Opportunity Abounds

Reading books and articles about the environment is not for the faint of heart. Most times it’s a terrible cocktail of panic, anger, shame, despair, and depression, the kind of toxic mixture that could topple a moose. I think it’s important, yes, but it comes at a psychological cost. So imagine how happy (and surprised) I was to discover that Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, left me feeling a bit optimistic.

Drawdown is the work of an international panel of scientists, policy makers, researchers, and other professionals to assess, practically and scientifically, solutions for drawing down carbon reversing climate change. Yes, not just delaying, but reversing. Each of the 100 solutions presented (and ranked) in the book is assessed by conservative implementation rates by 2050, and then assessed for amount of carbon drawdown (removing carbon from the atmosphere), cost to implement, and ongoing costs or savings. And guess what? For most of these strategies, we end up with savings. Millions or billions of dollars of savings.

As conservative provincial governments in Canada fight the national carbon tax, and go on and on about protecting oil jobs for the benefit of the economy, it’s incredibly important to realize that we don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. We’re not looking at an even playing field anyway: according to an International Monetary Fund estimate, in 2015 alone the fossil fuel industry received more that $5.3 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies. That’s a staggering $10 million dollars per minute. No wonder alternative energy seems expensive by comparison. But even setting that aside, right now in the U.S., more people are employed by the solar industry than by oil, gas, and coal combined. (And, spoiler: solar isn’t even Drawdown‘s top energy intervention. According to them, the future is wind, baby!) In fact, the book points out that we’re now at the point where “the expense of the problems in the world now outweighs the cost of the solutions.” Doing the right thing doesn’t have to cost more. In fact, it’s a bargain.

As I read this very readable, reasonable book, I was struck by an abundance of opportunity. Not just in the 100 solutions, but in the way the solutions often had incredible ancillary benefits. For example, if cattle farmers were to graze their cows on forested land (rather than razing trees for pasture), rotating grazing areas regularly, we’d maintain biodiversity, keep more carbon in the soil, have healthier cows, reduce deforestation of vital old forests, and the farmers make more money. Benefits of one intervention become exponential.

There are exponential opportunities in my own life too: deciding to cycle commute means I produce no carbon, I’m more fit, I save money, I’m more in touch with my city, I’m more punctual, and I’m happier. Or take my garden. I learned from Drawdown that “home gardens hold higher carbon sequestration potential compared to monocrop production systems, with sequestration rates comparable to those of mature forest stands” (emphasis mine). But I also reduce carbon produced with my partner and I eating hyper-local, package-free organic food. I get light exercise and healthy food. I support pollinators. I make my own compost, which prevents methane release, requires no fossil fuels, and maintains the soil. I give seeds and plants to other people, making more gardens. I save money most years. It has connected me to nature and my environment, and given me endless opportunities to learn and grow. Oh and there’s the small matter that it’s become what my partner accurately called my “life force.” It’s a daily source of joy and renewal.

I love thinking about changes that create little beneficial ecosystems. Drawdown reminded me that our planet’s story doesn’t have to be one of perpetual degradation. There are so many people around the globe coming up with smart, feasible solutions that make our world better.

Drawdown also brought me back to personal choice and the opportunities it presents. While big, systemic and technological change is absolutely necessary, #3 and #4 on their top 100 were wasting less food and eating less meat. Those are things all of us can do. And while my #zerowaste Instagram feed can sometimes be daunting, reminding me of my failures, the voice of reason eventually prevails. What if everyone cut their meat eating by 50%? What if everyone grew a garden or cycled to work or bought more things secondhand? What if everyone simply reused a jar once before recycling it? Again, exponential results. As the Zero-Waste Chef Anne Marie Bonneau reminds us, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” (I’ll keep quoting this forever, and I’m not sorry.) She reminds us that if just 10,000 people reduced their waste by 10% for a year, 1.6 million pounds of trash would be avoided.

The upside of our environment being in a shambles and our regular habits being so damaging is that there is so much room to improve. Low-hanging fruit abounds. So while I still need to write a letter to our provincial forestry minister about cancelling a tree-planting program, this week I also arranged a couple trades, picked up bulk coffee for a girls trip so people won’t be tempted by disposables, and I’m focusing on regularly eating my radish greens rather than composting them. Opportunity abounds, and with each good thing I do, benefits ripple out. There are benefits for my own tiny ecosystem (my life), and faraway ones I’ll never see or know. And at the end of the day, I’m also conserving another precious resource we need to survive: optimism.

My Favourite Things 2018

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the things I’d wholeheartedly recommend, and so why not play Oprah, or, maybe more realistically, a guest on How To Be Amazing (where they recommend five things at the end of every show). Because good things should be recommended (which is also why I started writing more Google reviews). I’ll make up my own categories, because one of the perks of writing a blog almost no one reads is you can do what you want.

Books: I wish I could be a little less mainstream this year, but the two books that absolutely mesmerized me (I even read them in the mornings before work!) are pretty big hits, and for good reason. First, Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, which is basically Friday Night Lights meets The Art of Fielding set in Scandinavia, and the first book I’ve read in a long time where I fretted about the characters when I wasn’t reading. I also kept taking screenshots of passages and sending them to my friend who’d recommended it, because it was just so good. It’s a book about hockey (which I don’t care about) and rape culture (which I do), and I was really impressed that a man handled the latter topic with such sensitivity and nuance. The second is Naomi Alderman’s The Power, which is a smart, thrilling investigation of what would happen to our world if all women could generate deadly electricity with their bodies. It’s a breezier, faster-paced Margaret Atwood book, and I couldn’t stop telling people about it. Apparently, the audiobook is also top-notch. Some days, what I wouldn’t do to feel a spark between my fingertips.

TV: Here’s an unsurprising pattern in the shows I love: they tend to feature powerful, complex women. And the shows I adored in 2018 are no exception. Killing Eve is a British drama starring Sandra Oh, whose character becomes obsessed with a female serial killer taking people out all over Europe, and with flair. (Think disguises, multiple languages, people killed with the contents of perfume bottles, that kind of thing.) What emerges is an amazing cat-and-mouse game between the driven investigator and the charismatic killer. It’s tense, it’s funny, it’s got great sexual tension. I saved watching the finale for my birthday because I loved this show so much. And just recently, we started watching The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, about an upper-class housewife turned risqué stand-up comedian in late ’50s New York. Rachel Brosnahan has such charisma, such bravura, she is a complete delight to watch. (She won the Emmy and the Golden Globe for the role.) And who doesn’t love a well-produced period drama? Oh, and I almost forgot, the exception to the female-led show rule: I can’t forget the Queer Eye reboot, which was like a beautiful balm for the horrors of the world and a reminder of the importance of personal connection.

Podcast: I’ve recently really being enjoying the Future Perfect podcast by Vox, which applies an effective altruist’s lens to things like border control, organ donation, and eating fish. It’s short (under 25 minutes) well-edited, and offers smart takes on big issues. The episode on prison reform is a personal favourite. (And a quick note on the single episode category: RadioLab aired two episodes that were part of other projects, both of which were excellent and thought-provoking: “UnErased: Dr. Davidson and the Gay Cure” and “In the No, Part 1”, based on Kaitlin Prest’s miniseries about consent called No.)

Product: I was talking to my friend C about this the other day, but truly, I have had a magical year with this product, and I use it almost every day: the Sharpie water-based paint marker. Are you dazzled? You should be. This bad boy writes on glass or plastic (think: labelling all the things you have in the freezer, your preserves, your pantry staples) and washes off easily. If I were a better zero-waster, I’d go with a grease pencil, but somehow they always give you third-grade-boy handwriting. This marker writes gorgeously and adds real pizazz. Plus, I’ve had mine for just over a year, and it’s still going. (When I’m done, I’ll take it to the pen recycling at Staples.) It retails for less than $5.

Exercise: This isn’t just this year, but I want everyone to do pilates. And not the Pilates for Dummies tape that I did in the dorm basement in university, but going to an actual class with a live instructor. Pilates is so smart and physiologically informed: it can make your body feel brand new after an hour. And as someone whose job inflicts frequent neck pain, this reset is vital. I’ve never done the same sequence twice, and do new moves and combinations in every class. It’s also the kind of workout that you can do even if you’re tired: you work hard but in short bursts, and you never end up gasping for air or working to the point of muscle failure. It’s beautifully precise and controlled. It’s also something that people can do at any fitness level: my 80-year-old pal is a longtime devotee, and my dad’s a recent enthusiastic convert. I’ve been lucky to do semi-privates with the brilliant Andrea Palen for several years now, and she has a few videos you can do online for free. (I do the neck and shoulders one.) Classes in a studio are unfortunately expensive and not accessible to all, or, really, realistic for most (they can be up to $27/class here): the only workaround I have is to do pilates through ClassPass, which brings the cost for me down to $10-$12.50/class. I also had a great time at Misfit Studio this year, doing their classes that fuse pilates, dance, yoga, and a bit of strength training. I didn’t think it would be my vibe (it’s very tattooed, bodysuit, moon-ritual-and-sage-burning-type of place) but it made me less afraid of dance classes and able to lose myself in movement. Also, it smells really good there.

Habit: I love habits almost as much as Gretchen Rubin. (No one loves habits more than Gretchen.) And I’m pretty good at them. Keeping a gratitude journal every day has rewired my brain for the better. It sounds hokey, but I’ve found it really effective. Getting up early has also, so far, been really great for me. It’s meant making space to write posts like this one. Another game changer? Planning our meals a week at a time. This has meant for less daily brain drain, less food waste, money and time saved on groceries, meeting eating goals (for example, at least three vegetarian meals a week, avoiding too many carb-heavy meals), and equitable dividing of the cooking between me and my partner. And lastly, eating at the table was a surprising keystone habit. We’d eaten in front of the TV  for years, and this bothered me on a low level—it seemed like failing some sort of couples’ test. Also while eating took 10 minutes, you’d watch the end of the show, get sleepy, and no one wanted to do the dishes anymore. Now we eat at the table most nights, then tackle the clean-up together, then watch TV. The dishes are always done and lunches are prepped, and no more squabbling over who should do the clean-up. We also watch a little less TV, which I consider to be a win, because while I love good TV (see above), watching mediocre TV makes me feel like I’m wasting my life.

Non-profit organization: I know, not usually a part of this list, but everyone should have one. I have at least 34, but internationally, I’m giving the most dollars to the Against Malaria Foundation, because I can be confident I’m getting good bang for my buck, thanks to their excellent GiveWell rating. (This is the non-profit of choice for most effective altruists.) Domestically, one of my great discoveries this year is The Boundless School, which helps kids at risk of dropping out get class credits in a supportive, hands-on environment out in nature.

Activity: One of the great, surprising joys of this year has been making scruffy, unconventional bouquets from my own garden. Though I’ve been a gardener for years, I’d been a more practical one, focusing on the edible over the ornamental. (Of course many plants are happily both.) Now flowers have my attention, but I’ve had great fun trying to figure out what else looks good in a bouquet: asparagus ferns? Mint leaves? Garlic bulbils? I tried looking up a bit about floral design and ended up quickly bored, and I’m mostly not working with conventional blooms anyway. Picking and making them has been a great exercise in creative thinking, in considering what’s at hand, in finding unexpected beauty. Which is a whole other thing I need to cultivate.

So there you have it. And while I can’t give these things to everyone who reads this, happily, you could basically try them all for the low-price of $5 and a streaming membership or two. Goop, I’m not. Because this isn’t about an aspirational lifestyle, and no one thing is revolutionary. But sharing and appreciating the smaller things, the things that are within reach, might be.

Doing the work

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” ― Virginia Woolf

In my favourite book of 2017, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, Megan Stielstra tells the story of her first reading, in which she reads two pages, quaking and blotchy and in complete agony. But, she asks, “Where would any of us be if we hadn’t started somewhere?”

I’ve kept this baby blog alive for almost five months, which marks the most consistent effort I’ve put into my own writing in years. Five months is not impressive, but it’s starting somewhere. And at the time of year when every day I’m watching fragile seeds push through the soil, I’m awake to the importance of beginning.

I’ve kept this blog low-profile, though I know I could drive more people here, at least briefly, if I shared it. But I know already how much I like getting attention, and I haven’t wanted that to distract myself from my principle objective, the articulation of my own voice. That said, a little validation goes a long way, as I discovered this week when I found out a piece I’d adapted from here will run in our national newspaper. I alternate between thinking this is kind of a big deal (“our national newspaper!”) and not a big deal at all (it’s a section they publish daily, so they no doubt require a lot of content), but it still does offer encouragement and the relief of external perspective. This blog is an exploratory mission, and it would be discouraging to discover that I could find nothing of interest, no planets that would support life. Especially when by day, I’m a trusted guide to other explorers.

Also let’s not pretend that carving out some space for myself, a place where the words and ideas are clearly, irrevocably my own, is without ego. My job is great and most days I am content to be Cyrano whispering from the shadows, but occasionally it is disheartening to have your entire career’s work be essentially invisible—or, perhaps worse, to be credited to someone else.

(This is not to say that editing is as hard as writing, or deserves as much credit—it’s not, and it doesn’t—but despite effusive acknowledgments pages or launch speeches, it is a labour elided by all but the author, and sometimes even by them.)

So I’ve been trying on this role of writer, showing up and putting in the work, with varying degrees of ease and success, and trying to battle my need for positive reinforcement. I want doing the work to be enough. Sometimes it even is. But perhaps these two things are not so incompatible, as the wise and wonderful Kerry Clare pointed out a few months ago, when I was in the early weeks of this endeavour: “You will be blogging like no one’s reading, and figuring out what you really mean, learning what your voice sounds like, what you think, and what you have to say. And you might be aspiring, yes, but isn’t everybody? Aspiring to get to the next work, the next sentence. Everybody who writes anything is aspiring to be read.”

There should be pleasure in making, but isn’t pleasure in sharing natural too? Writing is, after all, a form of communication—there’s always an implied audience. And that’s the aim of art, to have an effect on someone. To make them think, make them feel, make them question. Art is not performed in a void, or it’s just the proverbial tree in the empty forest. You can set out to make art, but ultimately isn’t it the audience who decides if you’ve made it?

This sounds like I’m talking myself into being more public with this little project, but I the dominant impulse is to do more training before I enter that public race, the streets lined with people and filled with other runners. I’m also still a little afraid at seeming that clueless explorer. I realize, though, there’s also a risk in walling oneself in the garrett with the aim of writing until you arrive. Because, of course, that endpoint is a fallacy, and we are are just, in the words of Joni Mitchell, “travelling, travelling, travelling.” Not to mention someone in my career should know the importance of feedback. Kerry would suggest blog readers, especially, don’t look for neat conclusions, for the crossing of finish lines. And it’s true what I love about watching marathons isn’t just the triumph, it’s the incredible effort, the full spectrum of human experience on display. I need to remind myself that as a spectator, there’s pleasure in getting to share a few footfalls on a long road.




You’ll have a tree

Last weekend was Earth Day, and I spent most of the weekend hosting and volunteering at clothing swaps, but on the day itself I carved out a little time to plant a tree.

I’d applied for the tree through the City of Toronto’s amazing Tree for Me program, and just a few weeks later, I had a free serviceberry shrub. (Naturally I gravitated toward a tree that would produce fruit, which means my yard can now produce mulberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and, down the road, serviceberries. This kind of amazes me.)

This winter I read Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, which is both scientist’s memoir and tender, precise investigation of the biological systems of trees. The trade paper edition markets the book as a love story, and indeed the charmingly oddball author does find a mate, but I find this a little irritating, because the real romance was with science and the natural world. You need only read the chapters that explain, in careful, often poetic detail how a tree processes water, or survives the winter, to feel the author’s passion.  “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things,” wrote the poet J.D. McClatchy, and here Jahren is not only composing love letters, but teaching us the language to write our own.

Of course in our resource-hungry times, the book must end with Jahren raising an alarm. She points out that “every year since 1990 we have made eight billion new stumps,” and notes that at if we continue at this rate, in six hundred years there will be no trees left. “Every single year,” she writes, “at least one tree is cut down in your name. Here’s my personal request to you: If you own any private land at all, plant one tree on it this year. If you are renting a place with a yard, plant a tree in it and see if your landlord notices. If he does, insist to him that it was always there. Throw in a bit about how exceptional he is for caring enough about the environment to have it put there.” Tellingly, this cri de coeur ends not with environmental responsibility, but with a personal, reciprocal benefit: “You’ll have a tree and it will have you.”

My tree doesn’t look like much now, like a bundle of bare twigs a couple feet high, but there is, of course, a long time horizon involved. I may not see this shrub become a small tree, I may never gather enough berries for a jar of jam. Such is the uncertainty of renting, of life. But, for at least a little while, we will have each other.

Light & Shadow

One Sunday last year I volunteered  with a group called the Period Project. It’s a great group run by a caring couple, and twenty or so volunteers show up monthly to turn mountains of donated pads & tampons & personal care items into care packages that they distribute to people experiencing homelessness. Making those packages was hugely uplifting—I loved being part of the assembly line that made these bright bundles, and I was genuinely moved to see 200 or so of them lined up for distribution, each containing colourful inspirational notes that said things like “Stay Strong.”

When it was time to distribute the packs, my team and I were in a pretty tough neighbourhood—one I bike through regularly. We ended up pounding the pavement for a couple of hours, squinting into the shadows, both literal and figurative. We had to look closely: was that person resting in the park with some stuff, or were they camped out? Was that woman with a companion, or was that her pimp? Was that person safe to approach? Was that woman too old to still menstruate? You’d be surprised how many questions come up, how carefully you have to look. We didn’t want to embarrass or offend or, worse, end up in an unsafe confrontation. Over the two or three hours, despite seeking out the most likely places, we actually ended up with far more care packets than we could distribute, and left extras with a safe injection site that had been set up in the park.

I ended up missing a bus up Sherbourne, which added another half an hour’s walking alone, right up through the heart of all the areas we’d just passed. I was exhausted, sore-footed—in short, a bit worn down—and I found myself still looking compulsively into the shadows. I couldn’t unsee it. All of my elation, my tidy sense of accomplishment from earlier had seeped out of me like a deflating balloon. I’d spent only an afternoon looking carefully at human suffering we so regularly gloss over, and I felt so guilty, so small, so inadequate. These people deserved someone to help, someone to bear witness, and yet doing this for just one afternoon took the wind out of me.

This week I was feeling similar. I was, admittedly, hormonal, and then I spent too much time reading bad news stories on Monday morning before work. There are so many bad news stories. Right now even the good news stories are so often laced with the bad—for all the triumph of a politician resigning over harassment charges, there is the suffering of those who came forward, and probably that of many others who didn’t. Since Trump was elected I’ve spent a lot more time listening to the news, reading it, feeling like I need to know what was happening even if it’s not happening in my country. I’ve tried to take a spoonful-of-sugar approach to a lot of this news consumption, relying on Samantha Bee or Seth Meyers or Call Your Girlfriend to make it easier to swallow. But even so, a kind of tidal despair was rising in me.

It’s trendy to talk about self-care these days, and for activists and frontline workers, those people who look in the shadows daily, who work there, it seems necessary and justified. But me? I’m hardly doing anything. I’m just trying to pay attention.

I recognize the ridiculous privilege of being able to opt out when the overwhelm rushes in, and it makes me ashamed that I might need step back. But I can’t deny that I am in need of a little reassurance re: the world. Rationally, I know it’s not all a dumpster fire, but the bad news input is so intense, so unrelenting, and we’re not exclusively rational creatures. I’ve reassured myself recently that our fallible human brains are perhaps not equipped to deal with so much bad news at once. The negativity bias served us when we were hunting and gathering, but its legacy is now we need five positive interactions to compensate for one bad one. Once we might have only dealt with problems in our family, in our community, yet in the age of the internet, we can have a non-stop negative news stream. You could absorb a lifetime’s worth of bad news in a week, maybe even a day.

And so what to do? Keep up the activities that support my mental health: exercising, yoga, meditating, sleeping eight hours, spending time with people, spending time without people. I think I’ll dial back some news (especially of the U.S. variety), for a start, but also I’m seeking some big-picture reassurance. My partner reminded my of Steven Pinker’s much-loved The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, so I might pick that up, or at least start with a podcast of an Oxford talk he gave on the book. I’ve been reading Tim Ferris’s Tribe of Mentors*, and the most recommended book is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. If this man could find purpose and meaning in a concentration camp, that might be the perspective I need. There’s also Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, or I could go back to my beloved Rebecca Solnit: reread Hope in the Dark, or pick up A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Maybe I just need to watch this Mr. Rogers clip and sob.

In any case, I think I need to adjust the ratio of my inputs, and to try to pay closer attention to the things right in front of me. This week when the overwhelm threatened to crash down like a wave, I’d focus on my feet on the floor (my favourite meditation strategy). Because if your feet are on the ground, well, that’s a start, and it can pull you temporarily out of the mental catastrophe spiral. (And of course the metaphoric resonance appeals.) My therapist once advised noticing three new things to be grateful for each day and writing them down, which might be something to pick up again, at least until spring means that hope and beauty will push to the surface. Here are three things I’m grateful for right now:

  • a relatively free and open schedule for the day
  • last night’s dinner party that was a chance to connect with old friends, who always offer laughter and intellectual discussion
  • that most times, even in this giant city, you can hear or see a bird

Don’t get me wrong, it is vital to look to the shadows, and it’s something we all should do more. There’s so much work to be done, after all. But recently I’ve neglected the other attention that should be so easy to give: to beauty, to kindness, to comfort. Sarah Harmer is one of my favourite songwriters, and I listened to her a lot on Monday to self-soothe. There’s a song called “Uniform Grey” about descending in a plane through the fog and rain, about things not going as you hoped. And it has one of my favourite Harmer lines: “He said, ‘Buck up, baby, it’s okay. The sunlight on the floor will always fall.'” Because that’s just it. Even when the world is a uniform grey, even when I’m feeling blue, there’s always a sliver of light you can count on.


* I’m not a Ferris superfan, and I generally find his podcast too long, but I do really admire his desire to learn, assess, reassess, get better, faster stronger. And Tribe of Mentors is interesting because it’s almost exclusively the advice of people who have done extraordinary things. If you like this kind of advice anthology, it’s worth diving in to this 500-page brick of a book, which makes for surprisingly easy reading.


Necessary Fictions

It may surprise that a person who went into books can sometimes forget their power. Forget the passion that set me on this unforgiving career path in the first place. Work unavoidably changes your relationship with even the best books, forces you to read and consider them critically, read slowly, take them apart and reassemble them.

In the last few years, my leisure reading has, like my work, drifted toward non-fiction—not entirely, but significantly—and too often fiction falls into those few snatched minutes before drifting off at night. (Though in loosening up my task-mania the last year or so, I’ve made a bit more time.) There is lots of pretty good fiction out there, fiction that entertains, that compels, that may be written in a fresh or interesting way. I’ve read a lot of that. Scads of it. But what I’ve missed is the fiction that makes you read like a teenager again.

My friend S recommended Frederik Backman’s Beartown to me, and yesterday, feeling exhausted and pre-menstrual, I gave over my afternoon and part of my evening to it. I read the last 300ish pages in one afternoon. I read voraciously, pausing to catch my breath, to try to steady my emotions, which rocked like a ship in choppy waters. More than once I exclaimed aloud. I texted S with my reactions, eventually just taking pictures of pages and using markup to highlight sections that made my heart leap. I resented all things that were not this book, worried about the characters as I set it down to make dinner. This hadn’t happened to me since reading Code Name Verity early last year. I forgot what a gift it could be.

Beartown is a novel that should have too many characters: we get the point-of-view of perhaps 20 of the residents of the titular village on the decline, and there are many more characters to track beyond that. Each character is given such a distinct identity and painted with such compassion, that this book with a decidedly commercial bent reminded me of the power of art. We live in such polarizing times, when we forget the basic humanity of those on the opposite side of the ideological fence. But in being dropped into a town that is also soon deeply divided, the reader can step into the mind and experience of each person, feel so many sides of the same issue. We feel the stakes for each person, understand why they make certain choices even if we don’t agree with them.

And this is what the world needs now more than ever. The ability to hold multiple ideas and perspectives in one’s mind at the same time.

Beartown is also a beautiful examination of friendship, of love of a parent for a child, of loyalty and dedication to a person, to a sport, to the place you’re from. Of the courage it takes to defy convention, to go against people you love. Of the power, and danger, of belonging. It’s filled with a powerful, complex female characters, and a vital feminist perspective. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever found to Friday Night Lights (the show, the book being good but another thing entirely), and reminiscent of another book I adored, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. Those who know me know this combination is some of the highest praise I can give.

(Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere achieves similar feats—empathetically exploring multiple perspectives around a divisive issue—and I’d also recommend it, though, while very diverting and stimulating, it didn’t have the same vise grip on my heart.)

This weekend was a reminder of the power of story to transport people out of the trenches and into no man’s land, where they can see each other’s faces. This weekend was a reminder of the power of story to allow us experience new things, and also to reinforce what we know to be true.

Of course I knew all along that art could do this, but the brain forgets. Sometimes we need books like Beartown to help the heart remember.