Love, adventure, grief, and Willoughby

Shortly before he died, we said the name “Lincoln” again, not sure why. Willoughby’s head turned quickly. That’s my name. That was my name. Why did you say my old name?

I don’t know what memories flooded Willoughby’s mind in that moment. Just that his head cocked differently. Maybe it brought him back one last time to visit his California family. Maybe he remembered running and playing with his human siblings before his joints got all achey. Maybe he remembered the long, confusing drive to Minnesota, after saying a tearful goodbye to everyone except his dad.

Life. A quick series of moments. Love. Adventure. Grief. Memories. Home.

Lyssi called me at work and asked if I could drive out to Hastings to meet Lincoln, see how we got along. Excited and nervous, I hopped in the car. I was so happy for Lyssi, but I also hadn’t envisioned a senior for our first dog. I thought a Vizsla or a Husky, one that would run next to me for miles and hike with us up and down mountains. Lincoln was not that.

Seconds after I stepped into their backyard, Lincoln trotted down from the deck and waddled over to me. A few sniffs, a trusting nuzzle, and he turned and walked slowly back up the stairs and inside. His work was done. He was okay with me and I was more than okay with him. We all needed each other.

“And out of the mist a tall creature does appear.
His eyes are wide and friendly, his face is full of years.
He says, ‘We’re going on a journey in my hot air balloon,
And the time is now, so we must get going soon.’”
~ Tom Rosenthal, The Boy

Hollywood is full of shit. I love watching Tom Hanks, and his movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was no exception. Until the end. I thought the plot would center more on Mr. Rogers, but it was really the story of an estranged father and son. Estranged because the father was awful. And like every family drama in Hollywood, it ended with a beautiful reconciliation. And that’s great. For everybody but me. I left the theater feeling unseen, blamed, sad.

And then this one movie happened. A cute little Netflix animation narrated by the ever subversive Ricky Gervais. Four siblings are kicked out of the house by their terribly abusive parents (I know, real kid’s movie vibes right off the bat). When they finally return home, they plot to send their parents on an adventuring vacation to whichever destinations are most likely to lead to a fatal accident. Oh, by the way, spoilers ahead and behind. After a beautiful story in which the children learn to make their own real family, they have a chance at the end to save their parents from freezing high up on a mountaintop. Having found forgiveness in their hearts, the children design a dirigible and fly up to make the rescue. Delighted, the parents jump in the dirigible and fly away. Without the children. Leaving them to die. Now of course in the movie, the Willoughby children don’t actually die. But what an honest take, finally, on the reality that some families just aren’t families and never will be. That some toxicity is too toxic. That some unhealthy is so unhealthy that there can be no healthy way. It was like this story had been created for Lyssi and me. An honest reminder that some of us have to create our own family.

And here we were, having chosen our own new last name as a fresh start, now ready to welcome the first new member of our chosen family. And so, as we learned that dogs with past lives may do best to leave their old names behind, we stumbled upon the perfect new name for the first addition to our family: Willoughby.

“And the boy says, ‘Where are we going, where are we going to?
I’m scared of the future and I’m mildly scared of you.’
The creature looked down and said, ‘Don’t be scared of the unknown.
We’re going to a place in which I have grown.’”
~ Tom Rosenthal, The Boy

Willoughby quickly worked his way so deep into our hearts that the word “family” started to make sense to me for maybe the first time. This was the sort of love we’d been missing, and I don’t think we really even knew how much.

That first nuzzle in his foster’s backyard was really our first hug. Willoughby gives the best hugs. He presses his shoulders heavily into our legs as he rests his head between our knees and just stands there. I love you and I know that you love me.

Love is the first thing I learned from Willoughby. A love of the strong, repairing, making everything okay sort.

Hugs, while plenty, weren’t all Willoughby had to offer. He loves to lay his head on my lap and gaze into my eyes, feeling my thumb gently stroke up between his eyebrows, slowly letting the lids shut. Safe and at peace.

Willoughby loved to snuggle. He’ll lean back into my chest as I curl up behind him in bed, and we’ll just doze for hours on the weekend. Sometimes I’ll pull him over, his head onto my chest, his soft furry self cradled in my arm, and we’ll lay there, maybe do some forehead kisses. And if it’s a soft enough couch, he’ll even let me lay my big human head on his kind old bones, so that I can feel like I found a home.

Losing Willoughby was hard. Sleeping at Last sings a line in one of their songs, “When we’re together it’s a holiday every night.” A few days after he died, when we were still avoiding home, crashing on our best friends’ couch, this song came on it was just too much. It was exactly Willoughby.

All Willoughby ever needs is to be together. We’ll sit under a tree as yellow leaves flutter to the ground, me with a book, Willoughby with me, and life will be just right.

“He just wants his pack to be together,” the foster had told us, and she wasn’t lying. The days we both accompanied him on a walk were the best days and put a noticeable spring in his step. When one of us would return from out and about, he could stop anxiously watching the door and come relax beside the two of us.

When I get home from work, too drained, I shut my car door and hear a throaty howl. Looking up at our old apartment window, I see a shining pair of eyes. I ride up the elevator and walk down the hall, the magnetic pull of his love a little stronger with each step. I like to tease him by turning the knob and pausing which is always followed by a metallic sounding whack as he paws at the door. I ease it open a crack and his little sniffer pokes through, happy whines. And when I step in, this entire dog is wagging and wagging and sneezing and wagging and hugging and wagging and all he needs in life is to see me.

And that is a powerful kind of love.

After Willoughby, I better recognize love that deep. I appreciate it more. And I know the gift it is to give love. I hope I will love like Willoughby.

All Willoughby needs is for us to be together. Behind the hospital, laying on the cot in the cold rain, wrapped in a blanket, his forehead inviting final kisses and more final kisses, and that smooth spot between his eyebrows, and a skull that feels so familiar nestled in between our hands. I park and walk around back, joining Lyssi to say goodbye to Willoughby, I think he is okay again. We’re together. He’s so peaceful. We’re not okay, but he is. He has us. We love you buddy. We’re not going anywhere.

“And the creature said to the boy, ‘Are you ready for the ride?’
And the boy said, ‘Yes, I think I am.’
So they sped through the hills, and over mountains they did go,
Over old wooden bridges withered from the cold,
And the boy stared out of the window and smiled at all he could see.”
~ Tom Rosenthal, The Boy

It was odd watching Willoughby explore his new Minnesota home. Sniffing room to room, looking uncertain. He found his new bed. Stepped into it, turned around, and lay down. This is good. Nights were strange. New dogs feel fragile, like oh no what have we done are we even good dog parents, but especially a senior dog. I would lay awake through the nights listening. Lots of licking, maybe allergies, maybe anxiety. Once in a while I’d hear him struggle stiffly to his feet and walk over to the side of the bed. Sniff a little. Just stand there looking at us. Who are they? What is this place? I don’t know this animal, is it going to attack one of us in the middle of the night? Then he would lay down right next to one of our bedsides on the floor and go to sleep.

Soon, and with the aid of time, kitchen scraps, and nibbles of artisan cheese, Willoughby settled into his new home with its cozy routines. And then the funniest thing happened. This fragile senior came alive. Like a puppy. Jumping for the tennis ball, chasing through doorways, and bursting out from behind the corner of the bed, everyone’s favorite hiding spot.

Willoughby loved the world. Every day really was an adventure. Every new thing was an adventure. Willoughby just wanted to be where stuff was happening. He loved to poke his head through the window and feel the cold wind against his face, wiggling his nose off and on as he took in data, and opening his mouth in a silly grin as he took in wonder and happiness.

Weather is wonderful. Blowing, biting snow is the best thing in the world, and must be run headlong into.

Willoughby loved special things, but he didn’t need special things. A treat was always as prized as a bone, because even a treat was an adventure and every day was a holiday. He loved to find new places to explore and play, and he always overestimated his own energy and just how much shock his own joints could absorb.

Sitting on the sidewalk is one of Willoughby’s favorites. It’s so exciting when a car drives by, and what an adventure to watch a person walk inside. Sometimes we can hear voices from the next parking lot over. And we can watch squirrels dart from tree to tree, just out of hunting range. And the smells on the breeze!

When Willoughby was diagnosed, we didn’t know whether we were talking weeks or months. It was weeks. In one of the middle weeks, I took a random day off to hang out with my buddy. It was April, back to hoodie weather, but still cold enough for a little snow. Willoughby and I went for a walk. He ate a lot of grass. A lot. I heard dogs do that when something isn’t feeling right in their tummy. He seemed happy enough though. When we got back to our building, he just stopped. Stopped with such gentle confidence that it was like he was telling me he truly wasn’t ready to go inside. He wasn’t done yet. We stood still listening to the world, watching the world, taking it all in. Seconds turned to minutes, and after five or ten, Willoughby’s old bones grew tired and he sat down. Needing nothing else in the world, I joined him sitting on the sidewalk. The cold breeze picked up and after a few more minutes snowflakes began to blow past, smattering our faces. Nothing more was needed. Willoughby opened his mouth into that silly grin. Felt the weather on his tongue. Squinted his eyes in satisfaction. And sat. For a long, long time.

Adventure is another thing I learned from Willoughby. That all of life is an adventure, from his old family in California to his first snowfall in Minnesota, from the scraps of Parmigiano Reggiano to the scent of summer night drives. Willoughby and I never sat on the sidewalk after that day. But I think about it all the time. He turned and winked at me, and I didn’t even notice until I played it back later. He loved his whole long life of adventure in this world, and he drank it in until the very end. He knew better than me about adventure, and I wonder sometimes if he knew what he was teaching me.

“And all of a sudden, the train it did stop.
The creature said to the boy, ‘This is where we both get off.’
And the creature said, ‘This is where I must go.’
And at the water’s edge, nothing more was said.
The boy looked at the creature, not a single tear was shed.
And the creature laid his hand upon the boy’s head,
And gave him a wink of his eye.”
~ Tom Rosenthal, The Boy

I love Willoughby. And that’s one of the weirdest things I’ve discovered about love and grief. It doesn’t end. The grief or the love. I promised I’d never leave Willoughby, and I still won’t.

Late one April night we took Willoughby to the emergency room. It had been a pretty normal day with normal life weirdness and stress and moments. There had been a highlight that morning, though, listening to SYML’s brand new album, DIM. “Though you had to go, I won’t forget your light. . . . I’m with you always.” We weren’t ready for that night. It hit too hard, too fast, too unexpectedly. And then, after a confusing emergency room visit, it dragged on cruelly.

After sitting up with him through the night, Lyssi carried a hurting Willoughby down to the car. We drove, half blinded with tears. Watched them lift him onto a stretcher and take him away. He needs to pee, he hasn’t gone for his walk, hasn’t gone potty yet.

It was weird. Always the adventurer, Willoughby and his adrenaline had perked up again, and they weren’t sure. They called us to explain and offered to run some tests. It would take a few hours. I dropped Lyssi off at home and went to a work meeting. The phone call came sooner than I expected and the test results were brutally direct. It was time for Willoughby to go.

SYML kept playing as I drove back to the hospital. “I want some more time, I can’t give you up. One lifetime is never enough, so stay with me. More than a body, you’re more than my heart, you’re my blood. Stay with me, stay with me.” I didn’t know you can cry that hard.

In the cold rain we talk to Willoughby about what a good boy he is and about how much we love him and we promise we aren’t going anywhere, we’re right here. He’s tired, but we see peace, and we feel his love, and then something happens and his eyes suddenly get really big and then he goes to sleep.

Willoughby’s still here, really. He visits in feelings and memories. He sits with me when I write about him. He looks at me when people talk about their own loss and grief. He makes me laugh still. Sometimes we find each other again in a dream and he runs toward me through the grass like he did at that rest stop and I feel like maybe we can have him back, because while I say he’s still here, really, he’s also really not.

Grief is hard and confusing. Death is bad.

I learned about grief from Willoughby, too, one last thing. About how it’s so infuriating that the world just keeps spinning when it has really ended. How angry it is when your best thing in life, the thing that keeps you going, is taken away. How scary and painful home becomes. How heartbreakingly awkward it is when your routine should be gone, but you accidentally glance up at the window again to hear his old man bark, and then remember that you will never hear it again. How comforting it is to find it later in a video. I learned about how badly you need your closest people when bad things happen. I learned how frustrating and lonely it is when people don’t touch the pain because they think you don’t want it touched but all you want is to talk about Willoughby. I learned how confusing and disorganized and random and powerful grief is with its crashing waves.

And I learned that after all this, I will still always have Willoughby. And that I will always miss him. That’s what happens with love.

And the creature turned around and walked slowly to the sea,
To go to a place where forever he would be,
And with one great leap, he leapt into sea,
And in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
The boy stood still, alone now on the shore.
He stared into the distance and hoped there would be more.
The yellow rose fell to the floor
And drifted away on the wind.”
~ Tom Rosenthal, The Boy

I miss you buddy. <3

We made that up

How are you doing? Are you exhausted? Like deep in your soul, exhausted?

I have some thoughts.

We made up that you have to text someone back.

We made up that you’re supposed to be positive all the time.

We made up that you’re supposed to eat three meals a day.

We made up that you need your own home.

We made up that people are better if they have lots of friends.

We made up shoes.

We made up that you keep your parents’ last name–and not even across the whole world.

We made up school and debt and school debt.

We made up that you should part your hair down the side. Then we made up that you should part your hair down the middle, and that if you part your hair down the side, you’re not with the times.

We made up that you should strive for career success. We thought we made up what success even means, but nobody seems to agree or be happy when they get there.

We made up that you’re boring if you don’t like going out.

We made up that you’re supposed to play it cool when you finally meet someone you have a crush on.

We made up that feeling sexual interest in others means you love your life person any less.

We made up that sexuality has to be strictly organized in an arbitrary way, and oh my goodness are we taking a long time to unmake that up.

We made up that you’re supposed to have a life person.

We made up that you’re supposed to work 40 hours a week.

We made up “boss.”

We made up multi-level marketing and product parties. We also made up corporations and weirdly pyramidy looking corporate pay structures. Either way, a lot of us are struggling.

We made up that kids need to excel in academics.

We made up that it’s vitally important that you show up not a moment late to your daily shift.

We made up that you should tough it out when you’re feeling like you’re breaking down.

We made up that you’re supposed to save hand-holding for your sexual partner.

We made up that girls wear makeup and boys don’t.

We made up the words for girls and boys and we made up how important those words were.

We made up that women are better parents and care-takers.

We made up that men are tougher and stronger and more apt to lead.

We made up that when you order the big ass Denver omelet, you should say “we’re going to volleyball tonight,” instead of “god I love food.” I did this yesterday, and I didn’t even play.

We made up that buttons on your shirt means you respect the people you’re talking to. Or a long strap of silk and polyester choked around your neck.

We made up that robes or bare feet are weird.

We made up that natural hair on your face or your armpits or your privates is anything besides “there.”

We made up the word “privates” so that genitals could be saved for shamey conversations and for powerful men to control in private.

We made up that you’re supposed to respond graciously when old men talk to you in a way that makes you feel yucky.

We made up that it’s somehow on you when you are hurt by people.

We made up that when you’ve been hurt, you have to forgive.

We made up that forgiveness looks like reconciliation.

We made up that family is for life.

We made up so many damn things about the word “family.”

We made up that it’s okay for people to bully, manipulate, abuse, and take advantage of you, as long as they’re related by blood. We refuse to admit we made that up, but we did and we’re shockingly loyal to it.

We made up that you owe anyone an explanation.

We made up that extroverted is better. And then we learned from some really thoughtful psychologists that that’s not true, so we make all sorts of posts about how awesome introverted is. But we still lowkey judge introverts.

We made up that it’s weird to sleep in a tent in your backyard.

We made up that sleepovers are only for kids.

We made up that kids have to grow up and leave kid stuff behind.

We made up stuffed animals, and this was a good invention that provides so much comfort, and then somewhere between the ages of “7” and “you’re not a child anymore,” we tell people they no longer need comfort.

We made up that you have to be good at dancing to feel confident doing it, and we enforce it by laughing and making fun and sharing videos online.

We made up that everyone gets roads but not everyone gets medicine.

We made up that you should go to college.

We made up that you need to have a clear life and career plan.

We made up that you will be happier if more people think you’re really awesome.

We made up that people think you’re really awesome if they pay attention to you online.

We made up that it’s childish to try to get attention.

We made up that saying things to the people in your life like “Hey I just need some attention right now!” is needy or obnoxious.

We made up that needy is obnoxious.

We made up that crying in front of people isn’t a thing to do.

We made up that you shouldn’t live in the woods.

We made up relationships.

We made up workplace structures.

We made up work.

We made up money.

We made up goals.

We made up purpose.

So if some of what we have made up isn’t quite working for you, that’s understandable. There’s a lot of it. It would be weird if you matched it all, and honestly the world would be pretty boring.

Which bits don’t work for you? And what will you make up for yourself instead?

Sending love and courage to be weirdly, honestly, colorfully you.

PS – We made up that dirt is dirty and that sand is messy and that messy isn’t the best thing in the world. But Junko knows better. I learn a lot from her.


How about you and I help each other stay off track? I’ll send you sparks of weirdness. <3


What if half our problem is that we’re not asking for attention?

Junko is a handful, but she’s not complicated. She is a 2-year-old very-puppy who has no qualms about putting her foot down (literally–like on top of us) when she needs . . . . . or even just “wants” attention. (Is there really a difference?)

On the other hand, I’m super cool, but I’m complicated as hell. My deepest wish in life is for people to give me the exact sort of soothing care I want, at the exact moments I need it, without my having to say anything. That would be best, right? If people could just predict what I need?

Or I could do it the Junko way and say “I want a hug right now please and thank you.

When little kids “act out,” we like to call it “attention-seeking.” When 20-, 30-, 40-year old little kids have an outburst or stop showing up for work or start saying sad things all the time, we also sometimes call it “attention-seeking.”

And my goodness, what if we all could seek attention? Not just the ones who are honest about their needs.

What if your little kid doing whatever they know how to do to get your attention is actually asking for exactly what they most need, just in the only way they know how today?

And what if your friend or co-worker is literally just reaching out in the dark to see if someone still cares enough about them to pay attention and care for a minute?

Sure we could all be a little more like Junko and say things directly instead of throwing tantrums, giving the silent treatment, hinting for days, or all the other indirect ways we ask for attention.

But could we maybe appreciate “attention-seeking” for being one of the healthier self-interventions that someone’s able to do in a lonely moment? And provide each other some loving, caring attention instead of labeling each other needy or dramatic or annoying?

What if instead of saying they’re “attention-seeking,” we would say “they have unfulfilled needs”?

Because I bet if we’re all being honest, we need some attention, too.

What if you were allowed to ask for attention? Would it maybe help?


Do you need words and encouragement and hope sometimes? I’d love to write for you:


Do you ever catch yourself looking into someone’s eyes just a little longer and thinking “holy **** there’s an actual person in there!” before quickly breaking eye contact and saying something like “ugh, winter” or “thank god it’s Friday” just to lighten the tension of the tangible spirituality you just experienced between two powerfully human beings?

How much energy do we spend trying to avoid seeing each other as humans and deeply connecting?

And then, once we’ve carefully avoided truly connecting, how much TV do we watch alone on the couch wishing that we had someone there to talk to? But like to really talk to?

And then when we do find someone to talk to, how quickly do we replace the magical mystery of deep connection with a less fragile, less volatile, maybe less explosive normalcy like “how was your day?” again or “what do you want to watch?”

Really seeing someone is uncomfortable. Really being seen is uncomfortable.

When someone says “Hey. . . . how are you really doing?” there’s this strange hit–half ecstasy, half terror.

Deep connection is too good.

And full of too much potential.

So we sign it away in exchange for casual predictability.

No more rocking the boat of our lives or each other’s lives. Safe familiarity. Safe predictability. Safe blandness.

Safe nothingness.

Lonely nothingness.

And then one day we dare to hold someone’s gaze a little longer and speak with a deeply felt emotion for the first time since high school. And the possibilities of being a human and how magical it is come flooding back.

How many words do you speak in a day? And of those, how many do you actually care to speak? How many of your words are just social lubricant so you can avoid honesty and vulnerability and connection? Tailored to avoid the smallest chance that you’ll reach your tender, childlike hands out for connection and be rejected again?

Toughness is manufactured. Toughness is protection against the chance of experiencing the pain that can come along with being deeply human. And so toughness accidentally protects us from the magic of being human at all.

But what would happen if you looked someone in the eye just a little longer and said something like “Hey . . . I appreciate you.” . . . ? Or even the terrifying baggagey words that you’ve learned not to use, or at least to breeze quickly through, diluted with as much casualness as you can muster: “I love you.”

What if you risked connection?

What if you risked touching souls with someone?

What if someone else is waiting for the same thing?

Do you think the weather could wait?

Is it scary? Yeah. Yeah, it is. We’ve all tried before and failed.

As a kid, I laid it all out there with my crush after years of “being mature” about stuffing my feelings, until she’d thoroughly moved on, and I realized I had to go ahead and speak from my heart, and . . . well, it didn’t go as planned.

Then as a young adult, I shared with my mom some deep feeling of sadness over leaving my students, and she just brushed it aside and updated me on her garden or something and it felt so yucky.

I learned it’s safer to stay surface level. “How’s work?” when I’m really more interested in how my friend is doing on their insides. I learned to make sure there’s an “activity” planned instead of just inviting someone to be together to be together.

This is a lot of rambling.


I guess what I’m saying is,

it’s not too late,

look at someone in the eye,

see that they are a human,

feel that you are a human,

and say something real.

Live your deep humanity.

Don’t live a script.

Let your insides out a little.

Not every place is a safe place,

but I think we live as if there are no safe places,

and a world with no safe places isn’t the world you’re looking for.

You know at least, like, 20 people. Chances are, one of them you could get real with. And find in that realness–that connection–a strange feeling of care and love and aliveness and togetherness and magic that you haven’t felt since you were listening to Death Cab for Cutie as a teenager.

You’re allowed to go off script and show up as your deeply human self. And it just may free someone else who needs the same thing.

Get weirdly connecty.

Sending you love today. <3


Can we stay connected?

7 books I’m dying to let you borrow

Oh hello friends! I’m a reader. A slow reader. A let-me-digest-this type reader. And also a distracted-by-all-the-cheeses-I-could-be-tasting type reader. So besides my Mastering Cheese textbook, 2021 had seven books for me that I’m going to be raving about to everyone I talk to anyway, so you may as well just see the list now.

I hope you pick up one or two in 2022 and find your mind opened and your heart moved and your energy sparked.


See No Stranger
A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love
by Valarie Kaur

3 words this made me feel: Human, Love, Connected

1 thing this inspired me to do: Listen and learn about way more people.

A surprising thing I learned: The hatred and violence against Sikh communities in the wake of 9/11, and how radically loving their responses were.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Honestly, this one is just going to make you a better person. A more connected human. I don’t know what else to say.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Not. It’s easy to get lost in, hard to put down.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “You are a part of me I do not yet know. . . . Wonder is where love begins, but the failure to wonder is the beginning of violence. Once people stop wondering about others, once they no longer see others as part of them, they disable their instinct for empathy. And once they lose empathy, they can do anything to them, or allow anything to be done to them.”


To Shake the Sleeping Self
A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret

by Jedidiah Jenkins

3 words this made me feel: Adventure, Free, Brave

1 thing this inspired me to do: Spontaneously take a winter hiking and meditation trip to the snowy, icy Minnesota north shore. Oh and revive my old pastime of spending hours and hours browsing Google maps.

A surprising thing I learned: Even though North America and South America are connected by land, you have to travel by water or air between Panama and Colombia because there’s a roadless jungle called the Darien gap that is known as a “smuggling corridor” and is considered one of the world’s most dangerous places.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: It challenges everything you’ve settled into. It pulls messy honesty out of you. It makes you dream again.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Another nail-biter. Honestly this reads more like an epic movie in IMAX. Difficulty negative ten.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “As thirty approached, and ‘youth’ was passing into ‘adulthood,’ the terrible reality of time hit me like a wet rag. I looked back on my twenties and realized that every time there was a crossroads, I took the first and safest path. I did just what was expected of me, or what I needed to do to escape pain or confusion. I was reactive. I didn’t feel like an autonomous soul. I felt like a pinball.”


Mating in Captivity
Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
by Esther Perel

3 words this made me feel: Understood, Excited, Inchargeofmyself

1 thing this inspired me to do: Communicate more.

A surprising thing I learned: Just how codependent and enmeshed American love relationships tend to be, and just how unsustainable and unfulfilling romance is when its core is a pursuit of absolute security.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: For almost all of us, sex and eroticism is a core part of us and so worth exploring and learning and getting help with. But it’s also not supposed to be talked about, so that getting help and exploring thing doesn’t always happen. This book is a life-changing, sigh-of-relief-giving, absolutely amazing place to start your own conversation about it.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Esther Perel is a story-teller who thinks and speaks and guides in stories. And through each story she somehow introduces you to your truer self. It’s not difficult, it’s completely engrossing.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Fear–of judgment, of rejection, of loss–is embedded in romantic love. Sexual rejection at the hands of the one we love is particularly hurtful. We are therefore less inclined to be erotically adventurous with the person we depend on for so much and whose opinion is paramount. We’d rather edit ourselves, maintaining a tightly negotiated, acceptable, even boring erotic script, than risk injury. It is no surprise that some of us can freely engage in the perils and adventures of sex only when the emotional stakes are lower–when we love less or, more important, when we are less afraid to lose love.”


Stamped from the Beginning
The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
by Ibram X. Kendi

3 words this made me feel: Disgust, Determination, Love

1 thing this inspired me to do: Make a habit, every time I hear someone (including myself) place responsibility on BIPOC and other minorities to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” of redirecting the responsibility first and foremost onto the ones who are doing the oppressing or enjoying giant advantages from the oppression. In other words, while a Black person may choose to fight for themselves, a white person is fully responsible for making the world a safer and fairer and more equitable place for Black people and other minorities–and that is not done by ignoring away our head start and enthusiastically cheering them on to fix it all themselves.

A surprising thing I learned: While it was a huge and needed step forward, the passing of the Civil Rights Act also made way for a new version of racist argument in America: Since opportunity was now supposedly, officially “equal,” we could now just blame the Black population for ongoing disparities, instead of grappling honestly with the hundreds-of-years head start white Americans and their families had and the reality of ongoing racism.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: It is such a powerful eye-opener and motivator. It is incredibly informative and it’s a deep motivator for making the world a better place.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Honestly, this one’s challenging. I’d say it’s a 10 in difficulty, because it’s just got so much gross, depressing, nauseating truth for America to face. Which also means it’s a 10 for needing to be read by you and me.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate. Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people.”


How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
by Stuart Brown

3 words this made me feel: Childlike, Happy, Relief

1 thing this inspired me to do: Make opportunities to laugh more. And sometimes swim laps less like a human and more like a dolphin frog. Or a frog dolphin. A frolphin.

A surprising thing I learned: Humans have a real developmental for “secret spaces” where we can be totally and safely alone, free, and uncensored.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Because you’re too busy right now, and it’s making you sad.

Reading difficulty 1-10: 1 if you read it, 10 if you don’t.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Once she realized that she would need time for her heart play and started acting on that realization, she began to experience true play again. She began to feel an excitement with life that she had forgotten. . . . Setting out to remember those feelings can be dangerous. It can seriously upend your life. If [her] marriage wasn’t as strong as it was, her husband might have felt she was pulling away when she went on long hikes by herself . . .”


The Body Keeps the Score
Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel van der Kolk

3 words this made me feel: Hopeful, Understood, Likeiactuallyhaveabody

1 thing this inspired me to do: Yoga, swim. “Think through” less, hug myself more.

A surprising thing I learned: Retelling trauma in talk therapy can actually continually retraumatize. Sometimes saying what happened isn’t what it takes to make your body trust that it’s safe again.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Because if you’re somehow one of the people who won’t find yourself deeply in these pages, you love someone who does, and this will help you get it. And whether for you or your people, there are so. many. practical. options. So good.

Reading difficulty 1-10: There’s science stuff, but it’s worth it.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe.”

P.S. Bonus fact, when you get to the part where Bessel van der Kolk remembers the feeling of being a “little boy” with “stern, Calvinistic parents” . . . . . . same, friend, same. . .


Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves
by James Nestor

3 words this made me feel: Amazed, Excited, Powerful

1 thing this inspired me to do: Learn free-diving.

A surprising thing I learned: The deeper you go underwater, the more blood flows away from your limbs toward vital organs to keep them functioning longer. Peripheral vasoconstriction. “When a diver descends to three hundred feet–a depth frequently reached by modern freedivers–“ and I’m having to just quote this verbatim because I mostly skipped science, thank you home school, “vessels in the lungs engorge with blood, preventing them from collapse.”

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Honestly, this sounds like a niche book for a niche audience, but I 100% swear you’ll enjoy it. Also, do you like sharks?

Reading difficulty 1-10: Less than 1.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “The ocean is usually silent, but the waters here were thundering with an incessant click-click-click, as if a thousand stove lighters were being triggered over and over again. Schnöller figured the noise must be coming from some mechanism on the ship. He swam farther away from the boat, but the clicking only got louder. He’d never heard a sound like this before and had no idea where it was coming from. Then he looked down. A pod of whales, their bodies oriented vertically, like obelisks, surrounded him on all sides and stared up with wide eyes. They swam toward the surface, clicking louder and louder as they approached. They gathered around Schnöller and rubbed against him, face to face. Schnöller could feel the clicks penetrating his flesh and vibrating through his bones, his chest cavity.”


Want to borrow one?


Sneak peek of what’s next . . .


Maybe all this reading results in a few helpful thoughts from my fingertips this year. Want to hear them?