December 31, 2017

But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!

In years past, going to the movies alone was one of my favorite solo activities. There's something special and comforting about it to me, and also equal parts quiet and grand—like I'm treating myself to an event. I've been trying to do it more. I'm not sure if this is normal, but lately when I'm watching a movie with someone, I am super conscientious of their presence and their reaction to the film, and I can't focus on it the way I'd like. I also like to sit with it a while. Like reading a book, I'm always excited to discuss the experience, but would rather initially process it alone. (Also, I'm a crier and I still get embarrassed whenever I'm moved to tears and I'm trying to stifle my sniffles and stealthily wipe my tears off my face next to my companion, ha. For some reason, I'm more comfortable doing all of this with strangers when the movie calls for it.)

This is all to say—a few days ago, I went to see Call Me By Your Name alone after having delayed for weeks. It's a beautiful film and the experience of watching it by myself was really lovely for a myriad of reasons, but it wasn't until the last third I felt fully able to appreciate and love it. Mr. Perlman's speech. His words. (Michael Stuhlbarg, I love you.) Cue alllllll of the tears. This post is a bit of a cheat because I haven't read the novel the movie is based on (by AndrĂ© Aciman), but it's said the dialogue was pulled almost word for word from the text. To hear it's OK for both joy and sorrow to be deeply felt was great validation for me, right now.

I write this at the close of a year I find hard to put into words that suffice.

At the end of 2016, I leaped, I left New York. This year, in contradicting that decision—returning—I took a bigger risk. As a result, I became elevated versions of myself, versions I didn't know I could be.

I became a boss. I was terrified I'd be terrible, but I think I've done well considering the circumstances. There's more to do and more to learn and that excites me. I almost didn't come back for fear I couldn't do it. I'm glad I did.

I don't know how to characterize my relationship this year. Initially, a wonderful whirlwind. The more time passes and the more information I've acquired on what was said and felt about me for the duration of it—the more my perspective on it changes and I remember it less fondly. Hard not to feel the fool. But the positive things I can take away: I was open, and being open to feeling and love—whether it existed or not, or did but unrequited, or didn't but seemed possible—was rewarding in so many ways. At the time, it was fun, new, warm, and an idea of what could be when the stars align under different circumstances with someone else who can reciprocate the love. And it's confirmed: being open is the better option, always! Even when it hurts your heart! Not just with romance, but with any relationship, and with your life. I will never again regret choosing to be open.

I moved into my own apartment, a place that feels more and more like home every day. I've always wanted to create a cozy, safe space for myself and I am accomplishing that. More on this another time.

In the past two months, I've slept, eaten, and exercised better than I have all year. I've had trouble with all of the above and I'm experiencing the benefits of making changes in my routines and diet. (Very proud to say I am now on day #60 of my yoga streak!)

I learned to say no and establish my boundaries, even when I felt scared about offending the other person(s). Sometimes saying no was well-received and one time it cost me communication with a parent indefinitely. While that's been really hard, being able to say yes and no on my own terms as a form of self-care is a necessary empowerment, and I don't take that freedom of choice for granted.

I learned about unconditional love. In 28 years, I never considered what that really meant but one day it occurred to me it's something I have from my mama. To be loved and supported through every high and low, without expectation of anything in return—what a gift! I am a better human for it. I could never thank her enough except to provide as much love and support while I can.

I've been forgiven. Immensely humbling.

I've acknowledged my fears. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to write about all of them; the words have been swirling in my head for some time. But I've been afraid of many things my whole life and it's affected me in ways I'm not proud of and I'm ready to move away from.

I've made peace with my balance of light and dark. I can't always be good and it's made me feel ashamed. It is really hard to be good, to be kind, to be light, to be forgiving, to be loving, to be understanding, to be patient, to be fun, to be present all of the time. Being good requires effort and sometimes I fail. But I found a beacon in this truth: rising up to the challenge is enough. I have encountered people who succumb to their darkness; it's made them bitter, resentful, cruel. I want to be as little like those people as possible. I can't always be good, but I will always try.

In this moment, I'm at peace and I cherish it. To more books and words and poetry, to more film (sometimes alone), to more feeling, to more safe spaces, to more health, to more risk, and openness, and life, and growth, and meaningful darkness, and light in 2018.

"Then let me say one more thing. It will clear the air. I may have come close, but I never had what you two had. Something always held me back or stood in the way. How you live your life is your business. Remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now there’s sorrow. Pain. Don’t kill it and with it the joy you’ve felt...

In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough,” Mr. Perlman says. “But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”

December 18, 2017

The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art.

© HarperCollins

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
By Ann Patchett

I have Reese Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine to thank for borrowing this selection of essays. (Hi, Reese is my new idol; love her unapologetic ambition. Thinkin' of my ambition and all of my plans for 2018 & beyond. Fills me with excitement. Love that I don't have to feel sorry about it.)

"Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper. For me it's like this: I make up a novel in my head (there will be more about this later). This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don't take notes or make outlines; I'm figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame.
This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see."
("The Getaway Car," pp. 24-5)

"The art of writing comes way down the line, as does the art of interpreting Bach. Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath."
("The Getaway Car," pp. 29)

"Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life."
("The Getaway Car," pp. 29)

"Enough time has passed that I wish him well, in a way that is so distant and abstract it doesn't even matter."
("The Sacrament of Divorce," p. 61)

"Sifting through the notes I had taken years before, I remembered the basic point behind my intentions, and all these years later that point has never changed: I am proud of my father. I am proud of his life's work. For a brief time, I saw how difficult it would be to be a police officer in the city of Los Angeles, how easy it would be to fail at the job, as so many have failed. My father succeeded. He served his city well. I wanted to make note of that."
("The Wall," p. 153)

"The ability to have a friend, and be a friend, is not unlike the ability to learn. Both are rooted in being accepting and open-minded with a talent for hard work. If you are willing to stretch yourself, to risk yourself, if you are willing to love and honor and cherish the people who are important to you until one of you dies, then there will be great heartaches and even greater rewards."
("The Right to Read," p. 193)

"I believe it is human nature to try to persuade others that our most passionately held beliefs are true, so that they too can know the joy of our deepest convictions."
("Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006," p. 208)

"Standing waist deep in the swimming pool at Yaddo, I received a gift—it was the first decent piece of instruction about marriage I had ever been given in my twenty-five years of life. "Does your husband make you a better person?" Edra asked.
There I was in that sky-blue pool beneath a bright blue sky, my fingers breaking apart the light on the water, and I had no idea what she was talking about.
"Are you smarter, kinder, more generous, more compassionate, a better writer?" she said, running down her list. Does he make you better?"
"That's not the question," I said. "It's so much more complicated than that."
"It's not more complicated than that," she said. "That's all there is: Does he make you better and do you make him better?"
("This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," p. 249)

"My mother shrugged, so what. "I'll die, you'll die, he'll die, you'll get tired of each other. You don't always know how it's going to happen but it's always going to happen. So stop trying to make everything permanent. It doesn't work. I want you to go out there and find some nice man you have no intention of spending the rest of your life with. You can be very, very happy with people you aren't going to marry."
("This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," p. 252)

"There were two things about marriage that surprised me. The first was that I discovered Karl had been holding out on me. He actually loved me more than he had previously led me to believe. This is not to say he hadn't loved me for the past eleven years, he had, but there was a portion of himself he kept to himself, thinking that if I wouldn't marry him, then chances were at some point I would go. It was like finding another wing in a house you had happily lived in for years. It was simply a bigger love than I had imagined."
("This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," p. 265)

December 17, 2017

It would be fatalistic to think that we are powerless.

What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism
By Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner

At 86 years old, with more than six decades' experience as a journalist, Dan Rather has lived the life I hoped to have when I decided I wanted to be a journalist—a life that's allowed his curiosity to guide him to places all over the country and world. As a result, he possesses great knowledge and is extremely optimistic—two qualities I appreciate and admire. He's also from Houston, which he mentions often; it's a city I've become more interested in [politically, especially] now that my mom lives here. And because it's now become the most diverse city in America and a glimpse of our country's future.

Each section and chapter evaluate topics that matter to me and I loved reading his perspective on them all: Freedom (The Vote, Dissent, The Press), Community (Inclusion, Empathy, Immigration), Exploration (Science, Books, The Arts), Responsibility (The Environment, Public Education, Service), and Character (Audacity, Steady, Courage).

"Amid all this, one truth cannot be ignored: The Detroit public schools are almost entirely African American, and the schools in the surrounding suburbs are overwhelmingly white. This is not an accident. In 1974, the Supreme Court heard a case that centered on Detroit's schools, both in the city and in the surrounding communities. In Milliken v. Bradley the court ruled in a 5-4 decision that a metropolis could in essence be segregated along district lines, just not within those districts. In other words, it was okay if there were real racial divisions, lines of exclusion, between suburbs and cities. And that is the system we largely have today. When you hear the term "inner-city schools," close your eyes and picture the student body. Now picture a suburban school. I am pretty sure that race was part of your mental image. This is not a mirage. Recent governmental and academic studies have shown increased de facto school segregation in the last few decades. In a blistering dissent to the Milliken decision, the first African American justice on the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, predicted our current reality: "School district lines, however innocently drawn, will surely be perceived as fences to separate the races." We have become a less inclusive nation as a result."
("Inclusion," pp. 83-4)

"What sticks with me more than even that act of kindness was how my mother talked to me about it. I was an inquisitive child (perhaps not surprising considering my later path in life), and I was always asking questions. So I asked my mother why we gave those families gifts at Christmas when we ourselves didn't have much. I remember then answering for myself: "It was because we felt sorry for them, right?"
"We do not feel sorry for them," my mother said sternly. "We understand how they feel." It was a lesson that is so seared in my mind, I can see her face and I can hear her tone of voice as if it were yesterday.
What my family did was not heroic. I like to think of it more as neighborly. And it was in line with a national ethos in those dark days, repeated countless times in countless communities across the country. We understood that those who were suffering weren't lazy or lacking the desire to do better. Fate had the potential to slap any of us."
("Empathy," pp. 95-6)

"These states are two of the most marvelous and welcoming in our nation. Their natural wonders are matched only by the friendliness of their inhabitants, and I have enjoyed my time in both immensely. But when you look at the demographic trends of the United States, Alaska is more a throwback to the past, and Hawaii a glimpse of the future. We are destined to look and live more like Hawaii, a multiethnic society where racial lines are blurred through intermarriage, and cultural heritages combine into a new America. Even my hometown of Houston is now one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country.
Today we see an eagerness among some of our elected officials—buoyed by passionate segments of the voting public—to erect new barriers to immigration. But these efforts will not stop the demographic momentum already underway in the United States. If anything, I believe that demonizing the most recent arrivals to our shores will only, over time, galvanize the political will of the majority of Americans who understand the true legacy of our history.
When I walk around this great land, in small towns and big cities, bus stations and airports, baseball stadiums and art museums, I see an America that has expanded beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. We are a people of energy and purpose, a blended land of ever-increasing diversity that so far has proven the strength and wisdom of our great experiment. We must find a way to defeat the forces of intolerance. If we do, we will emerge a better, stronger nation."
("Immigration," pp. 120-1)

"I believe the public is hungry for better science reporting; it has been my experience that people of all backgrounds tend to be naturally curious and eager for knowledge about their world and the place in it. Several years ago, I did a report on neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to keep changing even as we age. We included an interview with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Eric Kandel, who helped pioneer the field, and his mind, keen and imaginative well into his eighties, seemed to be living proof of his discoveries. We also interviewed the Dalai Lama. It turns out His Holiness is a science enthusiast, and we learned that researchers studying Buddhist monks have discovered that their deep meditations actually alter the structure of their brains. We got a wonderful response to the program, but one viewer's email stood out. It came from a woman from Oklahoma whose job it was to work heavy construction on highway repairs. This is not the demographic that news executives think would be interested in a subtle examination of neuroplasticity, but this woman was effusive about how much she had learned. She ended her appreciative note with a phrase that has stuck with me ever since: "I always knew my mind could grow.""
("Science," pp. 132-3)

"But while the library's physical charm was impressive, it was what was inside that made it truly magical. I was a voracious reader and spent countless hours in what became a sort of second home. I was following, in my own small way, the path laid out by Jefferson, Carnegie, and all the others who believed in the power of books. And I had a wonderful guide, the librarian Jimmie May Hicks, who served at the Heights branch library from the year of my birth, 1931, until her death in 1964—more than three decades of quiet but consequential service to her community and nation. Like all the best librarians, Ms. Hicks would suggest, question, and prod my reading into new and unexpected directions. The library now has a memorial plaque in her honor that reads, in part, She dedicated her life to her profession and sought always to impart to others joy in acquiring knowledge and pleasure in the art of reading. She was a true patriot."
("Books," p. 147)

We also owned encyclopedias and I remember how special and exciting it was to look up anything I wanted to learn more about. Pre-internet days!
"The importance of curated knowledge was encouraged at home as well. During my last year of elementary school, our principal called in all the parents to prepare them for the challenges of junior high. She talked about not only the looming physical changes of adolescence but also the mental growth that would be required for us to thrive in a more rigorous and less protective academic environment. My mother was a good listener, and she came back determined that what the Rather household needed now more than anything was our own set of encyclopedias. This caused a bit of a disagreement with my father, who insisted this was a luxury we couldn't afford. But my mother insisted that if we bought them on an installment plan, we could make it work. Ultimately, she prevailed with the winning argument that "just having them in the house will help Danny" (and my younger brother, Don, and sister, Patricia).
When boxes packed with the many volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia arrived at our doorstep, it was a momentous day. If memory serves me correctly, we had the choice of ordering the set with either red or blue on the spines and my mother chose red because she felt it would stand out more on the shelves. The books were wonderfully bound and you could feel the weight of knowledge simply by opening them up in your lap and flipping through the pages. My mother was right; just having those books on our shelves transformed our home. Whenever any of us had a question, there was the promise of an answer, and an excuse for more learning."
("Books," pp. 147-8)

"These days it is easier to occupy young minds with mobile phones and tablet computers, but I have a special respect for the mothers and fathers who continue to lug around the bags of crayons, markers, and paper. It brings a smile to my face when I see a child drawing. And while I know there are museum- and concertgoers who are irritated by sharing the spaces with sometimes unruly children, I am encouraged when I see generations of the future engaging with the arts. These pursuits are central to our American identity. Patriotism can burst to the surface through many geysers of expression."
("The Arts," p. 155)

"When I met Jean, we were in our early twenties and she had an enthusiastic thirst for the arts. She loved to paint and go to art exhibits. I wanted to impress her, so on our second date I took her to the Alley Theatre, which has since become one of Houston's most cherished institutions. The Alley was the brainchild of Nina Vance, who gained a national reputation for proving that a town like Houston could handle serious works for the stage. The play Jean and I saw that night was The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I was transfixed by the production onstage, and by my date sitting next to me. I knew I wanted to accompany Jean on a lifetime of performances, and over our six decades of marriage, we have done that."
("The Arts, p. 158)

"Our art has been, like our country, boisterous and courageous and gloriously distinct. It has expressed euphoria, shame, and outrage. It has been exalted and it has felt the sting of suppression and marginalization. It has been misunderstood. Perhaps most important, our art has been wonderfully diverse. Our corporate boardrooms do not represent America; neither does our Congress, Supreme Court, nor certainly those we have elected to the presidency. But our artistic community represents the United States in all its multiple wonders.
Any list of great American artists would be woefully incomplete if it did not celebrate the broad democratic stirrings of a diverse nation. Consider one idiosyncratic sampling: Louis Armstrong and Mark Twain and Martha Graham, Emily Dickinson and Ella Fitzgerald and Edward Hopper, William Faulkner and Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, Langston Hughes and Jackson Pollock and Charlie Chaplin, Johnny Cash and Georgia O'Keeffe and Frank Lloyd Wright, Miles Davis and Willa Cather and Ansel Adams, Willie Nelson and Maya Angelou and Martin Scorsese, George Gershwin and Marlon Brando and Prince, Elvis Presley and Carlos Santana and Stephen Sondheim, Maria Tallchief and Robin Williams and Ernest Hemingway. The list could go on and on. American art is proof that people from all backgrounds and corners of this country have something important to say."
("The Arts," pp. 160-1)

"Nature wasn't something that you drove to, or planned on seeing, or for which you bought a fancy outdoor wardrobe. I worry now that it is an activity that must compete with soccer practices, homework, piano lessons, and all the other responsibilities that fill up the calendar of a family with children. All those are surely wonderful and rewarding, but so too is just letting your legs wander through the trees and meadows, and having your mind wander as well.
Today most of us encounter few animals and plants in our daily lives, and most of what we do see are either the ones we have domesticated or the vermin and weeds that can thrive in the cracks of modernity. Growing up I was enthralled by the night sky. But now most of us can see only a few faint stars at night, the ones bright enough to make it through the domes of light that enclose our metropolises. For all of human history, the night sky told stories, delineated time, and guided voyagers. Now 30 percent of the people on the planet can't even see the Milky Way from their homes. And in the United States, 80 percent of us can't."
("The Environment," p. 184)

"Despite all these injustices, I still had the sense for most of my early career that by and large public education was on a steady march of progress, fueled by a spirit of bipartisan support. Recently I have begun to despair, as I see the very notion of public schools under threat. Instead of a national will to make free and open education a priority and strength, I see insidious forces overtly and covertly undermining our public schools.
The crisis of our schools, especially public schools, is complex. And difficult questions abound: Does the general school tax system need to be reevaluated or not? How do we assess the impact of charter schools, and are some voucher systems worthy of consideration? What about Wall Street's increasing involvement in for-profit schools? What is the optimum role for teachers' unions? The list goes on. But there should be no dispute that if American schools don't improve, America will lose its world leadership. And I believe that whatever system emerges in the future, it must hew to our ideals of public education; It must be open to all, free of charge, and of the highest quality."
("Public Education," pp. 200-1)

"How many politicians could you imagine approaching their accomplishments with this level of humility, especially among our current leaders? That is the benefit of service: It tends to humanize you. People can disagree politically and philosophically on all the issues that confront our nation, but if more of our elected officials had served in causes other than their own advancement, I believe they would approach their jobs with less certainty in their own assumptions and more sympathy for the needs of others. It matters less whether it's in the military, the Peace Corps, the many programs of AmeriCorps, social services, or legal aid. It's about the values that drive a person to help by joining a mission that is bigger than they are."
("Service," p. 222)

"It is difficult for a young boy to remain still in bed when the sun is shining and the world seems to be passing him by outside his bedroom window. I sometimes whimpered at the injustice of my fate, and my father would come into my room to stand over me, lovingly but firmly. "Steady, Danny," he would say. "Steady." The words were clear and deliberate, and they were soothing. At the time, I was too young to fully absorb his simple lesson."
("Steady," p. 248)

"However, it would be fatalistic to think that we are powerless. Maybe we cannot change the equation at the level of the universe, but life is about creating order out of chaos. In the natural world, cells come together to form complex living beings. That's pretty orderly, and inspirational. And we can do something similar by bringing order to our own lives for the betterment of our community."
("Courage," p. 266)

December 12, 2017

“We the people,” all of us, are living together in perhaps the greatest social and governmental experiment ever conceived.

What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism
By Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner

In a year filled with a despairing news cycle, I often look forward to Dan Rather’s commentary. He manages to use eloquent prose that comforts and inspires, despite the depressing subject matter. He makes sense of the news to his readers while simultaneously demanding more action of them. When something newsworthy happens—almost every day at the rate that Trump tweets—I seek Dan Rather's take. (More here and here on Rather discovering social media and launching News and Guts.)

I started What Unites Us today. And it feels fitting to post a little something from it now because Doug Jones just won the senate seat in Alabama!!!! First Democrat elected to the seat in 25 years. Defeating racist pedophile Roy Moore. In a very tight race. Largely due to African Americans, and black women especially. (Oh, the poetic justice of Selma turning the tide of the race.) And the brave women who came forward to the Washington Post about Moore's history of sexual assault. The future feels a little brighter tonight! I cannot WAIT to vote in next year’s midterm elections.

"If I were to plot on a map my countless flight paths criscrossing the United States, it would look like a thread stitching our great union together."
("Night Flights," p. 2)

“Patriotism—active, constructive patriotism—takes work. It takes knowledge, engagement with those who are different from you, and fairness in law and opportunity. It takes coming together for good causes. This is one of the things I cherish most about the United States: We are a nation not only of dreamers, but also of fixers. We have looked at our land and people, and said, time and time again, “This is not good enough; we can be better.”
(p. 17)

“Like so many, I love my country and its people. I do so with a sentimentality that may seem anachronistic in today’s more jaded world. I have been known to get emotional when I talk about “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But to me these words mean something very deep, a feeling I struggle to put into words. They aren’t just the lyrics before the umpire yells, “Play ball!” From battlefields to segregated lunch counters, I have seen the cost of freedom and bravery. It is high. Our nation will not survive was we know it without an engaged and committed population. We cannot wait for others to fix what is broken, and I am inspired to see a new generation of grassroots activists rise up to insist that the cause of justice is expressed broadly across America. Our founding documents contain some of the most beautiful and noble words ever put on paper. I recite them often and love them with every fiber of my being. “We the people,” all of us, are living together in perhaps the greatest social and governmental experiment ever conceived. We are being tested. How can we prepare ourselves for this moment? Are we up to the challenge?” (pp. 17-18)

December 11, 2017

In any kind of creative work—it's not the quality of the life that matters, it's the quality of attention that's paid to that life.


I am continually amazed by the law of attraction. That when I'm moping about corporate culture and the part I play in it, I could also select two podcast episodes—nearly back-to-back, hosted by people I very much admire—and have them discuss the very things I've been thinking about, reminding me to see my life from a different perspective. Now I remember what I need to do. (Thanks, Universe.)

Dear Sugars Podcast, hosted by Cheryl Strayed (Tiny Beautiful Things!) and Steve Almond
Episode: The Price of Our Dreams—with George Saunders

Steve Almond
In reference to a quote by M.F.K. Fisher
"She talks about why she loved writing, it's because it granted her the right to be precise about her own life. And that's really just saying 'I was paying attention to my life' ... and 'Career Purgatory,' I think you're really paying attention to your life. That curiosity is really at the bottom of it. You can, as I did when I was in journalism, I would sneak off on Fridays because I started reading, including George's stories, and thought 'Oh my God, here are these people paying real attention to their lives and just using the language in such an imaginative way. I want some of that.' What I did, I kept my day job, I tried to pay attention to what I was doing, but I also snuck off and just saw, 'Is this something where I can feed my curiosity? Is this something that grants me the right to pay better attention to my life?'"
(Circa 26:00)

"In any kind of creative work—it's not the quality of the life that matters, it's the quality of attention that's paid to that life."
(Circa 30:00)

Cheryl Strayed
"This is why I keep saying, [when you] sign up for a class or go to a find your tribe. What you realize when you're in the company of other writers is: 'Oh, this is a bunch of people who are making it work by doing a bunch of other things.'"
(Circa 32:00)

George Saunders
"The deck being cluttered is part of the path."
(Circa 31:00)

"Suspend the narrative that says you need eight hours a day to [write]. When I was working a day job and writing my first book, I noticed that, actually, if you drop that idea, you can get a lot done in 15 minutes. You really can. In some ways, writing at work or writing when you're tired has a way of focusing your mind." 
(Circa 33:00)

"Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist...I think it's important to say that the pure artistic path is the one that actually is not too tied to the outcome, but is tied to the transformation that happens, and the effort."
(Circa 34:00)

The Good Life Project, hosted by founder Jonathan Fields (Mary Oliver quote on homepage, so.)
Episode: Mari Andrew: The Art of Knowing You're Not Alone.

Mari's art was recently introduced to me by a friend who knew exactly how much it would speak to me. Mari sees and uses her sensitivity as a strength, and that's so empowering to me.

Mari Andrew
"I really don't consider myself a practical person at all, but I did know that I'm prone to stress and what stresses me out is not knowing how I'm going to pay my rent. That's really stressful for me, for everyone. To this, I echo Elizabeth Gilbert: 'Be a patron for your own art.' You don't have to quit your day job—in fact day jobs, god, I mean, what a source of creative material!"

"I have a lot of young people, early 20s, college age, ask me 'How do you do what you do? How do you get to where you are?' And I want to tell them 'Start when you're 30! Start when you have things to say.'"
(Circa 22:00)

December 02, 2017

But there is a place where people like me live and love while fretting constantly about their own mortality and the fate of the universe.

© Penguin Books

Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame
By Mara Wilson

One thing I intensely dislike about myself is my terrible memory, but I distinctly remember the feeling of realizing I had a favorite book. It was after I'd read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was seven years old. I felt this incredible sensation tied to "oh! I like this book so much more than I like the others!" and the idea of having a favorite was something new and exciting to me.
Once I discovered Roald Dahl and got a sense of his recurring themes, I fell in love with the rest of his stories.
I didn't watch many movies when I was young, but the ones I did see, I watched over and over again. Matilda was one of those films. So ingrained in my brain are the scenes of Mara Wilson's Matilda: a kind, bookish, witty, caring, magical girl whose powers I wished I'd possessed. 

Mara Wilson is a good storyteller—about her experiences filming Matilda and being a child actor, but also about more relatable things like adolescence and young adulthood: feeling like the weird girl, trying to fit in, discovering who you are. She is also refreshingly honest about her experiences battling OCD and anxiety. I read this on a flight home and alternated between crying and laughing the way through. (The best.)

“But there is a place where people like me live and love while fretting constantly about their own mortality and the fate of the universe. I know who I am now: I am a New Yorker.”

“Live your fear." Why didn't we teach kids that? Why wasn't that in a graduation speech? Commencement speakers should start telling the truth: "You're going to fuck up, but most of the time, that's all right.”

“If you’re worried you have a psychosis, you probably don’t, but even if you do, there’s help for it. Fighting with anxiety makes it worse; instead, accept the anxiety, and it will become less scary. Take a moment to breathe and take stock of your surroundings. Remember what’s real. Say, “This sucks, but it will pass.” We aren’t responsible for our thoughts, we are only responsible for what we do with them. Mental health care can and should be taken as seriously as physical health care. A diagnosis is not a bad thing.”

"On a March day in 1995, our mother told me my grandfather was coming over with his camera, and we were going to take some pictures out in the backyard.
"Pictures of me?" I said.
"You, me, and Anna."
"Do I have to?" This was during post-Miracle publicity blitz, right after the Golden Globes and the Oscars, where I'd performed in the opening number alongside Tim Curry. I was tired of having my photo taken, and in the past few months, I'd become used to getting my way.
"Mara, I really think you should." She had a strange look on her face.
"Mom, I don't want to."
"I want you to." I didn't understand why she was pressuring me. She hated having her picture taken.
"But I really don't want to!"
"Mara, will you please just do it so that even if I have cancer, and all my hair falls out, you'll still have a picture of me looking normal?" She started crying.
My breath had gone. "Mom, what...what are you talking about?"
"I might...I have breast cancer."
I don't know what I'd said to her after that, only that I agreed to pose for the photos.
I've never forgotten what our mother's voice sounded like, or what she thought and felt, but sometimes I can't remember exactly what she looked like. So many of my memories are of her looking the way she did when she was sick. The picture of us my grandfather took that day, the last time she looked healthy, was in my bedroom for years. Me, my sister, and our mother, all wearing red, all with shoulder-length hair, smiling in the sunshine."
(pp. 103-104)

“Before I went to bed that night, Danny and I talked about my mother. Matilda was easily the movie I'd made that she was most excited about, but she had died while we were doing postproduction. I'd always felt sad that she wasn't able to see the completed film.
I was floored when he told me he'd brought my mother the film while she was in the hospital. It hadn't been fully edited, but she had been able to see what we had. I feel such a sense of peace knowing that, and I'll always be grateful to Danny for it. You, and your story, were a part of her life till the very end.”
(Letter to Matilda, p. 95)

November 19, 2017

Your first jobs may not always be worthy of you and your dreams, but your big-picture goals and career certainly are.

© HarperCollins Publishers

Weird in a World That's Not: Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures
By Jennifer Romolini

The below doesn't say anything I haven't heard before, but a reminder's always nice. Weird in a World That's Not appealed to me as I continue to feel more and more disconnected with corporate culture. Still, there are things I'm learning every day that are and will be super valuable.

"If you focus on becoming great at what you do (which we will talk about more specifically later in this book, and which I heartily encourage), if you keep your mind open to learning and seek out new challenges and opportunities and are kind to people in the process, no one and nothing can slow you down—especially not something as frivolous as the corporate-culture nonsense conducted under those fluorescent lights. And, sure, your first jobs may not always be worthy of you and your dreams, but your big-picture goals and career certainly are."
(p. 99, Chapter 7 "Surviving Yourself")

November 18, 2017

“Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life."

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
By Betty Smith

Things I loved about this novel: the empathy, humanity, and kindness in which it treated poverty, alcoholism, and struggle for survival. Its extraordinary detail of daily life in early 1900s Brooklyn—where I live now. The celebration and admiration of its brave and bold female characters, who were all the more daring for their times. Its staunch support of education. Its forgiving portrayals of the characters—all of whom were flawed in some way, the way all humans are, including the best ones. It portrayed loneliness, and learning to be alone, as fortifying. Not as detrimental or indicative of weirdness. It emphasized the importance of love in life. In all forms. Especially in family.
Many times I saw myself in Francie.
Didn't mark any passages and wish I did. So I turn to Goodreads.

“Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere—be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
- Francie Nolan

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”
- Granma Mary Rommely

“Forgiveness is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.”

“As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed.”

“It was the last time she’d see the river from that window. The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day.”

October 14, 2017

There's always an opportunity to return to center.

courtesy of Nerdist

Nerdist Podcast Episode 625: Ethan Hawke

I listened to this interview last Sunday for the 4th time (now for the 5th as I write); it's an interview I return to again and again because I relate to it so deeply! It validates many of my thoughts. Ethan Hawke is smart, sensitive, wise. Plus, he also loves James Baldwin and John Steinbeck.

At the time I last wrote I had just returned to New York City and felt optimistic about all of the wonderful things that were beginning to emerge in my life. But life hasn't been without challenges, and how they've affected me has taken me by surprise—even though I thought I'd strengthened plenty over the prior months:
  • the excitement of a new role beginning to wear off and facing the challenges that come with being in a leadership position (impostor syndrome...HUGE). Also, trying to feel like my best self in the workplace
  • being in a new, exciting relationship (my first) with someone I adore; navigating its many ups but also the downs
  • coming to terms with the evolution of my friendships and more closely evaluating the ones I have, for better or worse
  • my father disconnecting (again)
  • the process of finding and moving into my first apartment and discovering what it means to make a home just for myself from scratch (a longtime dream come true but definitely not an easy, or cheap, or quick process)
  • the consequences of saying yes to exactly what you'd asked of the Universe, only to learn what you asked for and received wasn't what you needed or wanted. Then, having to take back yeses. In sum: learning the necessary difficulty and bravery of saying NO
  • losing love for self in waves
Amidst these happenings, I lost my sense of self and, particularly in the last week and a half or so, I've had to remember: I am who I am, and I love who I am, and I'm proud of who I am. I will forget this again, no doubt. But I feel with each occurrence I become better about returning to center.

There are so many gems I'm eliminating from this interview that I may come back and add in the future. For now, a few quotes that spark my favorite parts of their conversation:

On the best of life:
"It's just the minutiae of life that's wonderful...the good stuff is waking up in the morning. The good stuff is the stuff that's free. It always is."

On recognizing your flaws, moving forward:
"There's always an opportunity to return to center."

On being young, not living in the past, and what Hawke would say to his younger self:
"You don't want to lacerate yourself or aggrandize yourself too much."
"I would just tell myself to relax."

On what led his mom to being her happiest in her early 60s:
"Part of that transition for her was learning to like herself on her own terms. And the second that transition happened, forgiving herself for the things she was disappointed in herself about."

On Dead Poets Society:
"What that whole movie is about is finding your voice and letting your voice be heard despite the great pull of the Universe towards everybody being the same and the great applause for mediocrity that happens all the time."

May 29, 2017

How wonderful that the universe is beautiful in so many places and in so many ways.

Upstream: Selected Essays
By Mary Oliver

"And we might, in our lives, have many thresholds, many houses to walk out from and view the stars, or to turn and go back to for warmth and company. But the real one—the actual house, not of beams and nails but of existence itself—is all of earth, with no door, no address separate from oceans or stars, or from pleasure or wretchedness either, or hope, or weakness, or greed.
How wonderful that the universe is beautiful in so many places and in so many ways. But also the universe is brisk and businesslike, and no doubt does not give its delicate landscapes or its thunderous displays of power, and perhaps perception, too, for our sakes or our improvement. Nevertheless, its intonations are our best tonics, if we would take them. For the universe is full of radiant suggestion. For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world's appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity."
(p. 114)

From "Bird," one of my two favorite essays in this collection. It reminded me of Cheryl Strayed's encounter with a bird. The opposite experience and yet as equally cathartic:

"He was, of course, a piece of the sky. His eyes said so. This is not fact; this is the other part of knowing something, when there is no proof, but neither is there any way toward disbelief. Imagine lifting the lid from a jar and finding it filled not with darkness but with light. Bird was like that. Startling, elegant, alive."
(p. 132)

'2. Ropes' in "Two Short Ones" (My other favorite)

"In the old days dogs in our town roamed freely. But the old ways changed.
One morning a puppy arrived in our yard with a length of rope hanging from his collar. He played with our dogs; eventually he vanished. But the next morning he showed up again, with a different rope attached. This happened for a number of days—he appeared, he was playful and friendly, and always accompanied by a chewed-through rope.
Just at that time we were moving to another house, which we finished doing all in one evening. A day or so later, on a hunch, I drove back to the old house and found him lying in the grass by our door. I put him in the car and showed him where our new house was. "Do your best," I said.
He stayed around for a while, then was gone. But there he was the next morning at the new house. Rope dangling. Later that day his owner appeared—with his papers from the Bideawee home, and a leash. "His name is Sammy," she said. "And he's yours."
As Sammy grew older he began to roam around the town and, as a result, began to be caught by the dog officer. Eventually, of course, we were summoned to court, which, we learned quickly, was not a place in which to argue. We were told to build a fence. Which we did.
But it turned out that Sammy could not only chew through ropes, he could also climb fences. So his roaming continued.
But except for the dog officer, Sammy never got into trouble; he made friends. He wouldn't fight with other dogs, he just seemed to stay awhile in someone's yard, and if possible, to say hello to the owners. People began to call us to come and get him before the dog officer saw him. Some took him into their houses to hide him from the law. Once a woman on the other end of town called; when I got there she said, "Can you wait just a few minutes? I'm making him some scrambled eggs."
I could tell many more stories about Sammy—they're endless. But I'll just tell you the unexpected, joyful conclusion. The dog officer resigned! And the next officer was a different sort; he too remembered and missed the old days. So when he found Sammy he would simply call him into his truck and drive him home. In this way, he lived a long and happy life, with many friends.
This is Sammy's story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it's what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.
Or maybe it's about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you."
(pp. 143-145)

May 14, 2017

What solace to know that time, aging and motherhood cannot take away a woman's essential identity.

Our Mothers As We Never Saw Them
By Edan Lepucki

This is a beautiful piece acknowledging the girls and women mothers were before they became mothers. I love looking at old photos of my mama. Innocent, pure, glowing, anticipating her life ahead.

"What solace to know that time, aging and motherhood cannot take away a woman's essential identity."

"For daughters, these old photos of our mothers feel like both a chasm and a bridge. The woman in the picture is someone other than the woman we know. She is also exactly the person in the photo — still, right now. Finally, we see that the woman we’ve come to think of as Mom — whether she’s nurturing, or disapproving, or thoughtful, or delusional, or pestering, or supportive, or sentimental — is also a mysterious, fun, brave babe. She’s been here all this time."

My sweet mama, at 15.

And that I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. I can do what I want to with it.

© Penguin Press

By Mary Oliver

"And that I did not give to anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. I can do what I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday, without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes."
(pp. 21-2)

"The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."
(p. 30)

I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door—a thousand opening doors!—past myself.

© Penguin Press
By Mary Oliver

"I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door—a thousand opening doors!—past myself. I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise, and, thus, to come into power.
In books: truth, and daring, passion of all sorts. Clear and sweet and savory emotion did not run in a rippling stream in my personal world—more pity to it! But in stories and poems I found passion unfettered, and healthy. Not that such feelings were always or even commonly found in their clearest, most delectable states in all the books I read. Not at all! I saw what skill was needed, and persistence—how one must bend one's spine, like a hoop, over the page—the long labor. I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstances—a passion for work."
(pp. 18-19)

I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.

© Penguin Press

By Mary Oliver

I've returned to New York City. I will stay in New York City for the near future. The decision to stay involved a process I'm sure I'll unfurl in my upcoming posts. In essence: it feels right, for right now. I gained the most clarity of my life in the three months I was "off" in Houston, and never have I felt so clear about the life I'd like to make for myself. I'm making it now by being here.

I committed to spending more time outside. I am at my best under the sun, surrounded by green, breathing in the fresh air. Nature most definitely contributed to my clarity.

"In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be."
(pp. 3-4)

"I quickly found for myself two such blessings—the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place.
In the first of these—the natural world—I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world—the world of literature—offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustenation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart."
(pp. 14-15)

May 09, 2017

But I always thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can't afford to see no doctors?

© Broadway Books
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot

"Deborah [Lack's] Voice

When people askand seems like people always be askin to where I can't never get away from itI say, Yeah, that's right, my mother name was Henrietta Lacks, she died in 1951, John Hopkins took her cells and them cells are still livin today, stil multiplyin, still growin and spreadin if you don't keep em forzen. Science calls her HeLa and she's all over the world in medical facilities, in all the computers and the Internet everywhere.

When I go to the doctor for my checkups I always say my mother was HeLa. They get all excited, tell me stuff like how her cells helped make my blood pressure medicines and antidepression pills and how all this important stuff in science happen cause of her. But they don't never explain more than just sayin, Yeah, your mother was on the moon, she been in nuclear bombs and made that polio vaccine. I really don't know how she did all that, but I guess I'm glad she did, cause that mean she helpin lots of people. I think she would like that.

But I always thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can't afford to see no doctors? Don't make no sense. People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don't get a dime. I used to get so mad about that to where it made me sick and I had to take pills. But I don't got it in me no more to fight. I just want to know who my mother was."

February 26, 2017

Then I realized that oftentimes existing is activism in itself.

This former Teen Vogue subscriber bought the December 2016 issue as a way to show support for an outlet that published this article during a time when other outlets were still tiptoeing around calling Trump out on his shit. Lauren Duca received a lot of hate on the internet because of it, as well as praise. Editor in chief Elaine Welteroth and digital editorial director Philip Picardi have also been lauded for the work they've done to elevate the magazine's work in the past year. (See this great interview where they explain the magazine's evolution to Trevor Noah.)

Last week, in a weird form of nostalgia, I started watching Girl Meets World on Netflix. I am...a huge Boy Meets World fan. While this "sequel" is extremely cheesy (hi Disney), Girl Meets World has a lot of heart. I like heart and anything that can find the sweet spot of making you both feel good laugh and cry. Maybe because I've felt so conflicted lately, the messages work for me despite the delivery. There are, inevitably, a ton of BMW references and I'm also a new fan of Rowan Blanchard. I admire her commitment and willingness, at such a young age, to speak to female empowerment and human rights. I've said it before and I'll say it again: young women today need organizations and people like her and I wish I had them to look up to when I was younger.

I'm not sure this ever changes (I'm 12 years older than her and still feel this way):

Rowan Blanchard and Gia Coppola on Why Teenagers Are the Best

"Sometimes I notice that I still write exactly how I wrote when I was younger, it’s just that the words are more articulate now. It’s the same emotions, the same feeling like, Gosh, this is never gonna be over and this is the worst time in my life, when it’s not at all. The worst times in my life are the ones I don’t even write about. I can’t put it on paper."

Rowan Blanchard and Yara Shahidi on Representation
"My need to be an activist came very much from a need to understand history. And how things that happened before have influenced what’s happening now. We covered Rosa Parks for, like, three days in history. But there is so much more than what is in the history books. To me, activism is a need to know, a need to explain, and a need to help. At first I was very scared of the term. I thought, Am I actually doing enough? Then I realized that oftentimes existing is activism in itself. For instance, I think it’s brave for girls to go to college when there is a one-in-four chance that they will be raped. That in itself is activism. I wish all girls and people of color called themselves activists."
- RB

February 11, 2017

Somewhere in my heart, I still think I can do something great.

Story & Art by Inio Asano

The first two weeks of this month taught me I'm nowhere near as self-assured as I'd like to be yet. Situations can still rattle me. Exhausted from searching for answers within myself and other people, I turned to Solanin, which my friend Jermaine gave to me before I left New York.

p. 169

p. 213

Sidenote: Thanks Techaeris for teaching me how to read manga.

January 20, 2017

My President Was Black.

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Yes yes yes he was. Hard not to mourn and I don't have much else to add to what's already been said. I am sad and scared but also energized and not willing to give up just yet. Comforted by many people who feel the same and inspired by them to stay vigilant.

An elegiac piece. (Coates' description.)

"The ties between the Obama White House and the hip-hop community are genuine. The Obamas are social with BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z. They hosted Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean at a state dinner, and last year invited Swizz Beatz, Busta Rhymes, and Ludacris, among others, to discuss criminal-justice reform and other initiatives. Obama once stood in the Rose Garden passing large flash cards to the Hamilton creator and rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda, who then freestyled using each word on the cards. “Drop the beat,” Obama said, inaugurating the session. At 55, Obama is younger than pioneering hip-hop artists like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and Kurtis Blow. If Obama’s enormous symbolic power draws primarily from being the country’s first black president, it also draws from his membership in hip-hop’s foundational generation.
That night, the men were sharp in their gray or black suits and optional ties. Those who were not in suits had chosen to make a statement, like the dark-skinned young man who strolled in, sockless, with blue jeans cuffed so as to accentuate his gorgeous black-suede loafers. Everything in his ensemble seemed to say, “My fellow Americans, do not try this at home.” There were women in fur jackets and high heels; others with sculpted naturals, the sides shaved close, the tops blooming into curls; others still in gold bamboo earrings and long blond dreads. When the actor Jesse Williams took the stage, seemingly awed before such black excellence, before such black opulence, assembled just feet from where slaves had once toiled, he simply said, “Look where we are. Look where we are right now.” This would not happen again, and everyone knew it. It was not just that there might never be another African American president of the United States. It was the feeling that this particular black family, the Obamas, represented the best of black people, the ultimate credit to the race, incomparable in elegance and bearing."

"For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell."

"And I also knew that the man who could not countenance such a thing in his America had been responsible for the only time in my life when I felt, as the first lady had once said, proud of my country, and I knew that it was his very lack of countenance, his incredible faith, his improbable trust in his countrymen, that had made that feeling possible. The feeling was that little black boy touching the president's hair. It was watching Obama on the campaign trail, always expecting the worst and amazed that the worst never happened. It was how I'd felt seeing Barack and Michelle during the inauguration, the car slow-dragging down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowd cheering, and then the two of them rising up out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity." 

Plus, here is a nice interview Coates does with Trevor Noah where he talks more about this piece and Obama as our first black president.

This sounds like yet another story clearly outlining how fly Barack Obama is, but it’s not. Because Barack Obama is not cool. Barack Obama is fucking remarkable.

Barack Obama Is Not Cool
By Rembert Browne

Great Rembert.

"This may sound like an unnecessary pile on in these terrifying final hours, but there’s actually a gigantic compliment hiding in this. Saying Barack Obama is “cool” diminishes all that he actually is. What’s true: Barack Obama is one of the most capable public figures that the United States has ever seen. In some ways, he is the greatest actor of the past eight years. He can bury himself in a role like Daniel Day-Lewis. He can orate and inspire like Martin Luther King Jr. He can ease a crowd with a laugh and a smile like Denzel Washington. He can nerd out like Neil deGrasse Tyson. And when he wants to, he can strut like Jeff Goldblum struts at the end of Independence Day."

"This sounds like yet another story clearly outlining how fly Barack Obama is, but it’s not. Because Barack Obama is not cool. Barack Obama is fucking remarkable."

January 17, 2017

But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him
By Michiko Kakutani

I thought I could not love him any more.

"I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

And so even though by the time I graduated I knew I wanted to be involved in public policy, or I had these vague notions of organizing, the idea of continuing to write and tell stories as part of that was valuable to me. And so I would come home from work, and I would write in my journal or write a story or two.

The great thing was that it was useful in my organizing work. Because when I got there, the guy who had hired me said that the thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories. And he told me that if you learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.

But my interest in public service and politics then merged with the idea of storytelling."

January 12, 2017

Keeping a calm space for yourself, where you remember what matters, where you believe in the goodness of people, is fundamental.

One more. Much of my time now is spent tuning in to what's happening in the world, and especially what's happening in our country. What happened. I feel very anxious and desperate and terrified and helpless about it all. I felt those emotions strongly again yesterday after watching the president-elect's first press conference in six months. I'm still trying to gather the courage to contribute some goodness. (I think of James Baldwin's words often.) I know I'm not the only one who is concernedmuch of my news-gathering these days comes via various sources on Twitter, where it seems like we're all SCREAMING into the voidbut I haven't had much of an opportunity to voice my fears aloud, so it's like they're bubbling up inside. And I'm also trying to sort out my future. I'm a bit calmer today because I've been spending time outside (it's beautiful: 80 degrees and sunny) and because I haven't really checked the news at all today.

Havrilesky's response to Ask Polly: How do I live in a world gone mad? is a good place to start when I'm not sure how.

"But we don’t have much time on this planet, and we have to make the most with the time we have. There will always be trouble in the world. As long as you’re vocal and you’re unafraid to speak out against injustice, that’s a start. You can only be wide awake if you’re also getting enough sleep at night. Remembering that good things are still happening out there, supporting and loving the people around you, living in the moment: These things are even more important when the world looks extra bleak. You were not put on this planet to tune out the most gratifying, most gorgeously imperfect moments of your life and focus on nightmares instead. And if you expect to do anything worthwhile with your time, your mind needs to be a calm, placid sea.

Keeping a calm space for yourself, where you remember what matters, where you believe in the goodness of people, is fundamental. Our survival depends on it, more than ever. We have to reach out to each other and believe in each other. We have to believe that we can make our way through this shit storm, and fix what’s broken.

We don’t owe it to the world to wallow in the darkness, to stay depressed, to mourn indefinitely. We owe it to the world to believe in this day, and to believe in the future."

We are all so completely poleaxed by our own longing, by our own magical thinking, by our own physical resistance to hard work.

I should note that my introduction to Ask Polly, and to Heather, was earlier last year through one of her columns on The Cut that didn't make it into her book. A letter and response that I am sort of embarrassed to admit I related (still relate?) to. But I can't deny her words helped me put things in perspective and try to get it together.

"You can’t hang out with people and have a good time — as you state is your goal — until you show them respect. That means you have to stop putting yourself at the center of every picture. That means you have to appreciate pictures even when you’re not in them. You don’t need to be everything to everyone. You just have to matter to yourself. Once you care about yourself, you’ll have room to care about other people — as human beings, not as mirrors or escape fantasies or imaginary rivals or ciphers or scapegoats.
I have two daughters, and this, for some reason, is my biggest fear when it comes to them, that they’ll waste their lives chasing men in circles instead of recognizing how much sunshine and genius and expansive, outrageous possibility they carry around with them everywhere they go. But this anxiety of mine isn’t just about young women and their tendency to ignore their own value and worth and potential. It’s also about 30-something men and 40-somethings and 50-somethings and everyone under the goddamned sun. We are all so completely poleaxed by our own longing, by our own magical thinking, by our own physical resistance to hard work. We put our faith in prefabricated fantasies instead of reality; we believe in easy answers and short cuts instead of craft; we admire popularity instead of originality; we find ourselves reaching for shiny dreamworlds and ignoring human beings. The world tells us that we should be disappointed in ourselves, every single day. The best party is across town. The best party is across the universe. We should be fucking a ghost that looks like Chris Hemsworth, gently, in some galaxy far away.
Let’s just be ourselves instead, broken but hopeful, and let’s be right here, right now. Let’s look around and see the scrappy, mediocre, mundane details of our lives and proclaim them exalted and glorious. Imagine for a moment that I can see you clearly for the first time. I can see you clearly, and you are radiating pure, lusty, brilliant grace and divinity. Feel it. Believe it. Carry it with you."

Full letter --> Ask Polly: Why do I always want unavailable men?

Now the women I admire most are women who never pretend to be different than they are.

How to be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life
By Heather Havrilesky

I know it's not fair, but I can't help compare this compilation of letters to Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. Strayed masters language and storytelling in a way that exceeds everything/one else in this category. But that's not to say Havrilesky's words haven't also resonated with me deeply.

The good and bad thing about me abandoning everything/taking time off/being alone is confronting myself every day. Especially my flaws. Am I always nice? No. Do I try to be? Always. Am I nice because I think that's an honorable trait? Yes. Am I also "too nice" because I hate being disliked and because confrontations and conflict make me uncomfortable? Also yes.

I'm working on being less of the latter nice. Havrilesky's advice:

"Experiments in asking for exactly what you want will go badly. Do it anyway. Do it and expect people to react badly. Because you're sensitive, you won't like this. Think about how they feel, and try to empathize. Think about how you might soften your message. Watch how other people do it. I know it sounds like a management technique, but good communicators usually start with something positive, then move to the negative gently: "I love this about you, but I have to draw the line here." "I know you're trying your best, but this is what I still need from you." "I care about you so much and you're such an important friend to me, but I don't think I can do this one thing."
Listen closely when someone asserts his or her boundaries. Because that's healthy behavior, even if it's not to your taste at this point. Learn from them. Because most people avoid problems instead of asserting themselves. They clam up. They disappear. That's the coward's path, even if it's a path a lot of us take.
I used to admire people who could hang with anything. Now the women I admire most are women who never pretend to be different than they are. Women like that express their anger. They admit when they're down. They don't beat themselves up over their bad moods. They allow themselves to be grumpy sometimes. They grant themselves the right to be grouchy, or to say nothing, or to decline your offer without a lengthy explanation.
Sometimes it seems like the rest of us are on a never-ending self improvement conveyor belt. We're running faster and faster, struggling to be our best selves, but every day we fail and we hate ourselves for it.
Fuck that. Let's be mortal. Let's not be sexy warrior princesses or burlesque dancers in burkas or conquistadors with cookies in the oven. How many years do we have to wait just to speak our minds? Let's be flinty and unreasonable instead. Let's tell the truth, without a smile. Let's let our words drip, one by one, without explanation, without apology, like the first few pebbles before a landslide."
(pp. 84-5).

January 05, 2017

Wishes for a year as wonderful as you.

Inscriptions from left to right: Wishing you the happiest of birthdays! / Wishes for a year as wonderful as you. Happy Birthday / May your birthday be filled with sunshine, love and laughter. / Happy Birthday, It's your time to shine! / Happy Birthday to an original.
Cards are the best and I could spend hours in a shop reading good ones. Really loving these Shannon Martin birthday cards using old family photos. I've probably mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I have five close friends with birthdays in January so I purchased a handful of these from a boutique in Austin last month. Can't wait to mail them. My understanding is Martin uses photos of her family and friends to design cards for all occasions but it'd be a treat to open these up to fans as well for a diversity of submissions. I can think of a few of our own I'd be so happy to see on a card.

January 03, 2017

I could no longer be concerned about how standing up for myself was going to impact someone who didn't care all that much about belittling me.

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Have to Explain
By Phoebe Robinson

Excerpt from what I believe to be the most powerful chapter in this book:

"I felt sorry that he cared more about someone thinking he's racist as opposed to correcting the behavior that would lead someone to feel that way. I felt sorry that after asking two black people to explain why what he did was wrong, he learned nothing from either of us. And most of all, I felt sorry because he was so self-absorbed, he will, most likely, do something like this to someone else--and that person might not be able to handle it as well as I did. And when I couldn't feel sorry anymore, I just wanted to laugh because this bizarre rite of passage of being called "uppity" wasn't even mine to claim at this point, because he had made it all about him. I was just a witness to his emotional breakdown. I was also concerned: Since there were more episodes to shoot, how would the dynamic change on set? What would happen if I left the show? How would that affect the crew? How would my character's absence be explained in the remaining episodes?
After a while, I told myself to stop with the questions. I could no longer be concerned about how standing up for myself was going to impact someone who didn't care all that much about belittling me. At the same time, though, my thoughts kept returning to the rest of the cast, which was, by far, the most diverse one I had ever worked with. Who knew when I was going to get an opportunity like that again? After all, acting with a cast that was intentionally designed to depict POCs and gays as regular people is something that doesn't happen all too often. So I weighed the options: finish what I started or tell White Director I was moving on. I chose to shoot my last episode, which not only allowed me to spend more time with the sea of brown faces in the cast, but, in a stroke of luck, also turned into a paid gig. WD felt guilty enough to compensate the entire cast for the first three episodes we had performed in, marking the first time in history that reparations happened faster than the time it takes to have an item shipped to your house via Amazon Prime. In all seriousness, it turned out that being a team player paid off. Literally, which was nice, but I didn't care about the money, even though I was thrilled my making a stand benefited the rest of the cast. What I cared about was my Sidney Poitier-esque stoicism that was on full display during the showdown with the reality TV judges had morphed into something different. More powerful, direct, and better.
Don't get me wrong: remaining steadfast and not letting others see you break is one version of noble. One form of brave. And perhaps given how brutal the world is, this stoicism may even be necessary and the only reliable protection one has. This protection seems to be something that comes preinstalled in me and possibly in the souls of all black folks. It allows us, much like the adamantium that courses through Wolverine's skeleton, to be self-healing in the face of the daily micro- and macro-aggressions, to remind us to carry on, my wayward son. But it turns out for me that carrying on isn't enough. Holding my head high and rising above doesn't make me feel strong or fierce. It makes me feel stifled. Almost as if I'm choking on a tiny injustice and that one of these days, the right injustice in the right shape and size is going to lodge itself in my throat and take my voice and my very last breath. Therefore, the only reliable protection for me is to speak up. On that day with that White Director, I made the choice to never again be quiet, to never again suck it up. I challenged him. And I will do it again. If that makes me uppity, so be it. At least people know I'm no longer a vessel that they can use to act out their racist feelings. They will know that I think I'm worth fighting for. They will know that I have a fire burning inside me. They will know that I'm alive."
(pp. 156-8)