#MatteredToMe - March 19, 2021
It’s Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- The line at the center of Gabrielle Bates's poem "Time Lapse" stopped me in my tracks, as I think it's intended to. How that functions in the poem, breaking and connecting the beginning and end, is breathtaking to me. (CW: reference to gendered violence)
- I always like Brandon Taylor's letters. Being someone who also came to the arts haphazardly and on my own, I related strongly to the discussion in this week’s letter of finding "where you fit in the constellation of the culture." I'm also very interested in the ways that our views of sentimentality and Romanticism may be changing in art and literature, so this is really hitting all the notes for me.
- I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: Yanyi's letters are remarkable for their consistent generosity. Here he talks about community, fear of intimacy, reciprocal kindness, and love.
- I also very much appreciated Yanyi's letter from Wednesday. I think the feeling he describes of being so tired of having to write about death, and yet feeling a responsibility to do so, is something many of us feel and have felt if we are from vulnerable communities.
- Finally, I finished reading Anahid Nersessian's book Keats's Odes: A Lover's Discourse this week. I thought it was fascinating and moving in how it combines scholarship and personal storytelling. It felt, in a way, like a poem, itself.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I've been thinking a lot about how kindness is necessary for a better world, but not sufficient to get us there. I'm grateful to everyone I see doing the work.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - March 12, 2021
Hello everyone, it's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- I found myself quite struck by these four short poems by Victoria Chang, but particularly by the first one, titled "Thanks." I've read the three lines and sixteen words six or seven times in the past few minutes and each time they've seemed to me different.
- I don't know a way to say this that makes more sense but there is this sense of hopeful desperation, or perhaps desperate hope, to Devin Kelly's poem "Self Care in the Land of a Thousand Horses" that I found both compelling and familiar.
- Nina Li Coomes's 2018 piece "On Jellyfish" is about depression, and it contains a particularly intimate depiction of depression. It's not a topic that I've been actively seeking to read about but somehow I've managed to find my way to several such pieces recently. What strikes me about this one is the way that it looks right at depression, it doesn't look away, and in doing so it manages to find a way through to something like relief or resolve or gratitude.
- Marina Lostetter did a guest essay for Sarah Gailey's newsletter this week, about aggregate storytelling from folk tales to the Arthurian legend to the show Supernatural, and how storytelling can be an expression of community. I loved it.
- Amber Sparks's 2019 flash story "Everything is Terrible but You Should Read This Story" fascinates me in how its use of negation makes all of the terrible things it negates visible, and yet also makes visible the act of care that the story is.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. If you're reading this, you've made it through a particularly difficult year. I want you to know: that's an accomplishment.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - February 27, 2021
Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- Marissa Lingen's short story "So your grandmother is a starship now: a quick guide for the bewildered" starts off with a light tone and a fun premise, but gradually and inexorably shifts to something more. I thought it was wonderful.
- I was so happy to see a special episode of The Big Loop drop this week. "Memory of a Dress" is, like so many of the stories on The Big Loop, wistful and beautiful, with superb writing, voice acting, and production.
As always, this is just a portion of what’s mattered to me recently. I’ve been starting to feel some glimmers of hope recently, starting to feel like things might get better in the future. We’re not there yet, but maybe it won’t be too much longer. I hope so, and for you, too.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - February 12, 2021
It’s Friday, so here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- When my friend Paula Riff passed last week, I found myself turning to her website so I could see her work, which I'd loved so much. I found a whole new series I hadn't even known about, I think perhaps her best and most exciting work. I wish I could have seen where she would have gone next with her art.
- I have valued Yanyi’s newsletters for a while now for their generosity, and because although they are structured as writing advice they are really bigger than that. This latest one gets at aspects of Asian American identity that I've been thinking about and struggling with for a long time.
- Lyz Lenz’s recent CJR piece about Seth Abramson. "[How] dangerous it is to live in a world built entirely of your own words, with no vetting, no editing, blocking critics, until everything is a mirror shining you back at you."
- Finally, I'm sharing this LitHub piece by Wayne Miller about Poetry Discourse not so much because I agree with it entirely but because it's helping me clarify my own thoughts about social media.
As always, this is just a portion of what’s mattered to me recently. I'm thinking a lot about change right now, and how even healing changes can often be painful. I hope things are getting better for you.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - February 5, 2021
It’s Friday, so here are a few things that mattered to me recently.
- Lyz Lenz's "I Am Worried We Will Forget" piece from her newsletter, as usual, captured what I've been thinking about lately. Especially this: "Our future is built upon how we perceive the past. And if we are so focused on forgetting the past pain, we'll just replicate it into the future over and over again."
- David Naimon’s recent conversation with Teju Cole on Between the Covers was one of the best interviews I've ever experienced in any medium. A profoundly human discussion of art and writing, what it means to see, what we keep ourselves from looking at, and how to be a person in this world.
- Jay Caspian Kang's recent NYT profile of Steven Yeun was one of the more interesting pieces I've read recently on Asian American-ness, the push and pull of identity, and contending with or against the white gaze.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm very tired right now, which is just to say that I will try to get some rest soon and I hope you do as well.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - January 29, 2021
It is Friday, so here are a few things that mattered to me recently.
- This past weekend I watched Princess Mononoke with my son—his first time seeing it and my first time since it first came to US theaters in 1999. It felt different to return to this movie in the current climate of deep division and political violence, and in particular the way that the main character, Ashitaka, refuses to hate anyone, works for peace, but also doesn't treat the two sides of the conflict as equivalent. I was reminded of Ian Danskin's video essay "Lady Eboshi Is Wrong," which does a great job of digging into the nuance the movie's morality.
- The latest episode of Ross Sutherland's podcast Imaginary Advice is called "My Car Plays Tapes," written and read by John Osborne. It's a lovely piece about aging, nostalgia, what we can and can't and should and shouldn't hold onto.
- Esmé Weijun Wang wrote about seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story shortly after the 2016 election, about resistance and sacrifice, and about what that election brought out in much of America. I related to it quite a lot.
- Sabrina Orah Mark’s “We Didn’t Have a Chance to Say Goodbye” is about fairy tales and grief and what is lost. It has heartbreak in it, I think, but what is remarkable is the way Orah Mark writes the piece into its own (her own?) redemption.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. However you’re feeling right now, it’s okay to feel that way. However things are for you right now, I hope they are better tomorrow.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - January 22, 2021
It’s Friday, so here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- José Olivarez's “poem where no one is deported” is what the title describes, and it is more. It is, I think, a poem of grace and gratitude in the face of evil, and I am grateful for it.
- At several points over the past few weeks I have found myself too overwhelmed to read or work or listen to podcasts. In those moments, I found Theo Alexander’s minimalist album Animadversions a big help in re-centering myself. It’s not that the music is soothing, exactly, but something about the repetition and the way the songs build grabbed and held me enough to get me through.
- I started listening to the D&D actual-play podcast Dungeons and Daddies recently after seeing Sarah Hollowell tweet about it, and have been really enjoying it. It’s very funny and usually quite vulgar, with occasional moments of earnestness that are surprisingly affecting. It’s been a nice respite, the time I get to spend listening to these adventures.
- Lyz Lenz’s recent newsletter “Trump Is Gone, But the Era of White Grievance Isn’t Over” voiced a lot of what has been on my mind this week.
- Anne Helen Peterson spoke with psychologist Dr. Rachel Kowert about the moral panic over video games, something that may help ease your mind a bit if you have kids and have been stressing over their pandemic screen time.
- Noah Cho and Betty Kim’s comic “Every Flavor a Ghost” is about the tie between food and memory, and what we carry with us as we grow older. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.
- As I mentioned, I’ve been pretty tense the past few days. One thing that has helped me has been reading articles and op-eds that express the same urgency I feel about our political situation. Ezra Klein’s “Democrats, Here’s How to Lose in 2022. And Deserve It” is one. This piece about Charlottesville activists’ message to President Biden is another. I guess I’m just glad to know that people are talking about this.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I hope that this week has brought you some peace and some hope. I’m doing my best to find some for myself, too. Whatever it is you need, I hope you get a piece of it soon.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - January 9, 2021
I’ve been a bit distracted and didn’t read much this week, as I imagine might be true for you as well. And that’s okay. Still, it’s Friday—or was when I started writing this letter—so here are a few things that mattered to me recently:
- I often find success harder to accept than failure, so I appreciated and related to Sarah Gailey's recent newsletter about their garden.
- From Alexandra Petri's latest column: “it is amazing, after all, what you can do, if no one bothers to get in your way.” People, including her, have been saying this for years. I'm sad and angry that it still needs saying, but I am glad that people are still saying it.
- If you want something fun and light to escape into for a minute, perhaps a Scottish sea shanty might be the just the thing.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. What I'm thinking about is how decency is necessary but not sufficient, and how empathy isn't the same as a lack of accountability. I appreciate all the people I've seen saying the same.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - Jan. 1, 2021
- Lyz Lenz wrote about running through 2020, finding a new stride, and settling in for a long run.
- Sarah McCarry's latest newsletter is about one of her shipmates and it's just a lovely bit of writing, the product of the kind of getting to know someone that comes from sharing a small space with them.
- I recently read Kazim Ali's 2018 poetry collection Inquisition, and quite enjoyed it. One poem that particularly struck me, "The Astronomer's Son," came toward the end. In the end notes, Ali points out that some of the star facts presented in the poem are misremembered by the speaker. For me this adds an extra layer of bittersweetness to an already emotionally complex poem.
- I finished reading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series with my son recently, which made the recent Backlisted podcast episode about the series' title book particularly timely. If, like me, that series was important in your childhood, I think you'll appreciate this conversation.
- Finally, I recently read Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s novel Starling Days. The book has some heavy themes, dealing with depression and suicide but it is sensitively done, intimate and often tender. It has one of the best portrayals of what depression feels like that I’ve read recently, and also one of the best portrayals of the feeling of infatuation. I appreciated it.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm glad we got through last year—me, and you too. I hope something wonderful finds its way to you soon.
Thank you, and take care.
50 Things That Mattered to Me in 2020
Today is, among other things, the last Friday of the year. It is my habit to take the end of the year as an opportunity to look back at the things I read, watched, and listened to, and I imagine it comes as no surprise that that would feel particularly necessary this year. It’s been a hell of a year—a year of anxiety, of grief, of boredom, fury, exhaustion, and of just getting through. But I’ve also had opportunity to laugh, to feel connected, to learn, to be moved. Putting this list together each year is always useful for me, and I hope it’s useful for you as well. So, here are 50 things I experienced this year that mattered to me:
- The first movie I watched this year was an anthology anime film co-produced in China and Japan, called Flavors of Youth. It features three shorts by three different directors, all of them dealing with themes of memory, nostalgia, and coming of age. There’s a bittersweetness to each story that resonated with how I relate to my own youth. Also, it had some of the best-looking food I’ve ever seen in an animated movie.
- Season four of the excellent documentary podcast Scene On Radio aired this year. Titled “The Land That Never Has Been Yet,” it’s a deep dive into the history of American democracy and the anti-democratic forces that have been baked into our system since its inception. I think this is a must-listen for anyone who wants to better understand how we got to where we are, and how we can do better.
- Brandon Taylor’s short fiction is always a highlight, and that was as true this year as it is every year. I read three of his short stories, “When We Will Get What We Deserve,” “Local Economies,” and “Even If All Fall Away, I Will Not,” and all of them were exquisite. I cannot wait for his forthcoming collection, Filthy Animals. (CW: sexual violence)
- The title of Melissa Crowe’s poem “When We’re in Bed and You Take Out Your Mouth Guard, I Know It’s On” is very funny, the poem itself is sexy as hell, and taking both together suggests a love that has grown and changed over time but is no less intense for being long.
- I first read Dawn Davies’s poem “Mailing a Letter” back in January and was struck by the way the speaker imagines her way into a stranger’s life, and by the way the final line frames the whole rest of the poem. Reading it again now, after 9 months of pandemic, it hits a little differently. It’s amazing how much of a poem’s impact comes from what we bring to it as readers, I think. (CW: death)
- In the first half of the year I found myself branching out a lot in my podcast listening, especially in the audio fiction/audio drama genre. One standout was George the Poet’s Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, which mixes audio drama, spoken word, hip hop to create a show that sounds like nothing else I’ve heard, and which talks about politics in the UK and Uganda, class, race, and even the creative process.
- The quiet menace of Gabrielle Bates’s poem “The Mentor” has come back to me over and over since I first read it. (CW: sexual violence)
- Kaitlin Prest’s 2018 audio drama The Shadows traces the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship. The writing, performances, and audio production are all so well-done and so real-seeming that at times I found myself forgetting that it was fiction.
- Another audio fiction podcast I was introduced to this year was Paul Bae’s The Big Loop, which is an anthology show that is sometimes funny, sometimes fantastic, and sometimes tragic. The show is consistently excellent, but I think my favorite episodes were “The Studio” and “You.”
- Andhika Ramadhian’s Instagram is full of images with striking colors and minimalist, subtly surreal compositions. I find them quite soothing, and maybe that’s something you could use a bit more of these days.
- Carrie Fountain’s poem “Will You?” captures so perfectly the feeling of being a parent—or, at least, the way I experience parenthood: the way it is both profound and kind of annoying, the way I want both to protect my children and to turn them loose, the way I both see them and don’t.
- I’ve been reading Monet Thomas’s Away Again newsletter since its beginning in 2018, and I think it’s great both as personal writing and as travel writing. One of her letters from February, “Vietnam, Part 2: Halong Bay,” is pretty amazing for how it collapses different moments into one, just in the way that memory does.
- I first experienced Mary Szybist’s poem “Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle” read aloud on the podcast The Slowdown, so I didn’t realize until some time later that it’s an abecedarian. What I loved, and still love, is the innocence of it, and the way that it feels like the universe is trying to reveal something to the poet.
- I read this New Yorker feature on Deanna Dikeman’s “Leaving and Waving” series about a week before lockdown started in my city. Looking back at them now, I still find the series lovely in the same way that I did before, but it is also now bittersweet and filled with longing in a way that I couldn’t have anticipated at the time.
- The single most joyfully satisfying podcast episode I heard this year was Reply All’s “The Case of the Missing Hit.” Just trust me on this.
- My kids and I started watching Steven Universe together in 2016, and it’s something I’ve deeply appreciated for how it centers simple decency and gives us an entry point to talk about complex things while also being just a ton of fun. This year gave us Steven Universe Future, a 10-episode coda after last year’s finale and movie, which I found incredibly moving. Moreover, watching it with my kids sparked some conversations about mental health and PTSD that I thought were really valuable.
- I’ve had a lot of occasion this year to think about and revisit Clint Smith’s poem “When people say, ‘we have made it through worse before.’” I expect this won’t be the last year I think about it, though.
- It may be cheating a bit to include something of mine in this list but I hope I can be forgiven—besides which, I do think of this one as a collaboration—but a highlight of my year was getting to have a virtual panel discussion with Rachel Zucker, David Naimon, and Dujie Tahat about the craft of the literary podcast interview. I suspect I’m going to be riding high on that one for a while to come.
- Mary Neely’s quarantine musical re-enactments were such a joy. I don’t even know how many times I re-watched them.
- I sincerely doubt I am the first (or the last) person you will hear raving about Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but that’s okay. I have a suspicion that this is a movie that will continue to be watched and talked about for quite a long time. That the movie could have such intensity with so little action or even dialogue is a pretty extraordinary thing, I think.
- Matthew Salesses called his novel Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear “the most Asian American thing [he’s] ever written.” It’s such a strange, unsettling book, in much the same way that being Asian American can be strange and unsettling. I think it’s brilliant.
- Sarah Gailey’s YA fantasy novel When We Were Magic is wonderful for so many reasons. It’s literally a story about hiding a body. It’s got that Gailey freshness to it. It’s about taking responsibility and being held accountable. But more than any of that it is a deeply kind story about self-acceptance and many kinds of loving relationships.
- Another podcast I started listening to this year is the BBC’s Short Cuts, which in structure you can imagine like a British This American Life insofar as each episode is a collection of segments organized around a theme. But in terms of sound design it is much more eclectic and experimental than TAL has ever been, and it is just so much more… wonderful. A few standout episodes for me: “Civil Disobedients,” “Dreaming,” and “The Interpreter.”
- I have been a fan of Danez Smith’s poetry for a few years now and their latest collection, Homie, is both a continuation of their past work and an evolution. As in their second book, Don’t Call Us Dead, there is rage and grief. But there is a turn toward joy in Homie that both sharpens the painful parts and becomes a balm.
- I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get my arms entirely around what poetry can do. Ada Limón’s poem “The End of Poetry” seems to me to ask that question, too, and manages to be both an acknowledgment of poetry’s limitations while also being an embodiment of what poetry does best.
- Shing Yin Khor’s comic “Of Mufflers and Men” looks at the history of a particular icon of mid-century Americana, the muffler man, as a way of understanding themself. The specific line that made me go “Oh shit” was: “I want to be touched. I want it to be slightly painful to touch me.”
- Historian and professor John Edwin Mason wrote an excellent essay for National Geographic this year about how photojournalism isn’t neutral, how photographs can lie even while purporting to show the truth. It’s a topic that’s important for everyone to understand in our image-soaked culture, though it’s particularly urgent for photographers to understand. That the essay ran in National Geographic, a publication whose images have long had a problematic relationship to those depicted in its pages, is something I take as a hopeful sign for the future.
- Taylor Harris’s essay “Whiteness Can’t Save Us” is about being in spaces of care that often fail to care for or about Black people, about loving her sons and also fearing for them. I read a lot of powerful and moving essays about race and America this year, and this was one that I came back to a lot.
- Bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens and cellist Yo-Yo Ma released the song “Build a House” to mark the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. It’s a beautiful arrangement with a haunting melody, and I found it particularly moving to see these two artists—one Black and one Asian American—collaborate to create this particularly American music.
- Noah Cho’s column Bad Kimchi continued strong this year, talking about food and identity. Two that I particularly loved (not only for their titles but not not for their titles) were “Gettin’ Jigae With It” and “Kalbi, Maybe.”
- One of the many difficult losses this year was civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis. His final op-ed, written knowing that he was near his end, was a powerful call to action, one that I’ve carried with me in the months since his passing. It has mattered to me a great deal to know that there are many people trying to answer that call and carry his legacy forward.
- I wasn’t able to read nearly as much as usual this year, but one thing I was able to do a lot of was watch anime. One of my favorites was Mob Psycho 100. The show’s creator, ONE, is known for his satirical takes on manga genres and this one was very funny but at its core was about how power is less important than self-knowledge and emotional maturity. Over the past few years I’ve been seeing more and more pop culture embracing gentler and more sincere forms of masculinity, and I’m finding it very heartening.
- Journalist Anand Giridharadas started up a Substack this year called The.Ink, which has featured some of the best and most interesting political and social interviews I’ve read this year. A few highlights: linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, organizer Vincent Emanuele, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and economist Mariana Mazzucato.
- Writer Ross Sutherland has continued to do some pretty amazing things with his experimental fiction podcast Imaginary Advice, not least of which was his six-part series “The Golden House.” One favorite of mine from this year was his two-part miniseries “Ten Thousand Years,” discussing and then extending the movie Groundhog Day.
- Writer Yanyi’s newsletter The Reading is, as I see it, an act of profound generosity for the literary community. A perfect example to get you started: “I Can’t Bring Myself to Write Anymore.”
- David Naimon’s Between the Covers continues to be one of the smartest, best, most interesting literary shows out there. A few of my favorite episodes from this year: Garth Greenwell on Cleanness, Jenny Offill on Weather, Philip Metres on Shrapnel Maps, and Jeannie Vanasco on Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl.
- I’ve been following photographer Jordanna Kalman’s work for a couple of years now but only recently got around to buying a copy of her photobook Little Romances. In this work, Kalman took the experience of having her work stolen by porn blogs and transmuted the anger and hurt of it into some of the most tender, loving images I’ve seen recently. I think that is an impressive and amazingly strong thing to do.
- 2020 was terrible in so many ways, but if you were to measure it solely in terms of web videos set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” it was a banner year.
- One piece of advice that has never steered me wrong: never sleep on any piece of music writing or podcast appearance by Hanif Abdurraqib. The latest season of KCRW’s Lost Notes podcast is both of those things, and it is excellent.
- I started reading Sarah McCarry’s future recuperation newsletter with the fourth installment, “setting sails,” then immediately went back and read all of the previous ones. I love personal newsletters, I love stories about life at sea, and I love good writing. This newsletter has all of those, so, you know, it’s a good fit for me. Maybe for you, too.
- Kazim Ali’s new poetry collection The Voice of Sheila Chandra is three long poems interspersed with four short ones. The poems are formally inventive, playing with sound and language in interesting ways. And they do things with time and memory, layering history and personal experience, past and future, that are at times difficult to understand while also showing you that you already know them.
- I’ve already mentioned the following at several points in this list: kindness, generosity, decency, sincerity, gentle masculinity. So it likely comes as no surprise that Ted Lasso was exactly my jam.
- It was wonderful to see the return of Helena Fitzgerald’s newsletter Griefbacon recently. Right away she wrote about the election and the pandemic in ways that are very Helena Fitzgerald, which is to say very good and very different from how anybody else writes about anything.
- Alexander Chee started a Medium blog this year, beginning with an essay about a black jeans. This only sounds prosaic if one doesn’t remember or know that Alexander Chee is one of the best essayists working today. (If you aren’t familiar with his essays, I would point you to his 2018 collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, which is one of my favorite essay collections, period.)
- After several years of seeing people excitedly shouting about the indie game Night in the Woods, I finally got around to buying it this year—and then proceeded to wait five more months to actually play it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. It’s visually beautiful and a wonderfully poignant rendering of young homecoming.
- Lyz Lenz’s newsletter Men Yell At Me has been great again this year. Two that stood out to me were “Dispatch from a Red State” and “A Crisis of Empathy.”
- I recently read Sofia Samatar’s 2017 short story collection Tender. Substack is telling me I’m almost out of space so let me just say: it’s great.
- I was happy to see Rachel Zucker’s Commonplace podcast come back recently after a long hiatus, and the conversation was personal and very relatable.
- I’ve been loving the new season of Star Trek: Discovery and I really loved getting to hear Callie Wright’s recent conversation about trans and enby representation on Trek.
- Finally, it’s not particularly deep but watching the anime Haikyu!! with my son this year has been a ton of fun, and has made me get excited about volleyball in a way I never would have expected.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me this year. I would love to hear what’s mattered to you this year, so please drop me an email or leave a comment.