Saturday, March 3, 2018

Thinking of New Hampshire

I watched On Golden Pond last weekend with a friend. The views of central New Hampshire paired with the music brought back such extreme nostalgia for that region that I found myself struggling not to cry as the film began! 

I’ve been happy in coastal California and love the natural beauty of the nearby rocky coast, ocean cliffs, eucalyptus, and redwood trees, but watching On Golden Pond and being reminded of the natural beauty of where I’m from brought me back to how much I love New Hampshire and how much I miss the landscape there.
NH in winter and summer

A few days later, I drove past a gas station near my home where I noticed a man putting gas into his Jaguar. Next to him, a homeless man was sitting on the curb. Immediately, I thought “this is California. I see equal amounts of luxury cars and homeless people all the time.” The film reminded me of the natural and understated beauty I miss, and the scene at the gas station reminded me of the unfortunate extremes in wealth and livelihood here. 

I often find myself longing for more affordability, a quieter area in nature, and less people. I love the beauty and community here, but look forward to the thought of potentially being somewhere quieter, among subtle and unspoiled and less-discovered beauty someday.
The Monterey peninsula

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Favorite Books of 2017

Happy 2018!

I hope your year is off to a great start. I've been more excited about this new year than recent ones. Something about a fresh start and goals and ideas and some more free time this month has been great to look forward to. I've loved having a reading goal the last several years and I didn't meet it (or closely follow it!) in 2017. I started several books that I hope to finish this year, but I also felt myself consuming plenty of news and not diving into books. My to-read list continued to grow though and I hope to read more this year. Below, I included the books I enjoyed most in 2017. Some were read, some were listened to. I've written brief descriptions but would recommend all of them. I hope you find one (or more!) you enjoy too.

Days Without End: I first heard of this book when I glanced at the Man Booker prize longlist in the late summer (studying English literature briefly in the U.K. tends to help with my to-read list as former English-students and I keep in touch on what we're reading and prizes like these tend to add some books to our lists) I'd loved Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way and On Canaan's Side. I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as those, but it was still a beautifully written novel taking place during the Indian American wars and Civil War. 
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A powerful and sad book. Learning about Rob and how he escaped poverty to attend Yale, the positive changes he made in his community after graduation, and his shift to drug dealing before he was murdered is tragic and outlined how hard the road out of poverty is, and how societal factors can stand in the way of pursuing the American dream.
The GrownUp: A funny, brief, fast-paced ghost story. Fun for a rainy afternoon.
The Sound of Gravel: There are an endless amount of well-written coming-out-of-poverty stories illustrating resilience. In 2016, Hillbilly Elegy fell into this category for me. The Sound of Gravel was equally powerful in working oneself out of poverty and outlines the strength of the author leaving a polygamous sect. 

Dakota: A really beautiful book about South Dakota. I started it sometime in mid-2016 when I realized my Mom and I would be traveling through the state for a couple of days while driving to California. Despite dropping it in a river in Vermont before departing (and it growing slowly moldy) I somehow held onto it and finished it over a year later. It's a beautiful collection of thoughts and reflections on the state's history and people. If you like poetry or feel a strong connection to place (even places you've never visited!), I'd recommend it.
We Were Eight Years in Power: If the election of Trump or the history of racism in the United States even remotely interests you, this book is a great and deep book to digest. Fun tip: the title does not solely refer to Barack Obama's presidency but refers originally to Reconstruction. 
I Am Malala: I mistakenly figured I wouldn't learn more about Malala from this book after loving the film He Named Me Malala, but I was wrong! It was just as great as the film but longer.
American Boy: Larry Watson is great! I loved Montana 1948 and thought this novel taking place in Minnesota in the 1950's was just as great. It reminded me of some kind of symbolic novel that would be assigned (and I would love) in high school English class. He has such a simple and direct way of writing and storytelling. While I loved it, I think I'd recommend his books to men more than women. 

First They Killed My Father: So powerful. Luong Ung's name had come up a few times in my undergraduate career as she is an alumna of the school I attended. I knew of the Vietnam War, but nothing of Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge. Very sad, but a book that shines light on a very recent genocide and Luong's path to survival and being welcomed in the United States as a refugee.  
The Last Campaign: I think I'll always enjoy learning about Robert F. Kennedy and the 1960's in the United States. This book breaks down RFK's presidential campaign and what it meant at the time. A journalistic and detailed look at an interesting period of American history.
Circling the Sun: While novels taking place in the United States or western world tend to be extremely popular, I love learning about a different culture of part of the world via novels. While the main character is British and parts of the novel take place in Great Britain, the story centers on Kenya in the 1920's. A wonderful story of real life Beryl Markham as she pursues life as an independent woman. 
Disgraced: A powerful play focusing on stereotypes, Islam, and identity in America. 
The Midwife of Hope River: A sweet novel taking place in central Appalachia during the Great Depression. Focuses on the different clients a local midwife serves. Great characters.
When Breath Becomes Air: It deserves the hype! Very powerful as it explores what makes life worth living in the face of an imminent end. 
The Pecan Man: I love southern fiction, particularly books that explore themes of race. This book is a bit like To Kill a Mockingbird. A quick and meaningful read.
Just Mercy: The best book I read all year. So incredibly thought-provoking and well-written about the history of an unequal American justice system rooted in racial bias and one man's work fighting death penalty cases in southern states in the 1990s. Cannot recommend enough. 

The Sun is Also a Star: A fast-paced and addictive novel detailing a love story occurring in one day in Manhattan. 
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam: I took about four years to (very slowly) read this book as it's comprised of hundreds of letters American soldiers wrote home while stationed in Vietnam. Very powerful, sad, and timeless. 
Notorious RBG: A really lovely biography on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Enjoyably humorous in parts, but mostly a wonderful look at a trailblazing Supreme court justice. 
About Alice: A sweet essay to the author's late wife, Alice. Full of beautiful and uplifting words about Alice as a woman, mother, and change-maker. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Moon & Stars

The moon and stars have been distracting lately. I think of the constellations seen from Monterey, the moon in California, and the stars in New Hampshire on a clear night this week. Seen when walking at night or stepping out of a car, or turning off a light before falling asleep. Admiring them, I think of how fast time moves, how infinite space is, of creating a life that is true and happy.


The urge to write has arrived less this year than last year, or the year before that. This saddens me, but I know if I push myself to write, it could (and likely would) return. There feels like less to share as I acclimate to life and work in California. I miss the east coast and New Hampshire at times, thinking of the people and traditions and community I know better than any other. Yet I continue to be awed by California’s mountains, wildlife, coast, trees, nature, and culture.  

Earlier this month. Morning in Cambria, CA.

Late November. Soledad, CA.

As I clean and categorize old photos during these days off, I’ve found myself seeing the many images captured during the two years I spent in New Hampshire before moving to California. They show each distinct season in the small towns I lived in and moved through. The memories remind me of how predictable and comforting that time could be. I’m not sure what the distant future holds. For now, I see opportunity and a life in California, but am grateful for visits to the east, to home. Seeing the snow fall outside today brings me back to the winters I remember, even if the evening clouds mask moon and stars.

Thanksgiving Day. Pacific Grove, CA.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Ability to Work for Change

I think often of being in this new place, of the happiness in small moments, in smiles and jokes and the presence of those among us. As the employees of the school I work at sat in the school chapel yesterday for an end of year celebration marking retirements and employment milestones, I looked around and knew the names of the 75 people sitting all around. I thought of knowing and meeting and being aware of each of these people and just how quickly time moves, just how quickly we become acquainted and adjusted and a part of our surroundings.

I began learning Spanish a few weeks ago. It was a friend who recommended the free app which teaches and tests your language skills. We made plans to get together and continue learning through conversation with one another. The truth is we both hear it almost daily here and know it's spoken by so many who work in jobs we seldom see. It's similar enough to English, and while challenging, I'm looking forward to improving!

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I met up in San Luis Obispo. She was coming north from Los Angeles and I was heading south from Monterey. We walked through the town, caught up, told stories and laughed, and toured the San Luis Obispo Mission after a tasty taco brunch. The Mission system here is quite beautiful, with 21 Catholic Missions established by the Spanish in the 1790s along the coast of what was then Mexico. They stretch from San Diego to San Francisco. I have no photos of the San Luis Obispo mission, but on my drive north through the hot desert, I drove past the tiny town of San Miguel and loved the bell tower ruins I spotted. I pulled over and found another mission I didn't know existed. It was evening and 92 degrees. A train passed by as I began to walk around. A monk was watering the roses and a group of women recited the rosary in Spanish in the chapel. The light and color of the sky was beautiful. 

While in SLO, I purchased a small book, The World as 100 People. It's very visual with graphs and drawings and the facts listed below continue to stay with me.

If the 7 billion people in the world are represented through 100 people,

61 are from Asia and the Middle East, 4 are from the United States.
5 people speak English. 63 speak more than 6,000 other languages other than the 9 most spoken.
1 person owns 48% of the world's wealth.
50 people do not trust their government.
48 people do not have freedom of speech.
20 people live in fear.
48 people live on less than $2.50 USD a day.
40 people cook using solid fuels in open fires.
17 people are unable to read and write.
7 people have a university degree.
11 people own a car.
15 people are undernourished. 1 person is starving.

It is so easy to forget those who live among us, down the street or across the world. I think of the ability we all have to lobby for free press, speech, and governments and how we can all work to stop war and discrimination. The continuing vast inequality in access to food saddens me until I remember how unequal food and wealth distribution can be born of the inequalities we can work to change -- fairness, care, and governments that work for their citizens.