#MatteredToMe - April 24, 2020: Short Cuts, Wonderful!, Little Fires Everywhere

  1. There's a segment of the "Civil Disobedients" episode of Josie Long's Short Cuts podcast where comedian and activist Mark Thomas is describing the feeling of riding on a street flooded with bicycles, and it's just lovely.
  2. Just before the ad break in this week's episode of the Wonderful! podcast, there's this little interaction between Rachel and Griffin that is so sweet and so adorable, and it just made my day better to hear it.
  3. Finally, J and I sat down and watched the Little Fires Everywhere finale on Wednesday night. The whole series was so well done, and it just makes me so happy for Celeste Ng to see her book adapted so well.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I hope you're well. If you're having a hard time, something I was reminded of recently is that it's okay to be upset about upsetting things. (A hat tip to Sarah Gailey for that reminder.)

Thank you, and take care.

KTCO Re-run: Celeste Ng

Tonight, the final episode of the limited series Little Fires Everywhere is available to stream on Hulu, and in honor of the occasion I'm re-releasing my 2017 conversation with Celeste Ng. It's been so much fun watching this show and seeing how it was adapted from the book, not to mention a thrill to see Celeste's name in the credits of every episode. In our conversation we talked about both Little Fires Everywhere and her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, which was one of the most important novels of my reading life. Then for the second segment we had a fun discussion about Celeste's former phobia of octopuses, and why she finds them fascinating now.

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.

Paying Attention

For weeks now, I've been meaning to write a thing about entitlement and anger and the virus, and how the ways people are acting out during lockdown are just somewhat more acute expressions of the same cultural assumptions that pervade our economic and political systems and are ruining everything. And then more recently I was going to write a thing about elections and pragmatism and moral calculations. And every day something new happens that makes both of those things seem more relevant and urgent, but also I feel like those are the things I'm supposed to write about and it all just makes me feel exhausted.

So, instead I'm writing this, which is about attention.

Lately I've been making audio recordings when I go out walking. Sometimes I will go so far as to take my digital recorder with me, but often I just use my phone. I turn on the voice recording app, put the phone into my breast pocket, and then walk. I don't narrate or anything—the only times my voice appears in these recordings is when I'm talking to someone, usually my dog. I just walk. I walk, I cross the street to avoid other walkers, I stop to pick up my dog's poop, I cross the street again, eventually I get home and I stop the recording.

So far I haven't really listened to these recordings, except once or twice to see if the wind or my clothes were brushing too loudly against the microphone. I don't know if I will ever do anything with these recordings, or any of the other ones I've made around the house over the past 37 days. Probably not. I don't even really know why I'm making them, except that I want to. But in some ways perhaps the recordings aren't the point, or at least they're not what I get out of the experience of making the recordings.

Walking around my neighborhood with an audio recorder, I find myself more aware of the sounds around me than I used to be. Cars passing, yes, and dogs warning me away from their yards, and birds—so many birds—and my own footfalls. But other sounds, too. The hum of someone's dryer vent. The way that palm fronds don't rustle in the wind so much as clack. A neighbor frying something, I guess with their kitchen window open. I notice, too, that the freeway a couple miles away is quieter than it used to be. The recorder helps me pay attention.

The same thing happened when I started carrying a camera around with me—how many years ago was that now? Five? Eight? I'm not sure anymore. The camera is part of my way of being now, which sounds grandiose enough that I'd probably roll my eyes if someone else said it, but that's how it is. I seldom carry a "real" camera anymore, just my phone. But even when the phone stays in my pocket, even when it's in another room, I'm still looking now. I'm always looking, looking, looking—looking for pictures, looking for details, textures, spots of light, looking closely, seeing closely. Not seeing more, exactly, but seeing what's there. I'm paying attention.

This is why I've always taken exception when people grouse about photography. "Put the camera down! Just be there!" You've heard this before, we all have. But that's not how it is for me. I was never more aware of my surroundings, more present, more appreciative of the moment before I was actually looking at it, and I wasn't looking until I started bringing the camera with me. It's like that with the audio recorder, too. A year ago, out on walks with my dog or jogging by myself, mostly my attention was on tomorrow, or yesterday, or the thing I wanted to write but knew I probably wouldn't. Anywhere but here and any time but now. At best, during a run the feel of my feet on the pavement and the laboring of my breath might get me to let go of my thoughts for a while, but even then my awareness was internal, inside my body, not around me.

Maybe this isn't how it works for you, I don't know. Maybe you can be fully in the world just by thinking about it. For me, though, it's the act of recording, of trying to take a piece of the world with me, that lets me pay attention. If you're like me, try it some time. Turn on your phone's voice recorder when you go out, and see where your attention turns.

#MatteredToMe - April 17, 2020: Space and Time, Responsibility and Reckoning

  1. It seems to me that this week the poems that struck me have in common something about space and time, memory and understanding. First, Matt Morton's poem "Not the Wind, Not the View," in which I feel the distance.
  2. Then Sasha Pimentel's poem "Leaving the University Gym," in which one moment brings another with it, so that they happen together, which to me is what memory always feels like.
  3. Then Wayne Miller's poem "We the Jury," in which, again, understanding is made impotent, or perhaps impossible. And what, then, does it mean to reckon with or to take responsibility?
  4. This question of taking responsibility is at the heart of Matthew Salesses's forthcoming novel, Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear, which is strange and unsettling, but which also felt strangely familiar to me throughout.
  5. Finally, Sarah Gailey's YA fantasy novel When We Were Magic, which I just realized that responsibility and reckoning are also central in, but also loving friendship and self-acceptance.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I guess I'm thinking a lot about responsibility lately, and what it means to be responsible to each other. How freedom and responsibility seem opposite, but how both are necessary. I hope you're well.

Thanks, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - April 10, 2020: Meal Planning, Lean Economics, and Twitter Joy

  1. I have often found over the years that I am most comforted by poems that acknowledge darkness, but choose to turn toward the light. Ross Gay's poem "Sorrow Is Not My Name" does that.
  2. Lydia Kiesling wrote about meal planning, in a piece which is also about gender roles, and parenting, and the stress of isolation, and, I think, a certain grace in surrender. I think a lot of us will find it relatable.
  3. Anna Watkins Fisher's essay "Nothing to Spare" is about the precarity of lean production, and how running the government like a business undermined our infrastructure. It's not comforting, but it is illuminating, I think.
  4. This Twitter thread by Mary Neely, in which she reenacts moments from her favorite musicals, is hilarious and utterly delightful. Being a former theater kid, it really hit me exactly perfectly.
  5. Last night, my friend Cecily sang us all a little lullaby on Twitter—the song "The Dimming of the Day," which I know as a Bonnie Raitt song—and it was so beautiful it made me cry a little.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. It's been a strange and difficult time for most of us. If you're upset, just know: it's okay to be upset when things are upsetting.

Thanks, and take care.

New KTCO: The Craft of the Literary Podcast Interview

Last month, I was scheduled to moderate a panel at the annual AWP Conference called “The Craft of the Literary Podcast Interview,” featuring Rachel Zucker of Commonplace, Dujie Tahat of The Poet Salon, and David Naimon of Between the Covers, three of my favorite literary podcasts. Due to the coronavirus, we ended up having to cancel our appearance at the conference, which makes it all the sweeter to be able to bring you this podcast version of our panel. In this wide-ranging coversation, Rachel, Dujie, David, and I talked all about the “how”s and the “whys” of interviewing, including the importance of establishing rapport with our guests, questions about the ethics of interviewing, and what the role of the host ought to be.

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.

New LikeWise Fiction: "Seasons of Glass and Iron," by Amal El-Mohtar

Episode 12 of LikeWise Fiction features "Seasons of Glass and Iron," by Amal El-Mohtar.

In her 2017 WisCon Guest of Honor speech, Amal El-Mohtar described the genesis of this story, which came about when her seven-year-old niece asked for a fairy tale. “I wanted nothing more than to do so,” said El-Mohtar, “but what crowded my mouth were stories of women isolated, women won as prizes, women hating each other, step-mothers at their daughters’ throats. I was violently struck by how I knew stories full of firebirds and golden apples and djinn but somehow, more impossible to conceive of than all of these was the notion of two women talking to each other about something other than a man.” The result was this powerfully feminist and utterly beautiful story, a story that centers conversation and love between women, and in which women rescue each other. It’s one of my all-time favorite stories.

Listen to the story at:

#MatteredToMe - April 3, 2020: History, Cheer, Mending, and Surprise Joy

  1. Danny Ghitis posted a little "quarantinetet" to IG recently, and I thought it was such a jaunty tune, such a lovely little performance.
  2. William Meredith's poem "The Cheer" has such a warm-heartedness to it, I found it quite buoying. "The cheer / reader my friend, is in the words here, somewhere. / Frankly, I'd like to make you smile."
  3. This season of the podcast Scene On Radio has been exploring the history of inequality in America. They did a bonus episode last week showing how the themes they've been exploring of capitalist exploitation and anti-democracy are showing up in the current crisis. It underscores for me the importance of understanding history.
  4. Lyz Lenz wrote about growing up in an apocalyptic evangelical culture, about leaving that culture only to be faced with crisis after crisis, about offering what you can and taking time to look away. The last sentence, especially, meant a lot to me.
  5. Finally, this video from a 2009 Swell Season concert (courtesy of Stephen Thompson on an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour this week), in which Glen Hansard pulled a singer out of the audience for an impromptu duet, was so wonderful and cathartic, and, yes, it made me cry.

As always, this is just a portion of what's mattered to me recently. I've been thinking a lot about what I need versus what I want. I hope that you're getting what you need right now. What's mattered to you lately?

Thanks, and take care.