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


Reading: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” –Leonard Bernstein, composer, as quoted on pp 188 of The Defining Decade, why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now by Meg Jay, PhD

Intent on healthfully jump starting her readers, Dr. Meg Jay explores which choices, made in your 20s, engender future greatness and satisfaction. Lingering past 25 in the service industry or retail often doesn’t. I cringe a little; this isn’t a universal truth. But for Jay’s therapy patients, who are used as case studies in the book and who struggle with work and love, underemployment surfaces repeatedly. A poor attitude, failing to make choices, and not taking chances are other examples that fall short.

Jay advocates for a determined, future-oriented mindset, based on a sense of self. Though it seems counter-intuitive, this isn’t so at odds with “living in the present,” an idea enjoying its moment of grace in our public consciousness. In fact, a lot of Jay’s book seems aimed at destroying the idea that fulfillment comes from the black and white separation of your 20s (present) and 30s (future): That you should travel and party in the 20s to find your True Self, root and focus in the 30s; Focus exclusively on friends in the 20s to avoid marrying too early, find committed romance in the 30s; Explore identity through odd jobs in the 20s, so as to not get stuck in a consuming office job, start a career in the 30s.

But, Jay says, the 20s are a time for rapid brain development. Considering the 20s a decade detached from your larger life path, and opting out of long term commitments and challenges, could be a huge missed opportunity during this period of growth. Jay argues that while some exploration is good, investments will be bountifully returned and you cheat yourself out of your own time by not employing focus and goal setting. Jay advocates for making bounded choices that further personal development, so that limitless possibilities don’t become flat dead ends. That your 20s to 30s are a continuum makes sense. Committing to and taking yourself seriously, personally or professionally, doesn’t turn you humorless.

Until American work culture includes the month-long summer holidays of the French, it will seem hard to advocate jumping in as though work is a silver bullet to the challenges of personal development in your 20s. But Jay still says to go for it. I don’t think she’s saying ‘do what you love,’ but to challenge yourself to engage long term in places you can grow. Jay argues for creating “identity capital:” investments in ourselves and our knowledge base through which we gain a pathway to connect.

To clarify the focus of the book, I don’t think Jay is trying to blame people who stall because they have a hard time gaining work, being fairly compensated, finding time for themselves, or meeting people because of the economy or other circumstance. It seems more about the ways people do and do not self-support when possible. Overall, I found it to be a thoughtful read, from someone who wants people to succeed, that made me want to reflect.

Listening: On knowledge and meaning over time

“There is a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that, “an education is not something that you get, but something that you claim.” And I think that is very much true of knowledge itself. … We’ve been infected with this pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge, but not to do the work of claiming it. The true material of knowledge is meaning, and the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. The only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward [in a long article or a video] is trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There’s no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives.”

“We never see the world exactly as it is. We see it as we hope it will be or we fear it might be. And we spend our lives going through a sort of modified stages of grief about that realization. And we deny it, and we argue with it, and we despair over it, but eventually — and this is my belief — we come to see it not as despairing, but as vitalizing! We never see the world exactly as it is because we are how the world is. I think it was William James who said, “my experience is what I agree to attend to, and only those things which I notice shape my mind.” And so in choosing how we are in the world, we shape our experience of that world, or contribution to it; we shape our world: our inner world, our outer world, which is really the only one we’ll ever know. And to me, that’s the substance of the spiritual journey, and that’s not an exasperating idea, but an infinitely emboldening one.”

“Once again, I am gonna side with Thoreau. He said something like, “if the day and night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers, it’s more elastic and more starry and more immortal, that is your success.” And for me, that’s pretty much it. Waking up and being excited and curiously restless to face the day ahead and being very present with that day, and then going to bed feeling like it actually happened, that the day was lived; there’s nothing more than that really.”

–Krista Tippett speaks to Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings, in her podcast On Being

Doing less

It’s a new year, and with that comes heightened reflections on what I want to get done. It could be 8pm, and I’ll still have laundry to do, meals to prep, rugs to vacuum, hair to wash, personal emails to write, that craft project to start on,  and books to read for edification or leisure. There’s no way that fits with a bedtime before 11pm, or the even wiser 9 or 10.

So, how does one get things done? Being a night owl stopped working for me once I had an office that opened early; it works less now that I try for pre-work yoga. With waking up early unlikely (I had striven for this unsuccessfully for some time), my attempt will instead be to just do less. Yes, less.

‘Less’ is the only way that priorities emerge. So how do we prioritize with practicality? I use obvious time frames. For example: my current priorities are work, school, family, health and wellness, and a couple of personal projects and engagements (like the blog). I wrote them in the “January” box of the year-view section in my planner. How many interactions with those priorities, per week, would allow me to feel self-supporting? I noted those numbers on the ‘month view’ spread for January, and made boxes to check once I hit my weekly or monthly goals. On the weekly spreads with lots of space for each day, I can make tallies when I do a ‘priority’ task, and note daily expenditures. I can get specific with how I support health and wellness, i.e., making boxes to check for significant time spent outside or going to the gym. Being social isn’t a stated priority, but I do track social events, mostly to remind myself how frequently I indulge myself in attending them.

My hope is that managing my priorities monthly and weekly will help shape daily behaviors. For instance, when the late night urge to organize hits me (and it hits me hard pretty regularly) I can remind myself that health and wellness are on my list, but filing is not. So I read, help my brain decompress, and go to sleep. In addition to interfering with rest, staying up late to organize won’t help me work out the next day. Going to sleep is basically a two-fer.

All the things I want to do are theoretically good things, but you really can have too much of them. Pushing yourself too hard erodes your ability to be realistic, to stay on track, or to recharge. It’s a little sneaky, I suppose. My real reason for doing less is hoping that prioritizing will help me get more done in the end; I’m tired of having half-finished projects and not being consistently sure what I want to work on first. If nothing else, I imagine I’ll get a lot of sleep. Doing less: great already.


Tips for writing a bridal toast

I was just in a wedding! I toasted, and it was fun and felt meaningful. I don’t know the groom very well. Toasts can be super intimidating, and this one was mostly mentally composed on long walks or right as I was falling asleep. This is written based on the wedding I was just at, which had a female bride and male groom, but acknowledges that not all people are cishet. All that in mind, here are some tips on how to go about writing one.

The Big Point of a toast:
Is to make the bride look good. You are establishing her as the protagonist in this love story. Half the people there (theoretically) are her friends and family and already love her. Reinforce – it feels so good to love people! The rest would be groom’s friends and extended family, who may not know her at all. Create or deepen their emotional investment in her and her part in this love story. Your toast is both a Celebration of Bride and a Celebration of Couple.

– Introduce yourself and your relationship to the bride
– Talk about early memories of the bride. What do these early memories tell you about them as a person? Did a certain key characteristic manifest early? I once heard a great best man toast in which the almost maniacal screaming noise put out by the baby version of the groom manifested as a lovely determined and fierce nature in his mature self. The point was poetically put, which is of course, the challenge of toasting.
-Weave in the fiance. This is easy to forget when you are toasting the bride, and can be a short section of your toast, but ultimately it is about the bride and groom unit so:

  • when and where did they meet?
  • what did the bride first say to you about this person they met?
  • when did you know they were forever?
  • how did she know the groom’s importance to her a a partner, if you’ve talked about this?
  • when you met him, what was your first impression?
  • what makes him perfect for the bride?

Starting points and brainstorms for that tough middle section:

  • Imagine having a conversation with the bride. What would you talk about?
  • Imagine reflecting on a memory together. Hearing things in someone else’s voice can help you write about them.
  • How did you know the two of you would be friends?
  • Has the bride every given you great, shareable advice? Maybe include that.
  • Imagine a challenging situation (serious or silly, doesn’t matter) you might face with the bride. How would she overcome or persevere? This could be an actual situation, or something you make up for the brainstorming.

Don’t include: 

  • Embarrassing moments. Just don’t.
  • Sarcasm about the bride and relationship, or self-effacing humor – you don’t know this people and it really might not come off how you want.

During the toast:
Speak slowly. Pretend you are on NPR. If you’re brave, record yourself reading the toast in advance and listen back to make adjustments. If you’ve never done this, g-dspeed, it might be a shock.

Look up! Make connection via eye contact with key players. It is great if your toast resonates with the groom’s friend’s bored plus-one, but also who cares about that dude? Here’s your ‘look list’ – try to notice where these people are standing before-hand, to make eye contact while speaking:

  • bride and groom
  • bride’s parents
  • groom’s parents
  • siblings
  • grandparents
  • bridal party
  • groomsmen

Things to avoid:
1. Making it about you, beyond you experiencing how special it is to know the bride.

2. Inside jokes. You know how it feels shitty to have to listen to people ‘inside joke’ back and forth? Yes, you are speaking to your friend the bride, but you’re also speaking to 50-250 people who are not your friend, and they will zone out or feel excluded. Save the inside jokes for later.

3. Alcohol – it’s not that you can’t drink, it’s more that you don’t 100% know what you’re getting. I had a “margarita misunderstanding” (hahah, surprise! not the night of my toast, thank goodness!) in which I overestimated amount of mixers. You don’t want this to happen! It’s easier to gauge with softer drinks, but you still can’t be as sure of the size of glasses, etc. as you think you can. Be careful of having more than one glass of anything pre-toast, and if you’re nervous, just avoid til later.

General cautions because weddings can be emotionally loaded:
Yes, the bride is your toast’s protagonist, but don’t take that “narrative” framework too literally. If at any point you start to fictionalize for fun, reel it in. Your toast is telling a true story. If at any point you start to fictionalize for other reasons, become heavy-handed with the sarcasm, or feel bitterness in your tone (hey, it happens), find someone to talk to. None of that can go in your toast. If this is deep-seated, reconsider your role in the wedding.

And of course, have fun! Toasting is so heartwarming. It is a flower blooming in the sun! It is a smile breaking! It is having the covers tucked in around you! They call it toasting for a reason. Be unabashedly proud of your friend, smile, and enjoy. They found love <3.