Monday, December 28, 2015

how much love is involved

last minute gift-labeling with Natalie

"The surprising thing about second grade is how much love is involved."

Natalie said this to me while we walked home from school the day before her Christmas break started. Her backpack was strapped to her shoulders, her winter coat left unzipped in the warm winter air. I had braided her hair the night before, and now strands had strayed to frame her face messily. Beside us, Natalie's mom - my sister - and brother Andrew carried on their own conversation. I had been teasing Natalie about Jamal, her neighbor who I thought was cute and with whom I knew she played often. She replied earnestly with this observation about girls and boys showing affection to each other, then began listing names of classmates she knew liked others: Brandon likes Sophie, Brian likes Lauren. And on and on.

Natalie seemed exasperated by the intrusion of love into her already fairly complicated seven-year-old life. She also seemed a little bit curious. She laughed when I told her about a boy I thought was cute, and agreed with her brother that I should definitely not get married. (Although later, Andrew rolled his eyes while suggesting maybe I should get married because I'm too boy crazy. According to him.) For Natalie, there is so much more than romantic love in second grade. There is reading to be done and dances to make up and friendships to foster and games to play and win.

A few days later, Natalie stood proudly in the middle of my parent's den, the rest of my family sitting in a haphazard circle around her. The Christmas tree sparkled with lights and kept watch over piles of gifts to be opened. At Natalie's side was a small bag with gifts she had prepared for each of her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. She handed them out one by one and watched with a big smile on her face as we all opened the gifts she had made or picked out for us. She was the only grandchild to choose gifts for us, and told each person that she had made that in art class or picked that out or paid her own money for that. There was so much love and thoughtfulness in that small silly heart of hers.

Indeed, so much love involved, I thought.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

dawn breaking in

By the tender mercy of our God,
     the dawn from on high will break upon us, 
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
     to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
- Luke 1:78-79

Celebrating all the many ways dawn is growing brighter, and the merciful God who makes it so. Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Top Ten Things of 2015

It's that time of year when all the Best Of lists are coming out. It has me feeling simultaneously feverish to fit in all the good stuff that 2105 has to offer (only 16 days left!) and quietly reflective, judging the good, bad and in between, wondering if  I've valued it all right. 

In any case, I decided to make a little list of my own. Here it is, with a plain title and in no specific order: Top Ten Things of 2015.

1. City - Minneapolis

I almost didn't go to Minneapolis because - why would I? That was my thinking. I don't remember now what changed my mind about going to the writing conference there. My first day was rainy, cold and without anything interesting to see or eat. But then I got into the little neighborhood where I stayed in a hostel, and all the sudden I could see myself living there. It felt understated, and like there was a lot of personality if you stuck around and dug for it. I can respect that - I'm the same way.

2. PodcastBullseye

I tell everyone I think might be remotely interested about this one. There are many things to love about it: the is host insightful and personable (he seems so comfortable with his guests!) and he curates an eclectic line up of interviewees that revolves mostly around comedy, hip hop and diversity. My favorites were Keegan-Michael Key (of course), the episode shared by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Allison Jones, and Jemaine Clement.

3. Coffee Shop - Found Coffee

Sometime around Easter, I made my first trip to Found Coffee in Eagle Rock. It became my spot for cappuccino, for writing, for journaling. The coffee is great. The vibe is just a little trendy but mostly relaxed. The late afternoon light through the front windows hints at something hopeful. And the music is usually M.I.A. and Lauryn Hill, which gives me a buzz as much as the caffeine.

4. Books - All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Teows; Brother I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat; On Immunity by Eula Biss

All three of these books, I devoured. All of them left me wanting more. All of them made me want to write better. Read them.

5. Songs - All You Had to Do Was Stay by Taylor Swift; Leave a Trace by CHVRCHES; Till the End by Waterdeep

Taylor Swift's 1989 rocked my world not because it is great pop music, but because I finally had to admit that I'm a Swiftie (is that what they're called?). It came out in 2014, but this year I had All You Had to Do Was Stay on repeat, especially in the car or when I was in the mood for a solo dance party.

I also discovered CHVRCHES this year (I know, where have I been?) and loved Leave a Trace.

And Waterdeep came out with a double album. Till the End is so beautiful and funky and true.

6. Movies - Far From the Madding Crowd; Selma; Room

For some reason, no one movie jumped out in my memory. I really loved Far From the Madding Crowd, but what woman wouldn't love the idea of being pursued by three men and ending up with (spoiler alert) Gabriel Oak. Though I have to say that if she'd had more sense she could have married him to being with and saved herself a whole lot of trouble. But then there'd be no movie (or book), right?

Selma and Room both stick out in my memory for the writing. I watched Selma on the flight home from Kenya, which seemed to add an extra layer of intensity to it. I remember being so moved by the scenes where MLK speaks publicly, and so passionately. A week or two later, I saw a friend-of-a-friend film critic at a party and we talked about the film. He told me then that those speeches weren't actually MLK's original words - those speeches are copyrighted by the family. Instead, the director (who isn't credited as a writer - that's another story, apparently) wrote the speeches inspired by his originals. Wow. Incredible writing. And in a completely different way, Room took my breath away. Go see it.

7. Bookstore - Letters Bookshop

When I visited my sister in Durham, she suggested some used bookstores. Yes, please. On Saturday, we drove downtown with the kids, stopped for a coffee, and walked over to Letters Bookshop. Most used bookstores stack books in piles beside the crammed bookshelves. There's a certain charm to that. But this store was different. Books are displayed intentionally, and only ones likely to sell (interesting titles, good condition) are bought to then be sold. And, I have a secret: I also had a little crush on the owner. I overheard him talk to a few customers about books and authors and I totally fell for him. A day later, I called to have another book put on hold and had my sister drive me back downtown. I was too shy to start a conversation, but I did try to smile real nice for him.

8. App - Moon

I love the moon, and bought an app to understand more about its phases. When I got this notification from my moon app, my coworker informed me this is usually this opening line for booty calls. Apparently the moon was loving me back, or something like that. But I don't think that's what the moon is after. He just doesn't want to be a reflection of a thing all the time.

9. TV Show - Master of None

Aziz Ansari will always be a favorite of mine. I binged on all ten episodes of his new show in one weekend (which isn't hard to do if you have three hours to kill while you're babysitting your goddaughter after she goes to sleep...). Everyone is talking about the episode called Parents, which was charming. But my favorite was Indians on TV, partly because I have a crush on Ravi Patel.

10. Day -

I could tell you about the day I spent in a cabin in Ojai, The rain came after a morning hike. I started a fire in the woodburning stove and spent the day praying. Or, there was our last day in Nairobi, when we finished all our clinics. The next day we would leave for safari. Our team went to dinner at our hotel together, where another group had hired a dj. Veena and I took on the empty dance floor and soon our team joined us, along with a soccer team from Zanzibar. There was also the day spent at a coffee shop with my friend visiting from Hawaii, both of us doing our work and taking a break every once in a while to laugh about something together (probably she had a verbal hashtag for something). Her companionship that weekend was just what I needed. There are other days, too, that I could tell you about, but I have a feeling that there wasn't just one day of the year, and that it probably couldn't be identified by things I think make it great. The best day might have only held a seed of something new, and I'll only know the full measure of it in years to come. And really, I wouldn't have wanted this year to have only one of those days, I wanted all of them - the ones I cried too many times to count, the days I questioned myself, the days I felt abandoned or useless. They all count.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

dreaming of books, and the time to read them

This fall, I nearly applied to a grad school program that would have me writing and reading all the time. My dream was to quit my job and hole up somewhere (really dreaming, I thought maybe the woods of North Carolina or along a river in Pittsburgh or in a small village in Kenya) with just books and my computer. I didn't want to be a hermit, per se, but I just wanted to have more time to read, think, write, explore.

That is not happening, and for good reasons. Life is about other things, for now at least. But there is a little violin playing soft, sad songs in my heart during this season when all the 'best of" book lists are being released. I want all of them.

Dreams are still fun, even when the firm edges of reality don't line up with them. This best book list from NPR not only gives you titles of great books, it also helps you pick out the rights ones for you. And this list from Buzzfeed shows the best book covers (and some of the best titles, too, I think). I would also direct you to the bookstore - my photo is taken here - where you can get even more crazy with your book dreaming. Just give someone your credit card before you go in.

PS A trusted friend's list and more recs in the comments. Love it.

Friday, December 4, 2015

the story behind the stories

"You ask me questions I like to answer."
              - Kurt Vonnegut to wife Jane

Loved reading this little love-story-behind-the-stories about Kurt Vonnegut and his wife. Writers' lives are pretty fascinating to me, knowing they're what feeds the books we read. I like how we get to see Jane in this recount, if only as a shadow. (We can conclude that, in reality, she was so much more.)

(And that quote - yes.)