Lil’ Starman

January 16, 2018
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These days my 3-year-old son, Everest, is totally into letters, words, and writing. But yesterday he took this to a whole new level, and I’ve never been so proud.

E: Mommy, what is this letter?

ME: That’s a “D.” Like dog or dinosaur –

E: And David Bowie.

 

via GIPHY

Reclaiming My Anger

January 11, 2018
Anger photo

I spent the bulk of 2017 trying to turn my anger into something else. I wrote letters to politicians. I signed petitions. I made phone calls. I meditated and yogaed. I made playlists littered with Rage Against the Machine. Conversely, I crafted “calm” playlists, songs that were supposed to turn down the burbling anger and bring it to a simmer.

I lost friends because I was mad.

“You used to be funny, but now you’re angry,” one man said in a message before he unfriended me on Facebook.

“Couldn’t you be less political?” said another friend who didn’t agree with my political beliefs.

My darling toddler son standing in front of a painting at The Broad

“Everything is art. Everything is politics.” —Ai Weiwei

 

There was a lot to be furious about in 2017.

“I am fucking furious,” read an email that a friend forwarded to me, an email that had been forwarded by another friend, and so on. I’m not sure who the original writer was, but the message detailed several fury-inducing points about the 2016 election.

I agreed with every word. And then I wondered why we were whispering.

A person screams behind tape that says "fragile"

 

I also spent 2017 teaching my 3-year-old son about emotions.

One of my worst fears is that my boy will grow into someone who can’t communicate his feelings and lets it all fester inside. So we talk about respect for our feelings and how they are valid. Passion is good. Conviction is important. Anger is meaningful. Every emotion helps us grow and understand our relationship with the world and the people around us. Nothing positive comes from suppressing them.

It’s advice I haven’t been taking myself. For all my effort to cope with my fury, to channel my emotions onto a different path, what I didn’t do was allow my anger to be anger.

Anger photo

 

Toward the end of 2017, I read “Priestdaddy” by Patricia Lockwood, a memoir about growing up with a Catholic priest for a father.

“As long as I lived under his roof, I told myself that I had no temper, that I would never speak that knot of heat I felt so often in my throat, forced down into my ribcage, sent flowing into my fingertips. But I belong to myself now, and I can admit it,” she writes. “When I sit down at the desk, the anger radiates out of me in great bronze spikes, like holiness in the old paintings, and a sermon rises up in me as if it had been waiting for breath, and puts itself together bone to bone.”

She follows that up with this, a passage that leaves me breathless. I keep a photo of it on my phone now.

“I’m not interested in heaven unless my anger gets to go there too. I’m not interested in a happy eternity unless I get to spend an eternity on anger first. Let me speak for the meek and say that we don’t want the earth, if that’s where all the bodies are buried. If we are resurrected at the end of the world, I want us to assemble with a military click, I want us to come together as an army against what happened to us here. I want us to bring down the enemy of our suffering once and for all, and I want us to loot the pockets, and I want us to take baths in the blood.”

Yes. Oh god yes.

When I was an avid skydiver, I had a lot of conversations about fear with many of the other jumpers. A common thing I heard was, “When I stop being scared, I know it’s time to stop jumping.”

I feel that way now about those great bronze spikes of anger radiating out from me.

When I stop getting angry at injustice, when I stop feeling passionate about my beliefs, when I stop raging, that’s when I’ve stopped being human.

So I’m reclaiming this. Now. Today.

What do I want? I don’t want my anger to be negative anymore. I want it to be the driving force, the arrow that slices through all the noise and pierces my target, the thing that inspires me to get shit done.

 

Very superstitious

January 1, 2018
Bunches of green grapes hanging on a vine

New Year’s Eve 2017: A brief screenplay

INT. MAGGIE’S HOUSE – NIGHT

ME: We have to do the thing where we eat 12 grapes at midnight to bring luck in the coming 12 months.

HUSBAND: What?

ME: It’s a thing. They do it in Spain.

HUSBAND: But why do we have to do it?

ME: I’m not going to risk it. I’ll take all the luck I can get.

HUSBAND: Fine.

ME: Oh, we also have to sit under the table when we do it. Or leaping over the threshold of our home? I can’t remember. Anyway, I have to wash the grapes. Meet me under the table in 5 minutes.

INT. UNDER THE KITCHEN TABLE – FIVE MIN. LATER

HUSBAND: Are you sure we have squeeze under the table to do this? My back hurts.

ME: Pretty sure. Now hush. Eat your grapes.

HUSBAND: I don’t even like green grapes. You’ll have to finish mine.

ME: Great. I’ll be the only prosperous one. Fine with me.

HUSBAND: It’s not even midnight.

ME: It’s well past midnight in Spain.

HUSBAND: (chewing)

ME: Maybe we could have just had a glass of wine instead.

HUSBAND: (still chewing)

ME: Also I think I made up the table thing.

 

2017 in summary

December 31, 2017
The world's cutest toddler, running along a beach

My focus word for 2017 was “abundance,” and I spent all year trying my darnedest to cultivate that.

And failing. I failed so hard, you guys. My failures were abundant.

Financially, it was one of my driest years since I started freelancing. There were long and seemingly endless spans of time where nothing was accepted or published, even though I wrote, pitched, queried, and followed up obsessively. At one point I read an article that advised writers to aim for 100 rejections per year, and I cackled like a mad woman in a Brontë novel — I was hitting about 100 rejections (or non-responses) per month.

It was depressing. It felt like I was trying to climb a mountain, and even though I was doing my part, I couldn’t quite get there. I researched the trail, I showed up in hiking boots, I carried all the right gear, I had the motivation and desire to put in the work. Then mere steps from the top, I toppled for whatever reason, forcing me to start all over again.

Just when I considered calling it quits, I attended the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop in magical Granada, Spain. It helped recharge my batteries on just about every level, from inspiring me to write new things and look at my work in a different way to satisfying my itchy feet and proving I can still travel solo.

A peek out of a golden window at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

Soon after, I placed some of my favorite pieces, like this essay for LitHub about Silent Book Club, a piece about wildflowers and making my own roots in the desert for Palm Springs Life (the online version is a little wonky with some repeated paragraphs, but you can see it here anyway), and a funny/sad essay about a rat for Mutha Magazine.

I also started hosting a radio show about books with Tod Goldberg. I received an acceptance from an outlet that has been on my byline bucket list for decades. I registered for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, because I want to find my way toward humor writing again. I read 51 books.

Other good things happened: A road trip to Vegas, a quick jaunt to Portland, a terrific visit with my sister. I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. As a family, Jason, Everest, and I slept in a tipi under the stars in Pioneertown, hiked through a couple of Canada’s spectacular national parks, and explored Vancouver, now one of our favorite cities.

Also Everest turned 3, and he has grown into someone I genuinely love to hang out with. He’s funny and weird and makes me laugh until I wheeze. We have dance parties, take silly selfies, and haven’t found a trail yet that we don’t want to explore.

Halloween selfie

In November Everest and I hiked 30 miles together, and most of those were quiet morning jaunts, clambering over rocks, scraping up knees, and listening to birdsong. I cherish every one of those miles.

Cutest toddler in the world goes hiking in the desert, standing on top of rocksNow we’re ending on a high note. We just finished a family road trip that was just about as perfect as those things get. We started by seeing the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at The Broad in Los Angeles, and stayed the night in Solvang, a quirky Danish-themed town. Then we spent a few easy days at Morro Bay, listening to seals bark, running on the beach, and sipping hot cocoa as the sun sank.

Our last morning in Morro Bay is a memory that I hope lasts, as it seems to sum up the whole year for me. It’s Everest, barreling down the pastel beach, gathering sand dollars by the handful. He carries them to me, holds these urchins to his chest, makes careful piles of them. He tosses some into the ocean; the rest he tucks into the pockets of my old college sweatshirt.

This is abundance. My pockets hang heavy with sand and salt and shells, and my heart is so full it’s buoyant. I am sand dollar rich, and I have all the things that matter.

A teal sky in Morro Bay

 

2017 Best books + best songs mashup

December 9, 2017
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To mark the end of 2017, I mashed up my favorite songs of the year with the best books I read this year – kind of like a “Like that tune? Then you’ll love this book!” (This is not my idea, by the way. I saw @keyairruh do this on Twitter with pairings of albums and books, and I loved it.)

Some of the books and songs are paired because they are thematically similar or share the same sensibility. A few of the songs had lyrics that reminded me of the text. And some are mashed together just because they evoked similar feelings in me.

Keep in mind, I’ve been sick for one-going-on-two weeks and I’m delirious right now. So if these pairings don’t make sense, blame it on Flupocalypse 2017. But if the results are totally awesome, then it was me, all me.

Enjoy.

Split Stones • Maggie Rogers  + Goodbye, Vitamin • Rachel Khong

Thirty-year-old Ruth, fresh from a breakup, quits her job and returns home to help her father, who is slipping into dementia. This is a beautiful story about devotion and what it means to be a family, and I found it almost painfully relatable.

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Dreams • Beck + The Humans • Matt Haig

I won’t try to describe this novel because then you won’t read it. I’ll just say that it made me feel better about being a human, which is exactly what I needed this year.

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Blow Your Mind (Mwah) • Dua Lipa + We Are Never Meeting in Real Life • Samantha Irby

An essay collection that made me laugh until I wheezed. I bought this for my flight home from Spain, and I have zero regrets.

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Bike Dream • Rostam + A Separation • Katie Kitamura

A meditative and suspenseful novel about the end of a marriage and the things people never reveal to each other.

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Havana • Camila Cabello (ft. Young Thug) + Best Women’s Travel Writing, Vol. 11* • Edited by Lavinia Spalding

*Full disclosure: This anthology contains one of my essays, so you can trust me when I say it was the best book of the year. 

Also I had a hard time deciding between “Havana” and this song to illustrate it. I’m kind of obsessed with both of them. 

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In Undertow • Alvvays + Little Fires Everywhere • Celeste Ng

The book starts with a literal fire and works backward to explore the conflicts that set the community ablaze.

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Green Light • Lorde + Catalina • Liska Jacobs

The dark, deeply resonant story of a woman’s downward spiral.

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The Underside of Power • Algiers + Born a Crime • Trevor Noah

The harrowing life of a comic coming of age during the end of apartheid in South Africa.

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Quiet • MILCK + The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage •  Jared Yates Sexton

An honest and often disturbing look at the 2016 election.

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Happy Wasteland Day • Open Mike Eagle + The Hate U Give • Angie Thomas

A riveting YA book about a girl who witnesses the shooting death of her friend at the hands of a police officer.

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Over Everything • Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile + The One-Eyed Man • Ron Currie

A grieving man devotes himself to radical honesty, which turns out to be equal parts hilarious and infuriating.

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Supermodel • SZA + One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter • Scaachi Koul

An essay collection from one of my favorite fresh voices.

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Shh Shh Shh • Boss Hog + What You Don’t Know • JoAnn Chaney

A thriller that kept me up all night long.

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The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness • The National + The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir • Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

One of the most exquisite books I’ve ever read. It’s a masterful memoir about obsession and how scars can last for generations.

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Feel It Still • Portugal, the Man + The Power • Naomi Alderman

I’m still high on this book, in which women suddenly gain the power to shock people with their hands, an exhilarating antidote to the news cycle.

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What were your top books and songs this year? Do you have any good pairings for me?

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