I recently experienced a Significant Life Change. I won’t get into the details, but it was one of those events that made me reevaluate whether my day-to-day life actually reflected my values. (You might remember how my dad’s hospitalization forced me to think critically about health insurance policy for the first time.)
Long story short, I realized that my brief, fabulous stint in Silicon Valley wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be. Of course, I learned a lot and met kind, smart people. But I wasn’t learning how to write well, and I didn’t feel like I was making public education more equitable. None of my personal goals were being realized.
It’s easy to underestimate or dismiss the impact of independent bookstores. When I was growing up, the only bookstore in my neighborhood was an enormous Barnes & Noble. It wasn’t until I worked in publishing in New York that I realized the importance of independent bookstores—how they help to shape a sense of community and identity around books, particularly in communities of color.
It’s been a while, and I know what you’re thinking. At least, I know what you’re thinking if you’re also me: You’d better have been doing something fabulous during this unconscionable absence from the blog!
So what was it? Was I scaling mountains in far-flung countries? Was I preparing a new and edgy article that will bring justice to the world?
Flattering! But no. In the past month-ish, I’ve mostly been working on confronting my fear of failure—in less-nice words, I’ve spent the past few weeks applying to various literary projects and getting rejected from them.
If you want to read my previous travel-ish essay, check out my Notes from Lake Tahoe. Unless you already have—in which case, good for you!
On a Sunday with no obligations, my boyfriend and I decided to pick some city at least an hour away and explore. Most travel guides recommended Sebastopol, and almost all of them described it as “artsy.”
For as long as we’ve been dating, Tanner has cringed at that word. “Artsy,” he often says in quotation marks. “What does that even mean?”
When I was in college, my boyfriend and I subscribed to local produce “shares.” Here’s how it works: Each week, we’d pick up our basket of seasonal produce from regional farmers. Each week, we’d examine the vegetables and ask, “What is this radish? It looks like a creature from a Miyazaki movie.” Then, one of us would shrug and say, “Google it.”
About last Saturday night: I was sitting cross-legged on the second-floor landing of an elegant rental house in the mountains of South Lake Tahoe, nursing a plastic cup that I hadn’t bothered to fill with anything and wondering if I was doing my youth wrong. Below me, in the kitchen, people with whom I had been affable all weekend were already several shots into the evening. They danced to Top 40 songs and occasionally erupted into peals of laughter.
I was persuaded to come on this trip months ago, when the long late-summer days exacerbated my loneliness. I was new to the Bay Area, newly far away from everyone I had loved. A snow-mantled weekend in the mountains, sharing a house with the other 20-somethings in my company, seemed like a good idea at the time.
When I duck into the bookstore before Celeste Ng’s talk, I feel conspicuously literary. The Wordsmith Bookstore is in San Francisco’s historic and grungy Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The attendees are mostly University of San Francisco MFA students—vibrant, leaning forward in their seats, just older than me. (Later during Ng’s talk, I notice that the MFA students punctuate her poignant lines with a low “mmh,” as if they were verbally underlining sentences.) On top of it all, I’m wearing a black faux-leather jacket that looks like it reads Allen Ginsberg poetry whenever I’m not inhabiting it.
As I found out during the talk, both of Ng’s novels are grounded heavily in where Ng herself came from. Ng grew up in a Chinese American family in Ohio. She describes her suburban hometown as inclusive the point of self-consciousness. On the surface, one saw manicured lawns, cordial neighbors. But behind closed doors, there resided the kind of shame that motivated the desperate desire for perfection, the kind of desire that compelled the residents to keep their trash cans behind their houses, away from the open street, and have garbage collectors surreptitiously pick it up and carry it away.
Everything I Never Told You opens with a sense of perfect suburban calm, violently destabilized: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”
I’m kicking off my pop culture calendar with strong, unapologetically smart women of entertainment, and there’s no better way to do it than with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” now streaming on Amazon. It’s the latest show from the bard of quick-witted banter, Amy Sherman-Palladino. (Her name is probably emblazoned in your mind from the end of the Gilmore Girls opening song.)
The pilot opens on a wedding reception, in the late 1950s. Miriam Maisel, who goes by Midge, delivers a toast while dressed in her bridal white. She’s self-assured and has a talent for comedy; and as of moments ago, she’s been happily just-married to her college sweetheart.
We jump to four years and two young children later. It’s the late 1950s, and Midge is preparing to host the grandest Yom Kippur breakfast the Upper West Side. She’s as glowy and confident as a newlywed—until the evening of Yom Kippur, when her husband walks out on her.
I’m skeptical of New Year’s resolutions. There, I said it! If I were being completely honest, I think that New Year’s resolutions are inherently tenuous. At worst, they are destined to flounder by March. I usually make resolutions in September because the structural transformation of the new school year always seemed to make more sense to me.
January, though? Every December, we see a crop of articles giving people quantifiable(!), actionable(!) tools for keeping resolutions. And yet the reality is that gym memberships spike for the New Year, only for attendance to peter out as the year progresses. Yeah, take it in.
So this year, I’ve decided to move away from formula. I’m starting my year with a mindset, which I think is far more productive than a self-improvement-y “resolution.” And, more importantly, it’s easier to keep than a gym membership. And most importantly, it’s free.