January 06, 2017

“Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.”

Modern Adventuress

6 JANUARY 2017

Hello letter friends,

We’re still sweeping up from 2016 around here. Today I have for you many end-of-year lists in the links, a pointer to an older essay about flexibility, a few movie recommendations and a new essay on stress.


16 women of color who made history in 2016.

Feministing’s favorite feminist articles of 2016.

Roxane Gay’s favorite books of 2016.

The Mary Sue’s favorite women comic writers of 2016.
Kim Morgan’s best films and DVDs of 2016.
Tyrus Wong, an accomplished artist who was one of the primary influencers in Bambi’s visual design, died at age 106 and gave us a heck of a life story. And what a finish.
"I guess what I’m saying is, maybe if the Galactic Senate hadn’t defunded Planned Parenthood, the Republic wouldn’t have succumbed to an evil fascist dictatorship.” Did inadequate healthcare destroy Star Wars’s Old Republic?
"Using the goddess figure to challenge societal norms is certainly an attractive idea. But it has its limitations. I have to admit, having grown up with the goddess figure as part of my South Asian tradition, I inwardly roll my eyes most times I hear casual references to goddesses as manifestations of female power in pop culture.” The goddess complex.
Becoming ugly.
John Berger: "If I’m a storyteller it’s because I listen.”


"I like new ideas, and I like growth, but I’m not sure if I can say I’m entirely comfortable with flexibility of thought. We’ve all heard the parable of the tree that bends with the wind rather than breaks, but I’m skeptical, as I am with most bits of spiritual truth (see also: too sarcastic for yoga)."

This week’s essay look back is to on flexibility.


I’m reading a very long novel right now and I’ve seen a flurry of films lately, so I don’t have one particular recommendation. But over the past week or so I’ve seen: Silence, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and Jackie, all of which are worth taking in and thinking about.


I’ll be a judge at the Uncommon Hacks hackathon on January 14-15 at the University of Chicago. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can check it out.

Notes in the Margins

On stress.

A short time ago, my therapist suggested we try something new. This doesn't happen often, because I've rarely reacted well to it. Early in our partnership (now into its third year), she attempted new suggestions more frequently, especially in regards to her speciality of art therapy—which, ostensibly, I had been interested in trying before we began working together. But, once in that physical and mental space where I was to do work on myself, I stubbornly insisted on holding to my analytic side and kept my therapy firmly rooted in words, where I was already comfortable.

Over time, however, I have softened and become more flexible, and so recently I was willing to try a guided meditation session. I recognized that I had hit a ceiling of development, and that the old tools were not going to move me beyond it. It was time to level up, which meant exploring the unknown, beyond comfortable words and thoughts. I’d been working towards it for a while. About a year ago, I wrote about my new journey with yoga and how I feared I was too sarcastic to ever really be good at it. Sarcasm, of course, is just armor, sometimes needed but sometimes not. At some point, I’d managed to get over the need for instant protection. I learned how to sit quietly with myself. I learned how to master myself, at least to a certain point. And I learned that there was a great, formless mass of unprocessed emotions and unchecked habits, steadily built up over many years, to finally reckon with. When faced with that, you either fall back on what you’ve always done, and remain stuck in place, or you move forward. I was, gingerly, doubtfully, curiously moving forward.

Meditation taught me something else new, which was that I don’t have to be stressed out all the time, that there is actually another way to live. How extraordinary. It was another understanding long in the making, but it blossomed when I finally gave it enough time and concentration to. As any other person whose interaction with the world has been largely defined by anxiety and stress will know, it’s quite a revelation that this is not a necessary state of being and that it’s not even entirely dictated by external circumstance. Circumstance plays its part, to be sure. But even when you’ve carefully arranged your life to suit you, you will still operate with the same survival instinct, the same level of stress, that you did when you were in different circumstances, until you figure out how to switch it off. You also become aware that you’ll never reach the point where absolutely every external circumstance will suit you, because that’s simply not how life in the world works. So then, basically, it becomes necessary for you to learn how to calm the hell down.

It requires some rewiring. It requires time and careful movement. I now practice yoga every day. I follow my app-guided meditations. I go to therapy every week. I write down my thoughts every morning. I’ve slowly added more and more methods to slow myself down and pay attention to the moment I’m in, to not worry about what I have to do next or what I didn’t do in the past. It’s all so hopelessly cliched my first impulse is to dismiss it myself, maybe with a sarcastic barb. But the truth of the matter is that I have calmed down. I don’t stress out as much anymore. I feel more in control while in deliberate repose than I did in reflexive action, a paradox I hadn’t perceived before. It turns out it’s all just better.

And perhaps it’s better to save sarcasm, and stress, for the circumstances where they are truly required.

That’s all for today. Thank you for reading.

I hope you get to relax a bit in the new year.



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Subject line quote by René Descartes.