#MatteredToMe - January 14, 2022
- The single exclamation point in Mary Oliver's poem "I Know Someone."
- There is this longing, I think, in Tami Haaland's poem "Not Scientifically Verifiable" about the separation between people. It's very sexy, too, I thought.
- The way that Lisa Rhoades's captures the ephemeral moment of childhood in her poem "The Long Grass."
- The last couplet, especially, of Rebecca Foust's poem "and for a time we lived."
- Finally, Lyz Lenz's recent newsletter "Taking a Vacation at the End of the World": "It’s all grief. It’s some joy. And baby, I only know one way into the abyss and that’s head first."
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. Things are difficult and scary right now, I know. I'm doing my best to hold onto the ones I love, and to let go of what I need to let go of, and what needs me to let go of it.
Thanks, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - February 4, 2022
- The shadows and the softness of light in Lisa Sorgini's "Behind Glass" portrait series, reminiscent of Caravaggio, drew me in first. The sense of both isolation and connection, and the way it highlights the primacy of motherhood in this moment of history made me stay and look longer.
- I lost my paternal grandmother last year, the matriarch of our family and the one from whom I learned about the Japanese American internment. So reading Maggie Tokuda-Hall's piece "Knowing Tama," seeing her grapple with what she can and can't know about her grandmother, was particularly poignant for me.
- I love how attentive to the world Ada Limón's poems are, how open they are to what the world shows us, and how that openness can shake us out of interiority and make us bigger. Her poem "It's the Season I Often Mistake" felt like that.
- I love how Gabrielle Bates' poem "Compassionate Withdrawal" seems to breathe, inhaling in preparation, hinging on a moment of blunt clarity, and then exhaling back into feeling.
- I was absolutely delighted to see Ross Sutherland's podcast Imaginary Advice come back this week, and the first new episode (part 1 of a short series) is a spot-on and hilarious take on a Guy-Ritchie-style heist movie.
- I loved how enthusiastic both Helena de Groot and Kaveh Akbar were in their recent conversation on Poetry Off the Shelf. And I loved the way Akbar talked about learning from his spouse how to look at the world as it is.
- Finally, my son and I finished watching the slice-of-life anime School Babysitters last night. It was exactly the combination of heartwarming, wholesome, and hilarious that I needed right now.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I've gotten to spend a lot of time with my kids lately, and I'm grateful for it. I hope you have people in your life, too, for whom you're grateful.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - January 21, 2022
- Luisa Muradyan's poem "Quoting the Bible" turns twice, and the middle portion has this franticness that I recognized and which drew me in. But it's the ending I'm continuing to mull over.
- Carl Phillips's poem "Is It True All Legends Once Were Rumors" feels apocalyptic to me, appropriately so. I think I've read it ten or fifteen times in the past couple of weeks.
- Finally, I was recently introduced (via TikTok) to Nickel Creek's song "Can't Complain," from their 2005 album Why Should the Fire Die? What a gut punch of a song about an intense and deeply toxic relationship.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I hope you have someone to take care of you, even if it's just yourself. I know you're doing your best, and so am I.
#MatteredToMe - 2021 Wrap-Up
2021 has been the worst year of my life, at least so far. My dog died, I lost a friend to cancer, my grandmother died, I got a new job that turned out to be much more stressful than any previous job I've had, and, of course, my marriage ended. I'm not the type to look for silver linings or to minimize the pain I've felt. But it is also true that I have experienced some wonderful things this year, not least the support of friends and family, and the love between myself and my children. I have lost what feels like a lot this year, and it has made me all the more grateful for what remains, what has regrown, and what has newly come into my life.
Here are some things that mattered to me this year, in roughly chronological order as I experienced them:
- 2021 was, among other things, the year of TikTok for me. So many of the most joyful things I've experienced online came via that platform, and it started with, of all things, a sea shanty.
- The first book I read this year was Erin Morgenstern's fantasy novel The Starless Sea, which had in it a magical library in a hidden underworld, secret society intrigue, and all manner of literary, video game, and fairy tale references—which is to say that it was perfectly calibrated for me. Ultimately, it was a book about books and stories, and one that I found beautiful.
- In February, I invited Gabrielle Bates (of The Poet Salon) to do a KTCO Book Club episode with me, and she picked Brigit Pegeen Kelly's poetry collection Song as her choice to discuss. Many of the poems have this dark, magical feel to them—particularly the title poem, which just haunted me.
- At the height of last winter's COVID surge, when my anxiety was starting to become unbearable, I started listening to Theo Alexander's piano album Animadversions while I went for walks. It helped. And when I was at my lowest, unable to even get up off the floor, it helped calm me and bring me back to myself. I might have gotten through this year without it, but it would have been harder.
- D&D-based comedy podcasts have been a staple of my listening this year. I just needed to laugh, you know? I started listening to Dungeons & Daddies in January and it rapidly became one of my favorites. It is rowdy and often vulgar, but also hilarious and often surprisingly touching.
- Most of you probably know that I have been a long-time fan of David Naimon's podcast Between the Covers. He had a number of just knock-out episodes this year, but the one that I keep thinking about is his conversation with writer and photographer Teju Cole. I'm not exaggerating when I say it is one of the best podcast episodes I have ever heard in any genre. Such a wonderful, human, life-affirming conversation.
- My favorite kind of criticism is the kind that isn't just a close reading but the kind that says "This is why this work is important to me." Anahid Nersessian's Keats's Odes: A Lover's Discourse is a perfect example of that. Remarkably, Nersessian not only showed me why Keats's poems mattered to her—and thus why they ought to matter to me—but she used a group of 200-year-old poems to tell her own story, too.
- In looking back over my reading this year I noticed a few recurring themes, among them, stories about breakups and loss and aftermath. Jad Josey's flash fiction piece "You Will, You Will, You Will" was one such story, and a particularly beautiful, tender, generous one.
- Beth Nguyen's essay "America Ruined My Name for Me" was a beautiful and nuanced piece about racism, foreignness, identity, and choice. I loved it.
- Sarah Gailey's novel The Echo Wife is a gripping thriller about clones, with a memorable and utterly fascinating narrator. The story delves into trauma and asks the reader to consider how we got to be the way we are. It's chilling, often unsettling, compelling, and I think some of Gailey's finest work.
- Jess Zimmerman's story "twisty little passages" takes its name from the 1979 interactive fiction game Zork, which also provides the story's form. The way the form invokes nostalgia to create a story about regret and the inability to let go is just breathtaking.
- This spring, Helen Zaltzman released an episode of The Allusionist called "Additions and Losses," which is about the ways that people's attempts to express sympathy for disability or loss are often more about their own inability to sit with discomfort than anything else. It's a topic that I've had a lot of occasion to think about this year.
- A friend emailed me in April with a link to the video for No-No Boy's song "The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming," a song about the true story of a swing band formed in the Heart Mountain Japanese-American incarceration camp. It's a catchy tune, and it's about an act of resilience and joy in the face of hardship and injustice. Obviously, it meant a lot to me.
- By coincidence, I read Ada Limón's poem "The Hurting Kind"—which is about the loss of her grandfather—just a couple of weeks before my own grandmother died. "You can't sum it up. A life," the poem's speaker says. And it's true.
- Jonny Teklit's poem "On Some Saturday, After All of This" was such a joyful, jubilant, love-filled poem that it brought tears to my eyes when I first read it. It still does.
- Sarah McCarry's newsletter future recuperation is consistently lovely, and this year it continued to be so. Her letter "solstice," which went out in June, was about sadness and sailing and a sense of things ending, a small reaching from one person to another. "The grief in me sees the grief in you," she wrote. Sometimes that's all we want, really.
- Late in her book Goldenrod, in her poem “Wild,” Maggie Smith writes “I’ve talked so much about loving the world / without any idea how to do it.” And this seems to me the crux of it, of both the book and perhaps of my experience of life. These poems struggle to love the world, and yet they do love the world, even if they don’t know how or why. And I think the struggle itself is an expression of that love, because to look at this shitty, painful world and decide to try to love it anyway may just be the most loving thing any of us can do.
- The kids and I watched a lot of movies this year, and the one that stands out to me the most, for the beauty of both its animation and its story, is Song of the Sea. It's a fairy tale, based on the Irish legend of selkies, and the plot of the story follows a familiar children's adventure structure. But it's also a story about a family dealing with loss, children dealing with change, and acceptance as a path to healing. I just loved it.
- I'd been missing Maggie Tokuda-Hall's podcast Drunk Safari, which ended in 2019, so when I heard that she and Red Scott would be starting a new show, Failure to Adapt, in which they argue about the relative merits of books and their movie adaptations, I was all in. And my goodness, it was exactly what I was hoping it would be: hilarious, delightful, and just a ton of fun.
- The other D&D podcast I started this year was Rude Tales of Magic, and let me just tell you: this show gave me some of the biggest laughs of the year. I'm about eight episodes away from being caught up and I'm going to be bummed when I can't binge listen to it anymore.
- In late August, I asked on Twitter, "Those of you who have been divorced, if you’re willing to share: what did you do with your wedding ring?" More than a hundred people responded, and their stories felt like a blessing.
- Maile Meloy's story "The Proxy Marriage"—which I heard read by Ann Patchett on the New Yorker: Fiction podcast—is a story about love and friendship and society and war, a story which says profound things about all of those things and which also made me very happy.
- Mikey Neumann's "Nihilism and Howl's Moving Castle" video posits a phenomenon he calls "situational nihilism." "We don’t choose to have no beliefs, they are taken from us," he says. "We didn’t choose this, the world did this to us." And yet, both in the movie he's discussing and in the real world, it's something we can recover from, especially when we come together with the ones we love. It's a surprisingly hopeful video, and one that I really appreciated.
- Admittedly, I have been in a somewhat heightened emotional state for a lot of this year. So when I tell you that the most cathartic (joyful) cry I had all year was because of an anime about a high school bike racing club, you may need to take it with a grain of salt. But, man, I really loved that show.
- Molly Spencer's poetry collection If the House kind of fucked me up. There is a feeling of incipience, of winter cold, to these poems, a feeling that spring may, yes, bring new life but also reveals what was hidden under the snow. And of a love that has become as skeletal as winter trees, about which I sense a tenderness, a wistfulness, but also a rage. Potent, beautiful, breathtaking poems.
- Ben Kielesinski's TikTok is, for the most part, videos of him taking the viewer on walks out in gorgeous Pacific Northwest landscapes. If that sounds soothing, well, it is. Maybe that's exactly what you need. It was for me.
- Michelle Poirier Brown's poem "Praise" is one of tenderness and gratitude and natural beauty. It's one where the sadness peeking out from underneath the gratitude only makes the resilience stronger and the beauty more urgent.
- I heard Albert Garcia's poem "Offering" on an episode of The Slowdown, and there is something about the way it makes a small pleasure into something bigger, an act of service and love, which made me feel warm inside.
- Last month, Sarah Gailey wrote one of the most resonant and profound descriptions of grief that I have read in a long time. The grief in me sees the grief in them. I hope their sorrow finds some solace, at least as much solace as their writing has given me.
- I've been reading Monet P. Thomas's newsletter Away Again since it began. (Strange that it's already been almost four years. It still feels new.) About a month ago, she posted "An aside," and the wide spaces between the... paragraphs? lines? stanzas? Whatever you might call them, they made me stop and re-read six times. Just now I read them four more times.
- I was just thrilled to see Sarah Hollowell's debut novel, A Dark and Starless Forest, hit shelves this year. And what a great debut it is, indeed. It has in it all of the things I've loved in Hollowell's short stories—magic, sisterhood, menacing forests, unapologetically fat characters—but expanded and given more room to grow and spread and take up space. What I particularly love about this story is how it is less about having the characters be good or make good decisions and more about having them do what they must and then have to live with both the benefits and the costs of those actions.
- There’s a way in which the end of a serious relationship can shake your entire concept of yourself, and through your grief you have to find yourself again. That is, I think, what Yanyi's forthcoming poetry collection Dream of the Divided Field is about—though reducing it to being "about" one thing is doing the book a disservice. Here, Yanyi braids poems about heartbreak and implied emotional violence with poems about transition and immigration. Each has a similar but distinct sense of a loss of self, a search for self, a yearning for connection and belonging, a sometimes violent disconnection—to a partner, to a place or culture, to oneself and one’s own body. I can't wait for you to be able to read these poems.
- Finally, I watched Encanto with the kids last night, the last movie I will have watched with them in 2021. And it was a wonderful way to cap off the year with them. A beautiful story about the ways that trauma echoes through generations, and how holding on too tightly sometimes only makes things fall further apart. Yes, I cried.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me this year. Here's a thing I've been saying a lot lately: I know you're doing your best, and I am, too. If you're reading this, it's because both of us, you and I, we both made it through this year. And isn't that amazing.
However, this year has been for you, I hope that 2022 is easier, happier, more nourishing.
#MatteredToMe - September 24, 2021
- Yanyi's recent letter, "How Do You Write About Joy" was a wonderful reminder. "The truly imaginative act, in catastrophe, is letting go of the promise of its end. It is to stop waiting for after in order to have now; it is to pause enough at existing where I am so I can acknowledge, and have, true joy."
- I think Chloe N. Clark's poem "Yesterday I realized I wouldn't die" made a nice complement to Yanyi's letter. I love the idea of small wonders you keep in your pocket.
- Hanif Abdurraqib and Pineapple Street Studios did a 2-part deep dive on The Fugees and their album The Scorev that was just magnificent.
- David Naimon's conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama was so good. The whole thing was great but I was particularly moved by how they talked about engagement without trying to change minds, and what real dialogue might look like.
- There is a sadness I feel underneath Michelle Poirier Brown's poem "Praise," which just peeks out a little in the first and fourth lines. The whole thing feels to me resilient and hopeful in a wistful sort of way.
- Sarah Freligh's poem "Wondrous" was on The Slowdown today and the way it turns at the end, revealing the wonder that can come on the other side of grief, that goes hand-in-hand with the sadness, was lovely.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I get to spend some time with family this weekend, and I'm looking forward to it. I hope that you can connect with the ones you love, too, whether in person or remotely.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - September 12, 2021
Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- The Movies With Mikey episode “Nihilism & Howl’s Moving Castle” talks about how the characters in the movie react to being swept up in situations beyond their control. I first watched it back in April, and if anything it means even more now.
- By coincidence Ada Limón’s poem “The Hurting Kind” just a couple of weeks before my own grandmother died. In it, her speaker says, “I am the hurting kind. I keep searching for proof.” I think I am, too.
- Jonny Teklit’s poem “On Some Saturday, After All This” is cathartically joyful. Perhaps that might be something you could use right now.
- Megan Pillow’s flash nonfiction piece “Instructions for Fucking Your Postpartum Wife” has this ache to it, this weariness and resentment and desire, desire for freedom, for newness, for intimacy, for rest. I loved so much about this piece, how it moved through different emotions and tones, how at times it feels like a flying-apart and at times like a coming-together.
- I don’t know if I’m reading W. S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” right, but it feels to me that it embodies both the futility of gratitude and the sincere power of gratitude. It seems both frantic and ecstatic, both grieving and joyful. And isn’t that just where so many of us are right now? I am, at least.
- Last month on the New Yorker Fiction podcast, Ann Patchett read Maile Meloy’s story “The Proxy Marriage.” I can’t remember the last time I read a literary story about love that was well-crafted and profound and not a downer or fundamentally misanthropic, which is probably why I loved this story so much.
- I’ve been feeling a fair amount of burnout and despair lately, for obvious reasons. Adrienne Maree Brown’s “The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest” looks right at the despair and grief, acknowledging the feeling of futility so many of us are feeling in the face of catastrophe. The way Brown turns toward love, reframes activism in terms of love, reframes movement in terms of connection, strives to find the possible in an out-of-control situation—well, it’s what I needed.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I’m grateful to you for being here with me. I hope that what you need today will find its way to you.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - April 23, 2021
- Helen Zaltzman recently released an episode of The Allusionist titled "Additions and Losses," which is about the ways that people's attempts to express sympathy are so often really just conveying their discomfort with disability or loss. (Content note: the conversation includes mention of ableism, cancer, and child death.)
- A friend recently shared the video for No-No Boy's song "The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming" with me. The song is about the singer's "Japanese Grandma," Joy Teraoka, and her bandmates in the George Igawa Orchestra, who performed around the state while incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, from 1942-1945. As someone who grew up on stories of the Internment, I found it very moving.
- Anne Helen Peterson wrote about labor shortages and how they're being driven by more than just temporary burnout but actually demoralization, and how this is a sign that our economy is deeply broken.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. In case no one has told you lately: you are enough, just as you are. You are not a problem to be solved. You are a person, and you matter.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - April 16, 2021
- Anne Helen Peterson wrote about burnout and permission structure and American work culture. "If you struggle with your own relationship to work, you understand this: your best and gentlest intentions for yourself are readily compromised."
- I think Lydia Kiesling has a particular talent for writing very specific descriptions of very specific anxieties in ways that are specific and specifically personal but still feel like she could be dipping into my own personal stream of consciousness. She did that in her novel, and she also did it in this recent piece for The Cut about fearing the pandemic will end and everything will just go back to being garbage, the way it always was.
- Jess Zimmerman's "twisty little passages" does something amazing with its form, using a very old game to invoke nostalgia and the structure of exploration to tell a story about regret and longing and being unable to let go.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. For whatever it's worth, I believe you can get through this—I believe in you.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - April 9, 2021
It's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- Lyz Lenz wrote about the loss of a beloved pet, about facing unexpected pain and sorrow, and choosing what kind of person you want to be.
- Anne Anlin Cheng's essay "A Dilemma of Intimacy" is about interracial love, the dance of familiarity and strangeness, the double bind of being an Asian American woman. I found it insightful and poignant.
- Min Jin Lee wrote a tribute to her late uncle, and about the world of books that he introduced her to, and how she found her own voice through reading. There's so much love in the piece, I thought it was beautiful.
- I got pretty choked up reading this NYT feature of Asian and Asian American photography, both Celeste Ng's essay and the wonderful, beautiful images from so many Asian and Asian American artists. There's a certain defiance in turning toward and depicting tenderness and love in a time of isolation and hate, which I found meaningful and moving.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I hope that some time soon you can find something that nourishes you and get your fill of it, and then some.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - April 6, 2021
It's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- Jad Josey is so good at writing wistful flash stories that are full of longing. His story "You Will, You Will, You Will" was just lovely.
- Beth Nguyen wrote a nuanced and very personal essay about choosing a name. I know others have made different choices with their own names, but this seems just the point to me: that it is a choice. I'm glad and grateful she shared hers.
- Noah Cho wrote about his grandmother's hands, and how things can be unsaid but still communicated and understood. As always, I loved it.
- Jason Fitzroy Jeffers wrote about Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero," apocalypse as revelation instead of ending, and what true freedom might look like.
- Finally, Maggie Tokuda-Hall hosted Sarah Gailey in a Drunk Safari IG Live last night. It was the hardest I've laughed in recent memory, and exactly what I needed.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I just noticed that my shoulders were pulled up toward my ears. Check in with yourself: is there a tension you can release? If you can, I hope you will.
Thank you, and take care.