June Musings // Loneliness and Wars Within & Without

Pressed flowers gathered in my backyard, inspired by Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium

The book is not about the war in Ukraine; it is about war as a common disease of the world. It tells children how important it is to not be afraid, to be strong, to stay together with your friends and your people, and to keep hope…


“So much happens inside each one of us. Inside. Within ourselves. There’s an entire cosmos in there. But we barely pay any attention to it. We’re all too busy with the surface, the external stuff… Loneliness is freedom.”

Svetlana Alexeivich, Secondhand Time, 2016

“Hundreds of thousands of people sit in front of their televisions and listen to them like they’re hypnotized. It’s a drug! The terrifying loneliness… the sense of abandonment…. Everyone is terribly lonely.”

Svetlana Alexeivich, Secondhand Time, 2016

“What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century….
“…. Organized loneliness is considerably more dangerous than the unorganized impotence of all those who are ruled by the tyrannical and arbitrary will of a single man. Its danger is that it threatens to ravage the world as we know it–a world which everywhere seems to have come to an end–before a new beginning rising from this end has had time to assert itself.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1979


“To have no one to blame but yourself is to have no one. It’s the worst fate.”

Sofia Samatar, “Meet Me in Iram,”  Tender: Stories, 2017.

“People talked about loneliness as if it were something alive and it could get you. But loneliness is something dead, it’s deadness. Lonely people are slowly dying people. SO ALONE I WISH I WAS DEAD, I once wrote in a notebook, but it wasn’t true. I wished I was alive.”

Sofia Samatar, “Request for an Extension on the Clarity,” Tender: Stories, 2017.


I fear me this—is Loneliness—
The Maker of the soul
It’s Caverns and it’s Corridors
Illuminate—or seal—

Emily Dickinson, from #777, found in “Catherine Barnett on Emily Dickinson,” Poetry Society of America


“The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”

Pema Chödrön, “Six Kinds of Loneliness,” Lions Roar, 15 May 2017



On Kindness in Dark Times

“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”

-Mister Rogers

I’ll not mince words here: I supported and voted for Hillary Clinton because she was, to me, the only (and historically the most) qualified candidate. She had devoted her entire adult life to serving others. And above all else, she showed incredible poise and compassion in the face of some of the vilest hatred and bigotry. And yes, she is a woman who almost had that ultimate glass ceiling shattered.

I was heartbroken by the results of the election. But I know that despair does nothing for anyone. It’s paralyzing. And I know that all the hand-wringing, saftey-pin wearing, and blog post writing is not going to help. That’s why I’m pledging to hold my elected officials responsible–keep calling them, keep writing them. And to keep donating to and volunteering with causes that are on the side of justice and equality.

On Thursdays at Avid Bookshop, I do storytime, and this week’s was so poignant. I read books on belonging and acceptance. And as I looked at all of those little faces, I felt a little spark of hope.

Yesterday, I got an email from the Clinton campaign, reminding me that one of the ways I can keep up the good work is to “promote love and kindness where [I] live.” And today, World Kindness Day, seems an apt time to share a few of my favorite children’s books that promote love and kindness. You can bet I’ll be recommending these at the shop, hoping that the kids who read these will grow into adults full of empathy, compassion, and love for one another.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson


This one is my always-favorite for finding magic in the everyday–a key to being kind. Every person has a gift and a story, and like Nana, we just need to find “the beautiful where [others] never even [think] to look.”

My review.

Buy | Borrow

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney


The message throughout the book that “you must do something to make the world more beautiful” is a clarion call. And it is all the more urgent now.

My review.

Buy | Borrow

Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead


This is one of the books I read for storytime this week. From the dedication “to anyone who is having a bad day” to Samson’s decision that it is “better to walk than to worry,” the deliberate acts of kindness that fill this book had me nearly weeping. Honestly, pick up any book written by Stead, and you’ll find kindness, friendship, and gentleness within–it was hard to pick a favorite, but this one has my heart right now.

My review.

Buy | Borrow

Zen Ties by Jon J Muth


Sometimes being kind to those who have a tough exterior can reveal a light within–leading to unexpected friendships. Let Stillwater show you the way.

Buy | Borrow

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk


When anger has its reigns on us, it is destructive. But if we can learn to transform it into compassion, we can bring light into the world. A necessary book for these dark times–and you can take a pledge to “Live Your Life as Light.”

My review.

Buy | Borrow

The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson


This one in particular, but really–the entire Moomin series is full of inclusiveness and little kindnesses. From author Kyo Maclear’s blog:

The Moomins and the Great Flood may be a story about a terrible disaster but it is also a story about the formation of an extended family where misfits and orphans are always welcome, where ‘making kin and making kind,’ in the sense Donna Haraway has proposed, can ‘stretch the imagination and can change the story.’

“….If there is a ‘take-away’ from the Moomin stories it is that closed system thinking cannot help us. Rather than retreat into a private world of grief or flummoxed passivity, we need to find ways of treating our  vulnerability as an open window. Faced with ecological disasters, brutal wars, and the threat of destruction looming over the future of their world, the Moomins practice an insistent openness. We must too.”

See more of her comments about this book and it’s relevance to the times here.

Buy | Borrow


On Seeing and Loving the Little Things

Autumn, for me, has always been a time of quiet reflection and introspection. Summer is full of the loud and lush: crickets chirp throughout the night, cicadas rattle in the trees, and bees buzz through the brightest-colored flowers. Autumn has a beautiful taciturnity about it–the chilly wind quiets the dinny hum of summer, making beatific birdsong and crunching of leaves stand out all the more. I come to appreciate the Little Things more easily in the autumn: the way a maple leaf gracefully drifts to the ground, the way the sunbeams filter through treetops on a misty morning, or the quiet scuttle of a cheeky chipmunk dashing back to its burrow. This season invites me to “feel the welcome of small particulars” that Marilyn Nelson describes so perfectly in the poem below.

Roxanne Steed. Autumn Morning at J. Alden Weir Farm. 2013. Oil on Belgian linen.

Step out of the frame again, and be
enveloped in birdsong and dapple.
Feel the welcome of small particulars:
the grove beside that boulder,
the white horse tied in front of that barn.
With eyes made tender, see
those elms, from shadows on the grass
to the highest leaves’ shimmer.

With your friends, lovers, family, stride
across this chromatic broken brushwork.
Sit a minute at the granite picnic table
with the artist’s daughters, dressed in summer white.
You can daub this earth, so lyric, so gentle,
from the limited palette of your own love right now.
Any place you care for can hold an easel.
Everything around you is beautiful plein aire.

-Marilyn Nelson, from Weir Farm (source)