My Reflections on S-Town

If you haven't listened to the S-Town podcast by the Serial and This American Life team, what the heck are you doing reading this blog post? Get thee to your podcast app and buckle up for an adventure.

If you have listened (and hopefully finished, though I'll avoid spoilers), you know why I'm still thinking about it. Here's my thesis statement:

Everyone has a story worth telling. Be it joyful or tragic, or likely a bit of both.

I listen to a lot of podcasts. What is a lot, you ask? I subscribe to and listen consistently to more than 50. I've tried hundreds. My friends ask me for reviews and recommendations. I love podcasts. The series' that are most memorable for me have a few things in common:

  • A story with many layers and interesting themes
  • Great audio quality, music, and effects
  • An approachable narrator or host
  • Rich human drama
  • Surprising twists and turns
  • A satisfying ending

For me, S-Town met these qualifications and exceeded all of my hopes. The Serial & This American Life team did something I was sure they could not achieve again. They set the bar for podcasts even higher. Serial changed the game. S-Town blasted off into orbit.

My first tweet about S-Town (about 15 minutes into the first episode) said this: "I adore this guy so far, with his giant garden maze and his rubix cubes." That sentiment never changed.

I've embarked upon my second listening of the 7 part series, and there are a few topics and quotes that especially stand out to me today. 

"I've been finding stuff out slowly over the years."

Tyler, one of the integral characters, says this about John, the protagonist. It's a simple statement, but it's poignant. That's the crux of relationships. You can't meet someone and figure them out in one conversation. People are beautifully and tragically complex. To really get to know someone, it takes years of shared experiences, conversations, and picking up on what goes unsaid. This podcast inspires me to dig deeper in my relationships. Ask more questions. Spend more time. Really listen and observe.

"Life is tedious and brief."

A quote on a sundial, a contemplation of the passing of time. In this season of my life, it speaks to me. We try to bounce between big events and major milestones and our memories don't hold onto the stuff in the middle. But our lives are made of the morning cups of coffee. The afternoons spent writing or looking out the window. The quiet evenings at home. Our lives are structured by doing dishes, washing loads of clothes, making mundane appointments. The time in between IS pretty tedious. But here's the truth - if we don't embrace the tedious, our lives WILL be brief. We can stack up all of the "big deal" moments on top of each other, and they won't reach all that high. If the exciting is all we count as living, our time will feel brief. I'm ready today to hold on tight to the tedious, and be grateful for the people I spend it with, in the place that I love.

What will I leave behind?

This may sound morbid. I don't mean it to be. But I'll die someday. We all will. If I was suddenly no longer here, what would I leave behind? What notebooks would my loved ones read to learn more about the details of my life story? What writing have I done that would share enough about who I am, to share what I've learned from the days of my life? I want to do enough with my days - not necessarily to achieve some cultural definition of success - but to honestly share the story of the beautiful and terrible in my life. To define my "worthwhile life." 

Today I purchased the beautiful score by Daniel Hart. I'm always looking for music to listen to while I write, and this fits the bill perfectly.

Next I'm planning to dig into John's "bedtime reading." The two short stories mentioned in the first episode are available to read online.

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

S-Town will stick with me, as my favorite books, albums, films, and conversations have. Honest, human, emotionally resonant. I'm grateful that Brian Reed took the time to get to know John and share his story with us. I think we're all a little better for having known him. 

Card & Letter Writing Ideas!

Finding the perfect card is a great way to get inspired about sending mail. But even the best card ever has blank space inside for your message. Many people have told me that they just can't think of anything to say inside of a card. My goal with this particular post is to share as many writing prompts as I can think of, so you'll get inspired. Some will be helpful. Some will be ridiculous. Let's do this.

  • I love you.
  • I miss you.
  • I'm glad I met you.
  • We should hang out.
  • I'm sorry I said something stupid without thinking.
  • I'm grateful you were there for me on a hard day.
  • Something made me think of you the other day, and I wanted to share it with you.
  • I took a fun weekend trip and I wanted to tell you about it. (Just you, not Facebook! Don't you feel special?)
  • I found an incredible recipe recently and I want you to try it.
  • I just found out I'm pregnant and I know that will be hard for you so I'm writing you a letter instead of making you find out on Facebook or in public.
  • Remember that time we did ______ and it was so much fun?
  • We just bought a house and I want you to come try out our guest room.
  • I drew you a picture. It's bad, but hopefully it will make you laugh.
  • I found something in a magazine that I think will make you smile so I'm sending it to you.
  • I found an especially pretty fall leaf and you don't have fall leaves where you live, so I'm sharing it with you.
  • Here's a poem I like a lot.
  • Here's a naughty limerick.
  • Here's a weird haiku.
  • Here are some song lyrics that felt especially poignant.
  • I'm so sorry you had a miscarriage and I know people don't usually like to talk about it, but I wanted you to know that you are loved and I'm here for you.
  • Here's a polaroid photo I took with terrible lighting. I hope it makes you feel nostalgic.
  • I found this pin/patch/temporary tattoo/postage stamp/whatever flat thing and I hope you love it.
  • I don't know what to say in this situation, but I care about you so I'm sending you mail. 
  • I got a new phone number and I thought you'd like to know what it is and if I text you, you'll say: "new phone, who dis?"
  • Did you see that crazy thing that happened in the news? What is this world coming to?
  • I've always thought you were particularly sweet/kind/pretty/brave/intelligent/interesting/etc. and I never told you. So, today's the day.
  • I'm sorry I've been so busy and haven't responded to your texts. Let's plan time to be face to face.
  • I'm enjoying getting to know you! I thought I'd send you some silly questions so we can get to know each other better. 
  • I heard that you lost your job. Here's a gift card for groceries. 
  • I heard that you got a new job! Here's my best advice for starting a new job:
  • Remember that game we used to play when we were kids? I hope the memory makes you smile.
  • I watched a new tv show that I think you'll like. I'm telling you about it so we can geek out together.
  • I'm writing to tell you about the crazy weather we've had this season. Seriously, it's been nuts.
  • I've set a new goal for myself and I want to tell you about it so you can help keep me on track.
  • It was so nice to meet you at that party/event/bus stop/coffee shop/wedding/work meeting. I'd love to get coffee some time!
  • Something you said really hurt my feelings, and I'm writing you a letter because it's really hard to bring up in person.
  • I have an idea for a business/podcast/comic book/weekend trip and I'd love to run it past you to get some feedback.
  • I've noticed you're really good at finances/art/patience/cooking/whatever and I'd love it if you could take me under your wing.
  • Hello, I'm your secret admirer. You're great. Thought you should know.
  • Thanks for sending me a letter! I'm super bad at sending letters, but I want you to know that I appreciated it.
  • I heard you're taking on a new leadership role! I'd love to assist you however I can. 
  • I can't believe your kid is already ___ years old! It feels like yesterday they were a squishy little baby.
  • I can't believe we're ___ years old! It feels like yesterday we were squishy little college students.
  • I heard about your divorce. I felt like your ex never liked me. Let's be friends again!
  • Hello, I am an alien from outer space and I've heard that humans communicate using this method.
  • Scribble scribble scribble (Make your kid write inside the card.)
  • Woof! I am a dog! Hope you're well! (Pretend to be your dog. Also works with cats.
  • I was walking in the park the other day, and I had an epiphany...
  • This card is funny, huh? Okay, bye.
  • I just watched a crazy documentary that you HAVE to watch! Here's what it's called...
  • I heard this concept on a podcast that's really helped me. Here's what I've been thinking about...
  • I would like to cordially invite you to go to an upcoming concert/movie/play/live podcast/festival/etc with me!
  • Do you like me? Check yes or no.
  • I'm taking a break from social media for a little while, but I'm still here for you. FYI. :)
  • I got a fancy new pen and I am suddenly super inspired to write letters, so here we are.
  • I just saw Hamilton and now I'm writing sassy letters to everyone about politics because I want to be A.Ham when I grow up. Here's what I think of what's going on...
  • My teacher is making me write a letter for homework. *eyeroll* Here are several artist's renderings of popular emojis. 
  • I've written a love sonnet to coffee and I've decided to share it with you. This letter has been aged in coffee so it looks old timey. Are you not impressed?
  • Let's get married.
  • I'm writing this letter to your newborn baby. Please read it to them.
  • I'm writing this letter to your new puppy, please read it to them in barks. (Also works for cats.)
  • I've had several beers and am writing you a letter. Enjoy!
  • Dearest Resident, I don't know you but I'm sending you a letter anyway. How are you? Your house is nice. Have a good summer!
  • Write a letter using only quotes from 80's sitcoms.
  • Write a letter using only lyrics from broadway musicals.
  • Write a letter using only titles of movies.
  • Write a letter using only what you remember from high school Spanish.
  • Write a letter to your past self or future self.
  • Fellow sports fan, I'd like to tell about you about my favorite sports memory. What's yours?
  • A new season has begun! I'm writing to tell you my favorite things about this season.
  • I'm sorry the last letter I sent you was so ridiculous, I took some advice from this crazy stationery designer's blog and it was terrible advice.
April is National Card & Letter Writing Month!

I'm going all in on National Card & Letter Writing Month this year. It's the perfect time to pen some words of friendship and love and brighten the mailboxes of my friends and family. I pulled out my box of correspondence today and was flooded with good memories and happy feelings. Weddings, baby showers, thank you's, apologies, holidays, you can do it's, I miss you's, hellos... so many beautiful words from so many beautiful people. I'm so grateful for these physical manifestations of love, and I'm excited to send some of my own this month. 

I'll be joining our friends at Pretty By Post in the #sendcardsspreadlove letter writing challenge, challenging you to send at least 4 cards/letters in April. (I'll be trying to send one every day, because I'm super backlogged on sending mail and apparently I can't do anything in moderation.)

I'll be using the hashtags #write_on and #sendcardsspreadlove on Instagram and Twitter. I'll be keeping you updated on my daily card & letter writing adventures, and I'll be doing some giveaways too! Join me and share some snail mail love with the people in your life! 

MORE Empathy, Kindness, and Respect!

In January I designed a poster to carry in the Seattle Women's March. I'd been thinking for days about what to say on the poster. I had so many swirling thoughts and ideas. I wanted to show others that I care about them. I wanted to say that injustice isn't fine with me. I wanted words to aspire to. These are the three words I chose. They felt right at the time, and they've settled into my heart and life as goals for this year, and goals for myself.

EMPATHY: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

KINDNESS: The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. 

RESPECT: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. 

I don't do these things perfectly, but they're who I want to be. They're what I want for my family. They're what I want to show to others.

I felt good about this sentiment on a poster, but it's even better on shirts. We've partnered with Cotton Bureau to offer Empathy, Kindness, Respect shirts! After the first printing, 256 people are walking around the world with this message of love in action. Even better, we raised over $2k to donate to the International Rescue Committee and Refugee Women's Alliance, refugee aid organizations.

AND NOW THEY'RE BACK!

Preorders opened today, and will run until March 27, 2017 at 8:00pm (EDT). I personally invite you to partner with us to spread this positive message and show practical care for people who truly need it.

These shirts are super soft and the design is a really high quality screenprint. (The gray one is my personal favorite! Make sure to check out their sizing guide before you order - the blue shirt runs especially small.) This time around we've added infant and kid sizes! Here are the links:

ORDER ADULT SHIRTS!

 

ORDER BABY OR KID SHIRTS!

 

A portrait of a woman in a cafe

She stared into her mug of coffee, watching the reflected lights of the cafe dancing on its surface. The mug was warm and smooth in her hands. She drank slowly, transfixed between sips by the patterns the cream made as it coagulated on the top.

It wasn’t quiet in the cafe, but no one was calling her name. People’s voices blended and mumbled around her. Someone was banging utensils in the kitchen. A dinging bell alerted a waitress that someone’s meal was ready. A man asked for a box to go. It wasn’t exactly peaceful, but rest comes when you can steal it.

She held onto the mug of just okay coffee like a family heirloom. The weight and shape of the mug were comforting in the way a paper cup never is. She lingered. To drink it all and set the mug down would sever her moment of rest.

She closed her eyes with each sip. It wasn’t hot anymore but she didn’t care. Cold coffee was nothing new. Each time a cup was set before her lately, it was this same ritual. Drink it slow. Hold it close. Hope the time and space will stretch out around her until she’s regained composure. Drink it even when it gets cold.

She’s not unique. Just a woman in a cafe hoping the check will never come. Imagining what it would be like to curl up under the table for a nap, lulled to slumber by the white noise of the cafe.

She can be found in any cafe, in any country in the world. She’s you, she’s me. She’s tired but she’s brave. She doesn’t really want a tropical vacation or a visit to the spa. She just wants to sit in silence and drink this cup of coffee. Just for a moment.