Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Uncertainty and Grace

I've developed a possibly unhealthy habit of reading advice columns. It start with Dear Prudie at Slate and has kind of grown from there. I suppose as habits go, there are worse ones.

Anyway, I was reading an advice column the other day, as I do, and there was a letter from a woman whose husband was considering petitioning for custody of his sister's kids, since said sister is in the habit of abandoning the kids with them, anyway. (OK, fine: I went and found the actual column so you can read it, too, if you want. Beware: these columns are addictive.)

There are some lines in that column that has stayed with me since I read it:

I’ve come to see “how I saw us ______,” whether it’s “building our family” or “starting our careers” — or any future we envision — as a false promise at best. We can want and dream and plan, but life always gets its say. Always.
And so I see the path to happiness not as the milestones we strive for, but as a mind open to the opportunities, even beauty, in what we receive.

I love that concept, the idea that the way to happiness in life is to learn to accept the randomness of it, the uncertainty about what might come — and to commit to the idea that you will look for the beauty in what you receive.

Obviously, some things that we receive in life are harder to accept than others. There are things that could happen that I do not think I could see any beauty in. I am not especially prone to anxiety, but if I am going to spiral into an anxious fugue, it will usually be because my mind has started spooling out increasingly horrific "what if" scenarios.

So what I've been thinking about since I read that column is the idea that although I cannot know what life will hold for me, I can commit to try to accept what comes and build the best life I can from the circumstances I am given, and if possible, find the beauty in whatever comes.

So far, I have been given pretty good circumstances. I have no guarantee that will continue, and I can never have that guarantee. All I can do is try to plan in ways that favor a continuation of good circumstances, and that I hope would provide some buffer against bad circumstances.

I've been thinking about what it would take to really embrace that, and what, if anything, that would change about how I'm living my life. I don't have answers to those questions yet, but I'm finding them useful questions to think about.

I have also been thinking about how "happiness" seems like an inadequate word to describe a state in which you can accept what life brings and look for the beauty in it. The word that keeps coming to mind instead is "grace." I know that is not the Christian meaning of grace, but I don't think it is necessarily incompatible with that meaning. 

I've started a project of reading books that explore different aspects about what "a good life" looks like and how to have it. That project is quite stochastic. I add books to my reading list as I come across them, and my scope for what fits is quite broad. Maybe the common thread among them is a search for a secular form of a grace, a way to find and embrace the beauty in our imperfect world and to build the most we can out of our imperfect, uncertain lives.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Weekend Reading: Still Too Hot Edition

Since I spent the week galavanting without my children (so much yummy food!) and complaining about how hot it is (coastal San Diego should NOT top 90 degrees for multiple days in a row), I don't have a whole lot of links for you.

But I do have a few.

First, I'm running a short sale on the Okay, So Look ebook. It is just $0.99 through Sunday, so if you've never read it... now's your chance! And if you like it, check out Here's the Deal - not on sale, but worth the $3.99, I think.

The "you may also like" links on the last post led me down a rabbit hole of old posts about my kids when they were little. Reading the posts I wrote for Petunia's first and second birthdays really made me smile. I went looking for posts about Pumpkin's early birthdays, and apparently I didn't start those until her third birthday. It is nice to read about my kids when they were tiny. They are huge now: 11 and 8. But still delightful, just in different ways. I should write more about these years, so that I can look back wistfully when they are 18 and 15....

In actual links:

My "if you read only one" pick this week is Adam Serwer on the ascendency of white nationalists in US politics.

But if you can find time for a second thing... Richard Flanagan's speech about the Uluru Statement is wonderful, and speaks to a broader context beyond Australia, too.

New Congressional Budget Office numbers show it is cheaper for the government to pay for Medicaid for someone than to subsidize that person's private health insurance. As the article points out, this is partially due to the fact that recent changes to Obamacare (e.g., doing away with the individual mandate) have caused the premiums for Obamacare to go up. 

For all the talk about the risks of Democrats swinging too far to the left, I suspect that future historians will spend more time analyzing the impact of the Republicans swinging so far right. That and the impact of Fox News. I suspect there will be many history theses and books written about the rise of Fox News and how it changed America.

In lighter news: I need to go to Berlin.

Recommended listening: Ezra Klein's interview with Adam Davidson about taking the non-Russia story aspects of Trump's corruption seriously. I particularly like the point about the need to make there be consequences for this corruption or face a slide towards a rent-seeking economy.

Good advice:

Best lolsob of the week:

Although this xkcd cartoon is a close second  and another instant classic xkcd.


Another bunny!

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

A Nothing Update

It is still hot.

My kids are with my parents this week, so Mr. Snarky and I have had a week of grown up time. There was some kayaking, and some long walks, and a lot of food the kids would never dream of eating. I thought I'd get in some time working on my projects, too... but it is still hot, and even though the whole house fan is doing a decent job of cooling things down in the evening, I find myself heading to bed early most nights, tired and feeling lazy.

I am still waking up at or before 6 a.m. most days, so the sensible thing would have been to putter on my projects in the morning, but instead I went to work early, thinking I'd be able to head home early in return. But my meeting schedule did not cooperate.

Oh well. It has been a fun week, and I've enjoyed eating out so much. My projects will wait.

And now it is 10:30, and apparently that's past my bedtime these days. The thermostat says it is still 81 degrees in the house, but the bedrooms are cooler (and the office is hotter). Besides, I can sleep with the temperature at 81. I'm off to bed.

(Edited to add: The "you may also like" feature served up this post from when Petunia was nine months old. It was so long ago! We can have whole weeks away now! And even when the kids are with us, there is more space for our own things. The baby years are wonderful and special... but I'm really loving the big kid years, too.)

Friday, August 03, 2018

Weekend Reading: Easing Back In Edition

As I mentioned in my post on Wednesday, I have plans this afternoon and evening, so I don't have a lot of time for a links post. But I have a few things to share.

First, in self-promotional links: I finally wrote about the ideas in Laura Vanderkam's latest book, Off the Clock, that resonated with me the most.

Michelle Rene's Tattoo is on sale for just $0.99 at Kobo right now. The sale ends Monday, so grab a copy now!

Now in other links:

This Dara Lind article about the Americans that are stepping in to help reunited immigrant families gives me hope.

Franklin Foer's article about America's kleptocracy problem is... less hope-inspiring.

Dr. Jen Gunter's post about menopause is really helpful.

I've got a couple of podcast recommendations, too:

I learned a lot from Josh Marshall's discussion with historian Gregory Downs about voter suppression in the post-Civil War era. I'd like to read the article that Downs wrote for TPM, too, but haven't have time yet.

And I'm still thinking about Ezra Klein's discussion with psychologist Jennifer Richeson about demographic change and "demographic threat." I'm thinking a lot about why we phrase this demographic change as a "threat" to white people, and how we could change that framing. I certainly don't feel under threat by the demographics in my city!

This made me laugh:

So did this:

I like this feminist agenda:

Fluffy bunny!

And here's an extra bunny as thanks for your patience during my little hiatus:

Happy weekend, everyone !

Wednesday, August 01, 2018


It is after 9 p.m., and it is still over 80 degrees in my house, even with our new whole house fan running on high. The fan is working, but it isn't that cool outside tonight, so it can't drop the temperature in the house very quickly. I think our low is going to be over 70 degrees. Also, it was 88 degrees for the high today, so we started from a toasty 85 degrees inside when I got home today.

These temperatures well above average. I couldn't find the average temperatures for my neighborhood, but we can use La Jolla as a similar coastal climate in San Diego, and the average high on August 1 is 75. The average low is 66.

It has been this way for a month. I would guess we've been at least 5 degrees above average for most of July, and occasionally hotter.

Now, this is not really that uncomfortable for me (I still think 82 is a perfectly acceptable indoor temperature), or even objectively all that hot, particularly in comparison to the heat wave that has scorched parts of Europe. But it is really, really unusual for San Diego. We don't have air conditioning in our house in the coastal climate zone because we don't usually need air conditioning.

It is also an ever present reminder of just how much we humans have screwed things up. It is getting hotter, and it is going to continue to get hotter, because we are not doing enough to stop causing climate change.

Which brings me to the subject of my recent blog hiatus. I took a break because I'd sit down to write and nothing really coherent would come out. The break has served its purpose: thanks to a little time away, I think I've figured out the problem. I couldn't write because I was so angry, and I was trying to ignore that and write about something else.

Whether it is because of the heat wave and its daily reminder about climate change and the way it is going to disrupt so many things, or just the constant accumulation of bad news about my country's political situation, I was very, very angry. (And this was before that big NY Times article about how we blew our chance to address climate change in the 80s came out. I haven't read that article yet, because I suspect it would push me back to being unproductively angry.)

I'm less angry now. Not because the problems have lessened - if anything, they've gotten worse. There are now fires burning all over my state, and yes, part of the reason they are so bad and deadly right now is climate change.

But I've remembered that getting so angry that I don't take sensible action is not a useful response. Once I acknowledged the anger, I was able to turn away from it and focus back on taking action. I wrote some more postcards. I realized that I'd forgotten to make political contributions after my last two paychecks. (Give me ideas of good candidates to support in the comments! I hope to catch up on my contributions this weekend.)

I also got to take a nice little getaway to Redondo Beach with Mr. Snarky. I'll probably write about that at some point. However, one of the nice things about that getaway was that during a long walk on the beach, I finally saw how to make the travel-related website I've wanted to make for at least eight years. I'll probably use the Redondo Beach getaway to try out some of my ideas for that site. What I'm saying is, don't hold your breath for a write up about Redondo Beach!

Anyway, I'm back. I'm still angry, but it isn't getting in my way anymore. I don't know if there will be a links post this week, though, because I have plans for Friday afternoon and evening, and I'm not sure I'll get one written. We'll see. Either way, though, I plan to start writing here again, because I have missed blogging. As usual, I've got a bunch of other things going on (a children's book to revise, a novelette to publish, and that travel-related site to set up, and various other smaller things.) I like to have a lot of things going on, but I've learned that the only way that is sustainable while also making a living is to expect slow progress on my projects. That's OK, as long as I plan accordingly. So the blog posts will start coming again, but it will be a trickle, not a flood.


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