All I can write these days is nothing.

Instead I copy and paste lyrics:

Night falls like people into love
We generate our own light
To compensate
For the lack of light from above
Every time we fight
A cold wind blows our way
But we can learn like the trees
How to bend
How to sway and say
I, I think I understand
What all this fighting is for
And, baby, I just want you to understand
That I’m not angry anymore
–Ani Difranco “Angry Anymore”

Quarantine Journal #4: From The Phantom Tollbooth

I’m reading The Phantom Tollbooth with my son, and we came across this gem:

As the cheering continued, Rhyme leaned forward and touched Milo gently on the arm.

“They’re shouting for you,” she said with a smile.

“But I could never have done it,” he objected, “without everyone else’s help.”

“That may be true,” said Reason gravely, “but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.” 

“That’s why,” said Azaz, “there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn’t discuss until you returned.”

“I remember,” Milo said eagerly. “Tell me now.”

“It was impossible,” said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.

“Completely impossible,” said the Mathemagician looking at the king.

“Do you mean–” stammered the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.

“Yes indeed,” they repeated together; “but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone–and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

And for the remainder of the ride, Milo didn’t utter a sound. 

pg. 247

Quarantine Journal #3: Reading

Thank goodness for Spring Break.

Since Spring Break, my son has been in such a good mood. He’s humming in the mornings. When I say good morning, he replies, “Good morning!” He’s enjoyed not having a set schedule and getting to play. There have been no meltdowns this week. But this is something we all need–some downtime.

I have been reading on my Spring Break. I am not in the habit of reading during the school year, and I think that hurts me as a person. When I don’t get to read, I can get a little grumpy. I think this is because when I don’t read, I get a little anxious of getting back into reading, a fear that I will now lack the concentration to do it. And there’s more to it than that. When I am not reading, it means that I have no free time and I am just working all the time. I have very little to no time to reflect, just do, and absolutely no joy in my life.

When I tried to start reading again, I was ambitious. I borrowed a bunch of VERY LITERARY e-books from the library that would just stare at me and mock me. Sorry,  just not in the head space to read Topeka School.

And I know this about myself. When I am out of practice with reading, I try not to be too hard on myself. I think any access to reading is good and it will lead to the reading where I am happiest: something kind of earthy and raw and truthful. But I don’t just deep dive into Elena Ferrante–that takes time for me, especially after trying to get some sense of balance and understanding of everything that’s been going on.

I read a bunch of chick lit novels. Then more and more and more, and I thought, some of these are really good! Chick lit novels seem way more aware than when I was reading them in the early 2000s. I don’t want to get too nit-picky, but there are some that say the leading lady is a feminist and the guy is really a good guy and all that, but all I can see is that typical abusive relationship written all over the book (he grabs her wrist, so on). So, there is a difference between saying your character is something but all actions indicate none of that whatsoever. Kind of like our current president making all these grand statements and none of them being true! I see through you, grandstanders.

I’m starting to feel in “the zone” for reading. I have a non-fiction book, a memoir, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. There is enough variety in there that my reading life feels robust rather than paltry and weak. I have my hands on enough books that I won’t run out of ideas. These authors will lead to other authors.  I’ll keep reading my chick lit too.


Quarantine Journal #2: Mad

At this point, I can be mad with what is going on in our country. How can the federal government be seizing PPEs bought by states directed to hospitals to protect those doing the very important front-line work of saving lives?

Article here:

Hospitals and states are afraid to speak up because of possible retaliation by our current president.

Here’s an article of how 10% of California’s corona virus cases are health care workers:

The federal government says that it is supposedly redirecting these supplies to those who need it most. We have no idea if the hospitals will get them back. I doubt they will. However, it’s clear that hospitals are top of the chain in terms of needing PPEs. Who is more deserving or in need of it than the health care workers working diligently to save lives often at the expense of their own health?

They say anger is a secondary emotion, meaning it covers up primary emotions like sadness and fear. I feel a genuine sadness and sorrow that someone would play a game with people’s very valuable lives in order to…what? Profit? Everything is pointing to messing up the supply chain so that the prices will go up for PPEs. People are dying, families are losing their loved ones, people have lost their jobs, many more will lose their jobs, the economy is in turmoil. People were allowed to go to Florida and party for Spring Break. Then came back and infected a bunch of people.

The deaths on this scale were preventable. We knew what was going on in China, and we had time to prepare. We should’ve gotten tests; we should’ve gotten more masks. If we had these things in place, people could be working. Our economy could be surviving all this.

Federal government, current president: fix this. Make testing and masks widely available. Distribute the stockpile of PPEs you have been buying. Don’t bid against other states and unnecessarily raise prices. Put aside politicking and ego and help the places that need it the most regardless of political affiliation. Get impacted cities more hospital beds and ventilators. Show us you can lead and make a positive impact instead of making things worse.

Quarantine Journal #1: Groceries

The most surprising thing of quarantine is–well, so many things–but for whatever reason, the one that I think about most is grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping! The once mostly pleasant, rather innocuous errand that could also be a burden, a slight tickle in the throat, an inconvenience, but also very much a way to kill time. We need more tortilla chips, I would tell my husband. Sometimes I would drag my son to Trader Joe’s on an early Saturday morning so my husband could sleep in a little more. Or I would want a lemon, you know, just ONE lemon, so off to the store I would go for said lemon…and some extra snacks since I was already there.

Going to the store is now stressful. Suit up: wear outside clothes, put on the gloves, the mask. Stand in line for Trader Joe’s or Costco for at least fifteen minutes with the appropriate six-feet of social distancing. Stand still in the hope no one coughs on me or gets too close to me. Hope I don’t cough in public.

Now we only go to the store once a week, and one upside to this is far less wasted food. We buy in bulk, and we are thankful for everything we get, especially fresh produce. Our cupboard is no longer full of snacks half eaten but growing stale due to our lack of interest as they are callously cast aside for the next batch of snacks. We can’t get bored with a snack and go buy something else because we’re hardly ever at the store. I’ve been wanting to make tacos all week but have had to wait. I have been craving those Mochi Rice Crackers from Trader Joe’s, and when I ate one, it was the most delicious thing I have tasted in so long just because it tasted so different from what we’ve been running through at home. I’ve never appreciated those crackers to that extent. Every new snack, every new food item we’re able to obtain suddenly feels so special and precious.

A neighbor confirmed these feelings when she told me that her first take-out experience since shelter-in-place was from a local Thai place called Charm Eatery. She said it was the most decadent, delicious meal she’d had because it was the first time she wasn’t cooking the food in eighteen days. Someone else cooking for you? The flavors of Thai food of which spices I don’t keep in my cupboard? I’m sure it was a delight.

I like that we’re more conscious of the food at home. We take stock of what we have in order to make less trips to the grocery store and make do with what we have. There is less food waste because everything has slowed down. Life does feel significantly less colorful under lockdown. There is much less variety than I am used to. It did make me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s A Little House on the Prairie, which follows the paradigm of “waste not, want not.” One Christmas Laura and Mary got oranges, and they were so enamored with the treats. Oranges! I can’t imagine a child around me being delighted by an orange. I’ve seen perfectly good apples thrown away in classroom trash cans. I’m sure I’ve thrown away pretty good but slightly soggy apples, so it’s a good reminder of what used to be the norm instead of having all the choices and more at our fingertips, being overwhelmed by said choices, and throwing things away in order to not have to deal with these choices.

But there is nothing more deeply satisfying for me than when I find a way to use up all those leftovers in the fridge and not throw anything out. That’s the moment when I think I am at my most cleverest and somewhat earn my keep as a human being.


President Obama and His Reading Life

This January interview of President Obama and his reading life came up in my feed because of the rumor that Michiko Kakutani is leaving as book editor for the NY Times. (She is the one doing the interviewing.)

It’s such a good reminder of why we read: for the quiet reflection, for taking the time out to think about things when it’s so much easier now to switch on our phones, iPads and computers.

In my mid-twenties I traveled by myself through Europe for nine months and wouldn’t have an internet connection where I would stay. I spent a lot of time by myself reading, being a kind of hermit, and developing my own tastes. Tastes that were not dictated by popular media, what everyone else was reading, or what school or my professors told me to read. It was such a delicious way to read. There was no showmanship about it. It was such an intensely personal experience and totally mine. Those books I read during that time live in my mind. I probably have never discussed half the authors with anyone I know but they still inform and shape my point of view.

In Budapest I had cable TV and ended up watching a lot of documentaries on CNN. But I would have trouble writing about what I watched after because I would forget those bubbles of thoughts by the time I could write–at the end. It made me realize that books are made more for contemplation. A book carves out a space for silence and thinking. A book you can pick up and put down. A book you can stop and copy your favorite passages into a notebook. You can rest and think, “Wow, what a beautiful way to phrase it” or “I never thought of it in that way.” TV and movies just zoom on by in a way that are completely immersive (which I love too) but where I lose more of those interesting and provocative thoughts.

This interview is a good reminder of why I should read more and what I’m missing out by not doing it enough. Really, for the purest of reasons. To enter that space of meditation and quiet. To enjoy a book no one else may be reading, no rush, and then hold that book in my hand and think about what it means to me and if it changes how I view the world.

And what a loss to have had a president who understood the value of reading and taking the time to think more deeply about things and to where we are now.

From the Inimitable Zadie Smith

I watched an episode of the sublime Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the one where it finally occurs to the main character that she might not be the hero of her own story. (She has this realization in song.) I’m not trying to be cute when I say that I could have written 5,000 words on it — I truly had what the Internet calls “many feels.” This is what I am looking for in art: feels. Intellectual, emotional, philosophical, religious, existential feels.

But the feels have to possess a certain amount of vertical depth. It’s like lowering a stone down into the well of yourself, and the further it goes the deeper it resounds. I am resistant to a lot of the Internet, not because I disapprove but because the feelings I personally draw from it seem to me shallow and don’t lead me anywhere useful or pleasurable. A lot of the social platforms provoke feelings in me I simply don’t enjoy. For a moment I am flattered, falsely puffed up, briefly amused, painfully hurt, or infuriated. I accept it feels different for other people, but I have to gravitate to the things that really interest and excite me while I’m alive.

It’s totally selfish on my part. I’m in the middle of my life, and I just don’t have enough years left to spend a large proportion of them inside an iPhone. For one thing, I know I would be an addict. I live inside my laptop plenty enough already. I don’t have a moderate temperate with these things. If I were going to live to 150, perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much spending half of every day online. But there’s so many things I haven’t read or seen or experienced. I want that vertical experience all the time — I’m very greedy that way.

(From Zadie Smith’s email to Lena Dunham in Lenny Letter)

From Marc Maron’s Conversation with President Obama

President Obama on Marc Maron’s podcast awhile back. I still think of this snippet of conversation a lot.

Obama: I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I’m a better president and would be a better candidate if I were running again than I ever have been. And it’s sort of like an athlete—you might slow down a little bit, you might not jump as high as you used to, but I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.

Maron: For real. You’re not pretending to be fearless.

Obama: Right, you’re not pretending to be fearless. And when you get to that point?

Maron: Freedom.

Obama: And also part of that fearlessness is because you’ve screwed up enough times that you know that—

Maron: It’s all happened.

Obama: It’s all happened. I’ve been through this, I’ve screwed up, I’ve been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls, and I emerged, and I lived. And that’s such a liberating feeling. It’s one of the benefits of age. It almost compensates for the fact I can’t play basketball anymore.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Rocket Science

I told myself this today that updating a blog does not have to be rocket science. All I have to do is write what I’ve been thinking about for the last week. But it feels hard after everything that happened last week in the news.

I’ve been thinking on and off about an article I read a few weeks back called, “Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City” by Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Hannah-Jones talks about the segregated school system in Brooklyn, New York as a microcosm for the education system in our country. How people buy and cram themselves into the good neighborhoods so their children can get into “good” schools. How schools are segregated as a result of housing costs (and a long history of housing discrimination) that it has left low-income primarily black and Latino children out of the more desirable, resource-flushed public schools in the area.

This is one of those articles that I read and stayed with me. Well-researched, especially on the history of segregation/integration in schools, and with a deeply personal angle, it hits all the marks of a resonant, thought-provoking article that really shook me up. When I was picking up my son, when I was reading up on the news last week, when I was cooking, when I was writing, and when talking with friends—it never left my brain because I knew Hannah-Jones spoke the truth. Our school systems are very, very segregated.

She writes, “Legally and culturally, we’ve come to accept segregation once again. Today, across the country, black children are more segregated than they have been at any point in nearly half a century. Except for a few remaining court-ordered desegregation programs, intentional integration almost never occurs unless it’s in the interests of white students.”

I saw it when we were at the wonderful Children’s Museum in Chicago. At the museum we saw groups of kids segregated by race all on their own separate field trips. There were groups of African-American kids, groups of white kids, and even a group of Asian-American kids (they were a Chinese school), who didn’t really mingle with one another. I remember how stark it was to see those divides before my eyes. I went home and looked it up online and found that Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country. From what I see, similar things happen in the Bay Area.

But all the events from last week and this article have gotten me thinking about the racial injustices in our country. I’m starting to see some of the links: housing, education, law enforcement. And I cannot turn a blind eye. Schools play a huge part in this. It’s easy to get our kids into the “right” school system and then completely ignore the problem, but Hannah-Jones throws down the gauntlet when she writes:

True integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage, and when it comes to our own children, that can feel almost unnatural. Najya’s first two years in public school helped me understand this better than I ever had before. Even Kenneth Clark, the psychologist whose research showed the debilitating effects of segregation on black children, chose not to enroll his children in the segregated schools he was fighting against. “My children,” he said, “only have one life.” But so do the children relegated to this city’s segregated schools. They have only one life, too.

A parable

Told by Rachel Naomi Remen in Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise:

This was my fourth birthday present, this story. In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. This task is called Tikkun Olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.

And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.

—Rachel Naomi Remen (p 24-25)