December 13, 2019

Slowing down at the end of the year

Our friends started receiving our Christmas cards in late November this year.

December is always a busy month: between wrapping up things for the end of the year—accounting, finances, etc.—and all the holiday preparations—decorating, gift-buying, travel-planning, etc.—it always feels like I go wheezing into the new year. The month can often feel like a scramble instead of a celebration.

This year, we sent our Christmas cards out in mid-November, on the same weekend that we put up the tree and decorated the house. It was early, but it was the only foreseeably-free weekend on the calendar until the end of 2019. Last week, I sent our accountant all our financial tracking for the year (something I usually try to collate over the holidays and send over in early January), and we finished buying all our Christmas presents a few days ago.

I still have lots to do to prepare for my class over the holidays, but otherwise, I’m going into the next few weeks feeling a little more settled, a little less scrambled. I’m hoping to enter 2020 not wheezing, but breathing deeply. I haven’t been shy to share that 2019 wasn’t my best year, but knowing that I’m closing it off with a sense of stability and strength is a good harbinger for the year to come.

This is my last weekend reading blog post for the year; from now until the end of the year, I’ll be slowing down, breathing deeply, and celebrating another year with people that I love. Thanks for coming along this journey with me, this year and over the two decades I’ve been blogging. Wishing you all a holiday season filled with brightness, cheer, and delight, and a start to 2020 filled with hope and love and some adventure, too.

Two poems

Suzanne Buffam

I am wearing dark glasses inside the house
To match my dark mood.

I have left all the sugar out of the pie.
My rage is a kind of domestic rage.

I learned it from my mother
Who learned it from her mother before her

And so on.
Surely the Greeks had a word for this.

Now surely the Germans do.
The more words a person knows

To describe her private sufferings
The more distantly she can perceive them.

I repeat the names of all the cities I’ve known
And watch an ant drag its crooked shadow home.

What does it mean to love the life we’ve been given?
To act well the part that’s been cast for us?

Wind. Light. Fire. Time.
A train whistles through the far hills.

One day I plan to be riding it.

— —

So Much Happiness
Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Just enough Internet: Why public service Internet should be a model of restraint, Rachel Coldicutt:

Tax-payer funded public services need different affordances to Amazon and Google; they should not feel magical, they should be data light, they should meet social needs not just user needs; they should work in context, not simply fulfil a job to be done. Sometimes they should be compassionate.

maps, Helen Fitzgerald:

The things that hurt me at the beginning of this century don’t hurt anymore, or at least they hurt in totally different ways. Perhaps the condition of the future is that it never feels like the future; perhaps in ten years nobody will listen to Maps, or make out in bars anymore, but I hope they do, and if there’s any positive utility to the obligated, eulogizing mood in the current moment as the calendar slams into the brick wall of the new year, it’s this, the stubborn determination to have held something that can be carried forward. The world is ending, but we made some beautiful things in the wreckage.

Some Notes on Cats, Roxane Gay:

Because I know nothing about having pets, the entire experience of spending a lot of time around cats has been quite anthropological. I am always observing this or that thing they do and when I share my findings with Debbie, she patiently tells me that yes, this is what cats do or this is how cats are. At times, I am not sure she can believe I really know this little about animals but then I ask something so basic and do so with such sincerity, she understands that I do, indeed, really know this little about animals.

Is Plagiarism Wrong?, Agnes Callard:

Plagiarism norms operate in the space the intellectual property laws leave open: they enforce extralegal sanctions whose goal is to prevent me from claiming something as mine” under circumstances when the law doesn’t specify someone else as its owner. Whenever we find a community very harshly enforcing a bunch of extralegal norms, it is reasonable to wonder exactly who is guilty of the misunderstanding.”

Mass Shootings Are Connected to America’s Legacy of Anti-Indigenous Violence, Ruth Hopkins:

The history of America is one of brutal mass slaughter, dating from the genocide of this land’s original peoples to the shootings we see in shopping malls and schools today. […]

America’s glorification and acceptance of gun violence often wears a white hood. This problem is systemic, and while new gun control regulations will help, we will not solve it unless we address these ugly roots.

Violent misogyny is a threat to half our population. We need to call it what it is: Terrorism, Elizabeth Renzetti:

What would our society look like if we recognized misogyny as an ideology, one that is a deadly threat to half the population? We know that right-wing violence is on the rise, and that the various forms it takes — white supremacist, incel, nationalist — share misogyny as a binding tenet. Right-wing terrorism and Islamist extremism might not have many things in common, but anti-woman sentiment is one of them, even if it seldom is acknowledged.

What happened when I showed vintage Mister Rogers to my 21st-century kids, Mary Pflum Peterson:

I asked my youngest two, as they obsessed over the fish, what was it about the show that appealed to them.

After a beat, they gave me that look that parents will readily recognize, the one that best translates to Isn’t it obvious?”

He likes kids, Mommy,” my daughter said. Kids know when a grown-up likes them.”

And he’s not too loud,” my son added. When we watch him, there’s no noise. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Kind and calm. So that explained everything. In a world of so much chaos and noise, kids liked calm sincerity.

This shouldn’t have to be said: We need more nurses, not fewer, Denise Balkissoon:

Nurses are indispensable, whether they’re administering flu shots, assisting in surgeries or enduring your grouchy uncle as he complains, again, about his IV being changed. In the pediatric unit, my cousin has looked after newborns in intensive care for 16 straight hours without a break, because there wasn’t a colleague free to relieve her. Few professions are nearly as honourable as nursing — or as undervalued.

Nurses help us when we’re at our weakest, and least in control of our bodily fluids. That should be a reason that they’re lionized. But in a society that does its best to deny sickness and mortality, it usually means averting our eyes from their essential work, as well as their necessity and worth.

paying for civilization, Anne Helen Petersen:

Think about all the things in your life and community that you help pay for every day. You create and maintain civilization, every day. Taxes! What a blessing, to be able to care for others in this way.

What Michael Schur Gets Right About Love That Everyone Else Gets Wrong, Joanna Robinson:

The message, then, from these Schur romances is not that you’ll find love if you perfect yourself in pursuit of it, but that there’s a lid for every strange pot. (Yes, even the April Ludgates, Charles Boyles, and, hopefully, Good Janets of the world.) Be yourself, Schur shows seem to say—you are worthy of love.

Everyone Loves Crispy and Crunchy, But What About Chewy?, Elyse Inamine:

In my opinion, food with an intentional, unapologetic chew is the best kind of food. And I’m not talking about chewiness in the way you might be familiar with in western cooking: steak that’s too rare (or too well-done), boiled-to-death octopus, Knox’s intensified gelatin. I’m talking about the particular, highly desirable range of chewiness in East and Southeast Asian food, known as Q in Taiwan, jjolgit jjolgit in Korea, dai in Vietnam, and other not so easily translatable terms. But the best way to understand it is to start with the food itself.

Seeing ourselves and others as public”, Carl Douglas:

Defining public” as whatever isn’t private” doesn’t get us far. It makes the public a remainder, just whatever happens to be left over after all private claims are accounted for. If we think of public space like this, we’ll be predisposed to prioritise private concerns, and to see private realms as where all the real action and initiative is. Wherever we find cities with impoverished public spaces, we can be sure that behind the scenes there’s not a sufficiently clear shared idea of what public space is.

The world is going to hell. Here’s how I’m coping as California burns around me., Sarah Miller:

One of the worst things about despair is the boredom, the way that you already know what sort of awfulness is around the corner without even having to look. This is why — though one hardly wishes to heap any praise upon this epoch — I have been pleased to discover that it is one of surprises. I have learned a lot about science and read intensely difficult books about politics. I never liked either of those things at all. I was content to leave them to others, while reading and re-reading books or watching television shows about British people being jerks to each other. But I got curious about why, exactly, the world was such a disaster, and now, I have bewildered — and at moments delighted — myself by finding out the reasons.

Why Are Diners Suspicious of Toronto’s Most Exciting Thai Food?, Corey Mintz:

I started noticing the double standards. I can sell a pasta with cheese and pepper for $18 and never a peep is heard,” Fader said. Try and sell a curry for $20 in which there are 30 ingredients pounded by hand for an hour and people take this as a personal affront.”

On the Madness and Charm of Crushes, The School of Life:

The crush reveals how willing we are to allow details to suggest a whole. We allow the arch of someone’s eyebrow to suggest a personality. We take the way a person puts more weight on their right leg as they stand listening to a colleague as an indication of a witty independence of mind. Or their way of lowering their head seems proof of a complex shyness and sensitivity. From a few cues only, you anticipate years of happiness, buoyed by profound mutual sympathy. They will fully grasp that you love your mother even though you don’t get on well with her; that you are hard-working, even though you appear to be distracted; that you are hurt rather than angry. The parts of your character that confuse and puzzle others will at last find a soothing, wise, complex soulmate. […]

To crush well is to realise that the lovely person we sketch in our heads is our creation: a creation that says more about us, than about them. But what it says about us is important. The crush gives us access to our own ideals. We may not really be getting to know another person properly, but we are growing our insight into who we really are.

A few more:

Follow this entire thread on Twitter for a beautiful story that will make you cry and give you faith in the goodness of people.

For another small slice of delight, here’s Carly Rae Jepsen’s Tiny Desk Concert at NPR:

A quick quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke before I go:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.

This is my last weekend reading post of 2019; I’ll be back early next year. Thanks for reading and coming along on this journey this past year, and thank you for being exactly who you are. Take some time over the next few weeks to celebrate you, my friends. I’ll be celebrating you all, too.

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