October 27, 2017

This week I’ve been taking a careful look at how I’m responding to stress and everyday difficulties, and I’d be interested to hear from you all how you manage stress and your temper. Thanks, and here’s this week:

  1. How Do I Deal with the Office Know-it-all?, Shondaland. “As tempting as it is, you should not gossip about this person to other people on staff. You should not commiserate. You should not make this a “thing” that everyone knows about and is talking about.” I don’t work with a know-it-all but in general I need the reminder not to “commiserate” when it’s really just picking at something, like a scab.
  2. How do I work with someone I can’t stand?, Ask a Manager. I love what she says here about having compassion for people who annoy us, and also what this commenter near the top wrote: “The part about compassion is applicable for SO MANY situations at work when you find yourself frustrated by someone else’s behavior. Pushing yourself to take that step back and think “There’s probably a reason why they’re acting this way, and it’s very likely that the reason isn’t because they actively want to make me miserable,” can really help in reframing the person who’s annoying you as a human being who’s worthy of your respect and professionalism." 
  3. To Complain is to Truly Be Alive, Samantha Irby. This is the flip side of the coin, but Samantha Irby is such a good and funny writer. We contain multitudes – I can have compassion for people who annoy me and still think that “complaining is a hot bath for your feelings,” right? This one is so funny.
  4. Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Glück. Haunting is a good word to describe this book for me. I’m still trying to figure it out. See these lines, though, in a context of grief and recovery: “How deep it goes, this soul, / like a child in a department store, / seeking its mother – // Perhaps it is like a diver / with only enough air in his tank / to explore the depths for a few minutes or so – / then the lungs send him back.” 
  5. Björk on Björk: The Inimitable Icelandic Superstar Interviews Herself. Honestly, what a strange and cool person. One of the first questions she asks herself is “What is your relationship with flutes?” which is excellent. I actually love how she talks about her work, as dense as this read is.

Happy birthday, Persey!

Today is my dog’s birthday. Although this essay will not mean much to her, I want to reflect on our friendship, 4 years of walking, and the finest season of the year.

I love walking with Persephone, my black Lab, in the fall. We have been faithful walking companions every day for almost 4 years, but in the summer it’s a challenge to stay patient, to stop at flowers and inhale deeply rather than gripping the leash and stamping through the shortest route possible. It took me until this year to admit that I’m not a summer person at all; sticky Maryland summers and increased commute traffic make it difficult for me to keep my cool or go with the flow. Plus there’s all this pressure to “enjoy the outdoors” in the summer – it’s not until autumn that I can actually enjoy being outside.

In the fall, my capacity for poetry expands. The world is in greater detail to me. Blue is more brilliant, our trees are catching fire. What is it about fall that feels wide open—is it the clearer air now that summer hazes have faded? Is it the golden mornings? Bear my limited meteorological knowledge here, but with less moisture in the air, fewer clouds form, so our sky is brighter. The sun crouches lower in the fall and winter, so dawn illuminates dust and air pollution, turning everything rosy-gold. The smell of dry leaves and whisk of wind are so welcome to me these days that our walks go from a tight 25-30 minutes to a meandering, gracious 40 or even 65. I’m in no hurry.

One of the best routes is a park near my house called Heritage Farm Park. Like any good park, there’s a community garden with a tower of fragrant mulch, pavilions and playgrounds, and fields for the smallest small-town sports teams. But there’s also a generous amount of green land for no particular purpose, and thickets, and even two walking bridges along a loop that takes a brisk walker about 40 minutes to complete. 

We’ve lived in Walkersville as long as I’ve had a memory, so I’ve spent a lot of time at this park in various company. I’ve walked there with my entire family, with my college roommates, with friends on the phone. I’ve gone on dates here. When I was in middle school, I watched my neighbor-friend’s brother play football here, and I remember reading one of my favorite books of all time on a low-hanging branch in one of this park’s trees. I took a walk with my best friend and her husband once, just before he became her fiancé. Very recently, my bridesmaids huddled with me there on the chilly morning of my wedding. I don’t know if there’s a more significant 145 acres of land in my life history. But my favorite times at Heritage have been with Persey at the end of the leash – and sometimes, with an empty leash in my hand as I watch her zig-zag over open field.

I’ve heard that friendships are nurtured and sustained by periods of time spent together doing mostly nothing. The same playgroup during your parents’ Bible study, the same old walk home from school, the aimless afternoons painting your toenails and listening to boy bands, these nothing-in-particular times are the food of friendship. So the time you spend writing research papers and eating burritos can cement a college friendship for a lifetime, and the ordinary, nothing-special routes I’ve taken with Persey have created a bond so close it’s hard to write about without exaggeration or baby-talk.

When Persey came into our lives, we tossed around a bunch of names. The myth of Persephone and her pomegranate inspired a personal family legend, and the dignity of the name for a clumsy creature with no common sense appealed to us. “A big name for a little dog.” But she grew, and as she grew into “Persephone,” I can appreciate the cyclical themes of her name and how our friendship has always related to the seasons. She joined our family in a particularly difficult January for me, and I’ve said before that she was part of my recovery. It was life-saving to me that Persey needed me in the cold months of 2014; even her warm body sleeping on my legs in between furious bouts of play was a reminder that I was here, that I was beloved.

When my Gram came to live with us, Persey gained another companion and teacher. Gram helped me teach this exuberant dog some manners—but the best thing Gram did with Persey, as she did with all of us cousins and family dogs, was to take an interest in our struggles and triumphs, and to spoil us nearly rotten. Of course, Gram’s great love for her family and for dogs is the subject of another essay. When Gram passed from our lives and this earth, Persey’s routines comforted me. Grad school, long-distance longing, a body image crisis, and a personal challenge to visit every park in Frederick County – Persey has been by my side. For many weeks of the past 4 years, daily walks have been routine; but during times of great stress or profound loneliness, the significance of our neighborhood loops would swell. The sound of my feet on the sidewalk and the jingle of Persey’s leash would form the rhythm that kept me going.

I’m in another time of transition this fall, newly-wed and newly-renting a place that doesn’t allow pets. This means I visit Persey every day at my childhood home for our walks, and often linger for an hour or two of visiting with pet and parents afterward. These walks have become vital again. So if it’s between 5 and 7pm on an ordinary, nothing-special day during this particularly gorgeous autumn, you can bet that somewhere, on some leaf-cluttered sidewalk, there’s a girl with a fanny-pack and her dog exploring. Thank you, birthday girl, and here’s to a lifetime of many more walks together.


October 20, 2017

It’s so chilly this week, finally! Almost time to start wearing gloves, mmm…

  1. IKEA introduces LURVIG, the company’s first collection of furniture for pets I love it all.
  2. Pinpointing Racial Discrimination by Government Officials, New York Times. “What’s more, when it’s harder to get your neighborhood librarian to respond to a simple email about opening hours, it’s not much of a leap to imagine other interactions — dealing with a computer help desk, the front office at a school or just the dry cleaner — that go less smoothly.” “Countless small frictions everyday” can really add up to one person receiving less help than another, and I want to be thoughtful of the role I play in that. Anyone who serves the public also has the ability (the responsibility) to deliver countless small harmonies everyday.
  3. Best American Poetry, 2017. A lot of really good ones in this anthology – some of the ones that stuck with me are Good Bones by Maggie Smith, Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz by Matthew Olzmann, and Weapons Discharge Report by Dan Albergotti.
  4. How to Read Aloud to Children, New York Times Magazine. This is a short lovely read.
  5. Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures, by Jennifer Romolini. Still working my way through this one, but I like her writing voice. It’s the kind of book that may have hit me harder right when I graduated, still looking for the next step forward, but I am enjoying her real talk about interviews, resumes, and what questions to ask yourself so you can make clearer the path toward your big, dangerous dreams.

Bonus features:

October 13, 2017

Spooky, Friday the 13th! I skipped last week because I was being a little bump on the beach. Now I’m back and sleepier than ever, so let’s look at what I read this time around!

  1. How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” What an amazing (T.S. Eliot) quote. Everything I’m reading lately is begging me to slow down. I’d like to take it to heart.
  2. How to Eat Spicy Food, the New York Times. LOVED this! Basically you need to teach your brain to anticipate spicy food as a good event, not a scary, painful one, and your taste buds will follow. But I loved how the article ended: “Relax and let the plant compounds expand your ability to experience food in a new way….trust that your mouth is not going to burn for the next year.”
  3. Alive Time vs. Dead Time. This is pretty encouraging to read if you’re underemployed – it doesn’t make being underemployed any less unfair and untenable, but it may inspire you in the meantime. “This is an opportunity for me. I am using it for my purposes. I will not let this be dead time for me.”
  4. Why I’ve Never Learned to Cook, Bon Appetit. This essay stuck with me. “She was being gentle. “You should feel comfortable making mistakes because that’s how you learn.” She was saying that I shouldn’t be afraid to start without knowing everything. There was no way to do this without screwing it up first. Look at her, all these years, and look at the burn marks on her arms. Look at the chickens she sometimes still has to throw away.”
  5. Caitlin Moran: How Books Made Me a Feminist. "No. They are not the right books to read, if you are a young girl. They are not the voices you should allow in your head. Until you are grown – until you can argue, with confidence, with a narrator; with a genius; with a world-view – girls, do not read books by old men. They live in another century, and you are the future. You, and all those brilliant, beautiful girls, writing in the past.“ I don’t know much about Caitlin Moran, but I agree with her here. I have recently elected to stop reading fantasy novels by male authors for the indefinite future – no matter how cool their ideas, they canNOT escape that male gaze. It creeps in, the unnecessary objectification. And in times like these, I need a break from the misogyny that is comes so naturally to everyone (even me).