on anniversaries and the moral bucket list

// Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Last week was a weird week for me, full of anniversaries and birthdays and histories. My boyfriend’s birthday was earlier in the week, which was lovely and wonderful and we spent Sunday up in Portland in celebration, wandering around in the sunshine (and finally seasonally appropriate warm weather!) and heading to Duckfat for the first time (might make a post about it soon: I know it’s not a ~new thing~ but man, it was good).

But then midweek, last week, was April 15th. On a personal note, that date is the anniversary of a personal matter that I haven’t figured out how to write about in this space yet: I probably will, eventually, but now is not that time. But it’s a day for me that has a huge spectrum of emotions, and it puts me in sort of a odd headspace. And on a much larger, much more emotionally complicated anniversary scale, April 15th is the second anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings. Boston is my home, in the broad sense. I’ve grown up (and spent my whole life so far) in Massachusetts, and I work in downtown Boston. And I was at work in downtown Boston two years ago – I work about a mile away from the finish line, and it’s a Day, for Boston and for Massachusetts and for the country. I’m lucky: I’ve only peripherally felt the effects, in that I know people who know people, but nothing happened to anyone in my immediate circle of family and friends. It still has impacted me, absolutely, but I’m lucky. At least, as of last Wednesday, Tsarnaev was found guilty on all counts in the Marathon Bombings. So that’s something. But regardless, April 15th is a Day.

And because of all that last week was, I’ve been out of sorts. I haven’t felt like writing, haven’t wanted to write, other than when I accidentally filled three journal pages writing about something that happened a million years ago, and even then, it was Facts versus Writing, just because I wanted to see if I could. I haven’t been writing the way I want to write, lately. I’ve been overthinking and overanalyzing, and even just on here, I’ve got a half dozen drafts in various states. None are where I want them to be: I can’t find the right words, can’t get the feeling right, can’t translate what I’m thinking in my head to words on a computer screen.

But the reason this post is coming out of drafts and into the world is this: I really want to write about the “The Moral Bucket List” by David Brooks, an excellent piece from last week’s Sunday Review section of the New York Times, which has been circling the internet some already, but I want it in this space, too. and it was exactly, precisely, what I needed to read. It’s long, but it’s worth it. If it weren’t bad form and a crappy internet thing to do, I’m pretty sure I’d just paste the entire article here. But it is bad form to do so, so as such, here are a couple parts of the article that really resonated with me:

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.


Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.


External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

There’s lots to do ahead. And so many people fit into the “stumblers” category; we’re all just figuring out what works and what doesn’t and trying to find those moments of great joy, whether collective or personal. That’s what I want to focus on. That’s what I am focusing on. Because anniversaries and the memories and histories that go with them are easy to get lost in; but the fact of the matter is that the past is something to remember, not live in. And there are wonderful things in the future, even if a lot of the future, right now, is unknown and not fixed – but that, in and of itself, almost makes it more joyful, because the possibilities are endless, even the if the unknown is and can be frightening in the best of ways. This last week might have been difficult, yes, but, as above, those pieces of time are part of something bigger, a story that is and always will be unfolding, because there’s always another page to read, to live, to experience. And that’s the important thing.

Today, I’m drinking coffee out of a mug covered in hearts, literally, and that’s about where I’m at. Here’s to forward and futures.

The Importance of Positive Spin

// Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I struggle – maybe more than I should – with where the line is between focusing on the good and/or being cautiously optimistic and feeling like I’m avoiding reality with regards to the thing that isn’t the silver lining. That’s not to say that there are Terrible Things in my life: just that I’m human, and like everyone else I have my moments of doubt, of feeling like others are doing something better/worse/smarter/dumber than I am and not knowing where the actual reality line stands. But by and large, I’d classify myself as fully aware of reality with a healthy focus on the importance of positive spin, on finding the good, of realizing that low moments can bring out the best in those around me. (The above image is from a note this summer, courtesy of my wonderful roommate and friend, when some personal things were all sorts of terrible, and I came home to find a vase of flowers and that note on my bookcase. Because sad, stressful things can lead to realizing just how cared for you are: people around me have so much love and strength.)

I’ve been thinking about that recently, about Reality versus Negative versus Positive, and then today at lunch, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the importance of positive spin on personal stories with regards to staying healthy. I don’t read the WSJ all that often (I’m not a fan of the writing style, or the direction they’re more inclined to lean than other papers I read), but my joint office suite has a full subscription, so every day there’s a current paper that floats around the office kitchen. It makes for good lunchtime reading, especially now that I’m trying to focus on not using my phone as an idle-I’m-sort-of-bored-while-eating-this-sandwich activity. But anyways: the full title of the article* is, “It’s Healthy to Put a Good Spin on Your Life: How we construct personal narratives has a major impact on our mental well-being”; while that is not a novel concept, and parts of the article are sort of a stretch, the tagline is worth remembering, worth internalizing. (A sidenote: I’m so used to reading about various new exercise crazes that when I first saw the print headline and associated athletic picture, I honestly thought the article was going to have something to do with taking a spin class. I’m glad I was incorrect.)

Today, two days after Easter, the above article was what I needed to read. Holidays – no matter which ones – almost always highlight certain aspects of family dynamics more than other regular days, and I like to maintain a healthy perspective. I had a wonderful (secular) Easter, but still: holidays. And given that most of the office talk on Monday revolved around the general mostly-secularly-meant, “How was your Easter?”, it seems even more appropriate to think about the ways in which people present narratives and the broader (personal) implications of such presentations. The article touches on two studies published last month (which I haven’t had time to read yet) the fact that good spin is more than just always finding the positive: you need to acknowledge the negative, but focus on the positive – the silver lining, so to speak. (The article also includes a list of steps/guidelines on the best ways to foster framing narratives in positive, good-for-your-mental health ways. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but the sidebar on personal accounting is worth looking over.) What positive spin comes down to is this:

“You can’t impact every event of your life,” says Jonathan Adler, lead researcher on the study and an assistant professor of psychology at Olin. “But you have a choice in how the narrative plays out. You tell the story and the story really matters.”

The story is what lasts: you have to accept all facets of the story, but you get to decide the story that lasts, to an extent. Because what you tell yourself and what you tell others is what sticks, what forms itself into solid memory and feeling of memory. It’s not about the fact that you can’t run a triathalon, though that is a fact of the story; instead, it is about the fact that you have more time with your family, with yourself, with others. It’s like the sayings about college: you don’t remember sitting for every exam, though you did (or will, or whatever), but you remember the times with your friends, with your classes. Time has a funny way of sanding down the stories we tell into what matters. And that, at the heart, is what makes positive spin, positive presentation without negating the bad, is so important. Because it’s all about how you frame it, and how you frame it is how you see it for years to come.

On a much less serious note (or more serious, depending on your degree of religiousness): if you celebrate Easter, or Passover, or any other holiday around this time that I am forgetting: I hope it was/is/will be wonderful.

Do you think that the putting a positive spin on personal narratives is important?

*The Wall Street Journal‘s paywall is ridiculous, and I’m not actually sure how long this link will link to the full text of the article, but at least this way if you’re inclined to read it and you’re late to the game, you have a shot at finding it.

yes please (but i wish there were a comma): a review of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

// Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last week, I finally read Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out this past October, enthusiastically saying, literally, yes, please, when both my boyfriend’s roommate and my downstairs neighbor offered to lend their respective copies to me, but time got away from me, and I didn’t end up picking it up until this week. (I ended up borrowing it from my neighbor after my roommate borrowed it, if that detail matters.) I liked Yes Please a great deal, but I wasn’t in love with it. One thing I did love, though, was how much she brought up Burlington, which is literally one town over from where I grew up. I loved reading about her childhood/adolescence in Burlington, because there were a whole lot of parallels, and it’s fun in the “wow, the world is small” sense to see someone famous reminiscing about a town with which I am so familiar.

I’m late to the Amy Poehler game: until I discovered and started (binge) watching Parks and Rec this summer, I didn’t really know who she was other than vaguely recognizing her from SNL, which I watch occasionally and also infrequently. I like her writing style enough, but I was frustrated by how often she talked in circles – mentioning a thing and then dancing around it for several pages before returning back to her original point. A little bit of self-depreciation is good, and appreciated, but it got to the point where it seemed like she was intentionally writing filler for her own book. Her not-infrequent acknowledgments that the book was difficult for her to write and that she’s better in person only served to highlight some of the sections that were struggling more than others. I love her writing in terms of Parks and SNL, but something felt a little flat here. (And I really wish there were a comma between yes and please.)

That said: I think Yes Please is a worthwhile book, and it’s a quick and enjoyable read. Some of her advice pieces (or maybe most of them) might border on the cliche, but they’re statements that are worth hearing, worth reading from the pen of am intelligent, influential woman who can powerfully impact so many young women and girls. That power, though, is at the root of the underlying problem I had with the book: I wanted it to be better, to be more, to figure out if it were a memoir or a call to action. I know it was both, kind of, but it could have balanced them in a more coherent way. But on the other hand, her voice is very similar to how I think, how I write when I’m not self-editing, so in that sense I liked it a great deal.

And there are moments which are absolutely wonderful, like this one from the intro:

… You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.

So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that might be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready. …

Is it cliche? Maybe. Definitely. Absolutely. But is it true; is it necessary to have someone write those words when it’s basically a given that millions of people will read them? Yes please. Which is, I think, the heart of the thing: if somehow the whole book had been like that, I would wholeheartedly, four hundred percent recommend it. As is, I recommend reading it, but with some caveats.

Yes Please just felt like it could have and should have been pushed a little further. Amy (can I call her Amy?) joked (“joked”) in the intro (and throughout) about how difficult it was to write the book, and joke or not, the apparent trouble she had writing it hummed under the surface of the words more than it should have. But I still very much enjoyed reading it, and I recommend reading it. But take Yes Please for what it is: a humorous, delightful, somewhat superficial, and enjoyable read by an awesome, inspirational woman and brilliant comedian. Writing a book doesn’t need to be her forte: she’s already shown how much else she can do, and I have the utmost faith that we’ll only see more wonderful projects and inspirational moments and words from her. This book is not all of the things, and it feels that way, but only because Amy Poehler has set the bar so high through everything else she does.

introspection and dinner parties (or: apparently dinner parties inspire me to write a lot of words)

// Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A disclaimer: the impetus for this post came from a dinner party that I went to a few weeks ago, where I was reminded of the importance of living in the moment, of how certain experiences cannot be had without spontaneity, of how the real human connection that comes from being in the physical presence of others cannot ever be replaced completely by moments happening through and amongst the internet. And it prompted me to think a lot, and to therefore write a lot of words.

A not-at-all-shocking confession: I spend too much time in front of screens. Some of it is necessary; some of it is for fun, personal growth things (hi, blog! also learning to code more); some of it is just wasting time; and some of it is connection masquerading as wasting time (see: maybe 1/3 of time spent the internet; if I were pressed, I’d say 1/3 learning/growing/reading, 1/3 connection-maintaining, 1/3 idly spending time). The more I’m trying to prioritize what I’m interested in and the more I’m trying to connect and disconnect and write, the more I’m realizing that finding a balance isn’t a simple, one-step process. There’s a lot of trial and error, as well as a surprising amount of anxiety around self-applied pressure to figure it out correctly the first time, to suddenly be able to do All Of The Things while also having free time (and also trying to find time to Visit All Of The Friends without all of the failing; haven’t had success with that yet).

So I’m cutting myself some slack. I’ve been holding myself to impossible standards, and because of that, I haven’t been able to fully appreciate what it is that I’m actually accomplishing. And I’m accomplishing a lot. I’ve made time, tangibly if only occasionally, to write (see above image, which was taken while I was spending my lunch hour writing and drinking coffee at the North End location of The Thinking Cup, which I should do a post about one of these days, because it is lovely), and I’m keeping up with my Q&A a Day: 5-Year-Journal. I’ve been (with only a few exceptions) much better about getting enough sleep, and on work nights I’m (almost, but not always) in bed by 11:30. I built a website as a gift, largely because I thought it would be a great gift but also in part to see if I could. (Realization: as much as I’m ehhhh on fully mobile responsive, mobile-first websites (I’m a dinosaur, I know), Bootstrap is great.) And I’ve been going climbing on a fairly regular basis and getting better about my nightly routine (morning is okay, working on making it better). Basically, what this translates to is that for the first time I can think of recently, maybe ever, it’s three months into the 2015 and the resolutions I made are being put into practice constantly. But it’s still hard not to lose perspective, to feel like I could constantly do more, do better. So I’m reminding myself, here, publicly, that I am Doing Things, and doing them well, even if there is – and always will be – room for improvement. Because that’s what life is: constantly, continuously, improving and growing.

I have noticed, however, that I’ve been stretching myself a little thin, so I’m working on that. Because I’m busy in general and I’m trying to form new habits and routines (writing more, creating more, etc.) and I’m also working on Doing Things More, which is good (wonderful, even!), but I’m finding it hard to let myself schedule down time: time where I can write if and only if that’s what I feel like doing, or read, or maybe just be, focusing on life out the window or thoughts via my ceiling (to be honest, whenever I think that I cannot help but feel of I’m trying to be a variation of Stephanie Plum, who frequently describes her thinking position as laying down on her bed with her eyes closed). Sidenote: if you’re ever looking for a fun beach/summer read, I highly recommended – with caveats – the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. The first twelve books (One for the Money through Twelve Sharp) are great. Beyond that, they…are less great, so I am not wholeheartedly recommending those, but they’re still fun to read (well, kind of) if you been into the series from the beginning. ALSO: one of my most entertaining book reading memories, in hindsight, is reading Hot Six in study period in middle school, and having the boy next to me loudly – and indignantly – ask what I was reading because he, ahem, misread the title, and the teacher, from whom I was sitting about a foot away, do a hilarious double-take. That was in eighth grade, so while it was super awkward at the time, now just makes me laugh. Probably shouldn’t have been reading that book in eighth grade, though, because while I was able to very convincingly say that the title was “SIX, like the NUMBER”, the play on words was not unintentional, title-wise. But I digress.

My digression, though, is also my point: I haven’t had made enough time to just let my thoughts wander and see where they go. Granted, in this case, those thoughts are tending towards beach reads and the thought of future warmth (17 days until spring!), but there’s nothing wrong with that. My lack of making time is on me, and I’m going to work on it. I just need to focus on finding a balance.

That’s where the dinner party – which happened a few weeks ago now – comes in: the mother of some friends was throwing a dinner party, and my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to receive a spur of the moment invitation. The guests came from different age groups, different life experiences, different cultures; and we all just clicked. Given how varied and diverse the group was, the night really got me thinking about the importance of finding middle, common ground; how that applies to life in general just as much as it does to relationships or opinions or politics or what have you.

The night started with conversations and drinks; conversations spilled into (absolutely delicious) dinner, accompanied by wine and candlelight. And then! And then there were performances: spontaneous piano and guitar playing by hosts and guests alike; singing opera and pop songs spanning decades; poetry reading. I hadn’t realized dinner parties like that – nights like that – existed outside of the 1950s-ish. I come from a small family with limited social circles (this generation, anyways: apparently my grandma could throw quite the dinner party, but those years were long gone by the time I entered the picture). It was a wonderful, wonderful night. At face value, it was just a night of conversation, food, wine, and music, but it all blended into something bigger than the sum of the parts. And it got me out of my head and into the bigger picture. I was inspired by so many of the people there on so many different levels.

I recently came across an old article in The New York Times about how dinner parties are “endangered”, about how they’re no longer the dinner parties of bygone eras. The article is from 2012, but it’s more relevant than ever, discussing how we’re too busy and overscheduled to possibly find the time. But what the article touches on, but doesn’t really delve into, is that what is under threat are the formal dinner parties, the ones with rules and assigned place-settings, because the social dynamics and norms are shifting. At its heart, though, the article is optimistic, implying that dinner parties – in some form, at least – will never go away, because they evolves as we evolve; because there is middle ground:

There is no leveler quite like a dinner table, said Mr. Hitz, a longtime bicoastal whose dinners at his California digs, an aerie perched high above Sunset Boulevard, tend to be populated by Hollywood types from across the demographic spectrum. “The 20-year-olds enjoy the 90-year-olds,” he said. “And I can assure you the 90-year-olds enjoy the 20-year-olds. …. “If anyone tells me, ‘I’m freaking out, I have six people coming to dinner, what do I do?’ ” Mr. Hitz said, “I say serve chicken potpie and a salad, make sure there’s plenty of wine and keep the lights low. How can it go wrong?”

And that’s precisely what I’ve experienced: dinner was simple, yet excellent, and we enjoyed spending time in each other’s company, holding conversations that sparked other conversations, and, later, a long train of thought that led to this post.

dinner party wine & candlelight

So this is my reminder – to myself, to anyone who reads this – to find inspiration from those close to you, from the events you happen to attend at the last minute (upcoming post, by the way: the performance of Cassie & Maggie we attended last weekend at Club Passim because those same friends had two extra tickets), from what you’ve accomplished so far. Because there are so many things by which to be inspired, and mostly it comes down to letting yourself appreciate what’s in front of you.

Have you been to a dinner party, in whatever form? What has recently inspired you?

on sailboats and sunshine (or: resetting and resolutions)

// Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I spent January 10th – 18th in the British Virgin Islands with my boyfriend and his family, alternating between sailing, wandering islands, snorkeling, and eating good food/drinking cheap but delightful Caribbean beer. It was a week with no cell service (fyi, Verizon, which I have, has no service in the US sense; AT&T can and will frequently pick up a US signal from St. Thomas): I couldn’t call people; I more often not couldn’t receive texts; I had no data coverage. There was extremely, extremely limited WiFi at a few of the restaurants/bars. I checked email about three times? Instagram twice? I don’t think I checked Facebook.

It was wonderful.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed a digital detox, of sorts, but god, did I. It was so refreshing to just be: to sit in the sunshine, on the boat, while we sailed between various islands; to sit at dinner and bring my phone only to use as a camera, to document the restaurant or the meal or the hilariously pink drink, and then put it immediately away; to not feel like I needed to have said phone on me at all times to be reachable, to not feel like I needed to check all of the things just in case someone posted something that was ~life altering~ such that I needed to, you know, read it on social media in real time.

It was a good, welcome, relaxing step back. Does it mean I’m swearing off Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram anytime soon? Nope. But it does mean I’m more aware of my usage (excluding Facebook, which I check for about two minutes once a day anyways now and haven’t used regularly for a long time), more aware of what I’m not missing online and am missing in person. I wrote, a long time ago – before it was in vogue, per se, but I definitely absolutely wasn’t the first person to write it or think it – that I felt as if I were starting to think in 140 character thoughts. That’s not who I want to be. So I’m working at it, by writing more, by talking about writing more, by changing my routine. January hasn’t been as good for writing as I’d hoped it would be, but I’ve been taking pictures and writing words on scraps of paper and in drafts of emails, and. And that is definitely not nothing, and for now, it’s enough. It’s something I’m continually working on.

That’s what I want 2015 to be. It’s less about the big overarching goals that are damn near impossible to achieve in a tangible sense, and more about the small things that add up to a large intangible delightful mess of things. So my resolutions border on the cliche this year, but they’re important:

1. Make time to write. My eventual goal is to develop a routine, where I’m writing a set number of pages a day, or writing at a specific time every day, or something else along those lines. And while I’ve done well so far at making the time, I haven’t done so well at making it a routine, and that’s something I’m going to work on more. Because, forward.

I also bought a Q&A a Day: 5-Year-Journal (discovered and purchased via this post on C’est Christine), and that’s something I want to keep up with this year. Last year, I (unofficially?) made a resolution to note what I did every day, and I kept up with that for the first time, I think, ever: I had the 2013-2014 seventeen month version of the Moleskine Weekly Pocket Planner, and it was completely full between July 2013 and December 2014. I am so incredibly proud of that (I realize how ridiculous this sounds, because I document a lot of things, but with that sort of thing, in the past I have just sort of…faded). For 2015, I’m using the one I linked to above: it’s slightly smaller, depth-wise, which I like. It’s still soft cover and the same size (3.5″ x 5″), meaning it fits into any purse I carry, which is awesome and also necessary if I’m going to keep up with it.

And, also: I’ll be writing here more.

2. Read more books. Largely related to #1, because more reading means more thinking about words and ideas and having phrases stick in my head and become their own stories. That, and I just miss reading for fun. Last week, I tore through The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer in essentially one sitting, which really should and probably will eventually be its own post because I loved it and it gave me all of the emotions. (Sidenote: In general, for books, I highly recommend Porter Square Books: they’re local, independent, super nice, and super helpful. Second sidenote, should you want one, they still have autographed copies of The Art of Asking in store.)

3. Be better about getting enough sleep and having a regular weeknight sleep schedule. The boat reset my sleep schedule so well. We were going to bed somewhere between 10 and 11 every night, usually closer to 10, and getting up sometime between 7 and 8 each morning. I forgot – it’s so easy to forget – how much nicer it feels to be rested, to have gotten a full night’s sleep. To not feel like I need (versus want) coffee to function at anything resembling a reasonable level. I used to be better about getting up a solid 45 minutes before I had to leave for work – time to make coffee, do my makeup/morning routine, etc., and somehow over the past year I let that slide to get an extra 10-30 minutes of sleep (see also: overtired, thanks to an increasingly wonky sleep schedule).

4. Put more effort into consciously taking care of myself. I don’t not take care of myself now; this resolution is more related to #3 above: I want to make time every day to get ready for the day, whether that’s just putting on basic makeup or painting my nails or having a more consistent approach to skincare (see also: winter makes my skin SO SAD, and I need to work on making it less sad, constantly, and I want to maintain that habit throughout the year). Yoga and climbing also fall under the general consciously-take-care-of-myself umbrella: I want to get back into the habit of going to yoga at least once a week, and I want to get more comfortable with climbing because I enjoy it a lot even if it freaks me out sometimes. Yoga definitely isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and I am maybe the least flexible person on the planet, but that’s what I love about it. It’s work and it’s a challenge and it’s nice to clear my mind of everything to focus on a pose (and not destroying my body while attempting said pose).

Related, but not a separate resolution: pare down my closet/dresser, because I have an increasing number of clothes that I don’t like to wear because they don’t fit right, or I feel like they don’t fit, or I think they don’t flatter and then when I end up wearing them, I feel gross. So I want to purge and donate (or toss, if necessary) anything that falls in those categories, and start fresh. I’ve recently been feeling something akin to overwhelmed by my clothes, and it’s not like I have that much. So I want to work on that, both in the physical and emotional sense of taking care of myself.

5. Create something tangible. I’ve been attempting to learn how to knit/crochet for a while now, and I’ve already set aside my yet-unfinished scarf as an increasingly belated Christmas present for my mom. Knitting/crocheting/etc. is not something that comes easily for me: I do not have a spatial memory/mind, and I can’t visualize things well from patterns and/or watching someone do it in front of me. So it’s a struggle, but I like the challenge of it, and I think it’s a good way to “stretch” that part of my brain. So I want to create something basic (see: the scarf that is nothing but knit/purl/knit/purl, etc.) and something a little more complicated (see: following a pattern and also learning how to read a pattern).

This site, in and of itself, is something tangible, in that weird way that the Internet is. I’m going to focus on learning more about coding (helped in part by my continuing work on the company website for my employer), and I’ve been debating the merits of attempting to create a WordPress theme from scratch just for fun, to see if I can. Should be interesting.

2015 is going to be a good year.

on reading and goals in 2014

// Friday, January 31, 2014

A week ago, I read a New York Times article/opinion piece, “Reading Books is Fundamental” by Charles M. Blow, that cites a recent Pew study regarding Americans and reading in 2013. The study is primarily examining the growth of e-reading and its relationship to how books are consumed, but the study also provides telling information about the amount Americans read. According to the study, the ‘typical American’ read five books last year, but what’s more interesting is the breakdown of people who read a certain number of books [p. 12 of the report]:

PIAL2. During the past 12 months, about how many BOOKS did you read either all or part of the way through? Please include any print, electronic, or audiobooks you may have read or listened to.

None – 23%
1 book – 5%
2-3 books – 14%
4-5 books – 12%
6-10 books – 17%
11-20 books – 13%
More than 20 books – 15%
Don’t Know – 2%

The fact that twenty-three percent of the Americans surveyed did read even one book all the way through is depressing. Only thirty-one percent of those surveyed read between one and five books, and the survey doesn’t even ask them to specify if they read them through to completion. I think we should do better than that.

That said, in 2013,  I didn’t do much better, honestly, than the majority of Americans, now that I’m thinking back on it. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman in its entirety, but I’m not actually sure if I completely read anything else that I previously hadn’t read. I’ve read and reread bits and pieces of books I love (Good Omens, also by Neil Gaimen, is the first that comes to mind, but there was also The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais and Free Fall by Robert Crais, and others that I can’t think of).  I started The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver back in March, but I’ve still yet to finish it. I’m in the middle of a super simplified introduction to statistics book, because I’ve realized that’s an area in which my knowledge is lacking. That said, though, the amount of serious books I read has diminished considerably. There are too many other things able to distract me: the internet, largely, but also an ever changing social life and figuring out how to better distribute my time (which is to say, the shift to working full time and a frequently changing commute (I moved twice in 2013) made it such that it took me longer than it should have to develop a routine).

I’ve set a lot of tangible goals for 2014 without specifics to which I need to adhere: for instance, I am determined that I’m going to use this blog (and purchase this domain one of these days, as well as decide if it makes sense to move to self-hosted or just purchase the custom design upgrade), but I haven’t set an “x post per month” rule or guideline. I am trying to be realistic about it, because I think if I do set an “x posts per week” rule, it’s too easy to feel like I’ve fallen hopelessly behind, which can end up spiraling downward. (See: a few failed blog attempts in the past, the fact that my daily journaling is now 21 days behind.)

Reading more books falls under that same category of ‘goals set without specifics’. Reading in general does as well. Because my grandma is wonderful, I now have unlimited access to the New York Times website and apps, so I’ve been at least marginally better about reading articles daily. I’m not reading varied enough articles yet, but it’s a habit that had fallen by the wayside; it takes a little time to redevelop the discipline. Academic reading is on that list as well, and thanks to Coursera and edX, I’m inspired to do more. I’ve signed up for two free* courses, a counterterrorism course through Coursera and a introductory computer programming course through edX. I love my job, but in some ways I miss taking classes (for the learning aspect; I have no desire to still be in college), so essentially free, relatively self-paced courses are a great way for me to start using that part of my brain again.
  [* While both courses are free, I’m taking the Coursera course as a Verified Certificate Course, which means it costs $50. I think it’ll be worth it.]

In spite of the lack of specifics re: the goals I’ve set, however, a friend and I have decided to hold each other accountable for our writing; as such, starting February 1st, I’m committing to writing for at least half an hour every day with one skip day allowed each week. Provided that goes well, I’m going to up it to an hour. I’m looking forward to this. I know there’s some author that said writing is a muscle; said muscle is something I’m working on strengthening again. (In related things, one of my best friends is planning to be in the best shape of his life by age 25, and I’m inspired to work out physically more as well. His goal is a good one, and I’m latching onto that momentum a little.)

Point being, basically: here’s to getting in all different kinds of shape this year. 2014 is going to be a good year.

on notebooks and pens (but mostly notebooks)

// Monday, January 20, 2014

In keeping with my 2014 resolutions, I’ve started documenting my life more, keeping what amounts to a belated daily journal (inspired by a friend’s notion of daily logging – her version is more detailed and dedicated than I can see myself truly able to maintain, but it’s more or less what I aspire to do). I purchased an extra large Moleskine notebook (the yellow-orange color of this one, but in the 7.5×10 hardcover version) for it; it’s lovely and really kind of oddly calming to write in a large notebook, because usually I end up using the 5×8 Moleskines and then end up feeling like I’ve written a lot when really I haven’t written any words at all, relatively speaking. When I’m away from my room, though, I write in a grey 5×8 volant journal because it’s easy to carry in my purse, write, and then transfer said writing to the larger one. It’s a process, and I haven’t gotten fully into the habit yet, but I’m working on it. I’m only a couple days behind at the moment.

Anyways, so now that I’ve taken to writing in this nice, pretty, well-crafted journal with nice pens (through work, I’ve rekindled my love affair with Vision Elite microball pens? The ones I really want to find that my roommate has, I can’t, which is a bummer. I know they exist? They’re the cloudy micropoint uniball ones, and they’re perfect. But the ones I have will do, so whatever), I started thinking about how different paper/pens really can make a difference in how I perceive the quality of what I’m writing and also in whether or not I’m motivated to write (which is why I splurged on the Moleskine in the first place). That thought process, in turn, made me remember one of the quotes I latched onto in the novel One Day by David Nicholls, and how fitting it is:

“She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationary. The true writer, the born writer, will scribble words on scraps of litter, the back of bus tickets, on the wall of a cell …. But other times she finds herself writing happily for hours, as if the words had been there all along, content and alone in her one-bedroom flat…” (114)

Because for me, both of those are true. When I worked at Borders (I miss Borders more than I should, maybe) before and during college (likely would’ve been after, too, if they hadn’t gone under before I graduated), I wrote on the backs of receipts and blank receipt paper all of the time. But now that I don’t have prolonged periods of idle, wandering thoughts while standing at a cash register, I find that if I’m not writing on the computer, I’ll only really write if I’m writing in a good quality notebook or on good quality paper. Sometimes that worries me. That’s something I’m going to work on getting better about as well. Writing more is writing more is writing more, regardless of what kind of paper is used. But regardless, more writing: a thing I am going to do.

In keeping with that mentality, this past weekend (of the 10th, not this most recent one), the goal was to be productive at least part of the time, so T. and I went to D2 Java in Exeter, NH for coffee, followed by lunch at Me & Ollie’s Bakery and Cafe, which then turned into a writing and working afternoon, and it was the most wonderful. D2 Java, by the way, is one of my absolute favorite places for coffee; a post about afternoons in Exeter is forthcoming very soon, because it merits more than a few sentences. For now, though, I’ll leave you with a picture from Saturday. Coziest of cozy.

coffee and productivity, january 2014

coffee and productivity, january 2014