You know how sometimes your brain can be on overdrive? Not for a little while, but for several days or weeks? Lots of things swirling around, lots of opportunities for growth to be had, lots of love and heartbreak, maturing, digging, seeking, pondering, and finding. Sometimes those days or weeks require something small, focused, and a touch mindless, even if just for a little while.
While I am always grateful for times of growth like this, it is hard. And draining. So what did I do today? After I got dressed and walked the dogs, somehow I wound up in our hallway facing my bookshelves. For the next couple hours, I sorted and purged. I organized, alphabetized, puttered, and shifted. The biggest questions I had to face were, “will I want to read this again?” and “if so, can I do it easily online or through the library?” Done and done. A couple books I kept for purely sentimental reasons beyond my read-it-again criteria, but by and large, the sentimental and the read-it-again columns neatly matched. And it was so. very. satisfying. I now have a few stacks of well-loved YA fiction to pass along to my niece and nephew, and still more to donate to the local library book sale, or to sprinkle into the little free libraries in my neighborhood. I now have no recent additions leaning haphazardly here and there for lack of space, and perhaps the best part — I had a couple hours of very Zen focus on a single enjoyable, achievable task.
This afternoon I’m feeling a little less frazzled, a little more calm, and a little more even-keeled than I have in a few weeks. For the anxious overthinker in me, that is a huge win. Big questions are good to grapple with, but sometimes we need small things to give ourselves time to rest in between. What kind of little win can you gift to yourself this weekend? May I suggest a bit of decluttering or organizing? For me, at least, this little thing felt big — in the best way.
With the end of an old year and the beginning of a new, reflections often come hard and fast. The end of 2020 was certainly no exception. Rather than resolve to be less — to drink less, to weigh less, to take up less space — I’d like this year to be a year of more. And instead of a list of resolutions that will make me feel defeated before I begin, I like the idea of choosing a word for the year that I can grow with. I thought a lot about what I’d like my word for this year to be, and although I kept circling for something big and dynamic or profound (?), I returned to something simple over and over: rest. My personal word for 2021 will be rest. As I have delved into myself over the past year, I’ve realized I can’t seem to allow myself to truly rest. To just be. Any rest time I have, I have been consciously or unconsciously “recharging my batteries” for something. I have been focused on the need to be productive again, rather than the rest itself. Readying myself for the next slog instead of actually enjoying my downtime. What an intense epiphany.
I am goal-oriented, highly motivated, and am a relentless perfectionist have high expectations for myself, so I suppose this should not come as a total surprise. But to be 100% honest? This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Have I really gone 38+ years without allowing myself to truly rest? No wonder I am always. so. tired. Rest for me comes with the expectation that I will soon be able to resume some kind of output, some kind of productivity, some kind of movement forward, always. And guilt comes with inaction for me, also always. Can I truly rest if I am feeling guilty about it the entire time? Turns out, the answer is “no.” Shocker, amirite?
So, perhaps my word isn’t so simple after all. Perhaps grappling with personal expectations, productivity, relaxation, downtime, self, and rest will be a complex journey. And perhaps… perhaps that is the best kind of journey. Cheers to more in 2021 instead of less — more love, more joy, more freedom, and more rest. I’m rooting for me, and I’m rooting for you, too.
Votes are still being counted as we wait and hope, stress and wonder, cross our fingers and keep looking forward. Here is a poem I wrote some time ago that seems to fit my mood this week. I’m craving some mental quiet as we hope and wait, wait and hope. Wishing you some serenity this weekend.
Three great new books have graced my shelves over the past couple weeks, and I just have to share!
One of the small perks of this “new normal” is the plethora of book talks available online, and I was delighted to be able to attend a talk with Kate McDermott on her new book, Pie Camp. Besides being a wizard with all things pie, she is a gem of a human being who finds so much fun and enjoyment in what she does, it is hard not to share her enthusiasm. I am always a fan of people who enjoy what they do, and McDermott is no exception. I had no less than three, “wow, that is genius!” moments in the charming hour we spent together, including this: McDermott tossed together an incredible-looking berry crostata in the last 7 minutes, with which she encouraged everyone to just have fun with fillings. Marionberry preserves, fresh raspberries, and (what?!) dried blueberries tucked into the center of each raspberry, JUST FOR FUN? Genius.
If her previous book, Art of the Pie, is the “why” of pie, then Pie Camp is indubitably the the “how.” Over three hundred pages of methods, recipes, tips, and beautiful photography make for as thorough a primer on sweet pies as anyone could ask for. Fruit pies, custards, creams, crisps, crostatas — oh my! Lattices, braids, and crimps, too! I am more of a cake baker, myself, but I hit the checkout button before I even got halfway through her chat. Now I am looking forward to a pie-filled holiday season — and beyond.
Poet Maggie Smith of “Good Bones” fame has delivered us her genre-defying book, Keep Moving, at just the right moment in time. Originally spurred by her divorce, Smith’s “notes on loss, creativity, and change,” are precisely what many of us need to hear as this pandemic continues to turn our lives inside-out and sideways. Many of the entries are tweets to herself, encouraging reminders to “keep moving.” They are interspersed with the occasional meditation on a beautiful moment, a creative reflection or learning opportunity, or perhaps a small rumination on fear or hope. Whatever the you want to classify this book as, Smith’s grace in the face of change shines through in every page. She’s the encouraging voice reminding us, quietly, than even if all we can do is keep moving, it’s more than enough.
Finally, I could not be prouder of Henry James Garrett and his book, This Book Will Make You Kinder. Garrett may be better known to some as the artist behind Drawings of Dogs on Instagram, with his delightful art and his knack of piercing to the heart of so many social issues with a wittily observant caption or pun. (If you spend even just a couple minutes watching his Instagram stories, you can see what a genuinely kind and lovely person he is, and why I am so proud to hold his book in my hands.)
Now, building on his academic studies and keen interest in ethics, kindness, and morality, Garrett has graced us with an “empathy handbook” — a guide to developing our moral kindness and confronting cruelty in our world. His animal cartoons are peppered throughout his well-considered tome, but he goes far beyond his online art presence to bring us a book I think everyone can and will benefit from reading. Part philosophy, part sociological observation and critique, and entirely accessible, it is as timely as Maggie Smith’s book, but in a different way. Smith reminds us how to keep going, and Garrett reminds us that we need to do so together, with kindness and empathy. And I think McDermott has the right idea — let’s do so with a warm slice of pie.
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Back in February, when I was mulling over my own stress levels and what I wanted my future to look like, Eric Rittenberry’s essay The American Life is Killing You landed in my lap like a call to action.
“The reason you don’t feel alive is because you aren’t alive. You’re merely going through the motions in a fast-paced, consumer-centered culture that has transformed our once beautiful land into an asphalt wasteland strewed with digital billboards, fast food joints, soulless malls, and complete carnage… Your constant craving for objects and status (the American way) has robbed your life of its freedom and creative zest. You live routine and stressed and you’re chained to a sluggish and predictable way of living.”
“Yes!” I thought. This is me. 100 times this. Somehow I had begun throwing money at problems trying to make life more bearable, rather than making any fundamental changes to fix what was making it unbearable. Why hadn’t I seen this before? It seemed so obvious! Was it too obvious?
“You have to unplug from the machine and take back your life and learn to live with less and sit under trees and read the great minds and create art and listen to music and sound your ‘barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.’ Quit doing things you hate to impress the faceless people among us. Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly — you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.”
I was curious this week, though, after 7 months of a pandemic and a racial inequality crisis, how this essay has held up to where we have landed. Looking back at Rittenberry’s advice now, I realize what was irking me under the surface was the inherent privilege of his message. A mandate to learn to live with less and sit under trees is very easy to throw out there, and very, very difficult for the majority of people in this country to even contemplate. I’m not sure the millions of unemployed out there right now are choosing to live with less so much as they are being forced to, and I also don’t think they have much mental bandwidth for the kind of barbaric yawp-ing he suggests. Are a lot of people blindly trying to keep up with the Joneses? Sure! But are a lot more people struggling to keep a roof overhead and meals on the table? Absolutely.
In my case, I left my job this week and have never felt freer. But I realize this is an incredibly privileged position to be in — and it was certainly not without a lot of planning, buckling down, and streamlining our finances down to just what matters. And for me, what matters is my capacity to live in a way that allows me compassion, clarity, and bandwidth to help others. Maybe we can find a way to turn inward and decondition ourselves from endless consumption, so as to free ourselves to be more kind? And maybe instead of admonishing people for their consumerism, we can look at the system that is driving that consumerism, and dismantle it. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and we are all in this together. Self-actualization, to me, is not the end point, but rather a jumping-off point towards giving others the same opportunity. And I really hope we can try.
Stumped on where to start? May I suggest an hour to yourself to decompress, and maybe a donation to the Loveland Foundation? As someone who believes strongly in therapy and mental health, their commitment to opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls, is a cause close to my heart.
This is becoming a year of wonderful small things. The big things have been overwhelming, to say the least: we are still in the middle of a worsening pandemic, our government continues to make our country a hateful and divisive place, Black Lives Matter is still not considered a universal truth, police brutality is an ongoing issue… there is so much for us to cope with. To remind myself that it is still worthwhile to get out of bed every day, I am trying to remember the small things. This way I will always have something to look forward to, to enjoy, or to revel in. A particularly good lunch. Snuggles with my pups in the morning. The way the light filters into my bedroom on a weekend afternoon as I lay down for a nap. A package out for delivery. It’s these kinds of tiny daily joys that help me keep perspective, and keep me fueled to keep fighting for a better world.
Each time I venture out to Trader Joe’s for much-needed groceries, I buy a bunch of silver dollar eucalyptus leaves. I love having fresh greenery in my home, and it feels like a luxury even though it only costs $4. Plus, they last forever compared to cut flowers!
The new perfume I ordered arrived this week. ‘REPLICA’ Lazy Sunday Morning is a unique scent that somehow perfectly captures the feeling of fresh crisp sheets on a breezy, sunny morning. I sampled this perfume on my last outing with friends before the pandemic really hit, so it carries thoughts of dear friendships as well as idyllic lazy mornings.
Also, I was so happy to receive the Rain + Bow necklace I ordered a few weeks ago. It is weighty and so well made, the packaging was so sweet with it’s little extras, and it is a wonderful daily reminder that I am always in the process of overcoming. Also I am thrilled that a $10 for every necklace sold is donated to Mental Health America.
Be well, stay safe, and don’t forget to wear a mask. We’ll get through this. Little joys are there for us to find, even though it may seem bleak right now.
Somewhere between two days and two months ago (time has basically ceased to have meaning or proper flow these days, amirite?), I had the privilege of enjoying a conversation between Samantha Irby and Jia Tolentino. My Jia fangirl status was cemented a while ago (as exhibited here and here), so it was extra fun to hear her interview an author live. And someone as hilarious as Samantha Irby? Thank you, Free Library of Philadelphia! Razor-sharp wit combined with the intimacy of a chat between friends made for a delightful listen. I hit “purchase” on Irby’s most recent book before the chat was even finished.
Wow, No Thank You is one of those books that manages to deal with racism, classism, sexism, sexual orientation, body issues, and and number of other -isms with such a deft and humorous touch that you don’t even realize it isn’t pure brain candy until after you’ve put it down for a bit. Irby is hilariously blunt, occasionally raunchy, and always painfully, amazingly observant. Why do we women feel pressured to buy cream specifically for our necks? If your family never had the privilege of owning a house, does gutter maintenance magically find it’s way into your conscience when you sign a mortgage? Are Hot Pockets and self-care really mutually exclusive? Why waste energy on that person who hates you, when they realistically would add nothing of value to your life even if they did like you? Can anyone utter the phrase, “are you familiar with my work?” without feeling painfully awkward about it? Questions and answers to laugh at and ponder and nod along with abound in this collection of laugh-out-loud essays. Irby also provides an excellent annotated playlist, for those of you hungry for late 1900s nostalgia mixed with a heretofore unmatched level of hilarity.
In a nutshell, Samantha Irby is one funny lady, and you should buy her book immediately. “Because we live in a fiery hellscape,” to quote her directly, and we need all the clever hilarity we can get. And this hilarity even comes with a dose or three of contemporary awareness, so you can feel virtuous while you indulge. You’re welcome, and enjoy.
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Almost 2 years ago, my very dear friend Catherine lost her father to suicide. Ever since then she has been adjusting to her new normal with a quiet strength that has left me in awe. Recently she reached out with some reflections and insights she’s gained in the months since his passing, and has kindly consented to me sharing her story here. I hope you find her grace in the face of trauma as inspiring as I do, and perhaps some of you can find solace in knowing you are not alone. Thank you, Catherine, for your courage and generosity.
My life ended on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at approximately 8 PM.
At that moment, I was born as a version of my prior self, forever living in a world where I now say, “My father put a gun in his mouth and ended his life.”
One of my first reactions was hating him for making this part of MY story, part of who I would be, forever a person whose father killed himself. I fought my new life and my new narrative for so long. I wasn’t ready for my former life to be over and my new one to begin. I survived trauma in the past and never felt as I did at that moment; I previously went to therapy, learned from my trauma, and moved on. But the suicide of a parent is different. It is described as “a personal and interpersonal disaster.”1 The word “disaster” is a strong one. It conjures up images of earthquakes and fires, chaos, destruction, and ruins.
Now, almost two years later, I know that my father’s suicide fundamentally changed me. My center of gravity shifted in a big way. What I thought I knew, I realized I didn’t. My whole life now feels like one confusing reality of “did that really happen?” I will be forever asking, “Why?” “Why did he do this?” And who was he, really? Did I ever really know him?
I can’t watch a suicide by gunshot on TV or in a movie anymore. I have to look away. It’s unfortunate that it took this experience for me to realize that far too many suicides are shown in the media. They hurtle me back to that moment when my mother called me and said, “He’s dead. He shot himself.”
I now have an utter loathing for anyone who carries a gun or believes in his or her inalienable right to own one. My depressed and disturbed father walked himself into a store and bought one. He kept it in the glove compartment of his car, took it out to the desert and just… spent time with it. Like bonding with a dear friend. And I never knew.
I’m suddenly more preoccupied with death and have an intense need to identify what happened to my father after his heart stopped beating. I want to know if he suddenly became nothing, a complete ceasing of his mind, body, and soul. Did he wake up in another place, a lit world where that light engenders an astounding happiness that we cannot even begin to fathom?
I’ve retreated into myself because no one close to me has lost a parent to suicide. My shell is my usual friendly, contented self… and I am content with most things. I have a wonderful husband and friends, a roof over my head, and a paycheck that allows me to travel.
But underneath, I am an intrinsically different person. I am a human being no longer standing upright, but forever slightly lop-sided, slightly off balance. I view people differently, tolerate less bullshit, and find it difficult to forgive and forget. My frequent anger and frustration have developed into something not wholly like everyone else’s. It’s more introspective and has a certain degree of beauty, because it’s filled with a love towards my father that can’t go anywhere. My love is trapped inside me where it fuses with anger and grief to produce something new that will never quite be familiar to me.
With this second life comes the necessity to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar, find balance in my off-balanced reality, and engineer something brand new from the ruins of a disaster. Dad, whoever you were, wherever you are, I hope you’ll be proud.
1 Shneidman, E.S. Foreword. In: Survivors of Suicide (Cain, A., editor. , ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, 1972.
Today I am hitting a personal little blogging milestone of 200 posts, and with all the weirdness that is going on, I thought maybe we could just chat. May we? I’d love to.
I started using Prose hair care several weeks ago. You know, kind of right after we all wound up sheltering in place and wearing nothing but sweatpants? I LOVE my new hair regimen and this is not at all a sponsored post but hit me up, Prose, your stuff is amazing, but please let me say my fine and thin but also curly hair has never looked better with such minimal styling. And you know what? I am a little bit bitter within my I’m-so-lucky-to-not-be-sick cocoon that no one gets to see my cute bouncy hair because we are all staying the eff home to flatten the curve and keep our fellow humans safe. Zoom meetings don’t count, I’ve decided. We are all so grainy looking via video chat that my hair could be a frizz ball and I could probably still look mostly decent. The one thing I still do on a daily basis is put on lipstick, because that DOES show up on Zoom, and also I feel put together and much less like a zombie when I do. But I feel guilty that I feel bitter.
Really, we are terribly lucky. My husband and I can both currently work from home. We are healthy and trying to stay that way, staying home and only venturing our to walk our dogs and pick up our groceries from the front step. Oh, and to buy a bag of coffee every week or so, masks donned and properly secured. But what a time to be alive. My goodness. Our generation is currently wading through our second “once in a lifetime” economic crisis. We exited college and grad school just in time for the 2008 recession, failed to get jobs that paid anything decent even though we were fed the American Dream of bootstraps and college and careers to be proud of, and then have been half-walking, half-crawling towards financial solvency ever since. Now that most of us have finally gotten jobs, we have crashed headlong into the COVID-19 pandemic — with very little savings, moderate job security if we are very lucky, and rent to pay because none of us have been able to even dream about mortgages, considering our longstanding lower-than-average pay and high-enough-to-crush-your-spirit student loan payments. So where does that leave us? Working from home if we are lucky, filing for unemployment if we are less lucky, and urging our aging parents to please please please stay home, because pandemic. What a time to be alive, huh?
There are so many emotions for us all to sift through right now. Gratitude. Despair. Grief. Fear. Compassion. Anxiety. More gratitude. We do our groceries on an app and tip or delivery drivers well as they risk themselves to make a living. We donate masks and don our own, ache for the sick and simultaneously ache for anything we can call normalcy. It’s such a tough time. I’ve been thinking a lot about stress and suffering. How we all have loads to bear. The news felt like it was crushing me, an onslaught of constant bad news at all hours of the day, so I am learning to limit that consumption. I read the news, just not all day every day. And I have been reminded by a dear friend that just because other people are suffering doesn’t mean I have to feel like I am not allowed to feel bad. Also, allowing myself to suffer doesn’t do anyone else any good. Put your own oxygen mask on, girl, and then you can help others.
In short, I’m trying. Me and my bouncy curls and my tight chest full of anxiety keep getting up every morning and doing our best. It’s really all anyone can ask for right now, right? I am not a nurse, not a first responder, not a medical manufacturer, but I can stay home and help those heroes have the best shot they can against this virus. I can donate masks and treat those around with me respect and compassion, and also allow myself room to be sad that this is the world we live in right now. We are not working from home, we are trying to work from home while a pandemic rages around us, desperately trying to be productive while desperately trying to survive, okay? Maybe it sounds trite by now, but take care of yourself, I’ll try to take care of myself, we’ll take care of others as we are able, and we’ll make it through this. Trust.
It seems that the bathroom has become even more of a sanctuary of late — someplace to find a moment of solitude away from a house full of family members or roommates, or to find succor in a warm bath if you’re feeling lonely as you isolate at home. Here are a few particularly inspiring spaces I’d love to seek refuge, or at least imagine to. Every one has a deep attention to detail, great finishes, and clever use of color. Don’t forget a little pop of black for interest, too.