Time Passes

Time passes, and usually we change and grow as it does, but sometimes we don’t.

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook served me up a memory in the form of a post I’d made on that day in 2013.

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Here’s what I thought: My 2013 self sounds like an asshole.

Here’s what I also thought: It’s been just five years, but it felt like a lifetime had passed.

Here’s what I remember about my time working at an elementary school: every day I felt like I wasn’t using the skills I was supposed to be using—I wasn’t using any of the skills or tools I’d learned during the two-year graduate program I’d entered directly after college. Every day I felt acutely that I had never been trained for the work that I was doing—and that no one was going to hire me for the skills I’d acquired in school. Some days I resented the fact that I’d had to cobble together several part-time jobs to make ends meet. Most days I loved that I was being paid to have second graders holler “Teacher Hillary!” across the playground to get my attention so I could capture for Facebook or the school website whatever cool project they were doing. The days when I cleaned a cut or calmed a kid down, some part of me was aware that I was accessing the part of my personality that is drawn to caring for others. And the days when I managed to write a few words after work, to piece together a paragraph even, I marveled at the possibilities my future might hold.

So there were these disparate parts of me that knew I was learning an enormous amount, that knew the benefit of getting any kind of humanities degree—and, in fact, the thing that sets humanities degrees apart from the hard sciences, or more technical fields—was that those skills were transferrable. I was trained to read and research, to ask good questions, to empathize and to interrogate my assumptions, to understand how nonprofits work, and to value the past, whatever form it took (like meeting minutes!) so that it could inform future work.

But a significant part of me was mad. Mad that I’d graduated from an excellent school but had done so at time when the job market was basically nonexistent. Mad that I’d gotten a degree and then moved to a city where everyone applying for my job were basically equally qualified. Mad that I had innumerable but apparently useless skills. Mad that I couldn’t figure my way out. And mad that I had the audacity to be mad. I mean, I didn’t have the job I thought I wanted, but I had A job, with supportive bosses, and I had been in worse pickles.

Fast forward five years: I have spent nearly three years in a job in my field—in fact, both my fields—and now I’ve embarked again on a different kind of career path, away from my training but, in a different way, in the service of it. This new job will, I hope, make a difference in this newly charged political climate, will do some real good—though the recent school shootings have made me acutely aware, again, of just how important a school administration job is. And while this new job is not in the museum field, it’s not lost on me that my responsibilities include teaching small organizations how to use social media—which is exactly what my very first paid museum gig comprised.

So when Facebook offered me this memory from five years ago, I cringed: I like to think that I’ve changed in that short shift in time, that I’ve grown more humble, less angry, more generous with the time and talents I do have and less sensitive to what I don’t have. But in other ways I know I haven’t changed: I still love days that involve great variety, I still want to help people, and I still use my museum studies skills every single day.

On Reading Widely: 2017 book list

At the end of 2016 I read a lot of year-end lists from people who’d only read books by women or books by people of color or queer writers. These were justice-minded readers, whose goals were to support expanded diversity in the literary community. I wanted to be that kind of reader, and I wanted to read all of the (hundreds of) books on all of these lists. But I already had dozens of unread books on my bookshelves, books I wanted to read, many of them by writers who would have easily fit on any one of these lists.

So I began 2017 with a single criterion for my reading list for the year: I would spend the year reading books I should have read a long time ago. This left a lot of room for possibilities, because there were a lot of individual books and plenty of genres I had dismissed without much thought, or had never had time enough to read. But 2017 was the year I spent hundreds of hours on the train, back and forth to a job in another state, and there were days when all I wanted was to get back on the train so I could finish a chapter. I found solace in books.

In the last twelve months, I read widely. I read more books of poetry (seven), more graphic novels (nine), and more fantasy than I ever had before, and I formed very definite opinions about certain writers who’ve garnered a lot of acclaim for their work but who left me feeling unsatisfied. I picked up some books and nearly put them down again, and because of that impulse I committed to reading against type. I read so many essays. I returned to short stories and, finally, learned to love them—and, by consequence, I actually finished writing two long-languishing stories, because it’s true that you have to steep yourself in the kind of writing you want to write. I asked people what they were reading and recorded their recommendations (I learned, in the process, to record who recommended each book, so that I could ask for more suggestions), and I read some of them, and now I have a book list that will last me years (decades, probably).

This was the year I had three or four books going at once, the year I found unexpected connections between the work I was reading and the work I was producing. Reading this year became a different kind of MFA program: I read for pleasure, yes, but I was always reading like a writer. I devoured good sentences, delighted in discovering new authors, read widely and with particular craft questions in mind. It was the year I realized every piece of media consumed makes up a writer’s toolkit, and that every published word makes up a writer’s canon.

Here’s the most important thing I learned: Read outside your comfort zone. Pick up a book even if you feel in your bones that you’ll likely put it down fifty pages in. Put the book down if you want. Keep reading. There are so many books. And if you really hate the book that won the Man Booker Prize, fine. Have your reasons and cultivate your own tastes. (I learned this attitude from one of the books I read this year, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.)

I read 90 books this year, including 60 books written by women, and 23 by people (mostly women) of color. Compiling this list, I was surprised at the number of Mary Roach books I read this year (four) and the number of Margaret Atwood books (zero). Of the 20 books written by white men, 6 were by C. S. Lewis, 2 by Neil Gaiman, and two by Art Spiegelman. Next year maybe I’ll plan to read fantasy series written by women of color–suggestions welcome!

  1. Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shatterly (nonfiction) *
  2. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (novel) *
  3. Grunt, Mary Roach (nonfiction)
  4. Vivid and Continuous, John McNally (craft)
  5. Some Change, June Jordan (poetry)
  6. Emma, Jane Austen (novel)
  7. American Gods, Neil Gaiman (novel)
  8. The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis (novel)
  9. The Horse and His Boy, S. Lewis (novel)
  10. Gulp, Mary Roach (nonfiction)
  11. Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis (novel)
  12. Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary, Susan Morrison (essays)
  13. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan (nonfiction)
  14. Kindred, Octavia Butler (novel)
  15. White Teeth, Zadie Smith (novel)
  16. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis (novel)
  17. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (novel) *
  18. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie (essay)
  19. How Reading Changed My Life, Anna Quindlen (craft)
  20. The Rediscovery of North America, Barry Lopez (essays)
  21. Women and Writing, Virginia Woolf (craft)
  22. Thrice Told Tales, Catherine Lewis (craft)
  23. The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis (novel)
  24. Lying, Sissela Bok (nonfiction)
  25. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis (novel)
  26. On the Bus with Rosa Parks, Rita Dove (poetry)
  27. The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop, Danell Jones (craft) *
  28. Steering the Craft, Ursula Le Guin (craft)
  29. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck (novel)
  30. The Door of No Return, Dionne Brand (poetry)
  31. Modern Critical Interpretations of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Harold Bloom (craft)
  32. When I Was A Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson (essays)
  33. Citizen, Claudia Rankine (poetry) *
  34. March: Book One, John Lewis (graphic novel)
  35. Relish, Lucy Knisely (graphic novel)
  36. March: Book Two, John Lewis (graphic novel)
  37. March: Book Three, John Lewis (graphic novel)
  38. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor (novel) *
  39. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle (novel)
  40. Normandy, Wayne Vansant (graphic novel)
  41. Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher (memoir)
  42. Bonkers, Jennifer Saunders (memoir) *
  43. The Art of Community, Charles Vogl (nonfiction)
  44. Sent by Earth, Alice Walker (poetry)
  45. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (novel) *
  46. Blue-Tail Fly, Vievee Francis (poetry)
  47. Maus 1, Art Speigelman (graphic novel)
  48. The Taste of River Water, Cate Kennedy (poetry) *
  49. Maus 2, Art Speigelman (graphic novel)
  50. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli (nonfiction)
  51. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (novel) *
  52. Stiff, Mary Roach (nonfiction)
  53. Whistling Vivaldi, Claude M. Steele (nonfiction)
  54. Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy, Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, Allen (graphic novel)
  55. Spook, Mary Roach (nonfiction)
  56. Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein (novel) *
  57. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders (novel)
  58. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (nonfiction) *
  59. Deep South, Paul Theroux (nonfiction)
  60. The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fuck, Sarah Knight (nonfiction) *
  61. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (novel) *
  62. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (novel) *
  63. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett (novel) *
  64. The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka (novel) *
  65. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (novel)
  66. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling (novel)
  67. God Help the Child, Toni Morrison (novel)
  68. Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman (novel)
  69. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness (novel)
  70. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling (memoir)
  71. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast (graphic novel)
  72. Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver (novel) *
  73. The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (craft)
  74. Archangel, Andrea Barrett (short stories) *
  75. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, Louise Murphy (novel)
  76. Writing A Woman’s Life, Carolyn G. Heilbrun (craft) *
  77. Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness (novel)
  78. Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder (novel)
  79. One Came Home, Amy Timberlake (novel)
  80. Why I’m Not a Feminist, Jessa Crispin (nonfiction)
  81. Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison (nonfiction)
  82. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Bakman (novel) *
  83. Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice, bell hooks (nonfiction)
  84. Dark Roots, Cate Kennedy (short stories) *
  85. Flesh and Blood, Stephen McGann (memoir)
  86. Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit (essays)
  87. Separate Kingdoms, Valerie Laken (short stories) *
  88. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren (novel)
  89. The Mother of All Questions, Rebecca Solnit (essays)
  90. Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food, Peggy Wolff (essays)

* books I loved





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