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.

Bluets

This past weekend I had a lot on my plate.  All good things, either enjoyable or necessary or both, but an introvert like me sometimes just needs a bit of uninterrupted time to recharge.  I finally decided to give myself half a day off, which did me a world of good — I napped, had pasta for dinner, and read.  And oh, did I read.

nelson_bluets_coverI read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets on the couch that evening.  I loved it. I’m not even sure how to describe it.  Non-fiction. Numbered snippets about the color blue, simultaneously about and not about a breakup, entirely raw and honest and contemplative.  Hundreds of small poems in the form of lyric prose.  A three-year meditation on color and loss and suffering and limits.  I haven’t felt the desire to pick up a pencil and mark up a book in a long, long time, but passage after passage spoke to me.  It felt good to read and feel understood and hold that book and pencil in a lamp-lit room on my green velvet couch, with my favorite candle burning.  Yearning, and desire, fucking (she does not mince about), philosophy, musings — it is the kind of book I would want to write, the kind I feel like I could write, and I say that with an utter lack of hubris, but rather in the sense of finding a longed-for kindred voice.

Bluets was an outstanding read, bursting with emotion in a quiet, intense, meditative state all it’s own.  This is a slim tome I will be returning to again and again, like an old friend, or perhaps something even better: a sense of being understood.

 

Time’s up

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So, so important: The Galvanizing Shock of the Bill Cosby Verdict

“For all the fears that the #MeToo moment will be marked by overreach, the fact remains that a single instance of justice feels more surprising than several decades of serial rape.”

If you haven’t read this article by Jia Tolentino yet, I highly recommend doing so.  I, too, was surprised by the Cosby verdict last week — and with that surprise came the renewed realization that we still have much more work to do towards gender equality.   A man’s job should not be worth more than dozens of women’s safety.  A single moment of justice should not be more surprising than rape.  The thing men fear about being in prison should not the the thing women fear walking down the street every day.  Enough is enough.  If nothing else, this guilty verdict signals that our culture is changing for the better, even just in the past year.  Time’s up.