Thursday, December 19, 2019

Just wanted to sign on to say hello, post photos of a magical hike I took through Millcreek Canyon last week, and make a list of favorites of the year, which I can't help but do.

Not surprisingly, most of the writing that stuck with me this year was activism-related. This Rebecca Traister piece kept replaying in my mind all year. "Seek the organizing that is already underway," she wrote, among other illuminating advice. 

Then there was Rebecca Solnit's piece "When the Hero is the Problem" that was incredibly refreshing in its messaging. We don't need heroes, she theorized. We need community work, community efforts, community action! I also loved Naomi Klien's "How I Get it Done" interview. Her bluntness about how hard and urgently she works on environmental issues was comforting, as I feel a similar urgency / lack of balance this year. 

In terms of beautiful things that crossed my paths, I stumbled on Nikala Marie Peters' photography this year and couldn't stop scrolling through her photographs that so beautifully portray domestic life and what looks to me like a midwest childhood.

FKA Twigs "Cellophane" was the most captivating thing I heard all year. Her music video and live performance of the song left me speechless.

Alex G's House of Sugar and Angel Olsen's All Mirrors were so dreamy that I couldn't help but play them on repeat.

Jenny Odell's interview on the Longform podcast was delightful.

This Modern Love piece "Taking Marriage One Year at a Time" absolutely destroyed me in how much it spoke to me as I made the difficult / incredibly healthy decision to postpone my wedding this year. 

Of course, I woke up most days this year and read my way through books, as I do most years. 

Braiding Sweetgrass was the shining gem of everything I read and I wish it were required reading. Imagine if our schools taught a book that raised the question: "What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence?" 

Like most people, A Little Life consumed me and left me desperately sad, but mostly in a way I appreciated. The Golden State also stuck out as one of the best books I read this year. The whole novel flowed so naturally and in some magical way, seemed to leap from the page.

In terms of favorite things I watched, I can't emphasize enough how much I loved America to Me and Minding the Gap. Such important pieces of art / documentation made so close to home. Parasite and Shoplifters were also mesmerizing.

And then of course, there was Fleabag: Season Two. To me, that show was such a quiet, profound feat. I laughed a lot but I mostly sat in awe of the imperfect love that it was trying to display and so incredibly did. 

Some other things of note that made my year: finding a healthier relationship with Instagram and Twitter (haven't deleted them entirely but logged off a lot more), going to regular therapy sessions, discovering Weleda's Skin Food, fitting in a lot of twenty-minute yoga sessions at home with Adriene, getting a little bit better at learning how to live without a plan.

All I can say is, it was a year. Now on to the next decade (!).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

I just went on a walk to pick up take out on a Sunday night and felt it: the pull I have towards this place. 

Walking past the six-foot-tall sunflowers, the Russian sage growing on corners, the neighborhood cats that follow me down the block, the myriad of dog walkers in every direction, and the view of earth beyond the houses that sits miles high, I felt lucky to be here. 

I never expected to live in Salt Lake City but here I am. Most people probably only have one idea of what Salt Lake City is like, which is religious, and that's not at all incorrect. In a weird way though, despite the conservatism of its suburbs, Salt Lake City checks a lot of boxes of what I wanted in a place to live.

At one point on this blog, I wrote: "If I could choose, I would live in a place where you could hike on the weekends, somewhere quieter and smaller where houses have yards, maybe down South where winters aren't as long.And here I am, in a city that's smaller, quieter, living in a house with a yard, hiking on the weekdays and weekends and waking up to blue skies that are so common they can almost seem oppressive.

Honestly, part of me can't believe people actually grow up here. When I moved here, it felt like another world and so I looked to books for some history, turning to Amy Irvine, Scott Carrier, and Wallace Stegner for some guidance. It was Stegner who taught me, as a Midwesterner, to look at the brown, parched land that comes in the summer differently, writing in Thoughts in a Dry Land: "You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale." An inhuman scale. I'm reminded of that phrase often while I'm here.

Oddly though, the proximity of everything in Salt Lake City is what I find myself liking the most. It might be the thing that has improved my quality of life the most. I can get to places after work multiple nights a week and not feel utterly exhausted after due to the commute. The relative smallness of this city also means it's a community I can quickly find a place in. A year in, I know writers, I know activists, I know legislators personally. The mid-size city migration, which I very much feel a part of, has its perks.

But you know what people don't tell you about getting a thing you had planned / hoped for? It's often so different from what you had in mind. I can speak of the positives of Salt Lake City and post photos from my time in its mountains but of course, my mind is a mix of emotions. My mind races on the weekdays, for whatever reason, and relaxes on the two days off I get a week. Recently I wrote in my journal: I can't tell if I'm happy or sad here. I think I'm a little bit of both, all the time. I know that sounds depressing but it's sort of just the truth. I upped and moved away from my friends and family, and while I'm slowly making friends here, there is a lingering sense of loneliness too.

Alain de Botton assures me this is okay. I read his book The Art of Travel earlier this year and he wrote a line about the wavering nature of human emotions, especially evident when traveling, that felt so perfectly accurate. While vacationing in the Bahamas, he wrote, "My body and mind were to prove temperamental accomplices in the mission of appreciating my destination. The body found it hard to sleep and complained of heat, flies, and difficulty digesting hotel meals. The mind meanwhile revealed a commitment to anxiety, boredom, free-floating sadness, and financial alarm." 

He went on to say: "The condition [actual happiness] rarely endures for longer than ten minutes." A comforting, infuriating realization that pretty much sums it up.

Despite an array of mixed emotions, I know that whenever I leave Salt Lake City, I will miss the mountains deeply. I will miss them like I miss the kids I worked with in Honduras. I will miss them like I miss nights with my girlfriends in Chicago and Sundays with my parents at home. Every place I have lived has given me something different and I wonder if I will ever have it all (i.e. will I ever not be plagued by feelings of anxiety, boredom, free-floating sadness, and financial alarm?).

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the best I can do is write these thoughts down and practice gratitude and finally, make myself a therapy appointment. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A few months ago, I had a work conference to go to early in the morning and so I rushed to the hotel, grabbed a plate of the hotel breakfast, and sat down to listen to the opening speaker. He was an Ironman athlete who had completed the extreme triathlon more times than I can count. Granted it was 7:30 in the morning and I was just beginning to wake up but I looked at him the whole time, deadpan. I ate my eggs, I'm sorry to say, rolling my eyes.

I know I shouldn't be so harsh  and I don't know why it irks me so much  but mainly I was just thinking about how refreshing it would be to sit down and listen to a motivational speech from someone more modest in their ambitions, perhaps steady or quiet or balanced. Since then I've watched Free Solo and The Dawn Wall and Homecoming and countless other documentaries of people achieving the unachievable and I walk away from so many of them thinking, can you ever achieve your dreams and still have healthy relationships with people you love and get eight hours a sleep a night? (Eh, probably not.)

To be fair, I loved the aforementioned movies and think people should pursue absolutely anything they want within reason I suppose but at that conference, I kept thinking that I wanted nothing more than a co-worker of mine to go up on stage and give a motivational speech. He lives in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and does his job just fine and looks completely inconspicuous but also like maybe he really has life figured out. I can't be sure but I feel like his speech would go something like, Hey, don't work yourself to death. 

That being said, I probably could benefit from the stories of accomplished athletes more than most. I told myself that I would be done with a second draft of my novel before I left for a two-week vacation to the Southwest last month and I failed to meet that self-imposed deadline. It's been six years since I started the first chapter of this novel and I'm still chipping away at itMy deadlines for the book are usually arbitrary and unrealistic considering the other things I have going on in my life (and the fact that I don't focus solely on this novel) so it's laughable that I didn't think it was going to take 6+ years. But still, that number: 6+ years. It's longer than I thought. 

In the end, the important thing is to see this thing through, which I will do, but I should knuckle down. I should just get this thing done but as someone with a slower, more "everything-in-moderation" demeanor, I can't help but be drawn to hard work and balance. A blessing, I suppose, but also a curse.

I am a writer, not an athlete, but in light of this post, it's interesting to note that I have recently moved to Salt Lake City, a city of outdoor enthusiasts, and have been dabbling in things I never thought I would. By my nature, I am drawn to the slow, steady activities of hiking and backpacking but I have also have been trying my hand at more extreme endeavors due, a bit, to my partner. Ever since the move, the riskier, more intense, more testosterone-prone activities of climbing and mountain biking and skiing have been pushing me past my limits, for better or worse.

Just yesterday, I was walking my mountain bike up a trail, huffing and grumbling, and thinking the thing I always think when I'm struggling: When is it good to push yourself? When is it good to just accept who you are? It seems a question there is no real answer to. It seems the question I am getting at.

Basically all of this rambling and lamenting to say, if I had my way, I think I would have invited a poet to be the opening speaker of the sales conference (can you imagine?) because you know what has been invigorating me lately? The words of Mary Oliver and Nikki Giovanni and Bernadette Mayer. The poetry of Tony Hoagland and essays of Robin Wall Kimmerer.

"I really don't think anybody ever listens to poets so it doesn't matter what you say," Nikki Giovanni said laughing in her interview with WNYC, and then added: "If they did, it'd be a whole different world." I can't help but agree, though I'm biased. 

I do hate posing questions and just leaving them there so I will end with this: I have learned a lot in the past year. I have learned, for example, that you can get over your fear of, and even enjoy, hanging from a forty-foot wall if you do it enough. I have learned that you can write a novel slowly and still, hopefully, get it done. 

Pictured above: shots from a recent two-week long adventure through the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe and Moab

Sunday, January 20, 2019

I'm back on here because another year has started and I love using the new year as an excuse to take stock of the art that sustained me the year prior. Things that I think deserve sharing, acknowledging, taking time with. Not everything on this list came out last year, just crossed my path in 2018, but here it goes...

Of the longer form pieces on the internet I read last year, the ones that I particularly loved include:

Courtney E. Martin's series on On Being regarding the benefits of sending your children to "underperforming" schools (the discussion continued here, here, and here).  Also loved her piece in Bright Magazine on the reality of why social change is so hard (wonderfully titled "Shooting for the Moon, Missing the Point").

Other great writing on the internet I stumbled on: Anand Giridharadas critical look at philanthropy in "Beware of Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World" and "Democracy is not a Supermarket." Molly Fisher's piece on the #MeToo movement in "Maybe Men Will be Scared for a While."  And it doesn't sound uplifting but Mari Andrew's short essay "Optimism is Exhausting" was actually really lovely.

In terms of podcasts, I probably should have started with this but if nothing else, I wish everyone would listen to Alain de Botton's On Being interview, "The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships". I've listened to it twice and will probably give it another play soon. Also This American Life's "LaDonna" episode stopped me in my tracks.

Favorite books I read this year have to be: 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
Prisoner of Zion by Scott Carrier

Albums I listened to on repeat include (linking to my favorite songs in case you want to take a listen):

Saba's Care for Me
Rosalia's El Mal Querer
Marissa Nadler's Self-Titled Album

And then I probably watched too much TV this year but there was so much that was good, mainly: 

High Maintenance: Season 2
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
The Letdown
Ugly Delicious
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
and of course, Queer Eye 

My heart is filled thinking back on all of this genius. 

Finally I have to mention that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave me so much joy in 2018. Her outspokenness, her strength/joy in the midst of countless trolling, her refusal to give into imposter syndrome, her candidness breaking down Washington politics, her hoop earrings  it's unprecedented. I know she must not feel confident all the time but the fact that she refuses to let people take her power away inspires me every day.

So there you go, 2018 wasn't all that bad (though it was also horrifically bad). Thankfully, there were some gems that helped get me through / reminded me that change is being made.

Though of course, as I'm reminded every day as I check the news, there's always more work to do. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I ate well this summer. Every week, I took home a bundle of fresh tomatoes, swiss chard, beets, potatoes, carrots, peppers and every other veggie growing under the Utah sun from a local CSA and figured out what to do with what I had.  

Mostly, the veggies didn't need much. I roasted them and paired them with salmon or trout or put them in pasta or corn tortillas or over couscous with a dash of dressing. It was the most fun I've had cooking in a while, though it was also stressful at times, trying to cook all of my veggies before the next bag came. It's a theme I'm finding: happiness despite feeling I may have been a bit overambitious with my to-do list.

At the end of most summers, I often have a feeling of phew, I did it. I made it through another wedding season and the well-meaning / hurried attempt to get the most out of sunny months, and now I can just breathe and go back to a slower routine. This summer I felt it especially, which has made me think a lot about time in general and how everything takes longer than I think and how it's hard for me to understand how other people have houses and babies and an enviable career and travel the world simultaneously (I mean, they don't, obviously, but somehow this is the message I get from my phone).

How to find time and money for the things I want: a thought everyone is working through constantly but has been occupying my headspace more than usual lately. But like the CSA, which was a bit above my budget and a bit demanding, I'm sure I will find a way to squeeze the important things in. 

This is most likely wishful thinking but wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to do that? Squeeze so much in? I've been reflecting on Naomi Klein's book still, mainly her thought that one day, if we rearrange life to be more aligned with real limits and resources, we all might have more time. 

"There could be other benefits too," she writes, "Like shorter work weeks, in part to create more jobs, but also because overworked people have less time to engage in low-consumption activities like gardening and cooking (because they are just too busy). If countries aimed for somewhere around three to four days a week, it could offset much of the emissions growth projected through 2030." 

It is a pipe dream, I know. One that I don't know if it could really come to fruition even if people were given the choice but it's a thought that I carry with me. Most of my writing as of late (here and here) has made me realized that living sustainably takes time and well, I think it would be nice if we all had more of that.

Also as a person in their late twenties, it's hard not to stress and feel like the clock is ticking (maybe because for women, we are made very aware of that?). I grapple with all of those late twenty-something choices, the biggest ones being, how can I afford to own a place someday? Or how can I juggle a career and a family? Sometimes, though, it's just the feeling of, how can I get a hike in this week? How can I cook through the groceries I bought and go to the Sierra Club meeting and make time with my partner? How can I finish writing my book and do well at my day job too? 

My usual thought: you sacrifice and rearrange and that's that but then I read this lovely thing on the internet by Cut columnist Heather Havrilesky and she sparked a bit more fire in me, saying "Do all of the things." Sure, get rid of what you can to open up more time, but do all of the things. Celebrate the work amidst the other to-dos.

All of this to say that it's felt a little bit more hectic than usual lately, with a summer full of visitors and a new job and travel squeezed into two day weekends (all wonderful, exhausting things). I can finally see things calming down and it feels so good and necessary and so I think at least for now, I'm going to let this blog practice go  along with Instagram and Twitter for a bit  to free up some time and focus on my book and exploring and getting settled in my new city. 

I don't think I'll be in Salt Lake City forever so it seems important to be as present as I can be. I hope to post some updates here and there, but also who knows. I'm sure whatever happens, I'll write about it someday.