For me, it’s largely been books, yoga, gymnastics, and Matt being the kind of person who is open (excited even?) to watching the kids while I do these things.
If you read the blog, you know (too well?) that my mother and I don’t agree on much politically (or otherwise!). At the beginning of this year, looking for solace and solidarity, I reread Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? After this, I also reread Fun Home. Bechdel references Carl Jung a whole lot, and so one day, at the used book store, I picked up a copy of his juicily titled Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. The book has been reprinted many times, and so it came with five different prefaces by Jung to the five different editions. The preface to the second edition included the following, which has stuck with me and feels to sum up what my year has been like. Here, Jung is writing about his initial surprise that his dense book on the human psyche was as popular as it was. He conjectures that: “This interest may be due in no small measure to the profound shock with which our consciousness sustained through the World War.” (He wrote this at the end of 1918.) He goes on:
“The spectacle of this catastrophe threw man back upon himself by making him feel his complete impotence; it turned his gaze inwards, and with everything rocking about him, he must seek something that guarantees him a hold. Too many still look outwards, some believing in the illusion of victory and of victorious power, others in treaties and laws, and others again in the overthrow of the existing order. But still too few look inwards, to their own selves, and still fewer ask themselves whether the ends of human society might not best be served if each man tried to abolish the old order in himself, and to practice in his own person and in his own inward state those precepts, those victories which he preaches at every street-corner, instead of always expecting these things of his fellow men.”
I haven’t been through a war, but still, this idea made sense to me. That perhaps instead of shouting at my mother all the ways in which she was dead wrong, I could instead try and make sense of the world as it was, that I could try and embrace the chaos and pain and, you know, look inward. I believe this is colloquially referred to as starting with the man in the mirror?
In other words: cue the confetti and welcome to my gift guide!
[We’ll start at the top, go from left to right, down to the next row and so on.]
1. My Favorite Thing is Monsters. My introduction to this book came via a Fresh Air interview with the author. It was a haunting interview that stuck with me. Ferris almost died from the West Nile virus, but she didn’t. While almost dying, however, she had some crazy visions and hallucinations. You should listen to the interview. In short, the virus/tragic experience led her to write this incredible and incredibly amibitious book. It’s a graphic novel and if you’ve never read one before, this could be a great one to start with. It’s spooky, strange, magical, and heartbreaking. It’s also only Volume I. So looking forward to the next one.
2. Talking to My Body. This is some powerful, plainspoken poetry. I don’t have a strong urge to get a tattoo, but if I did, it might be a line from her poem, “Goddess of Matriarchy.” The problem is, which ones? Maybe: “Your bones are made of wealth, your meat of happiness.” But I couldn’t leave out the whole “legs thick as power” part, nor the lines, “And you will open your mouth / walled shut for a million years.”
3. Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything. Speaking of opening one’s mouth, after having been walled shut for a million years… You’ve probably seen a headline about how the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, had been molesting women and girl athletes since at least 1998. Two women athletes, completely separate of one another, one from the 2000 Olympic team, initially came forward late in 2016, and now more than 100 women have come forward. Nassar has also since pled guilty on two separate charges—one for possession of child pornography and another for molestation.
How could this happen and go on for so long? Well, in a book that is admittedly written for teens and largely about Raisman’s Olympic success, Raisman also clearly lays out the many ways in which USA Gymnastics fostered a fearful, old-fashioned environment in which young women were not encouraged and certainly not rewarded for speaking up about much of anything. (Spoiler: Raisman recounts a story of a time she got totally shamed by a USAG staff member for eating a piece of pizza in Italy after a successful gymnastics meet!)
4. Taking a long hard look at American culture and yourself isn’t always fun. I recommend lots of baths and anything made by Kings Road Apothecary!
5. Jumpsuit by Nico Nico. I’m not sure where this jumpsuit fits in relation to my journey inward. It sure would be nice to wear though.
6. Life's a Witch. The world of bumper stickers is vast and daunting. Alas, I finally found one for me!
7. 2 Possessed Shirt. Keeping with the witch theme, this shirt makes me laugh. Someone please buy it for me.
8. Mrs. Dalloway. Tim Mazurek highly recommended this classic, which I hadn’t actually read in its entirety before. I owe him one because it’s one of those special, slim books where each sentence feels so important, so insightful, and then all of a sudden, you’re actually invested in the story too. I one-hundred-percent wanted to know: what was going to happen at Clarissa’s party?!
9. Cards by Gold Teeth Brooklyn make saying "thank you" a breeze.
10. You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin. I read this at the beginning of the year, chosen because I’ve always loved Rilke’s work, and am now realizing how it set the tone for my year’s reading journey. Yes, it’s a book about these men who loom large in their respective artistic fields, but truly what I got out of this book was how flawed they both were as humans—prioritizing art and work above all else, which is only actually possible if your wives/partners are grocery-shopping and raising your children. Rodin, I learned, was an often-cruel womanizer (as opposed to a fun-loving one like Hugh Grant's character in Bridget Jones's Diary?) while Rilke came off as so sensitive, so fragile and impractical that it left me almost laughing imagining how he would fare at the barely-recognized art of small talk with fellow parents at children's birthday parties. It also made me think about the always-timely debate on whether or not we can (or should? or must?) separate the artist from the person. Relatedly, originally I had Jim Harrison’s essay collection A Really Big Lunch on this list, but I pulled it because his constant references to women as sex objects suddenly really started to grate.
11. Honey From a Weed. I feel truly lucky to have discovered Patience Gray and this remarkably readable cookbook originally published in 1986. Her point of view on cooking is everything I’ve ever wanted in print. A few examples: “Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of nature’s provisions epitomized in the raising of a crop, we are in danger of losing touch with life itself. When Providence supplies the means, the preparation and sharing of food takes on a sacred aspect.”
I could quote her all day. Here’s one more: “The merit lies not in the possession of the object but in putting it to use. Equally, cooking is not to be regarded as a display of virtuosity, it is far more vital than that.”
12. Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. This beautiful children’s book brought me to tears and also really made me want to visit the Vietnam Veterans memorial, something that I knew about but never actually considered making a pilgrimage to see. I can’t wait to drag my whole family there!
[Including a quick link to last year's gift guide as none of the items were remotely timely!]