December 13, 2019

Resuming therapy and in a season of self-curiosity, I’ve been drawn to essays about healing, gratitude, and recovery. I hope you enjoy this week’s selection!

  1. “Yelp Reviews of Fast Food,” Electric Literature. The McDonalds one is my favorite of these cute, slightly animated comics by Mary Shyne.
  2. To the Teeth #4, Entropy. “While I healed, I remembered that habits—this includes the mind—take at least three weeks to stick, and teenagers need five positive interactions for every other one. So I pretended I was my own teenager. I held her tight, kept her in the light, and I told her she could do this, which often sounded more like trust yourself. Trust what you’re doing. If you almost lost it, it means you didn’t. If you write it down, it means it is in the past. It means you can stand in the burning house and not be the burning house. I wanted to write this column because Mariame Kaba says that if we can pass down trauma, we can pass down healing.”
  3. The Difficult Art of Giving Space in Love: Rilke on Freedom, Togetherness, and the Secret to a Good Marriage, Brain Pickings. “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!” I have to work to understand the passages shared in this Brain Pickings, but I found it rewarding to dig through. Here’s another: “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
  4. Little Weirds, Jenny Slate. I actually read this a few weeks ago and just haven’t had the time to share it. But images from it keep bubbling back up in my day to day, so I know it touched me. It’s a book of strange essays and what I’ll call “extended tweets” about identity, whimsy, and recovery. I copied many passages from this book into my journal, and here’s a sample: “I am the croissant that felt its own heat and curves and wished to become a woman, and I am that woman from the wish. Let me be your morning treat with your coffee. Disregard the fear that I am too rich to be an ordinary meal. Allow my antique decadence into your morning into your mouth. Pair me with jam. Treasure me for my layers and layers of fragility and richness. Name me after a shape that the moon makes. Have me in a hotel while you are on vacation. Look at me and say, “Oh, I really shouldn’t,” just because you want to have me so very much.” That’s the whimsy. Here’s a sample from the recovery: “It occurs to me as I fight so hard with myself that these cruel and persistent voices are the echoes of trauma from the times when people treated me like I am now treating myself. And that, perhaps, it is possible to close an inner door and shut out voices that are not mine. In the last light of a long day, I sit on a chair on my porch and watch the sky drain colors down and out and I realize I want to hear my voice and only mine. Not the voice of my voice within a cacophony of old pains. Just mine, now.”
  5. Column of Light, Gay Mag. “I wonder if gratitude would be a more compelling emotion if we allowed ourselves to feel it to its fullest — in our wrists, in our fingertips. If we learned to recognize its presence, greeting it as it arrives. Sometimes I’m walking down the street in Brooklyn and I’m overcome by a feeling of thankfulness — of being alive, of being alive in this very moment — so strong I have to put both hands over my chest. Gratitude wrings out my body like a towel. It breaks open my heart like a piece of balsa wood clenched in two fists. And I let it. I allow it to feel like a bolt of lightning, or better yet: that there has appeared a column of light, and I can step inside.” Lovely.

December 06, 2019

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Did my best to confirm this quote. Do I know if it’s real or a Pinterest invention? No. Do I love it anyway? Yes.

Missed you all last week, I just plum forgot it was Friday! It’s nice to forget it’s Friday sometimes. These offerings touch on different kinds of sorrow but also the power of human connection and love. I think that combination is appropriate for the complexity of this season. Love you all:

  1. “Suggested Donation,” Heather Christle. I’m not sure if I shared this strange little poem with you all yet or not. But I like the conversational language. I like this bit about deer: “If they kept diaries / the first entry would / read: Was born / Was licked / Tried walking / Then they’d walk / away and no second / entry would ever exist.” Nice.
  2. How to Go Home for the Holidays When Your Family is a Bit Much, Vice. My favorite internet writer, Jennifer Peepas of Captain Awkward, had a piece published in Vice about going home for the holidays when navigating family relationships can be difficult. She quotes a therapist, Rae McDaniel, who has (like all therapists I’ve known) some very good soundbites, like: “You’re not going to be able to buy groceries at the hardware store, by which I mean, some people just are not going to be able to meet your needs.” But, McDaniel tells their clients, arguing with someone isn’t the only way to stand up for yourself. “Quietly changing the subject can be authentic; leaving the room and taking a walk can be authentic.” Good advice here!
  3. Design Over People? New Fine Arts Library Critiqued for See-Through, Grated Floors, Cornell Sun. “Every space that we use is designed by someone,” Nomura said. “[These concerns are] starting a really interesting conversation: Who is that someone? What’s their intention? Who are they really designing for?” Another library designed by someone who doesn’t seem to go in public or know any other people. See-through, grated metal floors? Sounds like my nightmare. The metal floors don’t dampen any sound either, so it’s also loud? And what if you spilled your coffee ON SOMEONE’S HEAD.
  4. Sarah Miller on How to Deal with Despair in an Age Full of It, Insider. In this piece, Miller doesn’t diminish the heaviness of what causes despair in these times, but offers a few ways to avoid wallowing in the heaviness. They’re maybe commonsense but still worth remembering, like doing something for someone else, or getting exercise. Also, I relate to the way she describes walking her dog, here: “I like to look at its tiny fat body pushing its way through space. I got another dog just because watching two animals at once made me feel even slightly happier, something about the symmetry, who knows, who cares, hello, endorphins, welcome, I am sure you will not have trouble finding a seat.” I love to see two dogs! And I know a lot of friends have been staying tuned in to the news as crisis after crisis unfolds, and for you all I think this piece would be helpful. It ends with: “I have some curiosity about what is going to happen next, and I might even feel like I have some power over the future. It doesn’t solve everything, but it allows me to get to the next day, when, with any luck, and maybe even some effort on my part, this sense of curiosity and power can connect with the curiosity and power in other people.”
  5. “I Come Home Wanting to Touch Everyone,” Stephen Dunn. As a lover of physical touch, this poem made me happy. My favorite bits are: “tonight the body-hungers have sent out / their long-range signals / or love itself has risen / from its squalor of neglect.” and especially: “everything, everyone is intelligible / in the language of touch.”

Bonus features:

November 22, 2019

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Raisa Suprun via The Atlantic

The reads I picked this week are pretty life-affirming, in my opinion. I’m always on the hunt for the good stuff. Last weekend David and I watched Elizabethtown, and there’s a background story of a couple getting married with all this personalized merch with catchphrases on it (like “Chuck and Cindy: The Wedding,” and “Lovin’ You 24/7”). My favorite of the catchphrases is “Lovin’ life!! Lovin’ You!!” Anyway…

  1. This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad, NYT. America’s sweetheart, Tom Hanks. “I think a long time ago, I learned how important it was to show up a little bit early,” Hanks told me. “Be ready to go, you know? And to respect the whole process, and I think that you could respect the whole process even when the other people don’t.” There are so many golden little moments in this adoring story: “In our interviews, he says “oh dear” and “geez” and “for cryin’ out loud.” He is a history enthusiast. He is an information enthusiast. He is an enthusiasm enthusiast. At one point, I can’t remember why, he recited the Preamble to the Constitution.” Highly recommend this read.
  2. The Myth and Magic of Generating New Ideas, New Yorker. “I had stumbled upon an instance of what is called an abundant number, a phenomenon first studied by the ancient Greeks. An abundant number is smaller than the sum of its divisors: in my case, the sum of one, two, three, four, and six (twelve’s divisors) is sixteen. That morning with my dad, I didn’t have a name for this phenomenon, but I was happy nonetheless, and maybe even happier because I was ignorant of the larger picture. It was my own surprising little discovery, born of walking and puzzling. Magic all around.” I like how this author talks about the process of thinking and discovery, “an initial period of concentration—conscious, directed attention—needs to be followed by some amount of unconscious processing. Mathematicians will often speak of the first phase of this process as “worrying” about a problem or idea. It’s a good word, because it evokes anxiety and upset while also conjuring an image of productivity: a dog worrying a bone, chewing at it to get to the marrow—the rich, meaty part of the problem that will lead to its solution. In this view of creative momentum, the key to solving a problem is to take a break from worrying, to move the problem to the back burner, to let the unwatched pot boil.” It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote from “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” where he describes the process of creating a story as one that starts with an idea bubbling in his mind, until it becomes “a thing inside him pawing to get out. […] This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It’s like being in love.”
  3. How High Can High-Waisted Pants Go? New Yorker. “Personally, I want my pants to be so high that they can double as an underwire bra. I want to feel like Humphrey Bogart playing an exaggerated version of himself for Halloween.” I just like feelin’ like my tummy is safe! I enjoyed this piece of fashion writing.
  4. How to Write a Condolence Note, Cup of Jo. Some very good advice in here. In particular, I liked this, “Tell stories. I loved when people wrote specific stories about Paul that I’d never heard, and told me how he had impacted them, what they loved about him, positive things they observed about our relationship. I personally think, the more detail, the better. The grieving person is thinking about the person 100% of the time; nothing you say is going to make her sadder; instead, the stories you tell are going to make her feel connected.”
  5. Here Are More Pictures of Cows, The Atlantic. Exactly what is promised!

November 15, 2019

Hi! We made it this far, guys. Stay hydrated, moisturize, and wear gloves. Let’s be good to each other as it gets cold and dark and twinkle-lit.

  1. How to Support Your Fat Friends, as a Straight Size Person, Medium. (CW: calorie mention, though critically.) “When a thin person does something — anythingto defend or support a fat person, it’s a thunderclap, a cathartic climax in an otherwise desolate movie. I long for those moments. I imagine a thin friend talking about their fat politics, unprompted, with other thin people. I imagine them proactively bringing up fat activism, inviting other thin people into a conversation about solidarity and matching their actions to their values.” And I really liked this part too: “These friends are the bright and beautiful exceptions to the world around me. They know that they have internalized anti-fatness, and know that their good hearts and best intentions aren’t enough on their own to end anti-fat bias. They recognize that compassion and commiseration are meaningless without sustained action. […] The friends I have kept understand that their support doesn’t hinge on how they feel, but on how they show up and what actions they take.
  2. The Worship of Billionaires Has Become Our Shittiest Religion, The Outline. “If you have in your possession one billion dollars, then almost literally anything you desire — anything anyone might possibly conceive of desiring — can be yours, just as soon as you happen to desire it. But with no real friction between desire and reality, how does wanting even function? Can someone who lives like this even be said to know desire, anymore, at all?” In my opinion, no one should be able to hoard that much wealth and pass it into other generations. When the author says they’re not people, it seems to me to mean that they are removed from ordinary human experience (at the expense of other human beings’ labor, time, and health). What does a billionaire know about the hard choices an immigrant family has to make? “Becoming a billionaire is a matter of extreme luck, often experienced not by any one individual but rather spread out, over generations… And what is more: your good luck, in becoming a billionaire, must simultaneously be felt — often directly, and perhaps very violently — as the bad luck, of possibly hundreds of millions of others, whom your wealth exists as theft from.” This is a pretty philosophical and fascinating read.
  3. “The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump,” The Atlantic. “What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. […] I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.” Gorgeous writing by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  4. Stammer Time, The Baffler. “Some of us, though, have been trying to flip the paradigm, to reframe stuttering as a trait that confers transformative powers. We wear our vulnerability on the outside, and that invites emotional intimacy with others. We slow down conversations, fostering patience. We give texture to language. We gauge character by our listeners’ reactions. We are good listeners ourselves. This impulse is hardly original to stutterers. We’ve drawn ideas from other minorities: autistic people, whose “neurodiversity” model declares that a society is richer when it embraces a wider range of thoughts and behaviors; gays and lesbians, who in 1973 convinced the American Psychiatric Association to depathologize homosexuality; and deaf people, whose well-developed language and culture have led some members to talk about “Deaf Gain” rather than “hearing loss.” Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from this lens before but I learned a lot. These lines struck me too: “Can we stop believing that the problem lives inside our bodies? Might the real problem lie in a society that, in its quest for order and efficiency, makes no accommodation for people who speak (or walk or think) differently? Might the solutions lie there too?”
  5. Why the US National Anthem is Terrible — And Perfect, Vox. This video is a little old but new to me. I really liked how it broke down what is wild and impossible about our national anthem (its highest and lowest notes are 12 steps apart!). It also shows how national anthem performances are really good when they’re good, and really bad when they’re not so good. Neat lil video!

Bonus features:

November 8, 2019

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Despite my best intentions I have barely managed to read more than a recipe this week. It’s the peak of the semester, so it’s been a flood of class visits and citation checks and hopping from one student’s computer to the next. Truly, it’s taken me two hours to write this paragraph. So I thought I’d fall back on a post I’d been thinking about for a while. Here are 5 websites that I use a lot and recommend; they do their jobs and do ‘em well!

  1. TimeandDate.com. I started using this website when Davey and I were long distance — I used to use it to calculate how long it had been since I’d seen him, or how long til the next visit (*awwww*). But I also use it to calculate vacation time occasionally, because time math continues to elude me. There are all kinds of calculators and countdowns on this website, but the one I use the most is the Date Duration Calculator.
  2. DoesTheDogDie.com. They describe their site as “crowdsourced emotional spoilers for movies, tv, books, and more.” It’s a simple search box where you can look up a movie to see what upsetting material might appear in it. Obviously the original yes/no question is in the title of the website, but over the years they’ve incorporated other triggering events and topics, such as abuse and common phobias like needles or clowns. If you’re picky about spoilers, this might bother you. But for me, personal comfort > spoilers any day. I don’t like to be blindsided by something that upsets me (I call these my “bugaboos,” like from Stepbrothers), and so I very much appreciate this website. It helps me to go into a piece of media with informed consent, or to opt out of it if I want to. Extremely grateful this tool exists.
  3. Poetry Foundation. This is the website of the publisher of Poetry magazine, and I like their site for its browsing functions. You can browse by topic, form, region, and it’s very student friendly. I like coming here for their collections too; this month they have a Thanksgiving-themed collection (“Cranberry Cantos”), and Veteran’s Day poems, for example. There’s a poem out there for every moment and every one.
  4. Unsplash. I use this website to find free, high quality images I can use without permission or attribution (although I do try to attribute whenever possible). It’s a great source for photographs for this blog as well as the graphic designish stuff I do in librarianship. It’s one of those “a community on the internet being generous with their art” things, and I think it’s rad.
  5. J! Archive. This is a fan-run archive of Jeopardy! game answers, organized by season. Yeah, you could consult this for exactly who got what question and who what which game, but I prefer to use it to quiz myself on how many questions I could get from the comfort of my desk chair, with no buzzer or pressure. I am very good at Jeopardy! under these circumstances.