The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books to Make You Feel

It’s been a hard month-plus for a lot of us since Trump was inaugurated, and as my friend Joanna jokes, whenever I run into trouble, I turn to books. In my last reading list, which I posted shortly after the U.S. election, I suggested five books to read on race. This time, I’m focusing on feelings.

One of the best things stories offer us is a chance to walk around in someone else’s skin. As President Obama so rightly noted when describing the importance of reading in his life and presidency, books allow us “the ability to slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in someone else’s shoes”—and if we need nothing else at this time, it’s certainly more empathy. (The full transcript of Obama’s interview with the New York Times about books and reading is beautiful and available here.)

So here are some of the things I’ve read recently that have given me feels and made me feel more human. I hope you might be moved by them, too.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

5941033I’m gonna be honest—this is my second time reading this book, and I read it before the election results were announced. I’d filled out my absentee ballot. I’d scanned and sent it from the lovely Airbnb home I was staying at in Pokhara, Nepal. Trump wasn’t even on my radar.

But Nepal was a weird time for me. I was overwhelmed by Kathmandu, unsure about how to face the legacy of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent that I’d just traveled through, confused about how to deal with my economic privilege in the midst of a lot of poverty, and had been on the road for almost six months.

I’d retreated to Pokhara for a couple weeks, to a lovely rustic property up the hill from Phewa Lake, to write and regroup. As much as I needed the quiet time, I was simultaneously struck by a feeling of aloneness (with the good and bad that goes with it) and self-defeating doubt.

I hadn’t felt invested in my fiction writing in a long time. I doubted the usefulness of stories. I didn’t know where my voice had gone, or why.

So, I turned to Let the Great World Spin, a book that I’ve counted as one of my favorites since I first read it a few years ago. So often, I’ve viewed literary fiction as a place of sadness; so infrequently have I found literary fiction that puts some hope in the bottom of the box.

Let the Great World Spin is an aching, dizzying, resonating piece that does just that—while sorting through realms of grief, longing, loneliness, and connection. Told through multiple viewpoints, McCann takes the reader deep into the lives a series of narrators who are connected by a thin thread (thicker for some than others) via the moment in 1974 when a man strung a tightrope across the World Trade Center towers in New York and walked across it. Each voice layers on top of the other, giving each greater meaning, and pulling the reader across space and time, into living rooms and antique cars and subway tunnels and the tops of towers, inviting us in for coffee, inviting us to share in one another’s grief and, in the end, to land on love.

Let the Great World Spin reminds me of how intimately we are connected, how deeply grief and loss can affect us, and how love and empathy can draw us through the even darkest of times. Continue reading “The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books to Make You Feel”

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An Avalanche of Love: Thoughts on an Impending Inauguration

As Trump’s inauguration looms ahead of us, I feel a shadow cast over my friends’ Facebook walls and a palpable fear in our conversations.

One friend is trans and fears they won’t be able to afford (or be offered) trans-related healthcare with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Another is a freelancer who said the ACA allowed her to be insured for the first time since she was a teenager (she’s in her 30s now). She’s worried her asthma will once again disqualify her from coverage, as it was considered a “pre-existing condition” before Obamacare.

Another friend suffers from depression that is compounded by the uncertainty of life as an LGBTQ person in Trump’s America–and the potential discrimination they might encounter.

Still another works with LGBTQ youth in the South and said she’s received more hateful comments on her organization’s Facebook page in the last few months than she has in years.

“Why would grown men pick on kids?” she asked.

Yet, that is the standard that Trump is bringing to his new vision of the United States. Our next president, who uses Twitter to bully teenagers and pick on everyday citizens. Continue reading “An Avalanche of Love: Thoughts on an Impending Inauguration”

That Time I Woke Up and Donald Trump Was President

This morning, I woke up in Myanmar to a world where Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States.

Yesterday, I spent half a day watching the results roll in, reading post and tweets cataloguing the dismay and heartbrokenness and fear from many of my friends.

Particularly my trans, queer, and LGBTQ friends. My friends of color.
Friends with disabilities, immigrants, Muslim friends, women—anyone
Donald Trump and his campaign have managed to threaten, alienate, or
otherwise harm.

Harm: emboldening supporters to burn black churches and torch the cars
of trans people.

Harm: encouraging Islamophobia and fear/hatred of Muslim people.

Harm: violence done simply by words—and yes, words hurt.

Harm: categorizing as “less than” or “Other.”

Yes, he and his supporters have done harm. I have no doubt he will do more.

I shared this grief and anger. As the wee hours wore on in the US and early afternoon turned late in Myanmar, I was struck by suddenly not knowing what to do. Not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other.

As I told my friend and colleague Jane, it was hard enough working for LGBTQ rights and working to end gender-based violence during the Obama years (the bulk of my career).

What now? Continue reading “That Time I Woke Up and Donald Trump Was President”

A Channel of Peace

Written a few days ago, in a small notebook, on a quiet bench underneath the trees. (Post dated to match when it was written.)

I’m sitting inside a Buddhist temple in Japan, listening to the rain fall through the leaves. We thought about skipping the temple today because of the weather but decided it might be quieter if we went in the rain anyway–so we bought umbrellas at a Family Mart (one of the many convenience stores that dot both Japan and Korea) and finagled some train tickets and headed out from the station to a small town about 20 or 30 minutes outside of Fukuoka.

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I’ve been really grateful for Keyes’ skills during this part of the trip–they doubt their Japanese skills sometimes, but so far, they’ve been great. I also hope that this quiet time at the temple can help my inner introvert recharge. I’ve never traveled this long with someone, and while Keyes has humored my changes in temperament, I fear I’ve gotten a shorter and shorter fuse with them–and I realize it’s probably because I haven’t taken much alone time (even though they’ve offered it). (Note to self for future travels: If traveling with friends and loved ones, build in some solo time every few days.) Keyes has been patient with me, though, which I appreciate. Just trying to return the kindness by working my way back to being kind.

So here we are. Just outside of Fukuoka, the sound of the train rumbling by and disappearing. Rain on leaves, slipping into streams that flow down the mountain. Perhaps the first actual quiet we’ve since we stood on Vargas Plateau in California. Quiet. And present. And here.

2016-06-04 19.15.33.jpgAnd yet, part of the reason I need this here-ness is because my thoughts have been both in the past and on the future. Continue reading “A Channel of Peace”