Mood

The weight of this sad time we must obey, speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

-King Lear

The Kavanaugh stuff left me, and many of those I love, raw and bruised. A male will be believed until 25, 50 or 100 people come forward – and that was reinforced on a national stage by a partisan, unhinged judge. The whole thing sucked. All the women I know, knew his confirmation would go through. This is why women don’t say anything.

Another shooting happened in a synagogue, this one incited by a President (not my President) who spews conspiracy theories and nasty innuendos that embolden Fox News that then embolden pathetic white men. And another shooting in Thousand Oaks, and soon there will be another one. I take active shooter training at work, my nieces and nephews do gun drills at school, and we all plot ways to escape in crowded spaces. How is everyone not out in the streets protesting? Why are we resigned to letting it happen?

A terrifying climate report came out a few months ago and another one came out a few days ago, and for those of us that believe in science, it’s heart-aching. Brazil elected a nationalist President who endangers the remaining necessary rainforest there; and after the hottest summer on record, California burned. Last year the state had the largest fire on record, and, horrifically, we beat that record this year.

We spent billions on the elections and we’ll spend trillions on Christmas this year and there are migrants at the border that are being dehumanized through rhetoric and policies made up on the fly. Every day the unbearable news makes the unbearable news from the previous day fall by the wayside.

You know all this, and maybe you’re feeling the same as me. It’s hard to stay positive and hopeful right now with so many overwhelming external forces happening. Woe, melancholy, gloom. It’s my mood and I wonder when (if?) it will change.

“We are not wired to see slow background change, when something bright and colorful is in our faces.” That’s a line from my FAVORITE book this year (so far – still a few weeks left), The Overstory by Richard Powers. I can not recommend this book enough. It matches my mood – it is melancholy, it is contemplative, it is angsty. It reminds you of all the miraculous beauty AND all the utter stupidity in the world. I think about both of these things all the time – always trying to focus on the miraculous beauty, even on the days when it is hard to.

In the first section, different kinds of Americans (male, female, immigrants, veterans, handicapped, rich, poor) and their connection to Oaks, Aspens, Willows, Chestnuts or other trees are individually highlighted in short stories. Eventually, they are brought together helping demonstrate the connectedness of everything. The book explores psychology, technology, physical and social science, art, history, activism and so much more. All of this human activity with the overarching story being the trees that have been here for millennia before us, and will be here after all the humans are gone.

I love that one of my favorite authors (the brilliant Barbara Kingsolver) is also madly in love with this book. Her NYT book review is perfect, and this interview between the two authors is a must-read. This line about what they are trying to do in their writing wowed me, “You are experiencing the world through the eyes and mostly the nose of a coyote, and that’s really where I want to take people—out of their humanness. It is the ultimate act of empathy.” They are naturalists who believe in the power of story. As Powers writes in The Overstory as activists try to save ancient forests, “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

This book is long, it is a commitment. It requires an attention span that I seem to only have some of the time nowadays as I get distracted by thoughts of the news, what should I make for dinner, where should we live, how should I invest money in a corrupt system, did I return that work email…Give this book your attention. It can take you out of your humanness for a bit, and that’s what we all need right now.

So many good books right now…

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai – I love this book so much. It looks at the first years of the AIDS crisis in Chicago, the people left behind, and the lasting repercussions. It veers between the first years of the crisis and Paris during the terrorism attacks in 2015. The characters are well-drawn, believable, and you will fall in love with a few of them. Makkai write,  “It’s always a matter, isn’t it, of waiting for the world to come unraveled? When things hold together, isn’t it always only temporary”

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness – Escapist fantasy continuing the All Souls Trilogy about witches, vampires, and demons. Not the best writing in the world, but the world-building and soap-opera quality to it are addictive and fun.

Less by Andrew Greer – This short, beautiful book about a gay man who travels the world to escape his recent break-up won the Pulitzer last year. Gaugin’s art “Be in Love and You will be Happy” (look it up) runs through the book in an interesting way.

Incediaries by RO Kwon – I can’t stop thinking about the “God Sized Hole” that Kwon writes about in this book about college students struggling with different kinds of belief. It is eerie, a little violent, haunting, and thought-provoking.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – Atkinson is a master of historical fiction. This book about WWII intelligence activities and the aftermath is spooky and creepy – I don’t love this book as much as her others, but I’m glad I read it.

A Place For Us by Fatima Mirza – A family drama about an Indian family living in America and trying to continue their traditional beliefs. The story is told from different viewpoints where we realize that everyone thinks family issues are their fault.

Still Lives by Maria Hummel  – I’ve been reading a lot of creepy books lately – and this one is really good. A mystery set in the art world where violence against women is explored in multiple ways.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim – Speculative fiction about time traveling to try to escape disaster. How strong is the power of love? We are all so close to disaster and everything changes all of the time.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – I listened to the audiobook version – I probably would not have finished this book about multiple forms of survival if I didn’t have a monstrous commute. I listened to it during a heat wave and descriptions of the Alaska winter kept me cool. Books where women are hit or emotionally battered are hard for me to read, so be prepared for lots of that if you pick this up.

The Distance Home by Paula Saunders – This  slow-moving book by the wife of George Saunders is an exploration of a mid-western family. Kinda boring with some good writing in it.

Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams – Another book I listened to on my commute that I would never have picked up. A soapy, fun, Gatsbyish drama about star-crossed lovers.

Michelle Obama…

is everywhere right now and she has so much to say – podcasts, TV interviews, magazine covers, book readings across the country. I LOVE listening to her. Intelligence, humor (you have to be smart to be funny!), and class. She says what I feel in such a dignified way – I learn from her every time she speaks. I can’t wait to read Becoming.

“We have to feel that optimism. For the kids. We’re setting the table for them, and we can’t hand them crap. We have to hand them hope. Progress isn’t made through fear. We’re experiencing that right now. Fear is the coward’s way of leadership. But kids are born into this world with a sense of hope and optimism. No matter where they’re from. Or how tough their stories are. They think they can be anything because we tell them that. So we have a responsibility to be optimistic. And to operate in the world in that way.”

You should read this if you have the stomach for it…

How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet – the latest from McKibben in the New Yorker

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sisters

Growing up my mom constantly told my sisters and me that we were so lucky to have sisters – it was her ongoing mantra with us, she said that more than anything else. When we argued or said something nasty to one other, she’d repeat over and over that we were so lucky (and then she’d make us say 3 nice things to each other).

In June my extended family gathered in Michigan from California, Colorado, Virginia & Ohio to celebrate my Great-Aunt’s 100th birthday with a wonderful, happy, perfect party. At the party, as I laughed with my 2 amazing sisters, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the shining example of sisterhood that my great-aunt and her sister (my grandma) continually demonstrated. Along with my mom’s mantra, we were given the invaluable gift of role  models who showed us the way.

 

 

 

 

My great-aunt & grandma lived on the same street as adults, they slept in the same bed growing up. They vacationed & celebrated holidays together. They share a lot of friends, a love of cheese & crackers and Canadian Mist whiskey, and a beautiful family that they delight in together. They have a unique bond and share many similar traits and interests (politics, books, love of nature), however they both have their own (strong) personalities and hobbies. At times they irritate one another with their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and at other times they laugh in delight at a memory. They’ve lost their parents, husbands, and many family & friends over the years. They’ve grown really, really old and have done all of this together.

What a gift having both of them in our life has been. What a gift to have sisters that are our very best friends. To quote my great-aunt, and my mom’s mantra, “We are so, so lucky.”

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Two deaths hit hard over the last month…the former poet laureate, Donald Hall, who passed away on the day of my great-aunt’s bday party. He was married to Jane Kenyon, another poet that we both love very much and who passed away much too young. I love this blog post about Hall by Patchett, also this compilation of Fresh Air interviews with him. I just finished Essays After Eighty, and I’m reading A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety which explores the indiginities of getting old. He got to live a long life, and sometimes that is not a gift.

Anthony Bourdain died about a month ago and I am still not over it. I loved his truth-telling, empathetic, completely unique intelligence. He was not an extremist and he constantly evolved as a human being. I am really going to miss him. I love this article he wrote about #metoo and how in certain circumstances one must pick a side. I also love this article that Darren Aronfsky wrote about Bourdain, especially this line “You turned a light on what it means to be a human right now, right here on planet Earth.” I’ll be re-watching all my fave Parts Unknown episodes (Detroit, Vietnam w/Obama, Iran, Charleston…) as soon as I can watch him walking around a city and talking to people without tears welling up in my eyes.

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America stinks right now, and it’s so damn hot and wild-firey.  Couple things I love are:

This tweet…

No wonder I love Obama so much – we were brainwashed by all the same books! 

This interview on Fresh Air about Flint with an amazing woman I went to high school with.

New Kingsolver book coming out SOON. Love this piece on her with the perfect title.

This interview with the poet Ada Limon.

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What I’ve been reading

The best first…

The Recovering: Intoxications and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison is one of the most powerful accounts of addiction that I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them!). Jamison  (The Empathy Exams) writes with unflinching honesty about realizing she was an alcoholic at a young age. A writer who revered many writers who drank a lot, she goes deep into her love for alcohol and why she needed to stop drinking.

Florida by Lauren Groff is an intense, pretty-much perfect collection of short stories by one of my favorites. I usually like to read short story collections slow – but I devoured these in a weekend. I love this interview with her in Esquire, especially this part: “My first narrative love was the Old Testament: I was a pretty fervent little girl and believed in Bible stories, which are rich and beautiful and strange and often contradictory, everything that makes for great literature. Ever since I became an adult, though religion has been replaced by an equally deep (and despairing) love for humanity. Fiction–reading it and writing it–is the greatest, most beautiful exploration of humanity that I know.” 

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer is a great read about female relationships, mentors, wisdom, generational dynamics, and power. It’s a book for right now. I love this  part when someone gives water to another during trauma: “It couldn’t put out anyones fire, but it could make a person remember: I am part of the real world, a person holding a glass. I haven’t lost that ability.”

Circe by Madeline Miller took me back to my love of Greek Mythology. It made me want to re-read Homer and dig out notes from my college classes on Greek & Roman History. This is a fantastic story that re-tells the myth about Circe (a minor character in the myths) and makes her the lead character. It deals with women’s rage, patriarchal societies that over-consume and use people, and female empowerment.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horwitz – What is it about a good mystery that makes it all you can think about? My favorite book store (Book Catapult) recommended this author and I’m hooked. I have not guessed the correct murderer yet for any of his writing!

There There by Tommy Orange about Native Americans going to a Pow Wow in Oakland. It is so good, and incredibly depressing and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s hot, so I’ve been lying on my couch zipping through books…some other good ones that I recently read (in order of how much I liked them):

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain If you loved McClain’s The Paris Wife, pick this one up.

White Houses by Amy Bloom Historical fiction about Eleanor Roosevelt’s love for journalist Lorna Hickok

Warlight by Michael Onnadtje Beautiful, haunting, lyrical

Sunburn by Laura Lippman Noir crime fiction

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan Crazy medical story! I was most interested in the fact that the author has memories of her hallucinations that still seem real after recovery. Memory doesn’t work – for more on that check out, This Revisionist History Podcast about memory and Brian Williams

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller I attended my first-ever book club meeting with this book. Surprisingly, I liked the book, and I liked the book club meeting.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan Single White Female set in Morocco

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler I’ve been an Anne Tyler fan ever since I read my mom’s copy of “The Accidental Tourist” when I was about 10 years old. Always a good, though occasionally too sweet, read.

House Among Trees by Julia Glass I’ll read anything by her. Reliably a good story.

Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer 

 

 

 

Year of the Bird

The first time I witnessed a Bald Eagle magically swooping through the sky was over the Ausable River in Upper Michigan in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I was with my Dad visiting my grandparents, who were so excited to take us to see the nest way up on top of a huge tree.  They explained that Bald Eagles were making a comeback after years of near extinction due to DDT and other pesticides. We weren’t allowed to get near the nest due to federal regulations that protected the beautiful bird to help with breeding and raising their babies. Federal regulations eventually brought back the Bald Eagles and other birds.

I remember being horrified that something so magnificent had ever been in danger. Shortly after witnessing that, I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (I love this recent Jill Lepore article about her!) and I’ve had a life-long, on-going, back-and-forth obsession in my head for the last 30 years about environmental and animal issues. Our collective human apathy amazes me.

The birds that make a regular appearance in my urban, So-Cal neighborhood are Nutall woodpeckers, a Red-Shouldered hawk couple (Sean’s fave), American crows (my fave), Northern mockingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, Black Phoebes, purple finches, sparrows, and doves. We also have a pair of squawking parrots that are breeding and multiplying at a staggering pace and some lucky people have chicken clucking loudly in their yards. A few weeks ago, at the estuary near us, we spotted Great egrets, a Snowy egret, osprey and a lone flamingo that escaped from somewhere. Our neighborhood is 1000x better because of all the birds that reside in it.

National Geographic & the Audubon declare this the Year of Bird. It is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which has protected birds as they migrate for 100 years. Like so many other important policies (66 Environmental Rules on the Way out under Trump), this one is threatened under the current administration. Several articles remind us that if the new amendment had been in effect when the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, B.P. would not have had to spend millions of dollars to clean up where the birds live.  If you care about this – take some SUPER simple online actions here. Literally takes 5 minutes.

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Image credits: Daniel Biber/lensculture This photo is INCREDIBLE! Like a murmuration of Starlings we need to keep organizing.

I’m finding myself able to get lost in books again lately. And I’m so grateful for the escape they have always offered me.

Reese Witherspoon has a book club and her picks are pretty good. I zipped through Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (suburban drama) and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (love story). Both of the books are fast reads that are perfect, escapist beach or weekend reading. I LOVED Celine by Peter Heller – it’s a detective story with an older, refined, sassy female in the lead role who travels from NYC to Yellowstone to solve a decades long mystery. Heller writes beautifully about nature and humanity (Dog Stars is even better than this, but you need to be okay with apocalyptic books to pick it up).

Books that have a small supernatural element in them are my favorite (Time Traveler’s Wife, anything by Alice Hoffman or David Mitchell). Eternal Life by Dara Horn is about a woman who has been alive for centuries and has watched generations of her family live and die. The book explores the “gift” of dying and the gift of being alive. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows four siblings who are told the date that they will die by a gypsy when they are in elementary school. Each chapter follows one of the siblings and the impact that this has on their life. I couldn’t put this book down! Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin  is a super-small, one-sitting book about our inability to protect children or others. This book (surprisingly) killed it in the Tournament of Books this year! It’s an environmental horror story that is creepy and weird and lingers long after the book is put down.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is a story about female friendship, animation, drugs & drinking, trying to escape your past, and making art out of your life (and who that effects). Super good book. I’m currently reading Oprah’s latest pick, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It explores our racist legal system, being black in America, marriage, independence, and so much more. The writing  and story are perfect.

Other stuff I’m reading & thinking about…

This article by Kim Stanley Robinson about population and how we can all live on Earth, and this article by Jeff Vandermeer on Cli-Fi.

Huge upsets this year in the Tournament of Books! I’m also following The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks on Food 52.

Excited for the Great American Read.

We’ve been watching a lot of creepy Twilight Zone-like anthology TV shows lately. My fave episodes are Black Mirror – San Junipero, Black Mirror – Hang the DJ, and almost all of the episodes of Amazon’s Electric Dreams. I try not to watch them before bed because they are nightmare inducing.

On Being Podcast with guest Naomi Shihab Nye –  I swooned when she stated “You are living in a poem.” Most of the On Being Podcasts are great (love the Mary Oliver) and make me feel better when I’m losing hope or feel disconnected.

I love this blog post by Ann Patchett about her stepfather.

So far away but…Barbara Kingsolver and Kate Atkinson have new books coming out in the Fall!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Matters

This week the stunning Obama portraits at the National Portrait Gallery were unveiled and Michelle Obama released this Valentine’s Day playlist titled “Forever Mine: Michelle to Barack”:

The importance that the Obama’s always placed on art of all kinds matters. It matters a lot.

They both chose African-American artists to paint their portraits and they did not do traditional portraits. Like his presidency, they are rich with symbolism; the Washington Post writes “these portraits will remind future generations how much wish fulfillment was embodied in the Obamas, and how gracefully they bore that burden.”  As I listened to the Spotify playlist at work I thought about Michelle and Barack dancing in their living room to Calvin Harris, Leon Bridges, Alabama Shakes, Van Morrison, Kendrick Lamar, Tim McGraw and all of the other amazing artists on their playlist. I’m not sure what you do, but I turn on music (KTAO Radio) the minute I wake up, and we constantly have music on in our home and car. My whole life, and probably yours, has a soundtrack. It matters.

It starts with the inauguration, Obama had a poet at both of his. I listened to Robert Blanco reciting “One Today” over and over again after the 2013 inauguration.  It matters that he chose a gay immigrant to deliver the inaugural poem. It matters that the Kennedy’s had Frost read a poem; and man, can I remember when the incomparable Maya Angelou recited “On the Pulse of Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration.

From the iconic poster of the youthful Barack’s face with the words “Hope,” to the yearly favorite books and playlists that were released, to the cultural food movement Michelle tried to accomplish (with resistance from lobbyists), to the references to history & pop culture that were a constant in Obama’s speeches. It matters.

We SEE one another in art. In books, poems, music, paintings, photographs, film. Story telling in all forms is an integral part of the human experience. It matters.

I don’t think I need to say this, but maybe I do (we humans seem to be stupider than ever these days, and yes, I am feeling snarky) – contrast all of the above to the current President who only believes in power, money, whiteness, and objectifying woman. An inauguration that focused on american carnage and the size of the crowd without a poet in sight. The man does not have a cultural bone in his (unhealthy) body – he doesn’t even believe in exercising or in eating unprocessed food (i.e. his love of fast food and desire to give poor people a box of processed yumminess). Again, he is trying to eliminate arts and humanities funding in his latest budget.

It matters who Americans elected as President. It filters down and out and around. Art matters and I miss having a President who knew that.

You know what’s crazy – Laura Ingalls Wilder probably would have voted for Donald Trump. I can’t stop thinking about Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. It is a book for right now. Like so many little girls, Laura Ingalls Wilder was an integral part of my childhood. I wanted to live in a little house on the prairie and travel around in a covered wagon.

As Fraser describes Wilder’s life in vivid detail several myths are shattered over and over again. The myth of the romantic American West. The myth of surviving by homesteading. The myth of American Exceptionalism. The myth that a farmer can make it on their own. There is huckster fantasy, and then there is reality. Which, of course, is what we are seeing right now.

Wilder lived during an incredible time and Fraser takes us through all of it. She delves into the man-made Dust Bowl, reactions to the New Deal, yellow journalism, Little House books used as propaganda in Japan, “Indians”, the TV show, and politics. So, so much politics. Charles Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder both lost (several) homes and, perhaps, it was easier to blame the government than their bad decisions when this happened. This led to Wilder and her daughter to have very strong (and interesting and often hypocritical) political feelings. An article in the New Republic talking about the book “Ultimately, that same drive to be alone with the wilderness got converted to a founding myth of individualism, out of which emerged an ideology that visualized freedom from government as an equivalent of freedom itself. The descendants of that myth are among us still. If Laura Ingalls Wilder were alive today she would be a member of the Tea Party. She would almost certainly have voted for Donald Trump, many of whose followers yet believe that he will restore to them the dubious glory of the frontier America that Wilder so passionately celebrated in her books.”

More stuff to make you think…

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward – Devastating and beautiful. My heart broke so much as I read it. Reminded me of Toni Morrison. Much-deserved National Book Award winner.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – I can’t believe how much I loved this delightful, Agatha Christie type book. A mystery within a mystery to get totally lost in. A book I could recommend to almost anyone.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – Main character has a familiar (not a pet!) that is a crow. I am so jealous of her… another great Hoffman book full of dreamy, magical enchantment. It takes place in the 60’s and is a companion piece to Practical Magic.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – A story of survival in a shitty world. The cruelty of family members, nature, the world at large. Be prepared for horrible abuse scenes like last year’s A Little Life.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – Utterly depressing book by a Nigerian writer about infertility and desperately needing/wanting baby. Extreme measures with repercussions.

Improvement by Joan Silber – Little linked stories about one decision affecting multiple people. Short, good read.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – this is a frustrating, dystopian book with really good parts. Somehow it feels very real even with the lack of all the details and the unknown parts of the story. Loved this: “Some men smell right and others don’t. You know what I mean if you are a woman who breathes in the fragrance of the stem end of a melon to choose it or if the odor of mock orange or lilac transfixes or if you pass a piece of woody earth and know from a gulp of air that the soft, wet, fleshy foot of a mushroom has thrust from the earth somewhere close. Men smell good in all different ways. Salty vanilla. Hot dirt. New grass. Bitter lead…” and also loved this: “I can’t bear it – crackers and cheese! It reminds me of all the wonderful, normal times that I have eaten crackers and cheese with my parents or friends. So many times in my past life and I’ve never appreciated how comforting and convivial those times were.”

Also this discussion between Atwood & Erdich where they bring up the 2000 election…which was determined by a handful of votes like the current one. Imagine if Gore had been elected and climate change was addressed, the strides that could have been made over last 16 years. The world would look completely different.

I Used to Insist I Didn’t Get Angry. Not Anymore. by Leslie Jamison – Article in the NY Times. I identify, do you?

Look and See – Netflix documentary on Wendell Berry, farming and the Kentucky county where he has lived most of his life. It floored me. How are we humans going to fix the problems we’ve made?

 

 

 

 

Saving the things we love

What a year! We’ve (almost) made it through 2017.

We’re coming upon one of my least favorite times of the year. I’m often called the Grinch. I love being with family and celebrating anything with a big meal, and of course, I always love champagne and having so much time off of work. But when it starts to involve so much crap and capitalism in overdrive, I start to go crazy. Christmas trees, plastic toys that will end up in a landfill very soon, stressed-out people, unrealistic expectations, crazy shopping malls, people who claim that there is a war on Christmas – sometimes it’s all too, too much.

I’m going to spend this season with my mantra being a quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.Saving the Things We Love.” For me, that’s animals (did you notice that the latest Star Wars shows animal rights over and over again!!), nature, art, music, books, clean skies & water, healthy food, equality. It’s the restaurants and shops in my community. It’s National Public Radio Podcasts. It’s paying the people who do the hardest work a livable wage. It’s leaving the kids I love a healthy, sustainable, just world.

Intention, intention, intention in everything. I’ll try to do that more than ever this year.

My 2nd favorite line in the new Star Wars is when Phasma says to Finn, “You were always scum,” and Finn says “Rebel scum.” That line rings true for many reasons – and of course, it is an homage to Hans Solo.

Stuff I’m thinking about and reading right now:

Ann Patchett’s My Year of No Shopping in NY Times. I’m a horrible shopper – the absolute worst. Maybe that’s another reason I’m not a fan of Christmas. Great article by one of my faves. Maybe it will give you some inspiration for the coming year?

Have Trump voters read Orwell? Prohibiting words like evidence-based and diversity is beyond disturbing.

I’ve been reading Ginsberg’s “America” a lot lately. In my 20’s I studied the Beats so much – particularly this poem and Corso’s Bomb. In the poem Ginsberg is arguing with America about the promise of America and where we are going as a nation. So many parallels to today. Favorite lines: America when will we end the human war/Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.

This interview with Isbell & Shires.  I can’t tell you how much his music has meant to me over the last year. I love that they take a stand and speak out against injustice. “A lot of people don’t care. And those are all people whose problems have been solved on their behalf. If you’re the kind of person who’s getting pulled over by the cops every time you go anywhere, even though you’ve done nothing wrong, then you are concerned about race and your community. The people who really don’t care are the people who don’t realize how easy they have it.”

This list of the best podcasts of 2017. If you need to add some new podcasts to your listening playlist, check it out.

This article about 2017 in Teen Vogue is so good! Love THIS “Of the repeated criticisms I receive from strange men on the Internet about any given topic, the most confounding is the idea that I am “too angry.” and THIS “Perhaps the one optimistic take on this godforsaken year is that we’ve begun to recall that the American project is not a historical accomplishment to be celebrated but instead an ongoing process of figuring out how we ought to live together.”

Yoga with Adrienne starts a new 30 days of yoga on January 1st!

Two of my favorite TV shows this year were by Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace on Netflix (demonstrates women being used over and over again by men in different ways) and The Handmaidens Tale on Hulu (swept the emmys!). Glad that one my most beloved authors is everywhere right now. Her speculative fiction is needed more than ever.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many cool people at my job throughout the years. One of my faves is Sci-Fi author Kim Stanley Robinson – check out this interview with him in Lithub where he talks about capitalism, climate change, and dystopia. Another awesome person I’ve got to hang with is community organizer and writer Adrienne Maree Brown. Love this blog post that she recently wrote about meeting Obama in Chicago.

And I’ve been on SUCH a good reading streak:

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan  A historical novel written with precise details and an engaging storyline. Egan is awesome and this is a beautiful, timely novel. A good novel to get lost in with a warm drink and a cozy blanket.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee A multi-generational, fast-paced novel about a Korean family that moves to Japan. Along with being a narrative about family drama, it explores class, poverty, racism and more than anything luck! Some of us are so much luckier than others. It’s all a game of Pachinko.

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker This book gives you all the behind the scene details of the wine and sommelier industry. If you like Sweetbitter (which is becoming a mini-series on Starz)or Anthony Bourdain’s books, check this out.

The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman. Pullman is spectacular – every kid and adult should read his Dark Materials Trilogy and Sally Lockhart series. This book is the first in a planned trilogy and takes place in the world of Dark Materials. It’s a great book (although it may be about 25 pages too long) that explores climate change & political & religious tyranny through the eyes of a young, brave boy named Malcolm.

Of course, before there was Phillip Pullman, there was Madeline L’Engle writing all of her “un-Christian” texts. I can NOT wait for the movie A Wrinkle in Time – this article in Time has me even more excited. I can’t believe that Oprah is in the movie version of one of the books that influenced me more than anything. AND Captain Kirk aka Chris Pine! I can’t begin to tell you what Madeline L’Engle meant to me as a kid. The 3rd (A Swiftly Tilting Planet) and 4th (Many Waters) books in the Time quintent series remain my favorite and also I loved her “Meet the Austins” series. L’Engle was so far ahead of her time.

A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe – Short, linked stories about an Australian family and the lingering effects of trauma. Beautiful, original writing.

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green No one captures teenage angst and anxiety like Green. A quick, sweet read about a teenager with OCD by a master YA novelist.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunt A super-short, 1 hour read that transports you to a flooded London where a woman has just had a baby boy and needs to protect him. Like  Station Eleven, this book makes you thankful for the present moment, at the same time it reminds you that any of us could be refugees trying to survive.

And I love end of the year best book lists…

NPR

The Millions: A Year in Reading 

Oprah

Good Reads

Parnassus Book Store

NY Times (aka FAKE NEWS)

Amazon

Huffington Post

Washington Post (more Fake news)

And finally, at my local bookstore, The Book Catapult, a reason for hope – their three best sellers this season are Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, We Were 8 Years in Power, and the Constitution!

Peace.

 

Art exists because it is needed

The other night walking with Ru, we found a poetry tree in our neighborhood. A poetry tree!! Beautifully printed poems by Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Robert Frost and many others dangle from string with a note that says: Take a poem with you. Children’s poetry and nursery rhymes are on the lowest rungs so little hands can grab them.  Next to the tree is an altar-like frame with a highlighted poem that gets changed on a regular basis – the week that Tom Petty passed away it had the lyrics to his song Wildflowers:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Run away, find you a lover
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you

 

I can’t begin to tell you how happy things like this make me.

I love poetry. A few lines that remind us of our shared humanity. We are fragile little beings spinning through space on a beautiful rock all trying to get by the best we can. There is beauty and horror all around us all the time.

If you don’t know where to start and want to read more poetry, here are my 3 favorite collections of poetry:

Good Poems by Garrison Keilor. Thanks Mom – one of my favorite gifts ever!

Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon. Every poem is perfect.

Resistance Rebellion Life: 50 Poems Now by Amit Majmuder is slim little pink volume that came out a few months ago and would make a great Christmas gift for the resistors in your life. I keep re-reading the poems as I grapple with what is happening right now. Helps a little bit that others are as floored as I am. One of my faves in the collection is this one:

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A new collection by Mary Oliver called Devotions just came out – I can’t wait to get it and read the poems over and over and over again until they become an innate part of me.

Good Bones by Maggie Smith is one of the best poems I’ve read lately. It physically hurts to read it. These lines kill me: “The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.” Here’s a little interview with her about the poem and other things.

Books I’ve recently read from best to worst…

I zipped through The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It’s a long Victorian novel with a Dickens-like cast of odd, misshapen characters. It’s a delightful read with independent women, scientific inquires, forbidden love affairs, eccentric settings and people, and fast-paced story-telling.

In Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie the story of Antigone is re-told from the perspective of a Pakistani immigrant family living in London. Burnt Shadows is my favorite Shamsie novel and I recommend it over this one, but this is a book that is definitely of this moment in time.

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Kong is a nice easy read about a 30 year old woman who moves back in with her parents as her Dad battles Alzheimers. It’s a comical book on memory, family, and trying to figure it all out.

I keep waiting for another History of Love by Nicole Krauss, but her latest novel Forest Dark is not it. It’s a good book, but it’s a tad too strange for me (and I like strange!). I didn’t feel like I got it, and that ticked me off. It’s about metamorphosis, Israel, escaping reality, and other things that I probably missed.

Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Rohinton Mistry has all of the elements of a book I would love – lots of characters, interlocking stories, exotic locale – and yet, I could not get into it. It’s long and I trudged through it…but I was underwhelmed and I’m not sure why.

More stuff…

I went to a reading and Q&A with Alice Hoffman the other day. I’ve written about my love for her many times on this blog. She exudes magic, as you would expect. Things she discussed included: male fears about female empowerment, it’s better to be a witch than a princess (duh!), she tries to write like Van Morrison sings, and librarians are true rebels. Also, she believes that what you read at 12 or 13 sticks with you the most, it influences your perception of the world. Explains a lot for me. Of course, I was already reading her early works like “At Risk” and “Property Of” when I was that age.

I can’t believe this amazing interview happened with Jason Isbell and George Saunders. Two of our most important storytellers talking about the craft of writing! I’ve watched it 2x and listened even more on my commute to work. I knew Isbell was a reader because in  “The Life You Choose” he sings ” Who are you if not the one I met?/One July night before the town went wet/Jack and coke in your mama’s car/You were reading The Bell Jar” and he tweets about authors I love on a regular basis. Intelligence and respect for human beings oozes off of these 2 artists. They are true humanists, as Isbell states in the interview, “Art exists because it is needed” (for more on that sentiment check out Station Eleven).

Because we have a huge epidemic of stupidity right now, you may need to pass this list on: Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War

The Joan Didion documentary “The Center Can Not Hold” is available on Netflix. Worth watching for all Didion fans – it’s a love letter to her eccentric nature and courageous writing.

 

 

 

Read. Rise. Resist.

If a nuke detonated tomorrow I would not be shocked. Nothing is surprising anymore. I spent today in tears because of the nasty responses to bending the knee protests instigated by the racist president. Newsflash all you jerks: You can support the troops AND kneel when the anthem plays. It is not one or the other. Everyday it feels like I am watching reality TV, disaster porn, the Hunger Games instead of the news.  Over the last few weeks the destruction left by Hurricane Harvey moved to non-stop watching news of a potential “nuclear” hurricane with Irma and then Hurricane Maria destroying islands in its path.

Over the last few weeks, actually over the last 10 months, it has been one thing after another (North Korea, Russia, DACA, Racism, Healthcare, Travel Ban). It’s overwhelming. It’s hilariously unbelievable. A few weeks ago my acupuncturist/yoga teacher recommended a news detox when I told her I’m not sleeping well (yes, I am fully aware how California that sentence sounded). I tried it when we went on vacation during Labor Day week – we left for Portland as Irma was starting to churn in the Atlantic and it reminded me of a trip we took to the Upper Peninsula 12 years ago.

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Journal Entry

The news break didn’t last long – I have no self-control and there was a story in Portland I  had to follow…The first day that we were in Portland we narrowly escaped getting caught by the Eagle Creek forest fire. A few hours after we landed, our friends took us to the gorge and we went on a gorgeous, lush, fun hike to a waterfall and swimming hole.

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Eagle Creek Columbia River Gorge

About thirty minutes after we ended our hike, the entire area was on fire (due to a kid lighting fireworks on the trail we had just hiked) and all of the people that were at the waterfall/swimming hole were stuck overnight. The fire is still going over 20 days later – it is not yet 50% contained, and almost 50,000 acres are gone. All that green went up in smoke and turned into ash that rained down on us in Portland. By the time we were heading out of Portland the entire city felt a bit apocalyptic with a red moon, Beijing-like smoky air, hazy sun, and sooty ash. People in the city were so, so sad about the loss.

We’re all always so close to tragedy and disaster. It’s all so very fragile. And yet, all of this crazy is becoming our new normal. Most of us are getting used to this feeling of living on the brink. We’re expecting it to get even worse.

On a happier, less depressing note, we LOVED Portland. Such good veg food (Sweet Herafter, The Bye and Bye, No Bones Beach Club), amazing bike lanes, resistance signs on most businesses and homes, lush greenery, walkable neighborhoods and, of course, Powells Books – where I got my fave bumper sticker of all time READ. RISE. RESIST.

I’m currently reading “Women in the Castle” by Jessica Shattuck. It’s hitting close to home  as I read about Germany and those who stood with and those who resisted Hitler & Nazism. If we end up divided by racism and fear like Germany did, we are all going to lose.

Short Reads:

Take 5 minutes out of your day and read Hymn by Sherman Alexie. Read it.

Social Justice is reversible. It is belief held by Octavia Butler, Ta-Nehsi Coates, and many others. This New Yorker article about Butler is a must-read for anyone who has not heard about her.

“We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation” by Joe Biden. We’re living through it people. Will you speak out or will you be a weenie? Also ‘To Donald Trump,’ by Leland Melvin, former NASA Astronaut and NFL Player if you still don’t get it.

Must Reads:

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue It’s the latest Oprah pick and its a good one! Set during the economic crisis of 2008, the novel follows the impact of the crash on two completely different families in NYC. The immigrants experience vs the people working at Lehman Brothers. I loved this book and think it should be required reading for everyone.

Marlena by Julie Buntin Set in Northern Michigan, this is a rough, raw book about an intense teenage friendship between 2 girls. Drugs, sex, stupid decisions, alcohol – all of the things that are terrifying about teenagers are in this book. Northern Michigan has amazing summers, but they are short and the winter can be incredibly long. In some towns there are the summer people, and then there are the people who live there year round. It can be two totally different experiences. This book looks at class, motherhood, friendship, and so much more.

I love this paragraph of the narrator looking back on her teenage angst: “Great loneliness, profound isolation, a cataclysmic, overpowering sense of being misunderstood. When does that kind of deep feeling just stop? Where does it go? At fifteen, the world ended over and over and over again. To be so young is a kind of self-violence. No fore-sight, an inflated sense of wisdom, and yet you’re still responsible for your mistakes. It’s little frightening to remember just how much, and how precisely, I felt. Now, if the world really did end, I think I’d just feel numb.”

Good Reads:

Woman No. 17 by Eden Lepucki   I pretty much hated Lepucki’s first book, so I’m surprised I picked this one up. Like her first book, this one also has completely unlikeable characters, however the story is kind of fun as it explores art, mother issues and class.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch A weird dystopian book about art and resistance and so much more.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout She is never a disappointment. Short, perfect little stories that intersect but also can stand alone.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster  4 different versions of a life. This book is long and sometimes hard to keep track off – but I loved all the twists and turns determined by all the ways our lives can go depending on our circumstances. The civil rights protest and the Vietnam war are explored from different perspectives and the main character, Ferguson feels he is writing in a time “when the world was about to blow apart again.” The book made me feel a little better – so many generations have felt like they were watching the world explode.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich If you only like happy endings where everything is resolved don’t read this book (Poo, I’m especially talking to you). Nothing gets resolved in this novel and that’s hard because it involves the death of an innocent child. I hated a lot of this novel, but parts of it were so amazing I am still thinking about it.

So much stuff to add to library lists. Here’s a good list. Can’t wait for Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach”!!