April 26, 2019

Black lab looking over an empty soccer field on a pretty day

I drove into work this morning (running dangerously late) and enjoyed the optical trick of trees appearing from the thick fog in Westminster today. Reminds me of that Carl Sandburg poem, where he says that the fog “comes / on little cat feet.” The first time I read that poem, I was in middle school. He was one of the first poets I felt like I understood all on my own, and I have a soft spot in my heart for him and especially for “Fog.”

  1. Is your pregnancy app sharing your intimate data with your boss?, Washington Post. “The rise of pregnancy-tracking apps shows how some companies increasingly view the human body as a technological gold mine, rich with a vast range of health data their algorithms can track and analyze. Women’s bodies have been portrayed as especially lucrative: The consulting firm Frost & Sullivan said the “femtech” market — including tracking apps for women’s menstruation, nutrition and sexual wellness — could be worth as much as $50 billion by 2025.” This story frightens and repulses me. The idea of the human body as a rich vein of data (to make money from), it’s antithetical to what I believe about personhood. Also, depending on the app and employer, some companies can access way too much information about their employees (information which I don’t think we’re consciously consenting to provide our BOSSES). “…The company can access a vast range of aggregated data about its employees, including their average age, number of children and current trimester; the average time it took them to get pregnant; the percentage who had high-risk pregnancies, conceived after a stretch of infertility, had C-sections or gave birth prematurely; and the new moms’ return-to-work timing.” This isn’t okay, and I hope this story reminds you that you are not just a resource, not just a commodity, and that you have a right to privacy!! I’m heated!
  2. The thesaurus is good, valuable, commendable, superb, actually, The Outline. “What a thesaurus gave to people was the ability to see words not simply as isolated bits of vocabulary but as parts of a bigger way of thinking and associating ideas and meaning. Language could be exciting. Language could have ideas lurking in it you never even knew were there. Language was grand, dignified, sublime, majestic; vast, immense, and enormous. To the idea of the ten-dollar word, the thesaurus says: really, there is no such thing as a budget for words. There’s no language austerity. Go ahead and spend. This is all yours, and it’s not running out.” Cute.
  3. How to overcome perfectionism in a judgmental world, Quartz. “So right at the outset, take however bad you think your project or pitch or big idea is and dial that fear down a couple notches. Think of this as your “reality” setting.” Also in praise of editors: “Your editor needn’t be a professional for this tactic to work, nor does the process apply only to journalism or storytelling. You might ask a trusted coworker to review your PowerPoint presentation when you’re feeling stuck, or drop by a professor’s office hours to run an admittedly messy outline by them. What’s important is that you release yourself from the expectation that you are capable of producing great work, and only great work, all on your own.” I find this piece very encouraging; I often need to remind myself not to compare my first drafts with other peoples’ finished works, and to fight the fear of making ugly things in sketchbooks and notebooks. A healthy amount of ugly is necessary to make something beautiful, I think.
  4. I Don’t Know What My Label Is, ¡Hola Papi! for Out Magazine. Another column selected by your friendly neighborhood advice lover! I thought his point was lovely: knowing yourself is a process, not a static label. Parts of my identity remain stable, like being white or being a daughter, but others might be for a season (being a student) or something to grow into (leader? mother? author?). “Identity is not some buried object that, once you dig up, is yours to keep and hold and put on your coffee table as a conversation starter. It’s more of a terrain unto itself, an ecosystem of instincts, motives, subconscious desires, and experiences. It is subject to profound change over time, affected by the shocks and throes that come with moving through the world. We can spend our whole lives examining it and trying to understand it, and the best we’ll come up with is a crude map. And that’s OK! Language and identity are our deeply human, deeply flawed attempts to make static what is turbulent and elusive, to render legible what is inherently illegible: the experience of being.”
  5. Definitive 100 Most Useful Productivity Hacks, Filtered. I am attracted to strategies that will improve my productivity, because I don’t feel in control of how I spend my time and frequently fight discouragement and distraction. Throw in the word “hack” and I’m listening. This long list is super readable, but I have been wondering lately if “being productive” is an inherent virtue. Maybe at work? What about being collaborative? What about being contemplative? Also some productivity hacks make me feel like a robot (Paraphrasing #69: Don’t feel like spending 10,000 hours to become an EXPERT in banjo? Drop it and focus on something else.), but I can see its usefulness as a buffet. Sample and select according to your preferences and how your brain works. My favorites: #37 (Time Yourself), #52 (Biological Prime Time), and #87 (Close Open Loops In Your Head – I use journaling for this).

Bonus features:

April 19, 2019

Still from Disney's Cinderella, carrying trays and laundry

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about cleaning. I think a lot of us have a love-hate relationship with housework — some days it feels great to busily breeze through the house with a dust rag and a scented candle burning. Other days it feels like a thankless, perpetual obstacle before you get to do what you want to be doing. An obstacle between your tired feet and becoming horizontal. Factor in negotiating who-does-what and how-much and it’s an exhausting puzzle. My friend Amanda shared a lovely thought with me: “There’s more to making a home than housekeeping.” Sure that stuff is important (I need clean socks), but laughing together and being kind feeds our relationship, and that’s an essential part of making our house a home too. Here’s what I read this week:

  1. The weird and wonderful world of neighborhood Facebook groups, The Week. “This familiarity makes it no less odd to me that we’ve built an online community composed entirely of people already part of an actual, physical community. Why do we choose to have these conversations on Facebook when we could have so many of them in person? Why do we gather in a digital group instead of at the street corner or on someone’s front porch?” I have had this growing belief that the best part of Facebook now is the groups — specifically groups gathered on a topic that actually interests you. For my part, I’m a member of my neighborhood group, but also a few librarian-specific ones where people brainstorm, vent about professional peeves, and share their successes. Another neighborly Facebook group in Frederick is the Frederick Scanner, which my boss at Dairy Queen taught me to pull up whenever I saw a bunch of fire engines in a row or was stuck behind a mystery traffic jam on the way to work. Facebook groups are a cool and (usually) moderated source of ~gossip~ and if you’re lucky, camaraderie.
  2. AAFU: My boyfriend of two years ghosted me, The Outline. I am a collector of good advice columns. (In fact, I’ve been thinking about doing a bonus post with some of my favorite letters from my favorite advice columnists!) This writer starts with a stunning quote: “There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy.” And I think I agree with some of the advice in this letter. So many letter writers seek a columnist right after a break-up when they’re feeling unmoored, and I think in that season of life, looking for closure or a reason why is just not going to satisfy. In particular, I liked this piece: “Go do something you always wanted to but he thought was stupid. Cut your hair. Sell every piece of furniture he so much as sat on and redecorate your apartment. Write the meanest, most brutal letter you can and — this is key! You must listen to this part because in the past I have not and it was a mistake — do not send it. Keep it and reread it from time to time to track how differently you begin to feel.”
  3. There Is No Purer or More Joyful Reality TV Show Than ‘Antiques Roadshow’, Catapult.  Ahhh the perfect show to nap on the couch to. I never knew that many of the appraisers on this show are eager volunteers! “These people, our favorite appraisers included, choose to travel, interact with, and educate hundreds of strangers a day, for weeks out of the year, for free.” This is such a loving look at PBS and the Roadshow. Here’s another sweet part: “Passion is the main currency on Roadshow, where enthusiasm is never maligned by greed, by the search for fame or fortune….But that excitement [of the appraisers], which you can see often on the show, always seems to come from a place of gratitude. It’s the thrill of getting to handle a rare item that, perhaps, you’ve never encountered before.”
  4. Husbands That Cook: More Than 120 Irresistible Vegetarian Recipes and Tales from Our Tiny Kitchen, Ryan Alvarez and Adam Merrin. I just checked this cookbook out yesterday, but I’ve already loved one of the recipes (it was some kind of kale caesar salad minus anchovies). Going to explore more of the colorful plant-based eats in the next week or so!
  5. “Paul Robeson,” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Surprise! Another poem. These lines thrill me:
    “we are each other’s
    we are each other’s
    we are each other’s
    magnitude and bond.”

5 Plain Language Poems

April is National Poetry Month! A month dedicated to celebrating masterful, funny, or disturbing poems — poems that stick with you and memorize themselves like too-catchy pop songs. Poems whose lines might rattle around in your head for weeks.

But I know that poetry can also be kind of impenetrable, like when a poem is full of SAT vocabulary, or when the subject of the poem is so obscure that you feel like you’re deciphering a riddle. I wanted to share 5 poems that use plain, ordinary language. I believe these plain poems become extraordinary because the poet shows us what’s beautiful or surprising in an ordinary moment. I am linking to the poems and sharing my favorite lines from each:

  1. Just a New York Poem,” Nikki Giovanni. A lovely NY love poem with lots of detail.
    “i wanted to give
    myself to the cyclone that is
    your arms
    and let you in the eye of my hurricane and know
    the calm before”
  2. Gee You’re So Beautiful That It’s Starting to Rain,” Richard Brautigan. Short and quirky.
    lives like music in the skin
    and sounds like a sunshine harpsichord.”
  3. Eating Poetry,” Mark Strand. Ok this one is just a little mysterious, but funny! My theory is that it’s the dog snacking on his owner’s books.
    “I am a new man.
    I snarl at her and bark.
    I romp with joy in the bookish dark.”
  4. Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem,” Matthew Olzmann. Read the whole thing! It’s romantic in the most ordinary of ways.
    “…And one day five summers ago,
    when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
    was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
    there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
    which you paid for with your last damn dime
    because you once overheard me say that I liked it.”
  5. The Sweetness of Dogs,” Mary Oliver. If you’re like me and don’t read things about dogs because of emotions, I promise this is an easy safe one. Plus the dog’s name (spelled different but still)!
    “Thus we sit, myself
    thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
    perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
    it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
    leans against me and gazes up
    into my face. As though I were just as wonderful
    as the perfect moon.”

April 12, 2019


Photo by Markus Spiske

I’ve been having the weirdest, most vivid dreams lately. It might be a side effect of new meds, plus or minus the rising temperature in our house at night, plus or minus watching political thrillers before bed (!!), but no matter the source, it makes me a charming person to have breakfast with. I will tell you that you tried to convince me to move to Pennsylvania, or that that there’s a new trend on Instagram of people Photoshopping their heads off. I will dream that my husband is exactly the same in every way except his name is Mason now. At this point, a night with absolutely no dreams sounds like the most restful thing imaginable!

  1. The Case for Very Long Recipes, Taste. I think this is a strong case for something many people (including myself) complain about online — recipes with a ton of text and photos of the process alongside. “Instead of the just-the-facts quality of an Ikea instruction manual, it can reveal the author’s preferences and biases, express humor or affection or emotional dyspepsia. In other words, it lets the reader get to know the person they’re entrusting with their dinner. Which is nice, because while cooking can be a chore, it is always a more intimate task than assembling a side table.” However, I think this argument is more convincing when I’m reading a print cookbook than scrolling furiously through a recipe on someone’s blog (trying to get past increasingly long personal memoirs and irritating ads). As this other piece from Slate says, “But there’s really no need to open every online recipe with the initial drafts of a personal essay. In fact, the more people do this, the more formulaic it feels, eventually becoming perfunctory rather than inspired, which kind of belies any attempt at being more personal in the first place.” I think the distinction is that we want details when it comes to technique and process, but maybe not as much of the personal context of the chef/food blogger.
  2. Everyone Loves Beans Now, The Cut. I wanted to share this piece in part because David and I have been eating a lot of beans (including the famous FIF-TEEN-BEAN soup), but also because there are so many funny and choice quotes in this article. “Everything about a bean is fashionable.” And: “I’ve replaced my urge to buy new stuff with the urge to cook beans. It works. I always have lots of beans soaking in water waiting to be cooked into something delicious. Always thinking about my beans.” (Watch out for a weird photo of someone rubbing beans on her face (??) at the end of the article though.)
  3. Intuitive Exercise: Learning to Love Exercise Not on a Diet, Glenys Oyston. I’ve been on the lookout for ways to move my body more without it becoming a punishing routine or something that makes me feel guilty when I (inevitably) abandon it. I liked this blogger’s perspective and her two rules for starting up a physical activity: it has to make her feel good and she has to enjoy it. I liked her final quote: “We could call it Intuitive Exercising. It reminds me how we move as children. No kid ever played hide and seek and then wondered after how many calories she burned. Let’s take a lesson from the kids we were and stop Exercising with a capital E and start moving for fun.”
  4. The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News, The New Yorker. Something that I read in Notes on a Nervous Planet was the idea that we used to get our news twice a day — in the morning paper and the evening broadcast (and as the anecdote went, “And we still got Nixon.”) I’m attracted to the idea of slower paced and more detailed, methodical news. Because we’re exposed to so much information, we think we know more about a topic or a position than we really do. “As it turns out, there is a way to puncture this illusion of knowledge. It involves forcing people to explain in detail what would happen if their views on a specific public-policy issue were put into practice. It’s when we try to provide a “causal explanation,” Sloman and Ferbach write, that we realize how ignorant we are. That realization, in turn, leads us to become less extreme in our views. This insight has an obvious implication for media: depth matters. Journalism that engages with complexity, examines the implications of proposed policies, and offers the public rigorous analysis can lead to a more informed—and less polarized—citizenry.”
  5. A Brief History of the Ball Pit, Vox. This article introduced me to a new architectural design hero — Eric McMillan! “Due to his use of rubber, foam, vinyl, and plastic in playground designs, McMillan is often referred to as the “father of soft play.” As he told UPI in a 1975 interview, almost everything he built followed four priorities: economy, ease of maintenance, safety, and the child’s pleasure, in that order.” There are some great pictures of 1970s/80s playground equipment in this piece as well, but the “father of soft play…love that.

Bonus features:

  • Garden shed DJ with audience of one to get BBC radio special, The Guardian. “As a 29-year-old, Duncan began running his radio station from a garden shed in Hertfordshire in the 1970s. His set-up began broadcasting as Radio 77 and featured its own jingles…The only problem was that licensing restrictions meant the surprisingly professional output could reach an audience of only one: Duncan’s wife, Teresa, who listened via a speaker in their house.” Adorable.

April 5, 2019

This was a great week for me — I feel like I’m finding a groove of confidence in my work, I spoke on a panel at a conference which made me feel LEGIT, and I’ve been spending a lot of these early spring afternoons sitting in the soft grass, watching the same things Persey watches: movement on the highway, a bird distracting us from her nest, and nothing in particular. Also don’t you love this photo of Katharine Hepburn knitting on the set of Bringing Up Baby?

  1. When Mountains Were Ugly, Kate Kelleher. This is a neat essay with language that edges from literary to a little pretentious sometimes. Lovers of mountains and the magic of ugly things will enjoy. “MacFarlane feels the presence of some “other-place” when he’s high in the mountains. I imagine this is what deep-water divers feel like when they’re descending into deep blue caverns, or what astronauts feel when they leave earth’s gravitational pull. “Going into the mountains—into what one nineteenth-century poet called ‘that weird white realm’—is like pushing through the fur coats into Narnia,” writes MacFarlane. “In the mountainous world things behave in odd and unexpected ways. Time, too, bends and alters…”
  2. It’s Not You It’s Me: If a Dog Won’t Play With You, It Could Be Your Fault, Scientific American. This headline is RUDE but there is some good info here about how to get your dog excited to play with you. “Of the 35 most common play signals, Rooney and colleagues found that a signal’s popularity “was not related to its success at initiating or sustaining play.” For example, patting the floor was used the most often, but play followed only 38% of the time. It appears patting the floor was not very successful at initiating or increasing play with a dog. Sad face. Other not-so-successful but commonly used play behaviors included scruffing the dog and clapping. Some things people did even elicited play 0% of the time! … A few behaviors were incredibly successful at eliciting play with a dog. Rooney and colleagues found that chase-and-running-away as well as lunging forward were associated with play 100% of the time!”
  3. “My Dog Doesn’t Like Toys” (Here’s why!), Kyle Kittleson. Good tips here too — Persey can get into this mood, usually in the early evening, where she is restless and barky but unsatisfied with any toy I present to her. I think I’m going to round up most of her toys and circulate them like this article suggests, to increase her interest in them.
  4. A Home Without Women is Almost Unrecognizable, Apartment Therapy. This is a round-up of inventions by women that specifically have changed our home life. So cool!
  5. Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig. I just finished this book, which reads in short, reflective chapters on information overload and the feeling that as a society we have become more anxious and distracted in the age of tech. Here are two quotes I liked:
    1. “Sleep is essential, and amazing. And yet, sleep has traditionally been an enemy of consumerism. We can’t shop in our sleep. We can’t work or earn or post to Instagram in our sleep. Very few companies — beyond bed manufacturers and duvet sellers and makers of black-out blinds — have actually made money from our sleep. No one has found a way to build a shopping mall that we can enter via our slumber, where advertisers can pay for space in our dreams, where we can spend money while we are unconscious…. Largely, sleep remains a sacred space, away from distraction.”
    2. “Online socializing is easy. It’s weather-proof. It never requires a taxi or an ironed shirt. And it’s sometimes wonderful. It’s often wonderful. But deep, deep down in the subterranean depths of my soul, I realize that the scent-free, artificially illuminated, digitized, divisive, corporate-owned environments can’t fulfill all my needs, any more than takeout meals can replace the sheer pleasure of eating in a lovely restaurant. And I — someone whose anxiety once tipped into agoraphobia — am increasingly forcing myself to spend longer in that messy, windswept thing we sometimes still romantically call the real world.”

Bonus features: