I’ve often said that there’s nothing more punk than love, but I think Columbia Journalism Review’s Anna Clark has me beat in the punk department.
All posts in category Mental Rambling
Posted by emilylhauser on October 30, 2013
I just got back from a walk (a thing I have almost literally [in the literal sense of "literally"] not been able to do for the better part of six weeks) and here is what I found myself thinking about: The narratives we construct about ourselves and our lives.
When we think about our past, our family, the day through which we are currently muddling, we always make choices about the narrative. Maybe our ancestors came from eight different places, but our family keeps the traditions of one. Maybe we remember our success (or failure) in one year of school more than the others. Maybe I tripped and fell, but the people who helped me were so kind — do I talk about (think about) my sense of humiliation, the blood on my knee, or the kindness?
The choices that we make have an impact that is literally incalculable (because who’s ever going to figure out a way to calculate that?) on our lives. How I choose to remember my grandmother — the parts I hold on to, as well as the parts I allow to fall away — have a daily impact on how I think of myself, how I use my time, how I talk to my kids (and again, I mean that quite literally. Anyone who knew my grandmothers will know what I mean).
I don’t believe, as many self-help guides would suggest, that we necessarily choose our suffering. First of all, if (for instance) you’re living in chronic, generational poverty and can’t get your clinical depression treated, you haven’t chosen your suffering. But there’s a lot else that we don’t choose. My father died when I was a baby, for example, and my family has had alcoholism wash through it in waves for generations — the suffering those facts have caused me is real. That suffering is a fact, not a choice. There is no way that I can “choose” any of that away. I also can’t choose to upend social stigma or expectations, or decades of socialization, or, I don’t know, natural disasters. Or the government shutdown. Attitude can only take you so far.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a force. What narrative do I want? Even if I can’t upend social stigma — do I at least want to know that I tried? How do I deal, at age 49, with the loss of my father in way that is meaningful? How do I focus on kindness, rather than on bloody knees? The knee won’t un-bloody. But I want the kindness to matter, too.
A big part of why I’ve had so little time over the past two months is because I’ve been teaching a course on politics and the mass media, and the idea of “framing” the news is one we’ve talked a lot about. Though I’m not a huge fan of our text, one line leapt off the page and has remained lodged in my brain: “We live in terms of the stories we tell.”
The text goes on to say “We live in terms of the stories we tell, stories about what things exist, stories about how things work, and stories about what to do” — and that is all true, but unnecessary. It’s all right there in the first nine words. We live in terms of the stories we tell.
What stories do I want to spend my life telling?
Posted by emilylhauser on October 8, 2013
It feels like there is everything and nothing to write about.
Everywhere, everyone is talking about the government shutdown – I don’t want to talk about that. It frightens me and makes me sad, and then it infuriates me. Of course, some are talking about the possibility that the House GOP, not content with damaging the country once this month, will do so a second time by forcing us to default on our national debt – I don’t want to talk about that either. It frightens me more, and makes me leap straight over sad into rage.
I was at the J Street conference last week – it was great, really fabulous, to spend two and a half solid days doing nothing but talking about and meeting people who talk about the very ideas that consume roughly 67% of my head space (see what I did there?). It was like getting to talk in my real language for a time. It was lovely. It was also exhausting, and hard to explain, though, so that’s all I have to say about that. (Well not entirely. I wrote something for Open Zion; I’ll crosspost it here tomorrow).
The holidays have come, been, and gone. Thank heavens. I don’t want to talk about that again until next fall. Yes, the first night of Hanukkah is on Thanksgiving Eve this year, a once-in-humanity occurrence. Beyond saying that, though, what else is there to say about that?
People continue to die horrible deaths in Syria. Slightly-less back-channel-y diplomacy continues with Iran (even as the Iranian government continues to oppress its people, because let’s pause for an honesty break here). The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks apparently continue, but no one’s allowed to say anything about them, so who knows what’s going on there? I don’t want to talk about any of that either. Almost all I’ve done for the last several weeks was essentially talk about that.
I’ve read some good books. I’m catching up on TV (a little). Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I should finally get around to watching Deep Space 9 (I know…). I have friends coming to visit this week, and one kid’s parent-teacher conference to attend and another to schedule. I’m literally months behind on matters like annual check-ups and cleaning my heating/cooling system’s filters. I bought a great, bright red cardigan at a resale shop.
This blog has seen a sudden, huuuuge upswing in readership in the past two days, and I’m so happy to have y’all here that I really want to write something. But there are too many, and too few, choices today. Maybe I’ll do better tomorrow. In the meantime, thank you for being here! Here are some puppies hugging, to make you smile:
Posted by emilylhauser on October 7, 2013
I’ve considered myself a writer since somewhere around late-junior-high, and for a sizeable chunk of my life, I’ve attempted to make some kind of living from being a writer. I am at heart an essayist, but I’m also comfortable with reviews, features, research papers, straight-up reporting, pretty much any non-fiction thing you might toss at me. Poetry and make-believe, not so much, but everything else? I’m on it. In the past, I would occasionally feel that if I were more serious, I would write fiction. And then I realized that I don’t want to write fiction. So I got over myself.
That’s the extent of my writer’s angst — the whole, entire enchilada. I used to kinda think maybe I should try my hand at fiction, and then I went: Nah.
But existing in a world of writers, as I do — and more broadly in a world of creatives of all types — I’m forever hearing (reading) a sort of ritualistic expression of self-loathing, often embracing the idea that if you’re ever genuinely satisfied with what you’ve created, your muse has died. DIED.
What the hell is up with that?
No, seriously. What the hell? Sure, we should all strive to improve. There’s always room for “better.” The top is never truly achieved, because in reaching it, the next mountain is created and if you want to grow in your field, you have to climb it, too. I am absolutely down with all of that.
And there is also such a thing as shitty work. There’s such a thing as work-produced-when-young-and-inexperienced. There’s such a thing as wishing now that you had done something differently then. No doubt.
But I am here today to propose an apparently world-shattering idea: It’s ok to think you’re good at your job. Even if you’re an artist.
There is nothing inherently noble to thinking that you suck, or that all your past work is unreadable, or that every true turn of phrase can only be born of blood, sweat, and dark nights of the tormented soul. Nothing.
I mean, if that’s your bag – if that’s how you produce your work and you really can’t do it any other way – well, ok. I suppose we all have to have our process, and if that’s yours, you do you. It sounds painful, but honestly (really): Who am I to judge?
But can the rest of us just stop acting like that’s the way it has to be? That if you’re a Real Writer (painter, poet, circus clown), you know nothing but dark nights of the tormented soul? We don’t expect brain surgeons, teachers, or software engineers to doubt their every step — why do we expect it of each other?
I’m a good writer. I’ve always been a pretty good writer. This is my gift — my one, single, solitary gift, the only thing I actually know how to do. I won’t deny it, and I refuse to treat self-doubt as a sign of purity. I strive to improve, and on one dark night when I believed I’d never write under my own by-line again, tears streamed down my face as I told my husband that now I’d never get a chance to be as good as I might be able to be. And yes, when I look back and discover work that doesn’t hold together like I thought it did at the time, I cringe. I’ll bet surgeons and teachers, et al, do the same. I may never be great — very few people are — but I’m good at my job.
If you’re a creative, I challenge you to consider that you, too, might be good at your job.
And that maybe less self-loathing and fewer dark nights might allow us to achieve even greater things.
Posted by emilylhauser on October 5, 2013
Reupping this from two years ago, almost to the day — because it’s all true all over again!!1!
Hot in the Middle West, hot in the South, hot in the East, hot for the Hottentots, no doubt. I think even the Pacific Northwest — where in 2011, they apparently had 78 minutes of summer by mid-July (according to actual scientists) — is getting it in the neck this week.
Once upon a time, I lived in a city where this kind of hot was de rigueur at this time of year. Every year. Every day. From June 30 to September 10, give or take (with an inevitable resurgence just in time for Yom Kippur, when those who fast may not have so much as a sip of water) — heat just like this.
It doesn’t cool down on summer evenings in Tel Aviv, and the humidity could fairly easily be cut with a knife. You could make little tofu-like cubes of the humidity, and stir-fry them on the sidewalk, at midnight, is what I’m saying.
And back when I lived there, in the 80s and 90s, nobody but the rich had air-conditioning.
I was not, as you may have surmised by now, counted among the rich.
Here, though, in the gentle exile of American suburbia, I have air-conditioning up the wazoo! And if I keep certain windows shaded morning to night, it doesn’t even have to work all that hard to counteract the blast furnace with which we and the Hottentots must now grapple.
All of which means that I do not have to do any of the following semi-crazy things that I used to do, just to cool down, in Tel Aviv:
- Take upwards of three showers a day; allow my hair to drip down my back for as long as possible. Then wet my hair again.
- Sleep upside down, so that the fan could be right at my face.
- Dampen a sheet, and wrap myself in it at bedtime.
- Go to Jerusalem.
- Stick my head in the freezer.
Of these five activities, clearly #4 represented the nadir of my misery. Because, dude: Jerusalem is awful.
But for two glorious months of the year, when the sun had set and the breeze had returned, leaving Tel Aviv for the chaotic, dirty capital actually made sense.
One time, I remember, I even had to put on a sweater.
PS Just for the record: I really did used to stick my head in the freezer. You know: Now and then. If I happened to be passing. But I’m kind of short, so it would only last for a few seconds.
Posted by emilylhauser on July 19, 2013
It occurs to me that it has been some time since I posted what I think of as a “real” post at this blog, that is: not something crossposted from Open Zion, not something reupped from the archives, and not something that is, or amounts to, a funny picture. There’s been a lot going on.
There was the trip to Israel that was hella-busy and action-packed, including a stay in a Druze village, a visit to the Bahai gardens, one lovely, long evening at a beach restaurant in Yafo (a restaurant about which apparently Time Magazine had something to say), as many friends and as many days in Tel Aviv as we could muster, and way more work than I anticipated doing (it seems that when I was actually in Israel/Palestine, I found I had even more than usual to say about Israel/Palestine).
Then there was the flight home that got delayed and delayed again and again, so that we didn’t get to our beds before 2 am last Monday morning. Then there was the trying to get our lives back into a rhythm despite our exhaustion, and then the politics-into-the-night of the Wendy Davis filibuster, then the huge & lightening-quick storm on Thursday that knocked out half the town’s electricity as well as knocking over a three-story-tall pine in our backyard. Then there was all the aftermath of that (including many phone calls that started “I’ve never had to do anything like this before in my life, so you’ll have to walk me through it.”) Then there was yesterday, when we celebrated the husband’s birthday a few days late, because it actually fell on Monday, and as noted, Monday was kind of a wash.
And none of that is the least bit interesting (well, maybe some of the Israel stuff is), but it does at least serve the purpose of helping me clarify for myself why I’ve been so lax!
Anyway, here are the pictures I promised (I lied. Some are of our sad tree).
Posted by emilylhauser on July 1, 2013
In a wild and woolly happenstance, The Bloggess (who, if you’re unfamiliar, is kind of a Big Deal on The Internet as well as Among Geeks) wrote essentially the same post I wrote yesterday. Only her’s was funny. I highly recommend that you click here to read it, because really, how much earnestness are you going to let me dish out to you?
Also, her’s had the following video, which she posited is an accurate representation of herself, trying to get work done (aka: the cat) battling her brain (aka: the weasel). And it’s totally about me, too!!1! So, yeah, The Bloggess and me? Totes twin-like! I’m just as cool as she is! (I am so!)
So anyway. Watch this. It’s very funny.
Posted by emilylhauser on May 23, 2013
Having been raised by a librarian, moving in across the street from the library was somewhat analogous to moving in across the street from heaven. I can still remember exactly where the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books were located in the children’s section downstairs, and I can just about feel the industrial carpet through my shirt as I lay down to read whatever was next to them.
Throughout my life, going to the library has involved spending time with books for which I had not intended to reach out a hand. In fact I think that’s how I came on the BTT books in the first place; I know for a fact that I read some sizeable chunk of Maud Hart Lovelace’s oeuvre sitting with my back against that next-to-bottom shelf on which they could be found.
As you can imagine, this occasionally resulted in a trip to the library taking longer, and yielding a much bigger pile, than I’d intended, a fact that was equally true in college and graduate school, which you can further imagine didn’t always do wonders for my workload.
But it is how I discovered Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will and an entire shelf of feminist theory (which I can still see, in the library of the Naftali Building at Tel Aviv University), launching my transformation from an instinctive feminist to an educated one, so it’s not all bad — but on the other hand, let me tell you, when one allows oneself to get temporarily lost in random books in the stacks of Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, it can lead (you know: entirely theoretically) to getting actually, literally lost.
So why do I bring all of this up now?
Because the Internet.
The Internet, I have realized, is One Big (Chaotic) Library, and there you are, wandering down the stacks on your way to the “Israel/Palestine” section, or possibly the “Recipes” shelf, or mayhaps the “Interesting Stories About Scientific Advances That You Can Kind Of Understand If You Read Slowly” department, and boom! You stroll right past baby gorillas practicing thumping their chests! Or an obscure, unknown mathematician who solved an old, thorny problem about prime numbers! (And if you read slowly, you just know you can understand it!) Or a colorful and random appreciation of all things Eurovision!
And just like that, I’m sitting on the metaphorical floor of the library, enjoying baby gorillas or trying to remember what I know about prime numbers.
The up side, of course, is that I find so many utterly fascinating things in my meandering way. Our earliest ancestor! Space flight for regular folks! Everything the Vlogbrothers have ever done, alone or together!
The down side is that I find so many utterly fascinating things in my meandering way.
I mean: The day – still only 24 hours, right? If I’m wandering about the stacks, I’m not sitting on my couch reading the book that’s literally right there, waiting for me!
And I begin to feel a little unhinged when this sort of thing goes on for too long.
This is not the Internet’s fault. This is my fault. The Internet (and Twitter, and BuzzFeed, and Wired, and YouTube, and on and on) are all just tools that I haven’t learned how to use properly yet. I used to know how to keep going past that tantalizing spine in the not-where-I’m-supposed-to-be section of the library when I really had to. I have to teach myself again, is all, and teach myself that “I really have to” includes things that aren’t on deadline, but that are ultimately more important to me than the meandering bit. It’s a constant rejiggering of the hierarchy of importance, and a constant retooling of my skill set in that field. It requires a level of mindfulness that is, I’m guessing, fairly new to the human animal.
Thumbs up for rock n’ roll!
Posted by emilylhauser on May 22, 2013
It’s graduation season, and as in every graduation season, one hears a lot of successful people telling halls of not-yet-successful-people to “follow their passion.” Following one’s passion is, we are given to understand, the only real way to live a fulfilling life, a life in which work is more than mere chore, a life in which one meets one’s end with a smile on one’s face.
Coupla problems with that. Number 1 being that the people doing the talking are successful.
I know that successful role models (in graduation exercises, as in magazine editorials and TV commercials) are meant to serve as inspiration, but they wind being perceived of as the norm: If you do X (where X generally equals “work hard, believe in yourself, and most of all, follow your passion”) you can be like me.
And the thing is: No.
Most people who follow their passion, even most talented people who follow their passion, will not ever be as successful as the people invited to address graduating classes. Most really good ball players will never make it to the majors; most really good interior designers will not get their own furniture lines; most really good musicians will not go to the Grammys; most really good scientists will not land a position on the next Mars Rover team (and, it bears noting, most really good writers will not wind up at The Atlantic. Not that I’m bitter).
We don’t like to think about it, but this is what sports teams, and the Grammys, and any and all hiring practices represent: A winnowing down of the vast field of competition, ultimately to that small number who will wind up making it big.
Talent and dedication are crucial pieces of the puzzle, but much of this process is subjective, or biased, or blatantly unfair, and a lot of it comes right back to the simple and deeply troubling facts of economic disparities. It’s easier to achieve your dream if you can afford to work for free for a couple-few years; it’s easier still if you’ve spent your entire life around people who have already made it. There’s a point at which talent (or belief in oneself) has absolutely nothing to do with it.
“But Emily!” you say. “I don’t want to win a Grammy or even get my own furniture line! I just want to be able to pay middle-class bills with my passion!”
And here’s the other thing: Sometimes even that’s impossible. It’s been fairly impossible since the dawn of time, in fact.
The whole notion of following one’s passion is so steeped historic, economic, and social privilege that it fairly reeks. For the vast majority of human existence you were grateful if you and yours ate today and could know with some certainty that you would also eat tomorrow and next week. In fact, without access to actual data, I feel safe in saying that this remains true for the majority of humans alive today. Those of us who can even entertain the notion of following our passion are already living with some degree of good fortune, however uninspiring we may find it (“I get to eat tomorrow? That’s it?”).
Aside from that, though, certain fields have simply never been money-makers. I’m a writer, and I can assure you: Most writers do not pay most of their bills with their words, or at least: Not with the ones it gave them joy to write.
I think also of our beloved ex-babysitter, a talented lacrosse player who followed his passion to college and is finishing up what is more than likely going to be his last season of play even as I type. Here he is in his early 20s, a few months from graduation, and his passion is closing its doors. Can he play in an amateur league and/or coach, and would these things give him joy? Yes, and I would hope so. But pay his bills for the rest of his life? Probably not. (PS I can’t tell you how sad this makes me. You should see him talk about his sport. I wish I could pay him to play, myself).
But of perhaps greatest relevance to today’s graduating seniors is the economy that awaits them. As comic artist Matt Bors notes in his book Life Begins At Incorporation (and let’s not forget that a comic artist is more than a little likely to know about the topsy-turvy world of passion-following):
“Barely scraping by and taking what you can get is the new normal. Having 500 people show up to apply for jobs at Walmart, who pursues a strategy of paying people such low wages that they qualify for government assistance, that’s the new normal.”
So when we tell people to follow their passion, and hold fabulously successful role models up to them, we’re not only misleading them, we’re actually being kind of mean — unless we don’t stop there.
Follow your passion – for as long you possibly can, even if it doesn’t pay enough, even if it tires you out, even if it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, because at the end of your life, you’ll be grateful that you tried. Follow your passion – but understand that it may cost you in time and money, and that it may never be easy, even as it gives you that jolt supplied only by doing a thing you love. Follow your passion — but work hard at everything you do, try your best at everything, let others help, help them when they need it, be kind and accept kindness. Follow your passion – but know when to let go. Know that peace of mind and being able to afford to fix your car are also good, life-affirming things.
I’m following my passion. Some of the money I make comes from the words I loved writing, but most of it doesn’t, and if I had to actually support my children, I would have to stop. My passion-following is entirely dependent on my well-employed co-head-of-household, as is the passion-following of many people around the world. This is one of the ways in which we accept kindnesses.
I would never tell someone to not follow their passion — but I would tell them that it may come at a price, that it may never be easy, and that at the end of the day, sometimes letting go is a brave and life-affirming act. Try — try your best, try your hardest, try with all your heart — but don’t be cruel to yourself if it doesn’t work out.
At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, we all of us will have to look back and weigh what we did. You’re not likely to be Bill Gates, Adele, or RA Dickey, but you can make choices that are honest and satisfying. The trick, I think, lies less in following your passion, and more in making sure you listen more to yourself than to anyone else.
Which I suspect means that you should feel free to ignore every word of the above. Which is ok, too.
Posted by emilylhauser on May 10, 2013