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)