9.17.2012

Make a beautiful corner.


You will want to start with a beautiful garden or foyer or concert hall, but restrain yourself. Let the ambition and grandness come later. Instead, focus on a tiny space like a corner. A corner doesn't need maintenance or stoking of fires or ongoing support. After all, it's not even a full space, a corner.

If you're building software, hold off on the API. If you're starting a blog, a blogspot domain is just fine. Buy one houseplant and prune it, water it, make sure it gets the right amount of sun. Sew a dress without pockets, bake a cake without icing, take a bike ride in a neighborhood where you won't need a map to get home.


*

Lately I've been having conversations with people that all seem to come to the same point. "You will find that your world shrinks to your family unit and what you need to do for them," someone said this weekend. "You just won't have time to worry about some of these huge problems, like politics," another person told me.

At first I resisted. I wanted the baby to ADD to my life, not REPLACE things. But then I realized... you can only add so much before all of it is ugly. Before you feel like a shitty friend and a shitty book reader and a horrific American and a bad birthday-gifter. The more you pile on, the harder it is to quality control.

So while it's not my nature to do so, I feel myself receding into a quieter place. A corner. A little corner of my life that I can focus on making beautiful. And on my own time and at my own pace, I can add things back in that feel as though they are worthy of being there.

*

Keep it simple and small and manageable enough so that beauty and authenticity are the only features your corner has. There will be time and energy later for bigness and huge, skyward dreams. But in the beginning especially, you won't know how to keep anything larger beautiful. That's alright. Small can be beautiful too.

A corner is enough.

A corner is enough.

A corner is enough.

9.12.2012

Les livres de 2012: round 3

My latest purchase. We'll see how this goes. 
Alright. This has gotten out of hand. You know how there are things in life that pile up (like bills or old veggies in your fridge or laundry) and they stress you out? And even as the piles get bigger, you think "I gotta handle this" but then you don't. You don't for a few months. And every single day you think about how crazy it's going to be when you DO tackle it.

That is what this book review post has been to me! I don't know how, but I have read a quadrillion books since I last posted book reviews in May. I know. Maybe I ate my reading Wheaties? (Maybe I've read a few children's books and YA books, so they're shorter?) I dunno. But here we are with a billion books to review. So I'm going to do this short-style. A sentence or two per book.

HERE WE GO.

17. Preemie by Kasey Mathews
This is independently published, so it might be hard to find. A touching, beautiful memoir about a woman who gives birth at 25 weeks. A REALLY interesting read that touches on the ways we raise our kids, whether they're premature or not.

18. It's a Boy! by Andrea Buchanan
Not going to lie, when we found out Tiny was a boy there was part of me that went "Say what now?" I hadn't imagined him as a boy. So when I saw this collection of essays by women writers with sons, I devoured it. My favorite essay is the one where it describes little boys writing stories in elementary school and include things like "then he punched the monster's neck off. Then he got a sword and punched his ears off." Etc until you laugh at how crazy boys are.

19. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
I tried to read this several years ago, but it wasn't until my trip to Chicago that I was able to make it through this. It's split into two stories: a serial killer and the World's Fair. I was less thrilled about the murderer and more thrilled about reading about architecture! And awesome World's Fairs! Whyyyy do these not exist anymore?! Great book.

20. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
This is one of my positive-labor-reading go-tos. I haven't re-read it again, but I have definitely re-read sections. Ina May is the queen of midwives and she seems to have magical baby delivering powers. A definite must-read for people who are sick of reading terrifying labor stories.

21. How to Rock Your Baby by Erin Bried
I barely remember this book. I think I read it in a plane? Pretty sure it was short essays about how to not damage your kid. Meh. 

22. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
This book wasn't particularly well-written, but wait until you hear the project behind the book. This lady read ONE BOOK A DAY FOR ONE YEAR. I mean, what? She was dealing with grief when her sister died and made time in her schedule to read a book every day... she also wrote a review of each book the morning after she finished them. What. The. Hell. I want to do this so bad.

23. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Ok, this book started a little kick of reading some very modern fiction which is based in the future. Chris read this last year and loved it... I liked it okay. It's a world where everyone lives in a video game, they all have avatars, they have to fight a big corporation. On the plus side, I liked it better than the other futuristic books I read recently... such as...

24. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Gah. My Muhlenberg buddies and I formed a little book club and read this together. I had a hard time getting through it. I know everyone in Brooklyn thinks Gary Shteyngart is the shit, but I really couldn't empathize with the characters. To me it was an interesting setting for a short story (the future, your credit score flashes on screens as you walk down the street, everyone texts and tries to look younger, etc) but it got boring over the length of a novel.

25. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
Evolution is INSANE. Insane. I have no idea how I found this book but it was a super-fascinating read and I polished it off in a weekend. I barely remember it now but it was one of those books that made me keep interrupting Chris with "holy crap, listen to this!" facts about fish. 

26. Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie Mongan
Hypnobirthing, you rascally rascal. I wanted to love this class so much... but it was so full of propaganda that we never went back after the second class. I read this book to prepare for the class and... meh. I mean, by all means, read this book before you spend cold hard cash on the class. But it's pretty slanted.

27. Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel
THIS book, on the other hand, I want to snuggle with and tuck under my pillow at night. Holy empowering! Holy practical. So, so awesome. A great perspective for people considering a natural birth in a hospital or birthing center.

28. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I got it in my head that I wanted to read something old-school... and by that, I mean something that I hadn't read in 20+ years. I think I read this in 3rd grade and it was so cool to encounter something in text form that I last encountered so long ago. I wondered how Meg (and Calvin and Charles Wallace!) influence me, my personality, and my childhood while I was reading this time around. Great re-reading experience.

29. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Hello Young Adult Fiction. Reminded me of the Hunger Games... a decent read. Entertaining. 

30. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramonaaaaaa! Inspired by A Wrinkle in Time, I wanted to dive back into my old bookshelves yet again. I remember Ramona as one of the quirkiest and funniest characters of my childhood. Once again I spent the re-read wondering about my relationship with characters in childrens' books. I think there's a whole blog post to write about being the oldest child in the family and yet looking to characters in fiction as my role models. That's totally what I felt towards Ramona, especially as she gracefully managed herself when her parents were fighting. Interesting stuff.

31. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Oh, sequels. This is the follow-up to Divergent, which was also entertaining but also slightly slow. I knew she would be saving some juice for the third one of the trilogy, which has yet to be released.

This book scared the crap out of me but was SO good. I don't know why you aren't going out and buying it right now at your local independent bookstore. It's the story of a teenager who travels back and forth in time and finds an orphanage of sorts where magical children live. You should read this book for the amazing photos, if nothing else. I can't WAIT for the sequel.

33. Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel
Annnnnd had to read it again, now that laboring a baby out of the birth canal is impending. So, so good the second time. In fact, I used this book to make motivational labor flashcards

34. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
One of the guys at work recently started an Arc90 book club (be still my heart!) and this was the first book we read. It's another one of these futuristic ones and I wasn't really a fan. I guess it's neat that the book is organized by A and B sides (like a record) and that each chapter is kind of like a different song, but honestly it read more like a book of short stories to me. The chapters were very loosely connected and it made it hard to follow. Meh. (You may remember that I read another one of her books two years ago... still not impressed.)

35. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Someone recommended this to me. Erica? Was that you? This book was really interesting, reminded me of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in a way. Chris even read it! It's about magic and a circus and it reminded me of Audrey Niffenegger's style and habit of writing slightly creepy fiction. Definitely worth a read.


PHEW. That was a lot, right? And there's going to be more where that came from. As you can see in the picture above, my very first e-reader arrived last night. Also, in honor of my maternity leave, I got a library card for the Brooklyn Public Library in addition to my New York Public Library card... so now I am bringing books home by the sackful. 

What are you reading? Anything good?

9.11.2012

On scaling up.

Sometimes it's hard to explain to people why I want to have a natural birth. Truth be told, if I hadn't tried my hand at running last year (and succeeded at achieving a 10k, high-five!), I don't know if I would be as motivated. But I think it has something to do with succeeding at a physical endeavor, especially for someone as cerebral as I am. Last year for pretty much the first time ever, I felt proud of my body and what it could accomplish.

The cycle of preparation, training and executing on my training was addictive.

So part of aiming for a natural birth is about that- about looking something physically difficult in the face and overcoming it.

Another part of it just makes logical sense to me. My body parts were meant to do this. Evolution has smoothed out other wrinkles in our bodies; we have tail bones to prove the previous existence of tails and everyone keeps threatening that we'll all lose our pinky toes one of these generations. If labor wasn't supposed to be possible naturally, wouldn't we have evolved to accommodate?

Two nights ago I turned off the light after a long weekend of cleaning, organizing and preparing for this baby. Invited by the darkness, doubt crept in the room and curled up on my pillow next to me, whispering his messages directly into my ear. How was I possibly going to accomplish labor without drugs? Why was that even something I wanted? I was a total idiot! Hello, science! Hello, progress. Hello a thousand modern things that make our lives easier, like indoor plumbing and thermoses that keep soup warm and credit cards and dishwashers. Including epidurals.

And just like that everything crumbled down like a house of cards.

Why were we even having a baby?! Here we had this nice life, going to the movies whenever, sleeping in, traveling near and far. But more than these seemingly selfish lifestyles, I thought about all of the ways that we use our energy for others around us. Creating NIFW. The side projects that Chris codes in the mornings, which could be products that truly affect society and humanity. The energy I have to bake banana bread and bring it to the office to foster a sense of community. Volunteering and cheering for friends at their races and financially helping others when we can. Because let's be clear: we're not giving up completely selfish lives to have a kid. We are already quite nurturing of our community. Is it fair to take our energies away from those endeavors and put them into a child?

Let's skip the part where I burst into tears and the part when Chris comforted me and the part where I started laughing like a madwoman because I felt so ridiculous. (And the part where I laughed and cried simultaneously for 10 minutes... thank you, hormones!) I fell asleep and had a decent day yesterday and when I woke up stupidly early this morning, I sensed what I needed to do.

I had some flash cards to make.

I took two of the books that have most encouraged me about natural birth to Starbucks and made a bunch of flashcards, each with a different motivational saying or suggestion about how to make it through a few more contractions. I'd underlined a number of passages in the books already, so it was easy to flip through and grab those motivational nuggets. But I also thought deeply about what I was trying to tell myself about the experience, what I might say if I were my own doula. I made some cards based on those thoughts as well.

Then I made one card with a long list of names of people who I think will be cheering me on as I go through labor. I can imagine looking at that one and feeling happy and motivated just thinking about the people on that card.

Why is this important? Because I think we can trick ourselves to believe in our challenges just as easily as we can convince ourselves otherwise. Because sometimes you fake it until you make it. Because the ability to motivate myself is possibly the most defining quality I have... and I'll be damned if I lose that part of myself in the process of becoming a parent.

At work we sometimes talk about how to scale people. When there's a particularly valuable person on a team, we wonder how we can scale them up - that is, to say, how do we make more of this person? How do we encourage this person's qualities in others and free this person up to do bigger things or free the company up to take on new work? It doesn't work with everyone. Some people don't naturally instill their talents and skills to other members of a team; they are better soloists. But sometimes it works like a charm... and when it does, it seems like we can all take a huge breath of air and tackle a newer, bigger dream together.

That's why we're having a child. Because we humbly believe we deserve to be scale-able. It's a pain in the ass to train people under you so you can be freed up to do bigger things. But when you stick with it and successfully scale yourself? You cannot even imagine the possibilities that come your way.

At least, that's what I'm banking on.