Debilitating Empathy

I read an interview awhile ago where Brandi Carlile said we need “Debilitating Empathy” right now. I can’t stop thinking about that phrase and what the world would look like with it.

People would wear masks without prompting out of concern for others. There would be a clear understanding that black lives matter and systems need to change. We would revere and care for the oldest and most vulnerable people in our communities. Priorities would be on food justice, animal rights, the environment, universal healthcare…

Instead, as a nation, we put ourselves first. Of course, that is reflected the most in who we have allowed to be president.

We literally have the worst possible person to have as President in this moment. What would be happening right now with a normal President? And by normal, I don’t mean a democrat- I just mean normal and not f-ing insane, psychotic, and DUMB as a doorknob. Anyone who encourages the politicization of masks and less testing is a sociopath.

It is so easy to unite people in a crisis, yet he insists on continuing to divide. I am working hard on having empathy towards the cruel people who still support this administration. I’m having a hard time…the Trump enablers continue to be the problem.

Here’s some links and things that I’ve been thinking about:

The Sickness in our Food Supply by Michael Pollan. What is the answer – it’s so messed up, and it is the most important thing.

Jose Andres & his World Central Kitchen give me hope. He’s a rockstar.

Oprah Shares 20 Things She Does Not Know for Sure. Because I love Oprah.

We’ve been playing Reunions at least once a day…this is a great interview with Jason Isbell in GQ. “I didn’t notice it when I was writing it,” Isbell said. “And not really even when we were recording it, either. But when we were mixing it and I was listening back to mixes at the end, I thought, Man, almost every song has a ghost. Like, a literal ghost. And I start thinking, What is a ghost? Usually it’s not a stranger. In the ghost stories that actually mean something, it’s somebody that you’ve known in your past, so you are reuniting in a way with that person.”

I loooved this Kim Stanley Robinson must-read piece in the New Yorker

Imagine what a food scare would do. Imagine a heat wave hot enough to kill anyone not in an air-conditioned space, then imagine power failures happening during such a heat wave. (The novel I’ve just finished begins with this scenario, so it scares me most of all.) Imagine pandemics deadlier than the coronavirus. These events, and others like them, are easier to imagine now than they were back in January, when they were the stuff of dystopian science fiction. But science fiction is the realism of our time. The sense that we are all now stuck in a science-fiction novel that we’re writing together—that’s another sign of the emerging structure of feeling.”

What Comes Next series on Lit Hub

Padma Lakshmi’s new TV show Taste of the Nation is excellent. I thought it would annoy me because it would try to copy Anthony Bourdain too much – but her viewpoint is different and is exactly what we need right now.

Camp TOB for a good summer reading competition – I’ve read 5/6 and am on the library audio waitlist for the NK Jemison one. Every single book on the list is amazing – I have no idea who the winner will be, but if I had to choose, I’d pick Writers & Lovers.

One of my biggest pandemic breakdowns occurred when the libraries closed – I had a stack of holds waiting for me! However, between our libraries audio and e-books, as well as stocking up from my local bookstore I’ve managed to read a ton lately. And, good news, the library is offering curbside delivery of books on hold – so I have a huge stack still waiting for me to read. Here’s some great reads – I recommend all of them:

Weather by Jenny Ofill. As a culture, we are not panicking about climate change and that is crazy. Ofill’s short, powerful writing is clever and unputdownable. Fair warning: I read this during a particularly depressing COVID week, and this book took my anxiety level through the roof.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore. A well-written detective book with a female lead about the opiod crisis. Gripping, fast summer read.

Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit. I’m a huge Solnit fan. I was hoping for more juicy info in this autobiography, but it’s pretty tame. Like all of her writing, it is powerful and looks at the big picture – the huge forces shaping our lives.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ll pick up almost any kind of biblical fiction (Many Waters by Madeline L’Engle was my childhood fave – other good ones are The Red Tent and The Dovekeepers), and this is the story of Jesus’s wife. Oh, you say Jesus didn’t have a wife??!! Ha. Who knows…

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore. Another Jenna Bush bookclub pick and it’s a good one about resilient women in a Texas town during an oil boom. Would never have picked this one up without her recommendation. I continue to be impressed by her picks – way better than Reese’s book club.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King. I looooved this book. A book about a writer and all her writer friends – struggling and keeping on because of the need to write. Excellent writing and characters.

Stray by Stephanie Danler. Sweetbitter is such a great account of the restaurant industry, and I’ve followed Danler’s writing ever since I read it. This book is a raw, painful and brutally honest memoir about her addict parents and her own mistakes.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. My local bookstore said I had to read this book – and I always, always trust them. I thought this was going to be a magical realism story, and it is, but that is just a small portion of it. It’s a story about a struggling Hawaiian family with complicated sibling dynamics. The descriptive settings and character development had me zipping through it.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. A cast of memorable characters at a Native American reservation in the 1950’s as the government tried to “terminate” the tribe. Powerful, infuriating, funny, and heart-warming all at the same time.

Next on my list are Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schulz, A Burning by Megha Majumdar, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and the latest Anne Tyler.

I’m looking at my reading list above – it’s a lot of white women authors. If you look through this blog or look at my bookshelf you’ll realize that I read about 60% white women…

In college I read a large variety of authors and voices – I especially fell in love with Toni Morrison and Harlem Renaissance authors – but after that, I went back to reading mostly white women. I will consciously adjust that moving forward. Here are some recent books I loved by Black authors if you are looking to diversify your reading list: Homegoing (yay – she has a new book coming out this year!), An American Marriage, The Water Dancer, Such a Fun Age, Behold the Dreamers (also has a new book coming out soon), everything by Colson Whitehead. By the way, if you read this and think “Why don’t you make a commitment to start reading more white men authors” – this blog probably isn’t for you.

I read a book

And it made me feel normal. After weeks of blankly staring at pages, not being able to concentrate, flipping through poetry and newspapers – I finally read a book. And it was a good one.

Six years ago I wrote about my love for Emily St John Mandel’s pandemic dystopian book Station Eleven on this blog. I also wrote, “What we have right now won’t last.” Because, of course, it was never going to last. I described the book as melancholy, haunted, creepy tingles – all words that also describe her latest, The Glass Hotel.

At its center, the book is about a Ponzi scheme and the 2008 financial crisis – but really, it is about so much more. It is a perfect read for right now because it explores how security is an illusion and everything is fleeting. Characters overlap, timelines mix, and settings range from the middle of nowhere to prison to boats to the kingdom of the rich. The whole novel has an ethereal quality with elements of mystery and the supernatural interspersed throughout – one character thinks: “What does it mean to be a ghost, let alone to be there, or here? There are so many ways to haunt a person, or a life.”

An overall sense of alternate realities pervades the book because Mandel has two characters (maybe more that I missed) from Station Eleven and she references the Georgian Flu that was almost a world-ending pandemic in that book. Characters also always think about what their paths would have been if they’d made different choices. There is so much in this book, and it is so beautifully written. I’m glad it was the first book I read in our new reality.

In Station Eleven, Mandel emphasizes the importance of art to our humanity over and over again – even when only 1% of the population remains. And now, while we’re all isolated, it’s more important than ever. We’re reading books and newspapers and poetry, listening to music, watching TV and movies, playing video games. We’re making meals – which is an art. And, as Cuomo recently said in a Rolling Stone interview “Government done well is an art form.”

Here’s some art that may interest you – stuff that’s made me think or breathe better or smile over the last few weeks.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit have some videos out I’ve played on repeat:

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press has been writing great columns lately. This one about Humanity during Covid 19, and this one addressing what the f*$% is going on with the Michigan protesters. As I watched them I wondered where the feeling of sacrifice is – I know this is a super scary time and we’re all feeling the financial impact, but we continue to live in a “me” country. That’s the whole attitude that Trump continues to play on.

Love Letter by George Saunders in the New Yorker. Oh my…this is a stinging one by one of my favorite story-tellers. It addresses the terror of this administration and the complacency of all of us.

I’ve been listening to Brene Brown new podcasts, as well as Sugar Calling with Cheryl Strayed. The latest Tim Ferris podcast with Jane Goodall is AMAZING. We’re watching the new seasons of Ozark and Bosch – excited to check out Mrs American on Hulu.

They Were Warriors in the Chicago newspaper by Rebecca Makkai is a first person look at the AIDS crisis in Chicago – a scary time with so many heroes and so many links to the current crisis.

As always, The Atlantic has many must-read articles right now especially this Atlantic article by Frum (a conservative until they became cray-cray) about the failing President. Trump has mouthed the slogan “America first,” but he has never acted on it. It has always been “Trump first.” His business first. His excuses first. His pathetic vanity first.

Rebecca Solnit has been writing about disasters for years – her latest Guardian piece is a must-read: “The idea that everything is connected is an affront to conservatives who cherish a macho every-man-for-himself frontier fantasy. Climate change has been a huge insult to them.” I’m picking up her new book right now – excited to dive in.

Listening to Grateful Dead (Shakedown Street on repeat), John Prine, Kasey Musgraves.

Jamie Oliver has been posting yummy recipes and other stuff – Keep Cooking and Carry On

NYT articles that have hit hard are RO Kwon’s I’m Grieving, During the Coronavirus Pandemic – You may be too, Jason Isbell on John Prine and being vulnerable, and the NYT Editorial Board series The American We Need has so many great reads like the piece by Viet Thanh Nguyen where he states “But if our society looks the same after the defeat of Covid-19, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. We can expect a sequel, and not just one sequel, but many, until we reach the finale: climate catastrophe.”

Also, Elizabeth Warren is so darn smart – she’s written several plans on how to get us out of this mess – check them out to see what real vision looks like. I’m hoping Biden picks her for his VP candidate. And in case you missed it, I watched this three times and remembered how we used to have a president who could string words together into sentences.

Crashing waves

About 10 years I picked up this postcard at a restaurant in La Jolla, California –

High Tide, Circa 1949 – Postcard for The Marine Room in La Jolla, CA

I hung it on my kitchen bulletin board – it stayed there as we moved houses and as I switched out photos on the board. I have a lot of images that I love & keep around me, but this photo captures how I’ve always felt about life – everything is good, and then, when you’re not watching, wham – a huge wave breaks the glass, spills your drink (the girl on the left with the champagne glass in the middle of a story always gets me!), and sucks you under. I think I’ve felt this way most of my life, but I distinctly remember 9/11 crystallizing that feeling for me. It has never left.

I’m a realist who tries to live in the moment as much as possible – a grateful person who knows how lucky I am. I work actively to keep bad thoughts and negativity at bay -luckily I am able to do that by focusing on my loved ones, nature, books, music, art, and laughter. Shit has hit the fan in a variety of ways right now – in the world, in my community, in my family. I’m having a hard time focusing on the things that usually bring me joy – but here’s some things getting me through, maybe one or two of them will work for you:

Long walks with and without the pup – So Cal is in full bloom with yellow flowers and heavy citrus, birds and butterflies mating everywhere you look, the air is clear from recent rains and the lack of cars on the road. Spring is everywhere.

I finished reading The Bear by Andrew Krivak the night the Governor shut down the state. It’s a fable-like novella about the last two people on Earth and our circular place in the world. Weirdly, it brought me comfort.

I am mildly obsessed with Margaret Renkl – she is my current writing hero. Here is her latest NYT column: The Beautiful World Beside the Broken One. If you like Renkl’s columns I also suggest reading Connie Schultz’s. She is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown and she is fire.

If you need a book, consider getting it from my local bookseller please! They are doing good rates on shipping and they need support right now. I have a bunch of gift certificates to them, but I just purchased some books to try to keep their cash flowing. Let me tell you that it was delightful to have the new Emily St John Mandel book dropped off on my porch.

The Sun magazine has lifted their paywall – spend some time getting lost in their stories and photos.

The Sewanee Review is posting a series called the Corona Correspondences that I’ve been reading daily. Also, the New York Review of Books has a Pandemic Journal by beloved authors that will get you in the gut.

Check out the daily I So Lounging with Amanda Shires stream with Amanda & Jason Isbell – they sing and talk and joke a bit. I’ve watched it everyday at 3:00. Isbell has released three songs from his upcoming album – and they are so damn good. We’re also listening to the new albums by Nathaniel Rateliff, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, and Pearl Jam – all the perfect soundtracks for now. Lots of KTAO radio – Paddy Mac is the best DJ ever and listening to him during the current crisis keeps me sane.

We’re watching Little Fires Everywhere and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on Hulu. Some Top Chef, and I keep hearing The Tiger King on Netflix is a good distraction – going to try that this weekend. As always, Alison Roman, Bon Appetit and Sam the Cooking Guy on Youtube.

This interview with Wendell Berry just came out in Orion Magazine – can’t get enough Wendell Berry. To Live and Love with a Dying World.

I have so much to say about the lack of leadership that is happening in this country – but I think everyone with a brain already knows it, so it’s pointless to even talk about. Along those lines I appreciated this article by Yuval Noah Harari.

I’m posting a new poem every day on my Instagram feed because poetry always calms me down a bit. Our shared humanity, the wonder of life. I like to read a poem three times in my head, and then say it out loud – try it, see if that works for you.

In case you were wondering, the people in the picture were fine, and were probably enjoying the excitement of the big waves beating against the restaurant – the waves didn’t break through. The Marine Room’s windows have bullet proof glass that was installed in 1942. That’s the real story of the picture – but I will always see it as the scary surprise that’s just about to happen.

Dream Big, Fight Hard

So if you leave with only one thing, it must be this: choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough – and they will – you will know that there is only option ahead of you: nevertheless, you must persist. Elizabeth Warren’s full concession speech is here. The most qualified, tough, intelligent candidate is out of the race. Again.

This skit on SNL helped me feel better:

So did this Dixie Chick song:

But then I watched the (GREAT!) Hillary doc on Hulu and I was pissed off again. Freaking amazing how so much nonsense stuck to her, and absolutely nothing sticks to Trump. The essay collection The Witches are Coming by Lindy West also infuriated me, but I’m so glad I read it.

The bad-ass feminist Elizabeth Wurtzel recently died from breast cancer – only 52 years old. I’ve read everything she has written and her biting honesty and openness always blew me away. In particular, this article in the Cut about living her life her way and another one in the Guardian about how she doesn’t want people to tell her they are sorry that she has breast cancer.

The last few weeks have really been stressful for a lot of people. All of us are continually going through grief and loss and sorrow. We’re all fearful of losing people that we love and the unknown. A few weeks ago I read this essay, The Lingering of Loss by Jill Lepore and it is still lingering.

I need distractions right now – I bet you do too. Here’s some good books that I’ve read recently…

I listened to Me by Elton John, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and Rob Lowe’s autobiography. They were so good – especially Reid’s book that explores race, gender, and socio-economic status.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo is the book I told everyone to read a few months ago. I couldn’t put it down – a great family drama about sisters and parents and the passage of time.

Aperigon by Colum McCann is a deep, experimental, heart-breaking must-read based on a real Israeli and Palestinian father who both lost their young daughters due to the conflict there.

We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer talks about climate change, eating less meat (come on people – all we’re asking you to do is eat meat less!!) and how we are so resistant to what is in front of us. He is so easy to read – not preachy or too scholarly.

The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman continues the Dark Materials stories. Like his last one, I thought this was too long – but I love getting lost in his worlds.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano looks at the lone survivor of a plane crash, and The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes explores a traveling library ran by women in Kentucky. They were both good reads, as was Homesick by Jennifer Croft.

I’m reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins right now – as soon as I hear a book is controversial I pick it up. I’m about 1/2 done, and I’ll keep reading it because it has me on edge. I can definitely see the stereotypes that have been criticized – I’m glad the book started a conversation about many things that are wrong with the publishing industry.

Cooking is always a good distraction… My Alison Roman obsession continues – her labneh dip and turmeric lemon cake is killer. Also Whole Food Cooking and the Milk Street ones and Umami Bomb.

Climate grief

This week over 250 news and publication outlets have signed on to Covering Climate Now to promote climate coverage in anticipation of the UN Climate Action Summit this week. Surprise, Breitbart and Fox news didn’t sign on; however, publications like Science, The Guardian, Lithub and lots of others are publishing much-needed articles. In particular, Time does a great job with the latest issue focused entirely on Climate Change with a headline that reads “2050: How Earth Survived.” Inside is a poem called “Great Barrier” by Barbarbara Kingsolver and an article by Bill McKibben called “Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different.”

McKibben (who has been mentioned more on this blog than anyone else!) also just wrote a New Yorker column Money is the Oxygen on which the Fire of Global Warming Burns. He starts with this: “I’m skilled at eluding the fetal crouch of despair—because I’ve been working on climate change for thirty years, I’ve learned to parcel out my angst, to keep my distress under control. But, in the past few months, I’ve more often found myself awake at night with true fear-for-your-kids anguish.” Ugh. The article tells us how we can make changes that will work – as we all know money talks and is probably the best way to make changes. I’m so proud that the UC system just announced that they will divest from fossil fuels with their $13.4-billion endowment and $70-billion pension fund. Other important articles about Climate Change over the last few weeks are Rebecca Solnit’s hopeful Welcome to the US, Greta and Jonathan Franzen’s controversial, pessimistic article in New Yorker “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can be Stopped?” School walkouts are planned for this Friday and next – I hope people are paying attention.

In a time of climate grief, in a time that feels fleeting and fragile, in a time where it feels like nothing can be done to stop the impending changes – I read an incredible book about appreciating the birds and plants and changing seasons in a Nashville yard, and I am so grateful! The very best books and poems are the ones where nature is front and center. Writers like Wendell Berry, Robert Penn Warren, Mary Oliver, Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Powers – and now Margaret Renkl – are the ones I turn to over and over. I just finished Renkl’s book Late Migrations and I am floored. I read it slow – every day I’d read 2 or 3 of the 1-2 page essays in the book. Reading more than that was too much. Tears, lumps in my throat, deep sighs, underlining, and re-reading sentences and entire essays. Renkl weaves family and nature and love and loss into heart-wrenching sentences and super short essays. I finished the book and wanted more – so I went back and read all of her weekly NYT articles that I’ve missed over the last few years. She reminds me of the all-time best columnist, Susan Ager. In this week’s article she talks about pollinators – did you know that the monarch butterfly population is down 99 percent(!!WTF!!) West of the Rockies since 1996 (when round-up resistant crops were first planted).

Here’s a snippet from Renkl to make you read Late Migrations (which my family will be getting for Christmas this year – and you should buy it for everyone in your family):

Holy Holy Holy by Margaret Renkl

On the morning after my mother’s sudden death, before I was up, someone brought a basket of muffins, good coffee beans, and a bottle of cream—real cream, unwhipped—left them at the back door, and tiptoed away. I couldn’t eat. The smell of coffee turned my stomach, but my head was pounding from all the what ifs playing across it all night long, and I thought perhaps the cream would make a cup of coffee count as breakfast if I could keep it down. And when I poured the tiniest drip of cream into my cup, it erupted into tiny volcanic bubbles in a hot spring, unspooling skeins of bridal lace, fireworks over a dark ocean, stars streaking across the night sky above a silent prairie.

And that’s how I learned the world would go on. An irreplaceable life had winked out in an instant, but outside my window the world was flaring up in celebration. Someone was hearing, “It’s benign.” Someone was saying, “It’s a boy.” Someone was throwing out her arms and crying, “Thank you! Thank you! Oh, thank you!”

Other good reads lately are the escapist, fun City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (anything by her!!) and a collection of essays about life and where it leads you by Renkl’s friend (and Parnassus Books blogger) Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink. Also, Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Ager about a marriage falling apart in NYC – I’m a little tired of the Brooklyn setting books, but there was some interesting parts to this one. Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner is like Judy Blume for adults. This one takes place in Detroit suburbs and follows the paths of two sisters – can’t stop reading material. I started reading a creepy, snappy book called Providence , and thought it reminded me of something – then I realized it is by the author of “You,” which we just binge watched on Netflix. I love crazy old Hollywood stories packed with juicy tidbits, and Castle on Sunset: Death, Love , Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy does not disappoint.

I listened to some great books on audio that made my commute manageable- I recommend all of them. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (she leads one of my favorite podcasts “Pop Culture Happy Hour”), The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker (this is about #metoo and all its implications – well done), and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (I literally grinned in delight at the scenes where Patroculus encounters the Centaur or Odyssesus or Thetis).

I love the essayist Leslie Jamison and how she writes about empathy-this short article, Baggage Claims, has me excited about her new collection coming out this week.

A few weeks ago when we were in Denver, I fell into a conversation with a Lyft driver about books for 45 minutes. She was one of the most well-read people I have ever met. At the end she asked me for a list because she was going to head directly to the used bookstore that she frequents to pick up a few of the titles we had discussed. When the ride ended, she gave me a huge hug and asked me for the third time when I am going to write a book. I can’t stop thinking about the encounter – meeting a fellow reader also feels so good!

I’m about to get started on the onslaught of books that come out in the Fall (starting with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood) but I think I’ve already read my favorite book of the year.

Find a Climate March this week or next and go support the kids fighting for the world they will inherit.

Attention

We’ve been having a lot of rainbow weather this winter. You know, the kind of weather where it pours for a bit, and then the sun comes out and it seems brighter than it ever has, and everything is shiny and smells fresh – and sometimes, when you’re paying attention, you can spot a rainbow or two. This morning, walking Ruby in rainbow weather, I noticed a flowering succulent with delicate pink bell-looking buds glowing at the corner of my street. I have never noticed this plant before, and by my count, I’ve done this walk at least 700 times over the last 2 years. This was not a new plant – it was settled and sprawling and looked like it had been in bloom for awhile. I can’t stop thinking about how I have never noticed it before. I can’t stop thinking about all of the other things I probably miss all of the time.

I keep thinking of Mary Oliver, and how she writes “Attention is Devotion.”

I wrote the above paragraph the day before Mary Oliver died in January. Then a few days later I read Wendell Berry’s essay A Native Hill, where he describes an incident similiar to what I had just experienced as he walks upon bluebells in the woods by his home, “Though I had been familiar for years with most spring woods flowers, I had never seen these and had never known they were here. Looking at them, I felt a strange loss and sorrow that I had never seen them before, but I was also exultant that I saw them now – that they were here.”

Life is so weird when these coincidences happen. When what we are reading or listening to appears in our lives over and over again. We are given so many signs and messages. How many do we miss?

Every week I notice AT LEAST 10 hawks gliding in the sky or sitting in a tree when I am taking neighborhood walks, driving to work, or walking across campus. The other day one flew right in front of my face as I got out of my car. This started happening about two years ago. I am positive that they have always been around, but I am just now noticing them everywhere I look.

How many things do I miss every single day? Words intended a certain way, reactions from others. A hint of something. Corruption on all levels. A bump or mole somewhere on my body. Humans take so much of what is around us for granted.

Attention is Devotion, Attention is Devotion, Attention is Devotion.

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In the midst of reading lots of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, I’ve picked up some amazing books. In particular, I loved the immersive experience of the criminal reform system and power structures in Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room. It is uncomfortable and dirty – and completely unique writing. Peter Heller’s The River is poetry, mystery, and another immersive experience – this time into the natural world. Like he does in so much of his writing, he looks at the destructive nature of humans and the wild – one of my favorite authors right now.

Books about complicated women always make me happy. In Red Clocks by Leni Zumas abortion is illegal in the US and women are affected by decisions made when they had “been too tired to care.” The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker explores the Iliad and vain Achilles through the eyes of a enslaved girl. The short, darkly funny My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite explores physical beauty and the things some people can get away with. And it won the TOB of this year – that alone makes it worth reading!

I loved the memoir I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Donnell. I obsessively listened to the audio version as she described close-encounters with death including miscarriage, near-misses with violent crime, anaphalaxis, and so much more. Beautiful, truthful, and brave. Another great memoir is All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – it explores adoption and deep truths about family.

Other good books I read the last few months include: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) is the 4th book in the Cormoran Strike series and it is hopelessly addicting and fun to read. The Dreamers by Karen Walker Thompson is an eerie fairy tale about a fast-moving sleeping virus. The Wildlands by Abby Geni looks at a family torn apart by a devastating tornado, poverty and animal rights. The House of Broken Angels by Luis Martin Urrea takes place in San Diego and centers around a Mexican-American family as their patriarch nears death. Funny, heartwarming, and a book for right now.

Currently, I am reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean – if you are a library lover like me, go get this book! It is a mystery about arson, an ode to libraries, and a fascinating history read. I’m also slowly reading the essays in The Ends of the Ends of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen. The essays look at climate change as a privileged westerner and a birder – some of the essays are a bit annoying, but the title essay is pretty much perfect.

I also listened to Grisham’s The Reckoning and Morton’s The House at Riverton on my commute – I don’t recommend them unless you are all out of other things to listen to…

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Did you read Christopher Pike as a kid? Slumber Party terrified me, and hooked me onto all of his books. I was obsessed! If you were, read this interview

More than anything, I always think about the way our society treats animals illustrates our overall blindness to cruelty. Great article on the emotional lives of animals.

This article about work expresses a lot of the ways I feel – read it if you need some help putting things in perspective.

This article by Bill McKibben about Diane Feinstein and her encounter with the child protestors. Sigh. He captures it perfectly.

So glad Brandi Carlile is everywhere lately. “[Trump] is so aggressive and loud and ugly — we don’t need more aggression and loud and ugly,” Carlile says. “We need debilitating empathy.” Debilitating empathy – what a concept. Read more here. Also check out the CBS Sunday Morning piece on her band.

Mark Bittman has a new online magazine – here, here on the goals…Food should be fair to people and animals, affordable for everyone, and procured in a way that respects our natural resources. Food should make us healthy, and in an ideal world, it should taste good

2018

Amidst all of the very shitty things that happened over the last year, there is much to be grateful for. Highlights include celebrating my Great-Aunt Nanc’s 100th birthday, spending a relaxing weekend in a hammock in Idyllwild, discovering Bend, Oregon with a good friend, a road trip across Sedona, Taos, and Denver for Thanksgiving with my family.

Also, the Black Phoebe on my front porch who sings hello to me every day. Ruby giving us a health scare (for the millionth time), and then recovering. Discovering that I love to watercolor, and then discovering the amazing Lets Make Art tutorials.  Second Saturday Sanghas with Sarah Clark. Stopping for a beer in my neighborhood while we’re walking the pup. A Star is Born. My husband. Women Activists (Alyssa Milano, young women in House of Reps, Christine Blasey Ford, Emma Gonzalez, Oprah’s Golden Globe Speech). Coffee. Trampled by Turtles, Brandi Carlile, Greensky Bluegrass. Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Black Panther. Champagne. The library. Yoga with Adriene. My neighborhood book store.

And, as always, getting lost in books. These are my favorites of the year – they helped me escape. Don’t miss them!:

  1. Overstory by Richard Powers
  2. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver “He’s exactly what she expects of her elders at this historical moment. He’s legitimizing personal greed as the principal religion of our country.”
  3. Florida by Lauren Groff “I have somehow become a woman who yells, and because I do not want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, I have taken to lacing on my running shoes after dinner and going out into the twilit streets for a walk, leaving the undressing and sluicing and reading and singing and tucking in of the boys to my husband, a man who does not yell.”
  4. Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  5. There There by Tommy Orange
  6. The Recovery: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
  7. Circe by Madeline Miller
  8. Educated by Tara Westover “All my studying, reading, thinking, traveling, had it transformed me into someone who no longer belonged anywhere?” and “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”
  9. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

I have a stack of great books from the library I’m plowing through right now.  Loved re-visiting Rilke and exploring grief with a dog character in The Friend by Nunez, and Assymetry by Halliday unexpectedly hooked me with the juicy Phillip Roth character (who Halliday actually had a love affair with). I loved both of these books and the way they explored writing. I’m almost done with the Clock-Makers Wife by Kate Morton and I can’t wait to snuggle under a blanket today and finish it up. I listened to 22 hours of the psychological thriller Witch Elm by Tana French on my commute – it explores privilege, memory, #metoo.

Red Clocks, The Mars Room, The Silence of the Girls, Everything Under, Becoming, All You Can Ever Know, and The Wildlands are sitting next to my couch waiting to be read next.

Here’s some more fun lists of the best books of 2018:

2019 Books:

Let’s hope 2019 is as good of a book year as 2018. Books are coming from Elizabeth Gilbert, Karen Thompson Walker (The Age of Miracles), Margaret Atwood (a sequel to The Handmaidens Tale), Julie Orringer (The Invisible Bridge), and my friend Patrick Coleman has a book coming out in the summer, in addition to his gorgeous book of prose poems that was just released. 

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 

 

 

 

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.