or just nudging at a concept which feels mammoth and immoveable until suddenly it shifts. That’s what the love letter project felt like to me–I wrote love letters to friends, strangers, famous people, pets, anyone who I got a request for–during the early days of Covid. It felt like I was constantly circling an idea which had initially appeared to be stationary and singular, and (of course) was actually anything but. 

Running helps me write. As you can see from the way I order my day above, I have a ton of energy but often giving it direction is difficult. Physical processes that allow my body to overtake my brain are so important to me because they root me in something tangible. 

What do you do/not do if you are feeling stuck around your work?

When I’m stuck around work, I let myself be stuck. I know that's the worst possible approach for some people. But I think of any creative life as containing equally important phases of intake and output, and also genuine moments of rest, where you aren’t an animal poised toward production. I don’t mind lulls of collection, observation, and silence, though honestly, that’s easy to say from a distance. Maybe I’m being cavalier–the reality can feel a lot like constipation. But! I have faith that in the longer scheme, writing and I aren’t coming uncoupled. I also feel like writing is a slightly more forgiving mistress than other arts, in terms of aging–you’re allowed to just get better as a writer, instead of contending with the assumption that your best shit came together by unreplicable chance when you were 20. So I try not to sweat it too much–there’s a vast timeline in which to overcome block.

I also remember reading somewhere that Robert Lowell almost exclusively wrote during his manic states, and imposed a punishing editing/revising regimen on the depressive times. I don’t have that kind of discipline, and I don't have such complicated internal rhythms, but I do think there’s something to learn there. As someone who often oscillates between excitable and hypomanic, I make writing hay while that sun shines, and try to deal with the logistical types of details (submitting, revising) when the iron isn’t hot. 

I don’t really have a “sit down at the desk for x amount of hours every day” kind of practice. I walk, talk, eat, write, and do most other things quickly, really quickly, in sporadic bursts. So if an essay is really begging to be written, I tend to sit down until the draft is out. Ditto a poem. I can (and will) tinker endlessly after that, but the process of actual creation is still always a kind of weather event that just storms up all magical and unpredictable, and there can be long months in between.

Do you have a movement practice?

I run and walk a lot. I try very hard to make myself incorporate some other structures, like stretching or strength-oriented bits, but thus far they haven’t stuck in the same way. I’m from a family of walkers–long distances are pretty standard for all of us, and my friends used to joke that they could tell when I was smitten with someone if I asked them to go on a walk with me. Running came later, and I’m not a “good” runner, more of a slow jogger, a workhorse. I like to go long distances fairly slowly. I feel my brain levitate above the scramble of my running body and it’s such a beautiful relationship to me. These parts of me just keep trying to find ways to coexist, to support the entire self.

What does structure mean to you, or what is your philosophy around ritual/routine?

Structure is such a wild little flower. So much of it is foisted unnaturally onto us by money- and labor-extracting machines, and I have no motherfucking interest in anything other than necessary participation in those systems. I’ve had a lot of great jobs where I loved my coworkers (I met my best friends working at a coffee shop 15 years ago) but I’m not interested in even remotely romanticizing capitalism. And I hardly suffer under it at all, given all of its violent iterations and global reverberations. As far as writing goes, I think the only real use that those structures serve is to act as a foil–if some of my time is taken, I want to gleefully reclaim as much of it as possible. Like the grass growing over the industrialized cityscape in Bill Peet’s Wump World. 

I think writers and other artists are often negotiating the fact that no one will pay us (enough) to make our art, and yet nothing else is ever going to exist at our center. So how to reconcile those states? Artists aren't special. It's much like other people trying to live in a world that glorifies gigging because our basic needs aren't guaranteed to be met. I feel a lot of hope when I look at microcosmic, mutual aid efforts, and a lot of impotence and despair when I zoom out.

I like structure, though. I  like running and submitting my two-a-week and going to see my brother on Sundays. When I was younger I felt certain that being beholden to those frameworks would make me unhappy, and I got to have some really great adventures as a result--writing in upstate New York and Maine, living in Wyoming or Montana or California for brief stints funded by seasonal work, taking part in a psilocybin study, commercially fishing for wild salmon in Alaska. But ultimately, I’m a pretty tumultuous person, and having too much space to be totally untethered can actually kind of begin to feel like a waking nightmare for me, where the two ER episodes blossom into eight. That’s not good for me. It’s like that Reductress headline about how “self-care is starting to look suspiciously like self-sabotage.” 

What are you listening to, reading, or watching these days?

Well, I’m watching ER. I’m also deep into reading and listening to writing about the Troubles. Right now feels like a natural time to look at this history, as so many Irish republicans rally in solidarity with Palestine. I noted this in Belfast even before last October--lots of Palestinian flags and murals. Anna Burns has two novels, No Bones and Milkman, which impart so much information about the northern history while also flexing a ton of literary muscle, AND taking the care to develop the idea that war always holds different fates for different people. Milkman in particular really explores the idea that sometimes political and social upheaval provides the perfect cover for people to exploit vulnerable populations in all the usual ways, with an unusual degree of impunity. 

Irish writing around the Troubles is interesting to me for other writerly reasons as well. For instance, I’m an immediate, unstoppable oversharer–extremely emotive and effusive, which isn’t historically how Irish personalities are stereotyped, and certainly wasn’t the case during the guarded silence of an ongoing guerilla war. So it’s interesting to me to encounter that stoic quality in writing–the deep allegiances, unspoken understandings, the sentiments often held dearly, and underscored by an unyielding moral code, but tempered or withheld in their expression. 

Any last words of wisdom?

Wisdom! Huh. I don’t know. I just try to be calm and to be kind and those are actually kind of monumental tasks. My therapist recently told me that the way that you love has to come from your integrity and not your fear and that seems pretty abundant to me. 

How can we find your work?

My instagram is @lilyjenherman and I share writing there. I’m working on a website!

My work can be found:

Thank you so much, Lily, for your inspiring work in this world & for sharing your rhythm devotion with us ~


I connect the essence of Clasping Venus's Looking Glass as a companion to Lily Herman, her rhythm/devotion, & her work in the world.

I made my Clasping Venus's Looking Glass flower (Triodanis perfoliata) essence during the afternoon of a new moon in Gemini while Venus was retrograde in the sign of Capricorn in May 2020.

The name of this flower comes from a legend in which it is told that Venus lost her magic mirror, magic because it reflected nothing but beauty. It was said that a poor shepherd boy found the mirror and kept it. When Venus sent Cupid to find & retrieve her looking glass, it fell to the ground, accidentally shattering. Everywhere a piece of the mirror landed, one of these tiny flowers is said to grow.

Venus’s Looking Glass flower essence allows us to gently, compassionately look & find beauty in the broken places, in the places that may feel splintered or shattered within us. Lifts any blame we may place upon ourselves for breaking something, or from punishing ourselves for not being “perfect.” Instead, this essence helps us to see the larger picture, the depth of gorgeousness in the scars & imperfections & folds Venus’s Looking Glass is everywhere, it is right under your feet, it is part of the living soil.

This essence reminds us that by simply living, we are part & parcel of this love, that no matter the turns life takes, the accidents along the way, or the tribulations we face that it is all part of our singular story. It is the pieces we find along the way that give us a sense of meaning: an active hand in creating the whole our our lives. Venus’s Looking Glass essence helps us reflect, & see our lives reflected back to us, undistorted, as we are, with great love & compassion. It says, at any moment & any turn of the corner, there is the possibility of finding beauty, finding something we thought was lost, anywhere.


1 Comment

Mar 29

This interview reminds me of how truly amazing and wonderful people are. Thank you.

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