books, community, empathy, kindness, reading, strangers

Collective

It was a great week, and I will tell you why. This week, I saw not one, but two amazing speakers. I feel privileged to have seen Ta-Nahesi Coates and Michelle Obama in person, one in a more intimate theater and one a sporting arena. Very different settings, and no one screamed/gave Coates a standing ovation, but both nights were exciting!

These events were particularly significant to me because I don’t do a ton of audience type of activities. In the interest of saving money, I don’t go to a ton of movies, or concerts, or theatre. Crowds are often annoying, because people, so often my money-saving measures are doubly successful in keeping me at home or out with a small/curated group of people I like to be around.

But this week, I saw a lot of different people. At the university event, Coates was in conversation with a professor from the African-American Studies program, and it was the most intellectual conversation I have heard since college! It was great to listen to the two of them, both researchers and writers with a broad knowledge of history as well as each a specific expertise. They discussed the concept of progress, in terms of race relations and current events like police brutality and the NFL protests. Coates’ response about the NFL was perfect. Discussing how some fans dug in their heels and continued to wear Ray Rice’s jersey after the video of him beating his fiancee, he said “if people think Colin kneeling during the national anthem is grounds for removal from the league more than a man who beats his intimate partner, we have to ask whether they should be the arbiters of patriotism.” At one point they talked about their favorite books, and their nods of recognition at the other’s suggestions as well as the knowing “yes!”es and general geeking out made me so happy. I love when people talk about books, and apparently it doesn’t even matter if I am part of the conversation!

The crowd, though… It was a struggle to remain nonjudgmental. Throughout, the people behind me commented back and forth to each other disruptively. The woman two seats down filed her nails. Someone opened a package of fruit snacks with the full CRINKLE CRINKLE obnoxiousness. A young man answered his cell phone. And then, the classic people leaving before the event concluded. Finding all these actions inconsiderate to the fellow audience members and disrespectful to the presentation, I got a little distracted and irritated. However, I could tell that my reaction wasn’t nearly as bad as it may have been six months ago. I chose instead to be mindful of the privilege I had to be there and didn’t let others’ behavior ruin my night when I could pretend I was back in college. Plus, I was there with a friend, and she was the perfect seat mate. Afterward, we discussed our favorite parts, as well as the energy in the room; we noticed the crowd’s way of expressing their reactions (clapping or snapping in agreement, laughter or callbacks) and that it added to the experience. We felt like part of a collective.

Seeing Michelle Obama as part of her book tour was a drastically different experience. The crowd’s energy was crazy. The arena is enormous and equipped with arena-quality speakers, and between the happy vibes and the layout, I couldn’t have been annoyed by neighbors’ behavior if I tried. No one would hear a fruit snack package opening here. Even the fact that I was in the last row (literally. The only thing behind me was a wall, only thing above were the highest boxes) didn’t bother me–the ticket was free, and I love Michelle. LOVE. I went alone, using someone else’s ticket who last minute couldn’t go, and there was a young scholar on one side of me and another woman on the other. Instead of gluing my eyes to my phone as one does sometimes in close proximity to strangers, I chose to chat with both of them. It was really nice. The young man told me about a paper he needed to write after the event (about humanness and artificial intelligence), and we discussed Michelle’s book Becoming and I brought up another book I’m reading, called UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. (Yes, I tell strangers about books. He started it!)

And her talk was amazing. She is such a classy, brilliant, warm human. Her book is phenomenal so far. She talked about her childhood, about marriage counseling, about going to college insecure and realizing she could hack it just as well, if not better than, anyone else there. She talked about the hope she has in the next generation of leaders and citizens. Hearing her speak was a reminder that the current news-burnout of controversy and corruption is not normal and not inevitable. Some of the talking points she discussed are the same as she relayed on Colbert, but being in the room with so many people who also adore her and who she inspires was special!

So, a great week was had by me. I got out of my usual routine, talked to strangers, and felt a sense of community, commonality, and gratitude for being able to go to listen to these awesome (literally, awe-inducing) people.

anxiety, books, career

This One’s for My Girls

I had planned to write some furious paragraphs about Drumpf’s derogatory comments about brown countries, but I waited more than 24 hours and watched tons of personal stories (Anderson Cooper’s was particularly moving, as was Don Lemon’s) and reflections and jokes about how rude, racist and smugly rich he is. I’ve worked through my rage. He is an embarrassment to our country, and I am actually grateful that he is taking the GOP down in flames with him/drawing a line in the sand for elected officials to actually choose to be decent to and on behalf of their constituents. I have to believe that decency will win, in 2018 and in the long run.

But this political outrage/irritant is only one of many sources of anxiety. The outside world is nothing compared to the echo chamber of an anxiety-riddled brain. My friends and I constantly discuss the myriad ways that we question ourselves, our decisions and our progress in the adult world.

Last night, I went to dinner with three of my dearest friends, one of whom is moving out of state this week. She’s taking a risk, acknowledging that her part-time position won’t be enough to live on & knowing she will within the next few months need to find another part-time job, possibly a full-time job, as well as an apartment that is affordable and safe and not miserable for commuting in January. This is not the worst idea ever. She and her boyfriend will be living in the same city again. This is not the riskiest idea ever. She taught English in Japan for two years, venturing there without speaking more than a few sentences of Japanese. She is highly qualified, professional, thoughtful, organized, responsible and bilingual. (Yes, I know, show-don’t-tell, but I don’t want to violate her privacy.)

And yet, she is terrified at the weight of this decision.

As are all of my friends. About who they’re dating or the lack thereof, about how often they cry or don’t, about whether to buy a house, whether they bought the wrong one, about their rent, their income, their careers, their kids or lack thereof..

And yet. As with many other instances of my sweeping generalizations, upon further reflection, I know that is not true. I have many girlfriends (and more acquaintances, so maybe this also has something to do with how much more vulnerability you share with your closest friends) who are sure of themselves. They are not calm 100% of the time, but they are stable enough not to fly off the handles upon an unplanned event, a depressing news story. They are not entirely derailed or roadblocked by doubt every time they need to make an adult decision.

This is my goal. Closer to unflappable. Bold. Confident in my purpose. Kind to myself and less critical of others.

Here are some books that have empowered me to me move towards this:

 

 

 

About finances and how they generally work out if you take control of spending: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

About relationships and what to accept/expect/let go: What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier

About caring less about what other people think: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

About how to clear my head/raise future children: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

About social anxiety and how I am definitely not the only one who suffers from it, and also just a pleasant reminder that comics are great: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

About how to be a person: The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith

  • Everyone should read this book. This is my favorite excerpt, talking about a study that asked people to answer the question “Who are you?” after either staring up from the base of a tree or at a nondescript building.

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The world is huge, and awe-inspiring! (Just ask Neil DeGrasse Tyson.) Perspective is important, as is getting out of my head enough to realize my problems are often not as catastrophic as they appear between my ears. In fact, thinking that they are just might inhibit me from behaving well towards others, and letting fear drive me absolutely blocks me from growing or changing, taking any risks at all.

My friend will be fine. She and this move may even be great. She will carry her support network with her and find a community of coworkers and explore a new city. Like me, she has to quiet the peanut gallery of doubts and welcome opportunity. Read before bed instead of scrolling through articles on her phone. It’s not okay.. yet. But who says it won’t be soon?