Burnout

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Yesterday I finally made time to read this excellent article on burnout, and it was well worth the long read.  Anne Helen Petersen is observant and strikingly perceptive in her assessment of how Millennials have become the burnout generation.  We work hard, have endless side-hustles, have it drilled into us that we must find work that we are passionate about that also pays the bills, all amidst the fallout from an economic downturn that will likely stunt us for the rest of our lives.  Oh, and don’t forget, we need to look good doing all this on the ‘Gram.  I’m exhausted just typing all that.

While I don’t share her exact malaise in terms of the small daily errands, so much of life these days just feels hard.  I commute for over 3 hours every day, work hard at what should be my dream job where I get paid chronically not enough, serve on the board of a nonprofit, act as committee chair in a professional organization, and no, I haven’t chosen a dentist on our “new” (as of four years ago) dental plan, because who has time to sift through dozens of providers to find someone I am not afraid will advise me to get fillings I don’t need?  The whopping hour and a half of “down time” I have when I get home is devoted to cobbling together some sort of dinner, feeding my pets and walking the dogs, tidying the house, doing an errand or tow, and then I get to relax… oh, wait.  No, actually I don’t.  I crash in bed and try vainly to push past my anxiety get a full 8 hours of sleep before hauling myself out of bed to go the gym before I go to work like someone who has it together, what ever “it” is.

We are the first generation in a long time to actually have it worse than our parents, but the meritocracy of the American Dream has been repeated to us so many times, that we think if we just work harder, longer, better, then we’ll finally get ahead.  So we work more hours at the entry-level jobs we took that we were overqualified for, stay tethered to our phones in case our bosses need something, pursue our side-hustles because of course the gig economy means more opportunities (!) … and we are burning out.  Hello, burnout generation.

I’m not sure what the answer is.  Maybe awareness will at least help mitigate the mental burnout load.  Financial constraints and the feelings of futility that accompany them will certainly not go away with some internal reflection.  But I am hopeful that “thinking about life, and what joy and meaning we can derive not just from optimizing it, but living it,” might be a way forward.  All I can do is try.  Maybe even hustle a little.

What do you want to be?

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Amy Sherald, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (2018). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child — What do you want to be when you grow up?  As if growing up is finite.  As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

–Michelle Obama, Becoming

 

Thank you, Michelle, for this beautiful observation, and for reminding us of our infinite potential.  This Friday I am thinking about growing up, growing older, and what it means to “be” something when you grow up.  We are not our professions.  We are not only defined by the work we do.  And we are always evolving, changing, growing, becoming something new.  We are more than the sum of our parts.

Myself, I am striving to find a happy middle ground between becoming and being, moving forward vs. holding myself in the present moment.  But it is a real comfort to know that no matter where I am now or who I feel like I “am” at present, I always have the opportunity to become something else — to become something more.

 

The power of girls

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With everything that is going on in the world right now, it is more important than ever to honor, recognize, and support the power of girls.  The New York Times put together a powerful piece in #ThisIs18, a kaleidoscopic accounting of what 18 looks like around the world.  What makes it especially powerful is that the photos and words are all from girls themselves.  I was humbled and awed by the conviction of these young women, and encouraged by their savvy, grace, and intelligence.  Take a look, and let’s celebrate girls and women not just on International Girls’ Day, but every day.  The future is female.

Dog Songs

While I was blissfully meandering in a bookstore in Seattle, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs.  I find her work to be meditative, insightful, and beautiful, and this slender volume about dogs did not disappoint.

Some of the poems seem to be simple, lyrical observations, but gradually you find yourself drawn into contemplations about life, love, and the simple joys and sorrows of being.  I read the whole book in a single quiet afternoon, my dogs sleeping at my feet — and in hindsight, I cannot think of a more restorative way to spend a Saturday.  Oliver’s keen eye and unabashed incorporation of nature into the fiber of her life make Dog Songs a unique entry in the canine companion poetry milieu.  A quietly moving read.

Monday reading

Good morning!  Here are a couple great things to start off the week:

Selfishness or survival?  Anne Helen Petersen gets it.  Her piece simultaneously discusses four different narratives surrounding the low American birth rate while also deftly and intelligently peeling back the layers regarding the choice to not have children and the impossible financial position that many young people find themselves in.  A great read.

A brave new world, indeed.  Bravo to Universal Standard and J. Crew for working towards truly inclusive sizing.  Shop the collection here!

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Fates, Furies, and Florida

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A couple weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of attending a book talk by none other than the amazing Lauren Groff.  She was at Vroman’s in Pasadena promoting her new book Florida with grace, poise, and temporary tattoos (!) for all of us in attendance.  As a huge fan of both Fates and Furies and Arcadia, it was a delight to hear her speak about reading, writing, politics, and a love/hate relationship with Guy de Maupassant.

Groff treated us first to a reading from the first story in Florida, “Ghosts and Empties,” followed by a refreshingly direct Q&A session.  When asked about a writer’s responsibility and political engagement, for example, Groff deftly explained how she abandoned a recently finished draft just after the 2016 U.S. elections — that it was a kind of book we could no longer afford to indulge in.  She does not write overtly politically, but rather tries to work sideways to get to the things that really matter right now.  She finds she is writing less and throwing more away, as I am, so I found immense comfort in her assurances that it is okay to admit we are struggling as writers in the current environment.  I was likewise pleased by her encouragement to spread empathy and be kind to each other.

Groff’s writing shows great consideration for words, so I was intrigued but not surprised by her ability with languages.  She spent time in France as a teenager where she discovered and loved the work of Guy de Maupassant, that master of the short story form, before beginning to hate him as an avatar of toxic masculinity.  To this day she tries to read in French at least once a week, and admits that French has deeply affected her English.  She self-deprecatingly says she is terrible at writing in French, although she she’d love to do so.  Or Italian.  Or German.  (I find written German to be deeply satisfying from a grammatical perspective because I am such a nerd, so I can relate.)

An anecdote about reading to her son, and how it created a special bond between them, really resonated with me.  It is amazing how reading together gives you the same points of reference.  You share and can understand each others’ canon.  It crystallized for me how much I enjoy reading the same books as a close friend, or watching a show with someone dear.  It enhances your ability to speak each others’ language.

As far as her new work, Florida is where she calls home, so the stories she weaves in this collection are steeped in a sense of place all the more authentically.  The women she writes about are her but not her.  And while she lives with her novels every day, her short stories orbit in the back of her mind until they demand to be written.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out of her orbit.

Thank you, Lauren Groff!

 

 

Earthly delights

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Recently I read the luminous novel Arcadia by Lauren Groff, and while I was not necessarily excited for a story about a commune, my experience with Fates and Furies earlier this year spurred me on.  I found I was drawn in imperceptibly by her graceful and vivid prose, and I found a softer, more immediate, delicately visceral version of Groff that I hadn’t expected.  Far from a simple chronicle of a commune, Arcadia weaves the reader vision of an experimental community through the eyes of its first child, a boy named Bit.  He watches life from his very soul, and through a series of episodes we get to know the unique cast of characters that make up this community.  Not only do we see the effects of Arcadia ripple through Bit’s childhood and then beyond into his adult life, but we do so experiencing the wonder of the young, the thorniness of growing up, and the ache of humanity’s quest for beauty.  I found myself teary more than once, and I’m guessing you may find the same.  Pick up Arcadia for a slice of Groff’s talent, but linger over it for the poignancy you’ll find within its pages.

Are we there yet?

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book signing with the delightful Mari Andrew for her first book, Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood.  I’ve enjoyed Mari’s insights on her Instagram and on the blog Cup of Jo for some time, but fell for her even more after hearing her speak at Vroman’s Bookstore on Thursday night.  She’s been a real inspiration for me: not only did she transition to illustrating full time only a couple of years ago (and already has a book that made the New York Times bestseller list? Amazing!), but she manages to say the things we all are thinking but afraid to articulate in a way that is fresh, disarming, candid, and compassionate — often all at the same time.

In her talk, Andrew held forth on things she thinks are valuable “wastes of time,” including making your own happiness reliable, working towards the person you want to be, pursuing fun, and sometimes having no goal at all.  “I am a person who is loved.  And I am a person who loves.”  These words resonated with me long after I walked out of the bookstore, signed book in hand.  In a culture that seems to privilege self-sacrifice to an impossible degree, sometimes these small reminders that fun is a good thing, and that prioritizing your own happiness is an even better thing, are exactly what is needed — especially when they are offered with a smile as genuine as Mari Andrew’s.