So proud

green ribbon border isolated on white backgroundAs Mental Health Month draws to a close, I want to talk about something often overlooked: personal pride.  A lot of press goes to self-help and self-care in the form of therapy, outdoor walks, or medication, all of which are excellent and good and necessary.  I’d also propose that something as small as a little bit of pride can be wonderful, too.

As someone with anxiety and depression, I am rarely proud of myself.  In my head it is always more about getting better at something, looking better, feeling better, or at least trying keep up a facade of being “good enough,” whatever that means.  So when a rare shiny moment of pride comes up, I’m learning to sit up and listen, and bask in it for all it’s worth.

Last month I attended a conference for work.  I am introverted, so I always walk into events like these thinking how draining they will be, and how nervous I’ll be.  Over the course of those few days, though, I was struck by how much easier networking has become for me over the last several years.  I had colleagues to greet, a committee meeting to run, opinions to share, and expertise to pass on.  I was doing it!  And I wasn’t scared.

During and afterwards, I discovered an immense sense of pride in myself.  I was proud of how much I’ve learned and grown professionally.  I was proud to see myself as a confident professional — a stark contrast to the shy grad student that first attended these conferences almost 10 years ago.   It was kind of novel, actually, how good it felt to be proud of myself.  To pause for a moment or two, and just glow.

I’m trying now to realize pride doesn’t necessarily have to come from something as grandiose as professional growth.  I can simply be proud because I got out of bed this morning.  Proud that I made it through another day.  Proud that I made a good choice for myself.  Acknowledging ourselves is so, so important.  And I’m learning.

Women’s rights are human rights

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A 1977 demonstration in New York demanding safe legal abortions for all women. Peter Keegan/Getty Images

The last couple of weeks have left me full of rage and despair as I have watched politicians pass draconian measures to control a woman’s body, with zero concern for health or well-being.  Women’s rights are human rights, and by making abortion illegal, those rights are being stripped away at the most basic level.

Making abortion illegal is not “pro-life.”  Women have been dying throughout the course of history from unsafe abortions, and many, many more will if we take away this right.  Why is it that the life, the health, the autonomy, and the well-being of women are so easily disregarded?  And the well-being of families certainly is not being considered either: politicians condemn women for seeking abortions, but they also condemn the same families for seeking government assistance programs.  Where will they be when that child needs formula, needs childcare, needs food and shelter?

Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, it will only serve to legislate who can have access to safe abortions.  Rich politicians will always find ways for their mistresses to get rid of unintended pregnancies.  POC and the poor are the ones who will suffer the most.  They will either die getting an abortion under unsafe circumstances, or be forced to have children they cannot afford.  Banning abortions equals an enforced continuation of the poverty cycle, point-blank.

Here are some excellent articles, with food for thought, resources, and things we can do:

A brief primer on Alabama’s abortion ban, plus suggestions on ways help.

A new way to think about men and unwanted pregnancies.

How to help women in states with extreme abortion bans.

Things I’m loving lately

Obsessing over classic chair designs by Cherner and Bertoia lately, and mulling over beautiful dining chair combinations.

Applauding the genius of Jenny Komenda’s idea to use small dining tables as oversize end tables in a living space.  I just got this bistro table and am loving the look next to our sofas!  Maybe I should finally pull the trigger on this lamp to go with it?  I’ve been in love with it for months.

Thrilled with Bloomscape‘s easy-peasy way of letting you shop for indoor plants that will work with your space and lifestyle.  I need low-light, easy care, pet friendly options, which has seemed like a pretty tall order.  I’m so happy to know now there are plants that might do well in our home!  Their pots are also quite lovely, yes?  I see a couple of these in my near future.

Happy Friday!

“a few good (woke-ish) men,” or vulnerability as an act of courage

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On this beautiful sunny Friday, I’d like to take a minute to talk about vulnerability.  It is perhaps the bravest act one can take, to be vulnerable with someone else, is it not?  To open up, to show someone something real and deep and true, and risk rejection or ridicule when all you desire is to be seen.  Seen and loved.

I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage the other night, and I am still thinking about it days later.  Her research on shame, vulnerability, and courage is amazing, but her humor and compassion make it that much more poignant and powerful a presentation.  Brown is witty and insightful, bringing her research together with anecdotes from her own life to show us that we are in it together, we need each other, and we can only forge those connections by being brave.  Highly recommend.

With that in mind, I found Melanie Hamlett’s excellent article to be especially timely.  Hamlett discusses toxic masculinity and the ways it forces women to take on a hugely unequal amount of emotional labor.  This is certainly not news, per se, but in her take, she explores a new wave of men’s groups that are encouraging vulnerability, communication, and mutual support.  Our #MeToo era of “wokeness” seems to have more men thinking hard about their own emotional needs.  Drinking, trying to “get laid,” ogling women, and playing contact sports have traditionally been the only socially-sanctioned ways for men to connect with each other, all of which reinforce painfully toxic tropes about “being a man.”  Furthermore, the idea that men should only be emotionally open with women, and that they should find “their one and only” to connect with, left many female partners shouldering far more emotional work than they could handle.  These small, intimate new men’s groups offer the opportunity for healthy emotional connections, and have the side benefit of easing some of the emotional labor burden off of the women they love.  Win-win.

Perhaps we’ve been onto something all along with our ladies’ nights and brunches with the girls — and thankfully, many men are starting to catch on.  Emotional support networks are necessary for all of us, and outlets for vulnerability — as brave as one must be to go there — can only make us stronger.

Art by Explicit Design via society6.

Cali-Scandi cool

A friend and her husband have just moved into a new apartment, airy and bright and complete with a white brick fireplace.  Their last place came furnished, I should mention, so they are starting almost from scratch in their new home.  She has a great eye and loves a clean, Scandi sort of feel, with soothing neutrals and lots of plants.  Since I love pulling together a space, here are some of the ideas I’ve floated her way.

Mid-century and Scandinavian pieces in a mix of wood tones with neutral-colored textiles give a collected feel while still soothing the eye.  A variety of textures (caning, tufting, leather, jute) keep things just interesting enough.  Add a tonal rug that skews somewhere between traditional and beachy California cool, and you’ve got a layered space ready to relax in.  Maybe try stacking some beautiful design books on the coffee table?  With an equally beautiful candle?  (Here’s one to try.)  And don’t forget tons of planters and vases to bring in ALL the greenery.

Since they have so much to buy all at once, I tried to skew on the end of readily available and relatively inexpensive, without sacrificing beauty and function (looking at you, sofa and leather pouf — swoon).  Enjoy!

Leon sofa  Wyatt coffee table  faux fiddle-leaf fig  half-circle pillow  organic lamp  Skye rug  Austin arm chair  leather pouf  caned TV stand  jute pouf  floral print  dipped vases  triangle table  platform bed  textured planters  hanging planter  geo pillow  white nightstand  wood lamp

 

Beginner-ings

As you might guess, my drive for perfection makes it difficult to be a beginner.  Recently I started taking ceramics classes, though — and when you start something new, you have no choice but to start at the beginning.  Time for beginner-ing.  Ooof.

I’ve wanted to learn to throw pottery for ages.  Something about the instant gratification that comes with a guided touch on clay, the graceful turning of forms and hands on a wheel, and the wabi-sabi imperfections that make up a particularly stunning glaze — all of these things have beckoned me for quite some time.  Rather than wait until I had some time, I finally decided to make some time this month to make it happen, and I am so glad I did.

The wheel and the clay both have their own learning curve, I have realized.  Gravity and centrifugal force have their own demands as well.  There is a sweet spot to be found between clay that is wet enough to become what you envision, and too wet to maintain the form you’ve shaped.  There is a strange satisfaction in trimming a piece, leathery clay spinning in ribbons off the wheel as you uncover the shape you’re imagining.  And there is a magical alchemy to glazes — the way minerals and heat combine to transform into something unexpected and beautiful.  That minty-green goop you just dunked a bowl into?  Of course it is going to be cobalt blue when fired.  Fascinating, yes?

Beginner’s mind is a challenge to get into as an adult.  Our society demands knowledge, know-how, swagger, confidence, momentum.  Being a beginner requires curiosity, surrender, awe, wonder, and acknowledgement of another’s superior skills.  It requires you to be open, vulnerable, and even silly.  It requires resilience.  A beautiful bowl can become a lopsided twist of clay in a heartbeat, and all you can do is laugh, smush and knead, and begin again.  I’m working on squishing down my irritation along with my misshapen clay, working on laughing and shrugging my shoulders, working on going with the flow, working on embracing a “flawed” piece as one I can learn from and experiment with.  And you know what?  It’s fun.  It’s hard and messy and fun.  And I am learning.

I have yet to fully complete a piece yet, so this is all about the journey so far.  Considering how results-driven I can sometimes be, I am surprised how much I am relishing it.  Each step is new and different and hard and exciting.  I’m eager to see how my work will turn out once it’s been fired, of course, but (shockingly) I’m even more excited to keep learning and creating — because there is so much to enjoy along the way.

Xenogenesis

lilliths_brood_cover_artI recently finished reading Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, and just had to share.  Published under the collection title Lilith’s Brood since 2000, it is made up of three novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.  Butler is an excellent storyteller, with a “hard science fiction” bent in this trilogy that is satisfying as well as thought-provoking.

The series takes place in an interesting sort of dystopian future, where humans have destroyed Earth and each other almost completely.  An alien race steps in to save what is left, hoping to trade genetic material to ensure the survival of both humanity and themselves.  The aliens believe humankind, if left unaltered, contain a “Contradiction” between their high intelligence and their hierarchical nature that will lead to eventual demise in every scenario, as was already proven by our destruction.  A fascinating thought to consider, isn’t it?

While my own personal prose style preference strays closer to that of Amor Towles, thematically Butler does a masterful job of exploring sexuality, race, species, gender, and humanity — deftly and also in an entirely un-preachy way.  While decades old at this point, Lilith’s Brood is almost frighteningly relevant to us today.  Are we doomed to obliterate ourselves without some kind of outside intervention?  Can our intelligence outweigh our hierarchical strivings?  Is our stubbornness a boon or a hindrance?  It may be that history will have to play itself out before we can answer these questions, but Butler gives us a powerful nudge to think about these things sooner than later — all tied up in an engaging alien-encounter package.

Octavia Butler cover art by John Jude Palancar.