Writer Profile: Sydney Boyle, Author of One, More, and Heavy
How did you start writing poetry?
I think just existential crises after existential crises. I started writing poetry when I was in middle school and then stopped completely until I started writing One, and I had a mental breakdown and wrote it in three weeks. I was sleeping three hours a night for some reason, and one night, I think I stayed up for 36 hours straight. It just came out; I think it had been building for a really long time.
What's your background?
Really mixed. I guess I went to journalism school for, like, three years at Columbia, and I took as few journalism classes as possible and then pretty much just took psychology classes -- which I was really interested in. Then I dropped out.
What inspires your work?
I think just being in a constant state of break down. I have really awful depression, and learning how to get a hold on that and turn it into something that was really positive. I guess the way I handle my depression is constantly asking myself, "How are you feeling? What does this mean to you?" and also how to infuse everything with gratitude. So it is kind of this thing where I am constantly pushing myself to feel extremes of emotion on either ends of the spectrum, like letting myself feel my feelings, but at the same time, trying to squeeze all of the juice out of the good experiences. Like, it's not just that you're eating pie. You're grateful that the pie is cherry and it is the only time of the year that you can have that, and the fact that you're in a position in your life where you can afford pie and that you woke up at the right time to get there and talk to your favorite cashier that day. Take every tiny moment and turn it into something lasting. My writing is just the place to put all that I am feeling and thinking.
How did you develop your writing style?
I feel like a lot of it is Twitter. Learning the importance of having these succinct thoughts that you can translate, and to have the spacing was important just because there is something about it that just feels so jazz-like. When I was younger, I used to write in strict rhyming schemes, and one of my teachers told me it was really boring and I could try something else.
What brought you to Chicago?
I have no idea. I came here when I was eight, and I think it was because the American Girl Doll store was here, and it was a very sentimental experience for me. I remember reading my first American Girl Doll magazine and seeing that this is where the American Girl Doll store was, so I thought, "Chicago is this magical place that has things I want. That is the center, that is the hub."
If you weren't here, where would you be?
I don't know. I ask myself that a lot. I grew up in Charleston, which is a beautiful place, and last year, my dad started teaching me how to fly, and I thought about moving to Florida to become a pilot, so maybe there. I watched this documentary called "Florida Man," and it was the only thing that got me through, like, a week of absolute misery and snow here. It's just this documentary about a man on the street who interviews guys in Florida and there was this 60-year-old man who was talking to the sound guy who was holding a mic and eating a bag of Cheetos, and [the 60-year-old man] was like, "I'll fight you! You think you're a tough guy, you think you're big, but I can take you. I love to fight." And he was telling these stories of how he knocked this guy's teeth out and how he would have his partner wear really skimpy clothing and go into bars to start fights and fight people. It's just what he loved to do. That was the most insane thing I've ever seen; I have to go there. I just want to know what it is like to live alongside that.
If you weren't writing, what would you be doing?
Probably just painting and dancing -- those are the other things I love. Anything I can get my hands on, I am pretty much down to do. I took a weaving class at Humboldt House, I started making candles last year for a little bit, and I went to help Caroline Robe in their workshop the other week -- we became internet friends -- and building furniture seems like a thing I can do one day.
What are you trying to learn right now?
There are a lot of skills I am trying to learn right now, but the biggest is probably learning about social issues and how to get my ideas across in a way that helps other people or contributes to anything other than myself. That's honestly the biggest one. Being a decent human -- that is an ongoing skill.
What are you most proud of?
Probably living a life that I will be satisfied with when I die. That's honestly a factor that goes into every decision that I make: How will this effect my long-term happiness and can I live with doing it, but more importantly, how can I live with not doing it? The worst parts of my depression have stemmed from trying to fit into worlds or communities that didn't want me because it wasn't reflective or wasn't satisfying of any of my core values. When I was in college, my sophomore year, I took a positive psychology class and I learned a theory of true self, which is the more your decisions reflect your most authentic self, the more likely you are to end up in situations with people who are like-minded and the more likely you are to be happy and continue on that path. Whereas the alternative is the more you make decisions to satisfy other people, the more you wander away from yourself. That is everything. That is the most important thing anyone could ever do.
How do you take time for yourself?
Constantly. Pretty much always. It manifests in so many different ways: long walks, taking baths, being with people I really care about. It's really hard to convince me to do something I don't want to do.
Why do you think it's important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
I think because the world tells us we can't and that there is so much that we cannot do. I think that people being their true selves and chasing their dreams gives them full permission to.
What is your advice for someone who wants to be in a position like yours?
Trusting yourself above everything. I don't write until I want to write. Sometimes, I won't write for weeks or months at a time, and then I'll sit down and have a manic episode. [I'm so proud of] the work that comes from it, because I waited for the moment that I was ready, and I had something to say. I think sometimes people want to force work out of themselves and then it is not meaningful and they feel like it's their fault or it is something inherent with their talent and it's not. Sometimes, I think you need for the right life experiences to brew.
What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
It is kind of weird for me, because as a kid, I was really badly cyber bullied, so the internet is a weird space for me. A lot of what I got bullied for is writing poetry and being hyper-emotional and analytical and kind of weird and doing my own thing. In the working world, these were also things that people really didn't enjoy about me. So in kind of coming into my creativity and all of a sudden people appreciating my skills -- the same people who didn't appreciate them in all of these other circumstances -- all of a sudden valuing that skill set is very strange to me. It kind of traveled back to that point of sticking to your own voice and finding situations that you're meant for. There was never anything inherently wrong with me, I was just making the wrong choices.
Favorite female creatives?
There are so many just in Chicago. I have a huge crush on Leah Ball. Anais Nin is someone who I absolutely love. I actually started reading Henry and June when I started writing One and her structure and the way she uses words are so beautiful . The idea that personhood itself is art is really interesting.
Favorite Chicago places?
I have so many homes, and I feel like a lot of these places are homes, but in this neighborhood, The Flying Saucer, because everyone is such a family. Everyone that works there is just such good people. I basically live at Bang Bang [Pie]. Anywhere with burlesque -- the Clipper throws an amazing burlesque show that I cannot get enough of. Anywhere there is trouble.
It kind of depends what project I'm working on. I tend to have one thing that I focus on for a span of time and then give it up and don't look at it again for a few months until it feels right. But usually, I wake up and go get coffee, take a long walk to Bang Bang and take a walk through the park. I do almost all of my writing on my phone, and almost always while I am taking walks, which is really a traffic hazard. Being in [Humboldt Park], there is so much chaos that happens and I feel like my home is almost filled with chaos. I really don't like things and clutter, so it is nice being in such an open space. Also, being a person with such intense feelings, I need space in order to dissipate properly.
Top three items of clothing in your closet?
I have about five pairs of these jeans. I get weird holes in the back of my knee in every pair of my jeans. I have an affection for turtlenecks. My roommate's grandmother has an extensive collection of Calvin Klein cashmere turtlenecks that she got from a thrift store for a dollar, and they were too boxy for her, so she gave them to me. Last winter, I wore them in rotation every day. I pick an item and then I don't let it go and then wear the same outfit for week's straight. Probably this mockneck, too.
Favorite travel destination?
Anywhere there is trouble. I went to Dublin when I was 16, and I've kind of always wanted to move back. I don't know why. It's so rainy and cold, and even though I hate the rain and the cold, I'm drawn to those places. Maybe it makes good art?
Pie. I get pie almost everyday for breakfast.