Reading “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

I am trying to read more books! Here are some quotes from my first read in January. This was an extremely sad book to read, and I’d highly recommend it. The quotes I chose are poignant, but no short passages will reflect the depth or breadth of the novel.

“If happiness is anticipation with certainty, we were happy.” pg 16

“There in the dark [of the movie theater] she succumbed to hear earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty.  Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap. She forgot lust and simple caring for. She regarded love as possessive mating, and romance as the goal of the spirit. It would be for her a well-spring from which she would draw the most destructive emotions, deceiving the lover and seeking to imprison the beloved, curtailing freedom in every way.” pg 122

“When Sammy and Pecola were still young, Pauline had to go back to work. She was older now, with no time for dreams and movies. It was time to pull all of the pieces together, make coherence where before there had been none. The children gave her this need; she herself was no longer a child. So she became, and her process of becoming was like most of ours: she developed a hatred for things that mystified or obstructed her; acquired virtues that were easy to maintain; assigned herself a role in the scheme of things; and harked back to simpler times for gratification.” pg 124

“We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Ever her waking dreams we used–to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.” pg 205


All of the best things that happened in 2017

  • Finished all my coursework and applied to graduate for my master’s program
  • Identified a capstone paper topic so that I can graduate
  • Learned three new software programs (Tableau, Excel, Stata)
  • Became attuned to reiki level 2
  • Shared reiki
  • Took the best, most memorable, so-perfect-I-kind-of-can’t-believe-it-happened vacation with my mom, dad, and sister through England and Wales.
    • Met Phillipa (London). Met Paul and Pauline (Wales). Met Dave (Liverpool). Met Judy Chicago (also Liverpool).
    • Dad got his approval for faculty emeritus status at the Lion Inn in Winchcombe, the Cotswolds. Was slightly cranky that we dragged him to both Cardiff and Bath, but I think it was worth it in the end.
    • I think Nora was cranky that we didn’t let her walk to Bath. I never knew the woman liked to walk so much.
    • Mom had the best time at the beach in Tenby, where we had arguable our best and most cozy-feeling-family meal of the trip, a seafood and lamb dinner.
    • Saw Beautiful, the Carole King musical, in the West End
    • Got to see one of my best friends in South London, and visit her and her husband’s new apartment
  • Caught minimalist fever and rid myself of 600 items (and counting)
  • Composted almost all year
  • Got to talk with renowned climate scientist pioneer Dr. EMT
  • Went to Skull Session and the football game the day my dad was recognized on the field as a Distinguished Professor
  • Worked graduation the day Marla got her MA; got to find her and say hello
  • Maintained a curly bob until autumn
  • Planted a couple of trees in front of the apartment with Mom and Dad
  • Helped plant the south side fruit park
  • 29th birthday dinner in Grandview with a serendipitous running-into old neighbors
  • Joined and performed with the Harmony Project Spirit of Columbus choir
  • Got sense knocked into me and dropped out, because I don’t need another extracurricular
  • Performed live music with a friend at a bar in Clintonville (why not? say yes!)
  • Flew to Florida for a wedding
  • Drove to Nashville to see a friend (cue night at the honky tonk)
  • Flew to Atlanta to see a friend (and SZA) (and Ria’s Bluebird Cafe. Twice.)
  • Drove to DC with a friend for the Women’s March on Washington; got to see a friend’s bachelor pad, a college friend, and a friend from Berlin
  • Hosted ward meetings. People came.
  • Saw so many friends who live in or visit Columbus, from the top of the year to the bottom
  • Watched the eclipse with the office crew
  • Saw a friend’s Russian art collection at the museum, and attended his guided tour
  • Heard Valerie June play live
  • Surprised mom at her retirement party
  • Mom beat cancer
  • Went vegan and gluten free for 30 days and loved it
  • Did a bunch of weight training and loved it
  • Had a solo weekend in Hocking Hills
  • Had a weekend with a friend to Songbird in Hocking Hills
  • Had a family Thanksgiving in Hocking Hills
  • Enjoyed enthusiastically pushing my diet on my family by making green smoothies for Thanksgiving breakfast. They played along so they are keepers. The dog refused her portion.
  • Went to the Ohio State-Penn State nail-biter of a football game
  • Got to see two friend’s new homes (friends! who are homeowners!)
  • Learned to make tinctures
  • Nora started a new job
  • Continued to value work and all the incredible things it teaches me
  • Did some top-notch neighborhood dining out

Feeling very grateful for 2017. Happy for life. Inviting compassion, gratitude, and focus to 2018. Thank you for reading!

Meaning, mission, and our valuable time

Out of all of the things we do, which activities relate to our mission, and which operate silently in the background? A weekly visit to church, a diet or exercise plan, or a creative hobby could be one person’s lifestyle but another’s scaffold, holding space for other meaningful things. The question could be parsed: is our mission personal, communal, or professional? If these diverge, do they overlap, remain discrete, or enable each other?


When people describe their ideal personal and professional lives, no matter how related, they often seek the intersection of meaning and happiness, and focus on a job for at least part of that, as jobs occupy so many hours. For some, employment is purposeful, while for others, it steals time from purpose.

Finding your balance point can be as challenging as seeking purpose itself. Meaning doesn’t arrive only in one big chunk, nor does it exist in direct proportion to time. It’s unsurprising that sweet, small moments, or quick challenges are as important to our sense of purpose as our 40-hour-a-week lives. And, as we routinize things (like food shopping, diet, exercise, even work or hobbies, depending on your life balance), they can come to support our sense of a meaningful life instead of operating as meaning themselves. Alternatively, we may find that we need to become experts at certain routines and expand their space in our lives, so strong is the sense of connection.

If you are reading this, you might ask: what routines bear personal meaning? What challenges do you hope to “turn routine”? And what larger impacts do you hope to have that, combined with the efforts of others, can be greater than yourself?

Magnifying our impacts through collaboration is one goal of the workplace. Honing expertise to maximize impact is one goal of work for those who work alone. In this vein, I separate work from hobby, which animates the personal space and engenders connection and community. Hobbies that transform spaces might be rightly described as work within a community. What lends meaning to you, and what lends happiness? How do you prioritize your work, communities, and hobbies?

Ten Days of Repentance, The Days of Awe

We celebrated Jewish New Year last week, and we are now in the “Days of Awe,” the ten Days of Repentance in between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). As a child, the days of repentance were an apology window. We recite every year that “Teschuvah [Repentance], Tefilah [Prayer], and Tzedakah [Charity] temper judgement’s severe decree,” and so I would rack my brain for people I had wronged. But why does repentance loom so large to me, when there are three actions that can help us be signed and sealed in the Book of Life?

Jewish friends on social media are posting their holiday reflections. Someone recommended the Stuff Jews Should Know podcast, and I listened to and loved their Rosh Hashanah and Days of Repentance episodes. They dug into the word Teschuvah. We most commonly translate it to Repentance, but perhaps it could more accurately be translated from the Hebrew as Return, as in return to self.

The cyclical nature of life is a frequent theme in Judaism. We have a holiday in which the congregation rolls the Torah scroll back to the beginning after reading the last parsha [section]. We fully unroll it first, as if to say, “see all we discussed this year. We return to the beginning to build another year layered on tradition. We are enriched by the perspectives of this lived year, and from the knowledge our history has brought to this year of our lives.” Challot are symbolically round during Rosh Hashanah. Per the podcast, in the orbit of our year, this is the time we are closest with G-d.

And so I love the interpretation of teschuvah as return. It implies that there is a good core on which to build. Teschuvah, according to the podcast, also invites us to consider not how we sinned but how we missed the mark; did we express our best selves during the year? If not, can we? We have ten days to clarify our goals and start building new patterns.

How can we translate Tefilah and Tzedakah? I don’t speak Hebrew. These interpretations are my own. This year, tefilah is intention. If the larger goal for the year is to course-correct and live as our best selves, we must regularly consider and articulate what that is, and then affirm it through practice. Awareness, articulation, and action are part of intention and tefilah for this year.

Tzedakah is easy in our modern world. Like many of you, I have automatic deductions set up to give monthly donations to different organizations. This is a start. But the translation to “charity” seems too simplistic, because the word reinforces the idea that we give to those who have nothing. In fact, we donate to those those who have something to give, but are hindered by lack. And when we give, we receive. Individually we receive the satisfaction of giving and often our wallets don’t hurt for the donation, so it is like we get something for nothing. Societally, we reap the benefits of what that person or institution is able to contribute, now that they are not in need. In the end, there is more than simply what was given. And so this year, I will think of tzedakah as amplification. Whose voices, whose missions, whose worthy practices do we amplify? What within ourselves is worthy of this support?

In these ten days, I look forward to my connection with my core self, return; my practice of my best self, the action that follows my guiding intention; and in seeing a world made better by voices that deserve to be heard, amplification. May you be signed and sealed in the Book of Life, and enjoy a sweet and good new year.

Reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Just finished this apocalyptic book, set in the mid-to-late 2020s, in which the American president wants to “Make America Great Again.” It was written in 1993.

The diverse main cast of characters includes a dozen men, women, and children of color. Many books that I read as a child had me creating mental images of white characters. When Parable introduces two white women, they are described as ‘medium size white women with brown hair.’ Hah! A far cry from the ‘flowing [very specific shade, length, and texture of hair],’ beauty-as-virtue descriptions utilized for white literary heroines. I devoured YA fantasy, and the women were frequently headstrong and clever. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lack of diversity and that my mental image was never challenged. I digress.

Parable of the Sower deals in the mysticism of religion in a way that felt practical, but also one that made me mentally push back on Earthseed, the main character’s religion. It made me echo the question that the book asks throughout, about our communities and our country: “What keeps change from trending corrupt?” Considering my copy of the book was published with discussion questions, I think Butler wants us to talk about it.

Parable deals in problems which have historically plagued the country, and that have perhaps never fully disappeared and could return: workforce privatization as monopoly resulting from destabilization, de-facto debtors slavery, water shortages, widespread gun violence and drug abuse, states’ rights overpowering national unity, lack of birth control, lack of education, the precarious future of the space travel program, the way infrastructure shapes communities or doesn’t, and perhaps most interesting to me, homesteading as subsistence survivalism, instead of a bountiful, community-based, anti-capitalist exercise of choice. If any of this piques your interest, I’d recommend that you read the book.

Here are some parts I marked as I read. Slight spoilers, but not much more than above.

All successful life is
Interconnected, and
Understand this.
Use it.
Shape God.
–pp 124-125, Earthseed poem

The Self must create
Its own reasons for being.
To shape God,
Shape Self.
–pp 259, Earthseed poem

“He nodded. “All right. But tell me, what do people have to do to be good members of an Earthseed Community?”
A nice, door-opening question. “The essentials,” I answered, “are to learn to shape God with forethought, care, and work; to educate and benefit their community, their families, and themselves; and to contribute to the fulfillment of the Destiny.”
“And why should people bother about the Destiny, farfetched as it is? What’s in it for them?”
“A unifying, purposeful life here on Earth, and the hope of heaven for themselves and their children. A real heaven, not mythology or philosophy. A heaven that will be theirs to shape.”
“Or a hell,” he said. His mouth twitched. “Human beings are good at creating hells for themselves even out of richness.” He thought for a moment. “It sounds too simple, you know.”
–pp 261-262

Your teachers
Are all around you.
All that you perceive,
All that you experience,
All that is given to you
or taken from you,
All that you love or hate,
need or fear
Will teach you — 
If you will learn.
God is your first
and your last teacher.
God is your harshest teacher:
Learn or die.
–pp 279, Earthseed poem

“We all had to buy a few things, but Emery squandered too much money on pears and walnuts for everyone. She delighted in passing these around, in being able to give us something for a change. She’s all right. We’ll have to teach her about shopping and the value of money, but she’s worth something. Emery is. And she’s decided she’s one of us.”
–pp 313

Create no images of God.
Accept the images
that God has provided.
They are everwhere, 
in everything.
God is Change–
Seed to tree,
tree to forest; 
Rain to river, 
river to sea; 
Grubs to bees,
bees to swarm.
From one, many;
from many, one;
Forever uniting, growing, dissolving–
forever Changing.
The universe
is God’s self-portrait.
–pp 315, Earthseed poem

On essential energies: George Saunders on the Rookie podcast

“If you have an essential energy, or a desire, even if it’s a little bit of a weird desire, I feel like, as somebody who’s almost 60, part of your job as a young person is to burn through that desire. Don’t look askance at it. If you want to be famous, alright, that’s how you were made — go for it. Whatever your desire is, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, I think the idea is to burn through it quickly, cause then you find out what’s on the other side of it….

You can deny those essential energies, in which case they just fester your whole life and you’re frustrated, or you can say, “yea, I really want to be this.” And the quicker you do it — which means, if you’re gonna be something, be a good one — then I think you have the possibility of arriving at another place, where you’re like, “oh yea, actually, I don’t want fame, I want to be known for doing something good.” And you might burn through that into some other…. Throw down, a little bit.

…If you don’t take care of that stuff, then you’re not going to be fully present for the people who need you later. Even if you try and fail, you’re still gonna be free of that burden a little bit. So I think it can be a form of, I don’t know what you’d call it, sort of kindness to your future self, to go for it. If you want to go for it, go for it.”

Tavi Gevinson interviews George Saunders on the Rookie podcast, “The Split Second of Intuition,” May 16, 2017