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Amy Shearn (558 posts)
And then, just like that, summer is ending. Do you feel this way too, that every year the end of summer comes as a surprise? After months of groaning about how hot it is and longing for a crisp day of wearing sweaters and apple picking, suddenly the kids are back in school, there is a hint of chill in the air, and there is that eternal bittersweet sense of September.
Amy Jean Porter's "Return to Cat Town" drawings in The Awl capture the end-of-summer feeling exactly. Her evocative sketches and their accompanying captions cover the wildness of summer days -- her kids wander around inventing games, she reports, which makes her feel as though she's living in the novelist Haruki Murakami's invention, Cat Town, where cats roam and chat and can't even see humans. There is that wild element of magic in summer, to be sure, even when your days unfold in a climate-controlled office. Still, and always, it's a time when you'd believe that cats sit around having human conversations, that the woods are alive with surreal happenings, that anything is possible.
Check out all of Amy Jean Porter's drawings, with their dreamy imagery and wise commentary, on The Awl.
An Artist's Imagined Collections
Whimsical Japanese Animations
But we're always hearing about the importance of getting a good night's sleep, and everyone knows a good night's sleep starts with proper preparation. An ambitious sleeper must achieve just the right proportions of coziness and snuggliness (yes, there is a subtle but important difference), just the right balance of sleepiness and relaxation (ditto), so that the threshold of sleep is crossed with a delicious sense of release, not the frenzied capitulation of the way-over-tired. And so, consider this a challenge. Can you achieve bedtime greatness? You'll need proper pajamas (not just yoga pants and the shirt you wore all day, like me), and clean bedclothes and of course you're going to need a bedtime story.
Assuming you don't live with your mother, you're probably going to need to consult outside resources for this last element. As a semi-pro sleeper, I have a great horror of television-stained sleeping -- there is nothing restful about that flickering glare. The radio is unpredictable.
And thus, Miette's Bedtime Podcast. Hours and hours of grown-up bedtime stories by greats like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, and many more, read in Miette's hypnotic Scottish accent. Or maybe "read" is too blunt a word to use. Miette purrs the stories in just the right, soft, soothing way you need at the end of a hectic day. Her blog posts are prefaced with charming non-sequiters; her story selections are impeccable. She is, essentially, a gift from the bedtime gods.
The podcast is free on iTunes. Pajamas you're going to have to find yourself.
National Pajama Month is Coming
Bedtime Essentials for a Good Night's Sleep
Beauty the Eagle had her beak disfigured in 2005, when she was shot by a poacher. Set aside the grim symbolism of shooting an American Bald Eagle in the face, for a moment -- it's sad and brutal, yes. But what happened to Beauty is a lovely tonic. Jane Fink Cantwell, a raptor specialist at Idaho's Birds of Prey Northwest, has cared for Beauty all these years, through the hopes that her beak would grow back (it didn't) all the way to the near-unanimous call for euthanization (Cantwell refused). Beauty could not clean or feed herself, and so needed constant care and attention, and faced the possibility of never again living in the wild. Then, while giving a talk about Beauty, Cantwell met mechanical engineer Nate Calvin. Read the whole story in the Guardian for the amazing process Calvin used to fashion a prosthetic beak with a 3D printer.
The video below shows the process of fitting Beauty for her new beak. Watching it, especially the palpable nervousness of the poor confused bird, is a real nail-biter. But it worked, and Beauty was finally able clean and feed herself.
While the Guardian reports that Beauty has had problems with keeping the beak attached, to me the best part of the story is that so many people have worked so hard to help the eagle reclaim her life. "It's a story about a Bald Eagle becoming a teacher," Cantwell says. And knowing that her process of rehabilitation is ongoing is a good reminder to all of us. Transformation may not happen overnight, but it's the process, not necessarily the result, that has the most to teach us.
Saving Species on the Brink of Extinction
A Woman Who Devoted Her Life to Wolves
It's one of the more annoying aspects of growing up, but it's undeniable: at some point, you are forced to admit that many old saws turn out to be true. I almost gagged the first time a stranger said to me, as I walked with my 5-day-old firstborn, "The days are long, but the years are short!" And what do you know, a blink of an eye later, that kid is starting school. Wise Crone Stranger was totally right! Weird!
Speaking of aging quickly, how about going from 0-years-old to 100 in 150 seconds? This video is not only the most uplifting way ever to learn to count to 100 in Dutch, but also a beautiful portrait of time. Filmmaker Jeroen Wolf asked people on the streets of Amsterdam to look into the camera and say their ages. The result is a fascinating compendium of faces, of the different ways people show their age, as well as the different attitudes they have toward their age. Just watch the range of emotions with which these people say their ages: happy, resigned, proud, reluctant. (According the filmmaker, it took him nearly a year to complete the project, and the hardest person to find was the 99 year-old.)
Singapore's Secret to Aging Well
How One Actress Refused to Admit Her Age
When picking up a book for the first time, do you first:
1) Read the back cover?
2) Read the first sentence?
3) Examine the author's photo?
4) Flip through and read sentences at random, as you will with ten other books standing there in the book store/library/your living room until your feet fall asleep and you've completely forgotten who or where you are?
For me, it's #4. (By the way, if you answered #4, according to my proprietary How-You-Check-Out-A-New-Book-Personality-Test (TM), you are a most serious and brilliant reader.) Of course I read for a gripping story and unforgettable characters and all the things that we wallow in novels for, but there is also a special joy in sentences, in bits and bobs, and even in the connections between seemingly unconnected books.
Which is why I love The Infinite Book, a text made up of other texts. What story is created when bits of other stories are jangled together like a pocketful of change? The result is surprisingly coherent, or anyway it can be. Bedtime stories are read, become nightmarish, blend into fact, meld into poetry. It's a lovely way to find a new book to read (clicking on each line gives you more information about the from which book it's been plucked) -- and a lovely way to think about reading. Reading as collecting, reading as an art form all its own.
Check out the Infinite Book, from Bkclb.
Must-Reads of the Month
Tame Your Overstuffed Bookshelves
Read the Book You've Always Meant to Read
I once read that a house cat will go completely feral within a few days of living outside, a figure I think about every long weekend. It's a common symptom of a little extra time off that we get a bit, possibly overly, relaxed -- those back-to-work emails can be unintentionally snarky, or worse, sound angry when we mean to be jokey. (Or, even worse worse, when we're actually angry.)
We've all done it: written a friend or coworker an email in the heat of the moment, typed out in the garbled language of anger. Or else, sent the boss a note pounded into a smart phone while crossing the street, which you only later realize is characterized by a completely unintentional brusqueness. Thankfully, some smartypantses (smarties pants?) last year invented ToneCheck, a program that makes sure your emails don't sound angry. (That we're only figuring out this now? we're adding to the list of things we wish we were on top of.)
Still: One free download later, your emails will feature this handy key along the bottom:
As your note veers into the spittle-flecked screed territory, the "tone alert" bar increases in concerned red lines. Key phrases are called out, and helpfully labelled with corresponding emotions (over 200 of them, according to the ToneCheck site): "upsetting," "concerning," all the way up to "aggressive." The idea being you'll never accidentally start a digital feud with your sister because she thought you were mad and you thought she was mad and... well, you get the idea.
Increase Your Workplace Well-Being
A Roadmap to Email Sanity
The Email Typo That Led to Love
We all have our September 11th stories. Mine involves a husband who worked at the World Trade Centers.
We were both temping, having just arrived in New York City as fresh as newborn babies. My husband was temping for Silverstein Properties, the company which had just purchased the leases for the WTC buildings; he spent his days – get this – photocopying contracts and leases that would soon mean nothing. Good thing he was perpetually late to work; good thing he stopped to pack a sandwich; good thing he stepped out of the subway that morning just instants before his workplace was getting hit by planes.
So now what? He’s fine. Everyone we knew was fine. We're the lucky ones, we who don’t have anyone in particular to personally mourn. Still, every year I have to squint at the news if I want to not be weepy all day. We’re still traumatized, as a nation – anyone in doubt of that need only to look at the way 9/11 is covered in the media. But this morning, a tweet, of all things, reminded me of how to deal with the day.
Edward Champion includes two links telling two different stories of visits to the sites of tragedies: 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. No doubt the tourist smiling for pictures at the WTC site mean well. But what a good reminder, that when this country suffered a similar trauma at Pearl Harbor, it was commemorated with “remembrance and quiet dedication.”
What do a widow, a relief worker in Haiti, a homeless shelter director, and a grieving girlfriend have in common? In the case of singer/songwriter Alex Woodard's multimedia project "For the Sender," all four wrote letters that inspired him to write songs. In his new book he writes about how he was feeling adrift, trying to pursue his artistic dreams, feeling discouraged, and then on top of it all, mourning his dog/best friend, when a letter from a stranger changed everything. Along with a group of musician friends, Woodard set about turning this letter, and three others, into a series of songs. (Check out the official site for facsimiles of the letters and more about each letter-writer's story -- each heartbreaking in its own way.) Then he traveled to meet each letter-writer and perform their songs for them, in private concerts that were culminations of each woman's original act of reaching out.
The project is, in a way, the crystallization of the artistic process: the wordless pain Woodard felt when his dog died and he felt his life had stalled; how connecting with others helped to find both his musical voice and the stories he wanted to tell; then the final closing of the circuit, when he reconnected with his unlikely muses. It calls to mind the advice of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut: "Write to please just one person." When Alex Woodard found someone -- in this case, his letter-writers -- to create for, he found his reason to create.
I found the Haitian relief worker's story especially compelling -- learn more about her, and see some priceless footage of Haitian school kids enjoying an impromptu concert, in the video below:
Sharing the Work of Haiti's Artisans
How Creativity Can Be Applied to Anything
The list is fascinating, in the way that it's always irresistible to peek inside a romantic relationship, to hope for a glimpse of that mysterious something that is invisible to outsiders. Peeking at the letters of lovers offers a hit of vicarious romance, and sometimes even a moment of shock (Mozart, please!). So read on. You just might get inspired to write to your own darling dear little lambie.
Love Letters to the World
The President You Least Expected To Be Romantic
Write a Letter to Your Latte-Maker
The Internet can be a dangerous place, particularly for wallets, particularly when you find yourself wandering down the virtual aisles of Etsy and other purveyors of lovelier-than-lovely t-shirts you are sure will express everything you mean to express about your appreciation for good design AND your philosophy on life, and before you know it, you've spent a bunch of money and have your budgetary tail between your legs. But how about if said extremely cute garment also contributed to providing safe shelter for sex trafficking victims, or bringing clean water to developing countries, or providing therapy for children with autism? Why, it might start to feel like a truly crucial addition to your wardrobe after all!
Sevenly is the brainchild of two young entrepreneurs, Dale Partridge and Aaron Chavez, who wanted to find a way of battling apathy in the face of widespread suffering. Sevenly's Ryan Wood told me, "Sevenly was developed around the belief that people matter. We figured that if we could just start getting people to give, then we could get them to care." So every week, they choose a cause they'd like to support, from battling poverty among Thai children to helping people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. They assess the appropriate charities, find one they think is most effective, and then work with their team of designers to create the t-shirts. Each time someone buys a shirt, $7 (Get it? Sevenly?) goes to the charity of the week.
It's a clever concept, and one that's proving to be effective: check out the page of past campaigns and the amounts they've helped to raise. What an appealing way to do your good deed today, am I right?
Help For Kids Aging Out of Foster Care
A Social Network for Good Deeds
Boom Boom Cards Make Acts of Kindness Easy