So clearly I’ve fallen off the “Things That Made Me Happy This Week” post wagon, but I was still keeping notes for a little while, and I think it could be more sustainable for me if I did a monthly, instead of weekly, round-up post. So, here goes–we’ll see how long I can keep this up for!
May was a rollercoaster month–the happy mixed with sad, the joyful with restlessness and boredom. I turned 34 and my younger brother got married, my mom has been in and out of the hospital with a mysterious illness no one seems to be able to diagnose, and I have found myself grappling with larger life questions more than usual. I feel like this first week of June has found me more stabilized and grounded, but my mom’s still in the hospital and there are still big changes I’m working toward making in my own life. I guess it all takes patience.
That said, here are a few of the things that kept me going in May (and late April):
- Bitmoji. These little guys might seem funny and weird and annoying to some, but I love them. I’ve been using them for about a year, and there are few things that give me greater joy than turning a friend onto using them or discovering a new favorite Bitmoji. As I like to say, there’s a bitmoji for nearly every situation. It makes texting so much fun.
- The Marathon. This happened in mid-April, but every year I’m able to catch it, it makes me happy. It’s a special day in Boston and it makes me happy to be here. This year was warm and the crowds were full of energy, and I knew a few of the runners, so I was extra enthusiastic about being lined up on Beacon Street to cheer them on!
- Neko Atsume. Yes, it’s another weird iPhone app. It’s a Japanese game about collecting cats. Hear me out, though. I don’t play games on my phone because I’m worried I’d get too distracted and they would take my time away from reading. The beautiful thing about Neko Atsume is that you can check in, refill the food bowl, maybe buy a new cat toy, and then you’re done. And you get to see cute virtual cats being silly. And, if you’re really lucky, you’ll have a friend or two who also plays so you can share screenshots of the special cats that come to visit you.
- Friend visits. I was really lucky in the past couple of months to get to spend time with dear friends who live far away. First, Mallory & Andrew came to visit all the way from London and I got to meet their adorable baby and we played trivia at the Tam and it was glorious. Then, over Memorial Day weekend, Kim & David made the journey from Brooklyn to Boston and we caught up, played tourist, and grilled on my front porch, and it was also wonderful. Now, I just have to convince them all to come live in Boston again!
- College Roommate Baltimore Reunion Trip. Though we Skype on a monthly basis, my college roommates from senior year and I don’t get to visit all together in person very often. Nancy & I live in Boston, just blocks away from each other, but Meghan is in Baltimore, and Abbie is in Minneapolis. We all convened in Baltimore for the weekend at the end of April so we could meet Meghan’s baby and have a mini-bachelorette for Nancy, who’s getting married in August. We surprised her with an urban pirates cruise and dancing and it was tons and tons of fun.
- My Brother’s Wedding. My little brother got married to a lovely lady and I couldn’t be happier for them and we are all so happy to have her in our family. The wedding was a really fun time, though my mom had to miss it because she was in the hospital, so that was rough for all of us. But dancing and cake and drinks and the happy couple helped us persevere!
These are just the major highlights. There were cookouts and a walk down the Cliff Walk and a weekend at a spa and podcasts and Bob’s Burgers and all kinds of other things that made me happy. Looking back, April & May were actually quite joyful months, with lots of friends and family and laughs. And at the end of the day, I guess that’s all we ever really need.
It’s safe to say I’ve hit a wall with my Bookshelf Project. I’ve been trying to read everything on my shelves, but the problem is that I also keep managing to somehow acquire more books. So I’m getting overwhelmed, and not even really reading the things I want to be reading. I’m torn over whether I should continue at this point, because I want to read the books on my shelves on the one hand, but on the other hand, it feels like a chore when I give it a name and add it to a list. I love reading, and for the past six weeks or so, it’s felt like nothing but an obligation, and not a fun one.
Lists, queues, piles, inboxes–I feel like I’m always scrambling to catch up, even though there’s nothing to catch up to. The probability that I will listen to every podcast on my phone before a new episode comes out is…nothing. Same with watching everything on my Netflix queue or reading (and responding to) every email in my inbox before a new one comes in. And, of course, this is never more true than for my “to-read” shelf, apparently both real and virtual. I currently have 500 books on my Goodreads “want to read” shelf. FIVE HUNDRED. Even if I stopped adding books to it (hahahahah) and kept a steady 50 books a year reading rate, it would take me TEN YEARS to finish every book on the list.
This is not what I wanted to write about, but this is what’s happening. I know we all feel it, this frantic need to watch everything, listen to everything, read everything–it’s FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and I have it bad. It’s like that Portlandia sketch where the two people ask one another “did you read it?” until they’re yelling and eating pages from a magazine.
Things haven’t quite gotten to that level for me yet, but it feels like it in my brain sometimes. Though I no longer subscribe to the New Yorker for this very reason (I couldn’t stand the guilt of the unread stacks), I still have access to them at work, and so I currently have about four unread issues (one from February) sitting on my desk in my office, mocking me and my inability to consume everything I want.
I wonder if I’d be happier, more at peace, if I could just walk away from all the lists and queues and feeds. Unsubscribe from all the email newsletters (that are full of links to more articles to read), stop checking Twitter 27 times a day, read any book I feel like when I feel like it, erase all of the unread blogs from my RSS feed every day. What would that be like? It’s like I’m preparing for a cosmic pop quiz where everyone will be held somehow responsible for the amount of content they’ve consumed in their lives, and I don’t want to fail.
I guess if there’s any good time to give it a shot, it’s the summer. Maybe I’d get more writing done if I wasn’t so busy watching and listening and reading.
Anyway. I read these two books in galley form, courtesy of my roommate’s ALA haul. I really liked them both. Here Comes the Sun is Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel about Margot, a woman who works in a fancy resort hotel near her village home in Jamaica, splitting her days between the opulence of tourism and the desperate poverty of her village. Her mother sells trinkets to tourists in an outdoor market, and her younger sister, Thandi, is a star pupil that the women have pinned all their own unrealized hopes on. Unbeknownst to Thandi, Margot has been sacrificing much more than her days working–a hard truth she’s forced to grapple with when their village is threatened by another luxury hotel and she must make her own wrenching decisions. It’s a gut-punch of a story, but I was totally captivated by the characters and their struggles.
Goodnight, Beautiful Women is another debut, a story collection by Anna Noyes.
|I really enjoyed this collection. It’s reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge, not just geographically (nearly all of the stories take place in a hard-scrabble Maine town), but in the way you have the feeling all of these characters’ stories are linked, though Noyes doesn’t link them explicitly as Strout does.
They’re also beautifully written and poignant. What I loved most about them is the different kinds of love and relationships depicted–love between mothers and daughters, stepdaughters and stepfathers, sisters, estranged friends. Sadness hangs heavy over all of these stories, but it’s not strangling. Noyes does a great job of writing in young womens’ voices, young women who have yet to face all they will face in the world, but who are nonetheless getting warmed up to all of the pain before their time.
I like reading galleys because you feel like you’re on the inside track of the book world…and clearly, I like to be on that track.
Now to have a glass of wine with my friend on my porch–the kind of thing that I will strive to do more of instead of scrambling to READ/WATCH/HEAR ALL THE THINGS!
As I mentioned in a “Things That Made Me Happy This Week” post a few weeks ago, I cheated a bit in the Bookshelf Project and bought myself a new book for my flight to LA. I was inspired to buy All the Single Ladies when I heard an interview with the author, Rebecca Traister, on one of my favorite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend. I’d also read many of Traister’s articles about marriage and relationships and women and politics before the book came out and I was a fan.
Admittedly, I have a complicated relationship with the notion of singlehood. Though I strongly identify with being a single woman, I’m technically also a divorced woman, which is considered by many as an entirely different thing. And perhaps it is, in many ways, but it doesn’t spare me or any other divorced or separated woman the pain, loneliness, judgements, and freedom that come with being unmarried–especially past a certain age.
Personal identity politics aside, I found this book insightful and illuminating. I learned a lot about the historical impact of unmarried women throughout history–logically, it makes sense that single women typically have a history of being more politically engaged and involved with their communities than those who were married, with families to take care of, but I never really considered it in that way before.
Though the history was really interesting, I was most drawn in by the stories of contemporary single women and how they’re navigating their lives. It’s certainly more socially acceptable to be unmarried than ever before, but it’s still a lifestyle choice (or circumstance) that’s seen as unconventional, and it can be difficult to live in a world geared toward the traditional couple and family structure.
Here were some of my favorite tidbits and passages I highlighted as I read:
- “By the time I walked down the aisle…I had lived fourteen independent years, early adult years that my mother had spent married. I had made friends and fallen out with friends, had moved in and out of apartments, had been hired, fired, promoted, and quit. I had had roommates I liked and roommates I didn’t like and I had lived on my own; I’d been on several forms of birth control and navigated a few serious medical questions; I’d paid my own bills and failed to pay my own bills; I’d fallen in love and fallen out of love and spent five consecutive years with nary a fling. I’d learned my way around new neighborhoods, felt scared and felt completely at home; I’d been heartbroken, afraid, jubilant, and bored. I was a grown-up: a reasonably complicated person. I’d become that person not in the company of any one man, but alongside my friends, my family, my city, my work, and, simply, by myself.”
- Birth control was illegal for single women until 1972.
- “What the women’s movement of the 1970s did, ultimately, was not to shrink marriage, or the desire for male companionship, as a reality for many women, but rather to enlarge the rest of the world to such an extent that marriage’s shadow became far less likely to blot out the sun of other possibilities.”
- “the Equal Rights Amendment, which read, simply, ‘Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction;’ it would be introduced to every Congressional session from 1923 until 1972, when it finally passed but was not ratified by the states. (It has been reintroduced, though never passed, in every session since 1982.)” This is some bullshit.
- “Among the largely unacknowledged truths of female life is that women’s primary, foundational, formative relationships are as likely to be with each other as they are with the men we’ve been told since childhood are supposed to be the people who complete us.”
- “Marriage and its ancillary, committed dating, are simply not the only relationships that sustain and help to give shape, direction, and passion to female life.”
- “…despite the fact that people who live alone make up almost 30 percent of the population…, stigmas about single people, and especially women, as aberrant, weird, stunted, and perhaps especially as immature, persist.”
- “After all, unmarried life is not a practice round or a staging ground or a suspension of real life. There is nothing automatically adolescent about moving through the world largely on one’s own–working, earning, spending, loving, screwing up, and having sex outside traditional marriage…But we’ve still got a lot of hardwired assumptions that the successful female life is measured not in professional achievements or friendships or even satisfying sexual relationships, but by whether you’re legally coupled….those assumptions are often undergirded by an unconscious conviction that, if a woman is not wed, it’s not because she’s made a set of active choices, but rather she has not been selected–chosen, desired, valued enough.”
- “There is a sense of: ‘What happened? How are you still on the shelf? You must be a defective product because nobody bought you.’ This is the message she absorbs every time a friend tries to be encouraging by telling her, ‘I would think everyone would be after you!'”
- “…They found that health, life, home, and car insurance all cost more for single people, and report that ‘It is not a federal crime for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their marital status.’..Looking at income tax policy, Social Security, healthcare, and housing costs, Campbell and Arnold found that ‘in each category, the singles paid or lost more than the marrieds.'”
- “…marital rape was legal in some states until the 1990s.”
- In the House of Representatives, “women only got their own ladies’ room in 2011.”
- “…each of our loves is crucial and unique.” Gloria Steinem
- “It is too rarely acknowledged that there are millions of ways that women leave marks on the world, and having children is but one of them.”
- “We have to rebuild not just our internalized assumptions about individual freedoms and life paths; we almost must revise our social and economic structures to account for, acknowledge, and support women in the same way in which we have supported men for centuries.”
So, clearly, I took a lot away from the book. But I think the most important thing I got from reading it at this stage of my life is the acknowledgment of the validity and existence of alternate paths through life. It may seem silly to say that sometimes it feels as though single people’s lives aren’t as valid as coupled people’s, but it’s true. It’s something many of us feel every day. And it’s important to be reminded that being part of a couple isn’t some magical key to happiness or success or “real life” starting. Every day, I accept more and more the possibility that I will never get married again, that I will never have children, or a family of my own in a traditional sense. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t have love and romance and vacations and life-changing experiences and successes both creative and professional–those things I know are still available to me, and I know I will have them. We all will.
The past couple of weeks have gotten away from me in terms of blogging. I’m still working on my Bookshelf Project and will be updating soon–I just have a lot of thoughts, as usual. For now, here are a few standouts from the past couple of weeks, although I’m sure I’m forgetting some things since it’s definitely been more than a week.
- The World Figure Skating Championships were held in Boston for the first time this year and a few friends and I went to the Men’s Free Skate. I was a little apprehensive going into it–I hadn’t really paid attention to figure skating since the 1994 Winter Olympics–but it was SO MUCH FUN. I’d never seen any competition like it, with judges and scores and international competitors. We even got to see the medal ceremony! And these men can SKATE. They were amazing. I mean, obviously, they’re the best in the world, but I was so stunned by their grace and power. Here was my favorite routine, performed by the gold medalist from Spain, Javier Fernandez. (Disregard the Italian announcers).
- Whenever I’m too tired or stressed to cook, or I know there’s nothing in my refrigerator, or I just want a treat, Purple Cactus, my local burrito place in JP, is my go-to–I love their quesadillas and their Santa Fe Chicken Salad is a revelation. Good job, guys.
- I’m just really enjoying Tom Hiddleston these days. Look at that smile!
- It seems long ago now, but the night of Figure Skating Championships (April 1), the weather in Boston was lovely, and it was nice enough to walk from my office to the arena, and I walked through Boston Common and it was full of commuters and runners and kids and dogs and everyone seemed happy and it was a much-needed reminder that summer is on its way.
- Also a couple of weeks ago, I got to go wedding dress shopping with my best friend at BHLDN and not only are the dresses there gorgeous and appealed to all my magpie tendencies (ooh shiny things!), I was so happy and honored to be invited to help my friend choose her wedding dress. (She looked amazing in all of them, obvi.)
- I bought some new eyeliner at the same time as I purchased my favorite new red lipstick and I thought I should give it a shoutout here too, because I’m really enjoying it. I find liquid eyeliner tough to pull off, but the Kat Von D ink liner is super easy and looks good! (I bought it in Hemingway, a nice chestnut brown.)
- I love Broad City. I love the characters and their friendship and the ridiculous situations they get into. This week’s episode was a masterpiece, though. An homage to Mrs. Doubtfire, they nailed it. Also, the episode was more poignant and emotional than usual, when you got to see the ways these characters are also vulnerable and how much they love one another. A+.
Enjoy the rest of your week, all!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with travel for work that extended to a few extra days of vacation, then getting back to Boston to scramble to catch up with my routines and work at the office, and then spending this weekend with my family, celebrating both Easter and my sister’s birthday. These are not complaints, but it’s only 8:30 PM and I’m contemplating how soon I can go to bed, that’s how tired I am.
Here are the things that have made me happy over the last two weeks:
- House parties and roof decks. When I lived in Brooklyn, I missed the house parties I went to so frequently as a grad student in Boston. Of course, now that I’m back, I’m older, and most of my cohort are married and no longer students, so the house parties are fewer, but every once in a while, they still happen, and when the weather cooperates, a Boston house party often involves backyard grilling or hanging out on roof decks, both things I very much enjoy. Two weekends ago, I got to attend one of these rare house parties, and though I only knew a few people there, I just liked being there, floating in and out from the roof deck, drinking beers purchased at the convenience store down the block on the way there.
- Silent reading party. There’s a huge historic house in the center of my neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, and they hold many events for the community, including an annual “reading party” where they invite people inside the house to lounge and read for a few hours. This year’s party took place on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so I grabbed my hefty paperback copy of Infinite Jest, and spent an hour reading on a sunny window seat, just enjoying the companionable silence. But the real magic was the number of people in attendance–it was great to see so many people as excited as I was at the prospect of just reading in a beautiful space for a couple of hours.
- My apartment. One of my roommates is moving out in June, so my other roommate and I are searching for a new roommate. I was reminded of how much I love my apartment as I was showing a prospective new roommate around. It’s really a great space, comfortable and lived in and bright and spacious–a rare find. As I talked about the apartment, I found myself thinking about how lucky I was to have found it, and what a comfort it’s been to have a place I love to call home, especially during a time when my life was flipped upside down, and I desperately needed a new place to call home.
- All the Single Ladies.
I bought this book for my trip and though I wouldn’t say it was exactly a joyous read, I found it hopeful and smart. I’m going to write about it more extensively this week, but it was a reminder I’ve been needing lately that marriage isn’t the only happy narrative available to women.
- California. I attended a conference in Anaheim last week, and while I didn’t get much of a chance to be outdoors, I did carve out one hour of reading by the pool, which was just the relaxation I needed after the frenzy of 12-14 hour conference days. I love California. The palm trees, the sunshine, the ease that comes with living with near-perfect weather. I’ve been really lucky to have gotten the chance to spend so much time out there over the last few years!
Since I was already in Anaheim, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go to Disneyland. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Andy, lives in LA and happens to be a Disney expert, so he met me in Anaheim and we spent the day going on as many rides as we could. I have never been to Disneyland, but I have been to Disney World–once when I was 15, and once to Animal Kingdom only, a few years ago. Disneyland is much smaller and more manageable, and since it was the original, there’s just something more charming about it. I surprised myself by even going on roller coasters, which is not something I normally do–we got Space Mountain out of the way first thing (it was terrifying), and then I went on a few others throughout the day. I was surprised by how much fun I had, given my cynical and jaded attitude. There’s also something to be said for spending a few days visiting with a friend who’s known you for over two decades, having long, deep conversations, and also laughing over something ridiculous that happened in 1998.
- National Puppy Day/Sid Attenberg. It was something called “National Puppy Day” last week, which I know is made up and silly, but there were even more pictures of puppies in my social media than usual (which is impressive, because I keep my social media heavily populated with puppers) and that made me very happy. One of my favorite Internet pups, though, is Sidney Attenberg, the puggle who belongs to novelist Jami Attenberg. Sid reminds me of Chief, so I’m biased, but he’s got a great underbite, and quite a presence on camera. I’ve watched this vine of him more times than is probably normal. Sadly, my parents also had to put their dog, Rita, down this week after a sudden illness. She was a pudgy and sweet chihuahua and I will miss her.
- Red lipstick. I’ve been looking for the right red lipstick for years now, and I may have finally found it. Or at least one I really like. I bought it when I was wandering around the Grove, LA’s most well-known outdoor shopping center (why, I’m not really sure, since it honestly doesn’t have that many stores), feeling sad because none of the pants I’d tried on that day fit me. So I rolled into Sephora to assuage my sorrow and found their “always red” cream lip stain. It was almost enough to make me feel okay again as I walked back to my friend’s apartment in the twilight, feet aching from all the walking I’d done over the last few days, but content. This lip stain has incredible staying power and it’s definitely bright, with a matte finish without feeling overly dry. For the price, I’d definitely recommend!
What’s making you happy this week?