Take it easy on yourself. Expect more from yourself.


I’m a resolution, goal-oriented kind of person. I’m very attracted to 30-day challenges, training plans, lists of top ten tips.  It’s easy to jump on the treadmill of self-improvement when books, blogs and other forms of news media are brimming with stories of people who are doing really amazing, creative things (I want to do amazing things too!), not to mention the ever-growing genre of self-help literature.  It’s everywhere! — in fashion magazines, in blogs, in bookstores.  It would be nice to be one of those people who can turn away from the wailing sirens of self improvement, to be the type of person to laugh at Oprah and Martha’ Stewart’s empires of self-actualization, but I am not one of them.  My desire to want more, to do more is rapacious — perhaps it’s the new life stage I’ve entered, the decade of action (my thirties!).  I know that there is a large industry making a mint off of these desires — particularly because of the anxiety that drives their insatiability.

What do I want?  I want to be healthier, to be fitter.  I want to express my creativity.  I want to integrate myself into British culture while simultaneously being proud to be an American.  I’m also a bit old-fashioned — I want to be a good home keeper, a decent gardener.  But I’m forward-looking too: I want to be adept at using technology, and curious and open minded to progressive and interesting new ideas. I desperately want to maintain links with the precious family and friends that I have overseas.  I want to be a supportive wife, a loving daughter and sister, a responsible pet-owner, a hard-working and reliable employee.

Is this asking too much?  Because sometimes, it feels like those goals are merely the baseline, and when I don’t meet them to my satisfaction, I feel the remorse of falling short.  I’m open to the idea that, at times, if I set the bar too high, the answer is not always to pray for wings, but to lower the bar, clear it gracefully, and then set the bar a smidge higher next time.  Writing that feels like surrender, though.  This “happiness contradiction” of expecting more of yourself and taking it easy on yourself is so difficult to negotiate.

Dar Williams

When I was sixteen years old, I spent a semester on a 300-acre working farm in northern Vermont.  Along with normal high-school type classes, we also had blocks of time in the day devoted to farm work — harvesting potatoes, mending fencing in the pasture, splitting logs.  You might imagine what would happen to a teenager’s brain when immersed in this sort of environment, reading Thoreau and Emerson.  I began to wear Carhartts and Birkenstock clogs, even in the snow. I learned to knit.  I tearfully paged through a copy of Reviving Ophelia.  And I discovered Dar Williams, a singer-songwriter and spiritual mix between Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco who had recently released her first album, Mortal City.  Now, here I am in London, almost half of my lifetime away from my time on the farm in Vermont.  Carhartts and Birkenstocks really aren’t my thing anymore, but I love the respect for the natural world that those months gave me.  I look back on my time in Vermont and feel a sense of peace, and the excitement of the burgeoning sense of political empowerment, possibility and responsibility that adulthood brings.

And I still love Dar Williams.  She’s gone on to have a lovely, long career, not a big name, but much beloved by her fans.  I’ve collected her albums, and some of her songs (which have lyrics like poems) I’ve heard so many times that I could sing them in my sleep.  She came to London on Friday evening, and I attended her show — I was delighted to find she had many fans this side of the pond as well. Second on her set? The Beauty of the Rain.

Animal Lover

First, let me say that if you are an animal lover and find yourself living in the absence of any animals (I offer myself as an example here…), you might find yourself doing odd things, like calling dogs that aren’t there.  Or talking to the cat perched on your fence.  Or saying good morning to some birds.  Or hell, even saying “hi” to those foxes digging through your garbage cans (oh, excuse me, “rubbish bins”).

I have two great animal dreams in my life — one is to live on a farm and raise a fleet of dachshunds (at least 10) and watch them run through fields and laugh and laugh at the cuteness of it all.  The second great animal dream is to ride a horse.  Perhaps this dream is more practical than the former, as there are no shortage of people who love horses in this country.

I will say, animal lover that I am, I never really “got” goldfish.  Owning goldfish always seemed to me a bit like a science experiment for school children.  I will admit that as decorative objects they are lovely and  nice to gaze at when staring into space thoughtfully.  But they are living things, aren’t they? Set them free into the wild, I say.  Oh, but is there even such thing as “wild” goldfish these days? Or ever?