Literary Mood Board: The Luminaries

Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries novel

I won’t lie: I originally picked up Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries because its cover is so pretty. I really had no idea what it was about, but had seen the buzz about it in general terms and decided it was time to read it for myself. The story follows a group of miners, politicians, and prostitutes living in a small New Zealand gold rush town and circles around some strange happenings that leave everyone (characters included) intrigued. Who is the dead man Walter Moody witnesses gasping for breath aboard the ship that’s landed him in New Zealand? How did it come to pass that Anna’s gowns are actually filled with gold dust? Where is Emery Stains?!

There’s some major thought put into this work, as its Wikipedia entry can attest. Regardless of the fancy literary footwork that’s engaged in the background, this book was an interesting read, in that I wasn’t hooked at the start, when the chapter-intro blurbs were short and the chapters were looooong, but as the intro blurbs lengthened and the chapters shortened, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued. I won’t attempt to explain any further. If you’re intrigued by flighty things like astrology and grounded things like gold rushes, give it a read. Let me know how you get on!

Happy (belated) Labor Day!

San Francisco city skyline at night

Late summer heat wave coming at you! How was your weekend? We're having a massive dose of heat here in SF, and I'll be honest: I didn't want to do much other than putter around in the house, catching a breeze under the ceiling fan. It's HOT here! I did gather enough energy to clear out some shelves (still in Operation Jettison Possessions mode) and discover my new favorite illustrator, Holly Exley. My fav is the 5th image on her BBC Wildlife series!

Anyhow, happy belated Labor Day, and I'll see you back here next week for this month's very long-in-coming book review.


August's End: Late-Summer Favorites

Tipi at sunset in Bozeman, Montana

August’s end has me sitting in Montana, looking out at mountains hazy with smoke and feeling the tiredness that comes from a big hike up to the tallest peak in the mountain range. I love Montana in autumn, and you can feel that we’re just on the cusp of it (this morning, it was 40 degrees and I could see my breath!). I’ll be back in SF for the fall but am keen to keep that cozy feeling with me, despite San Francisco’s notoriously late summer. As we ease into the last of summer, here are a few things I’ve been loving on:

★ Less internet (yes!) ★ Stewed peaches with blueberries ★ Boardwalk Empire ★ Morning light ★ Well-wishing friends off to new adventures ★ Office dogs ★ Waking up to puns texted overnight ★ My massive new couch! ★ Coffee with coconut oil ★ Bunny-spotting on neighborhood walks ★ No-makeup weekends ★ Plotting the impossible ★ Keeping an observation journal (best one so far: “Group of business people on the elevator—man’s leather bag overflowing with bananas”😆) ★ Morning meditation ★ Completing client work days early (yessss!) ★ Sunscreen sticks ★ Breakfast at the beach before hiking Land’s End ★ Choosing positive ★ Made-up, inside-joke emoji meanings ★ Holiday planning (yes, already!) ★ Perfectly timed layovers ★ Adding NASA’s celestial happenings events to my calendar ★ Vince Guaraldi for ever and ever and everrrr ★ Learning about ayurveda

What are your plans to wring the last of the goodness out of summer? I'll be getting outside as much as possible, sipping iced coffee in the sunshine, and wearing out my sandals.

Still Life Without Internet

Man's silhouette while studying

photo by : leo hidalgo

Hello end-of-August, waning summer light, short-cruise to autumnal routine. I love you.

How has your month been? Did you take a break? Did you take it slow and keep your time and maybe your brain empty and welcoming? Did you laze in creative reverie and live on sunshine?

I assure you: I did.

Today I woke up early (for a weekend) and made coffee and watered all the plants in our backyard garden and watched the butterflies float from their leaves in a shower of water droplets and saw the clouds roll over the hills. Later, by accident, I synced my phone and re-added all the social apps I ditched last month. They look out of place, and I haven’t logged in yet. But enough of the highfalutin descriptions and waxing on about the prosaic “no social” month. Let’s talk about what really went on last month, shall we?

Taking a break from the internet is no new thing. People all over the planet are doing this because deep down, we all feel that hamster-wheel effect in our brains and in our lives, and we need a little peace from that sometimes. If you haven’t taken a digital sabbatical yet, I highly encourage it. Focus on something else. Make your own ideas. Stop being torn apart mentally by “which way should I go” syndrome.

What did I do this month?

★ Read a few books:

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Revolution, by Russell Brand

You Say More Than You Think, by Janine Driver

Unlimited by Jillian Michaels (meh)

Mind Over Medicine, by Lissa Rankin

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

★ Ran ★ Hiked ★ Ate breakfast on the beach ★ Went to a baseball game ★ Spent a week checking out native Montana flora and fauna ★ Slept long and deeply, with vivid, mountainous dreams. (My internal cry for more outside time, please!) ★ Cleared out some clothes and books and things ★ Finished a project, 3 years in the making ★ Dug into a morning routine ★ Watched my plants throw new leaves ★ Spent several hours doing nothing in particular

Really, there was nothing miraculous about my month except for the way I felt. Externally, nothing really happened.

Internally, I feel like I started living my own life again.

I don’t get hooked on a lot of things. I stopped eating meat years ago, and sugar soon after. I drink coffee, but not a lot, I don’t exercise or gamble or shop in crazy amounts. I don’t hoard things up and I don’t fanatically abstain. What gets me, though, is stories. Information. Knowledge. For those things, I am insatiable. I want to be like Sherlock, Cal Lightman, or Anthony Hopkins in The Edge. I crave the knowledge that can be used as a tool to solve problems.

It seems like I never know enough. I want to be a Swiss Army knife of knowledge. (Even now, as I check to see if army in Swiss Army knife is capitalized, I get sucked into a Wikipedia article and have to cut myself off…) Knowledge itself is good. But when it's all knowledge acquisition and never knowledge execution, the knowledge is useless. I know this, but I get stuck in that habitual loop anyway. I read and read and read, and I want to keep reading because there’s more (there’s always more), and what if I missed something (of course I’ve missed something).

Taking a month away from information firehoses like Twitter has let me reflect on my own tendencies. I still read a lot, as evidenced by the reading list above, but instead of hopping from short article to short article without reflecting on each individually, I spent hours immersed with a subject and came away with a lot more. With the time to think about the way I interact with social channels, I’ve decided to institute a few changes in my life to ensure that I can still connect with people over social channels without bogging my mind down in information quicksand.

Changes for the better:

From here on out, I’ll be:

★ Abiding by a cutoff time for internet things. 8 PM. Done.

★ Reading one thing at a time—no consecutive article or book binges. The point is to reflect on the information.

★ Being intentional about connecting in person.

If you've taken a break—this month or any other—how did it affect you? Are you back at a pace you're not quite comfortable with, or are you rolling with it all?

Tempo Lento: Choosing the Slow Life

walking alone through a field photo by: Zane Mulligan

There’s been some churning in my brain, a bit of turbulence in my day-to-day, something making me itch. In short: I have a need to turn inward. To cultivate my imaginary world. To focus on my perceptions and the creation of my life. Lately, there have been moments in my days where I am so calm and present that life feels rich and vibrant. I can lay in bed and simply let my mind go—thinking about my day, crafting a deeper understanding of something I read or saw, or imagining new things into being, just as I did when I was four years old. Do you ever let yourself get to that point? A place that is easily perceived as idleness but is actually a font of rich creative material? I feel myself moving that direction, and I need to turn deliberately back to that steady, slow pace, where I thrive.

I've always known that my life rhythm is much slower than the world around me, and before, I always tried to keep up, asking myself why I couldn't do things more quickly, why I couldn't keep the pace. I've realized the answer: It's because that's not my pace. My pace is slow. My speed is singular. My pace is what my parents lovingly (and exasperatedly) dubbed "slower than molasses in the wintertime." That's me! As my interests have moved toward meditation, mindfulness, the way the brain works and how our modern inventions are affecting our bodies and minds, I've started to realize that I like to use daily activities as a meditation. I move slowly. I get lost in thought. I can sit without moving for ages, happily. I know how to assess my current, actual situation, and realize that all the things I could worry about—past, present, or future—really have no bearing on how I am being at that very moment. It's satisfying.

But when I'm trying to keep someone else's pace, I lose all of that. My thoughts shoot off in a million directions and that contented, satisfied self that's really me gets left behind in the dust of 'what ifs' and 'maybes' and 'if onlys.'

Why am I saying this to you?

I'm taking a break from Keep It Lit. I love talking lit-loves with you and stretching our creative selves every which way, and I need now to turn inward and work my slow-paced magic on myself. This comes with a deadline for the trial period.

I will be back here August 24—one month from now—with a fresher mind and an enriched outlook.

If you're so inclined, take a break with me. Allow yourself to rest. Let your creative brain soak in its own magical juices for a while, and see what you come up with. Turn off your phone. Take a meandering walk. Lose yourself in thought as you do the dishes. And one month from now, report back on how you're feeling once you've had four weeks of rest.

Now get outta here. And work that slow magic.

Yours in deliberateness,

How to Connect With Others: The Vegetable Method

His Holiness the Dalai Lama *photo by : abhikrama

How connected do you feel? Not just to the people around you, but to your community, the city you live in, society and life on a global level? I’ve been reading The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler and keep asking myself these questions. How connected do I feel? How do I understand my place in the world as it relates to people I see every day, to those I will never see, and to the natural world? Robin Dunbar, professor of psychology at University of Liverpool in the UK, is cited in this book as stating:

“The lack of social contact, the lack of sense of community, amy be the most pressing social problem of the new millennium.” - Robin Dunbar

No doubt you’ve read or heard mention of articles discussing the way technology both brings us together and, at the same time, drives us into isolation. While we’re engaged in certain ways online (hitting Like on a photo, retweeting something you enjoy or agree with), we’re also giving much less effort, and connecting more on a superficial level than in a truly honest and rich manner. By offering ourselves up online, we’re only sharing the curated versions of ourselves. For some, that means sharing only the good stuff—the photos you took in Vegas or on that trip to Europe—and for others, it means playing the attention card—posting about a pregnancy, a beloved pet’s passing, or a vague “bad day.” Either way, we’re choosing what others know about us, but not what they truly understand.

There is a section in the book where the Dalai Lama describes Tibetans’ shock at learning that in the US, it’s very common to have neighbors who live next door for years who have next to no contact with each other. Cutler confesses that this describes his own life, and I’ll confess the same. While I know my landlord who lives in the flat above me, I’ve said hello to the man next door as many times as I can count on one hand. If I’m really honest, I’ll tell you that when I hear someone in our shared back yard, I move to the opposite side of the house to ensure that I don’t have to engage. Why? Even on days when I could actually use some friendly interaction, I still move away, and I couldn’t tell you why.

One possibility is the way our brains construct the ideas of “us” versus “them.” If you never give someone the chance to get to know you (and vice versa), they remain part of an out-group that you identify as other, which doesn’t encourage you to engage with them. Being more aware of this is half of the solution. The other half is to actually engage. :) My favorite part of The Art of Happiness thus far is an exercise that was conducted by Susan Fiske of Princeton University, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure prejudice (which really boils down to your brain saying “You’re one of us” or “You’re not one of us”). I won’t get into the specifics of the experiment, but basically, Fiske’s study enabled her subjects to truly overcome prejudice and “other” thinking by using a simple prompt. As she showed subjects photos of individuals from other races or ethnicities, she asked them: What kind of vegetable would this person like? This question forces our brain to stop its automatic categorization (White person, Black person, Indian person, etc.) and gets us down to relating to people on an individual level, and not based on the group or category our brains automatically place them into.

There are many good lessons throughout this book, but this “vegetable practice” is something I’m already carrying with me as a tool to help me better relate to people I see every day, starting with my neighbors. Overcoming the view that others are Others is one part of the practice, and I hope you try this from time to time, too.

PS I like tomatoes. What about you?

On the go: Blogging from your iPhone

Blogging on the go - woman in pink gown with laptop image by: Mike Licht

Blogging while traveling can be a huge pain if you let it—think lugging your laptop when you really don’t have room for it, vying for outlets in airports, and just trying to keep it all together! Lucky for us, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many apps and shortcuts you can use nowadays to make publishing on the go easy as pie. Here’s a peek at what I use when I’m doing drive-by-blogging:


Editorial app: $9.99

Editorial is an app that supports Markdown, which is what I write my blog posts in. It's super handy for tapping out articles and setting up links and formatting. The whole thing syncs with Dropbox, which is where all my content is housed, making it super simple to use.

Drafts app: $9.99

Drafts is similar to Editorial, but instead of using this to write my posts, I use this as my publish button. Drafts syncs up with Dropbox, too, and Ryan has whipped up some unknowable magic to link up the content saved in Dropbox and my blog. If you'd like to know more about this setup, Ryan can walk you through the whole thing. I won't pretend I know what he's done, but I use it and love it.

Dropbox: Free!

I've already mentioned Dropbox twice in this post, so you knew this was coming. I can write posts in Editorial and save the drafts in Dropbox, where I can move or rename them as needed. If I accidentally delete something, I can recover the deleted file. Etcetera, etcetera. I really can't imagine working without Dropbox on my phone.

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Camera Awesome: Free!

Camera Awesoooooome! When I started blogging over three years ago, I knew I needed to use my own photos but was having a hard time getting started. I'd snap photos, but they seemed super-blah to me. I'm trying to remember whose blog pointed me to Camera Awesome—I want to say it was Kris Atomic, but I can't find the post. (Read her blog anyway. Super fun!) Camera Awesome lets you adjust contrast, exposure, vibrancy, etc. etc. It's great and is an easy way to perk up sad-looking photos.

Over: $1.99

I still find text over photos kind of silly, if done incorrectly, but if you're gonna do it, try using Over. You can adjust the font type, size, and orientation, make it more opaque or more transparent, match your font colors, and even add goofy artwork. They have some professional looking samples on their Instagram account that you can check out before taking the leap, but I'd suggest getting it, if only to play around with it. Fun!

Picfx: $1.99

Picfx was another suggested app from Kris Atomic, and I lurv it. I used to use all the crazy filters, but I am (as I think we all are) getting over the overly processed look. Lately I only use the light layers to add a bit of bokeh or lens flare when I'm feeling fancy.

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Hootsuite: Free!

Now that you're all set up to write your posts and add glorious photos to them, you're ready to share your content, right? I can't say I'm innovating when I tell you that I use Hootsuite to schedule social media posts, but I will say that Hootsuite is an oldie but a goodie. I really don't use the app for anything other than scheduling posts to go out when I won't be able to post them in real time, but for the basics I need it for, it's great.

Instagram: Free!

How I wish Instagram allowed you to schedule posts! (And have a multiaccount setup. Why not?!) I don't share posts often on Instagram because it's inconvenient for people to view your photo and then have to click the link in your full profile to get to it (ugh, Instagram, come on!), but every so often I'll share an image there and let people know what's going on over here. Instagram is also a fun way to supplement your blogging life with peeks into what's going on outside your neatly contained posts, which can be fun.

Pinterest: Free!

For all that I love reading, I also love our collective visual leanings. Pinterest is a fun way to engage with people who might not otherwise find your blog. You can pin photos from your post and link back to the article itself, adding an engaging caption that gives people a hint that there's more behind the photo if they click through.

I’m sure you’ve been using some pretty similar apps, but I want to hear all about your setup! What are you using to blog on the go?

Literary Mood Board: Africa in My Blood

Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters, by Jane Goodall

Can you imagine picking up from your ordinary life at the age of 23 and plunging into a new routine of safari camp life, archaeological digs, and nonchalant big game tracking? Jane Goodall is an amazing woman who thought there was nothing better than taking a leap into the wild in her early 20s. I love reading about her exploits as a fully fledged primatologist (among other -ists that are now added to her name!), but Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters provides a glimpse of Goodall before she's fully immersed in the life we now know her for. Through her exhuberant letters to friends and family, Africa in My Blood shows us just what a live wire Goodall really was. Her love of animals shines through from an early age and carries through, even as she attempts to slot herself into a more quotidian lifestyle by training up as a secretary, attending musical performances in the city, and taking up a waitressing job (to fund her trip to Africa :) ).

There's something fascinating about getting to know more about someone you admire, especially when you can have a peek into what they were like prior to their fully formed state. Watching Goodall's transformation from precocious child to blossoming anthropologist and primatologist is like the most enthralling explanation of how to get from A to B, with all the strange wobbles life throws in. Her letters home hold nothing back—learning that Louis Leakey was a bit more salacious than is ideal in a mentor is riviting enough, but watching Goodall rebuff him until he understands mentor/mentee relationship boundaries is a lesson in human nature, itself. Her optimistic honesty is refreshing. When she thinks something is a drag, she says it. When she thinks it's amazing, she gushes. She expresses opinions without bars, all with a goodnatured politeness that makes her all the more likeable.

If you're a primatology nerd, an adventure junkie, or a Goodall groupie, you'll enjoy Africa in My Blood. I'm still only about a third of the way through and can't wait to finish. If you read this, let me know how you like it!

Summer Love: June Favorites

Golden theater curtain for The Marriage of Figaro at the San Francisco opera
Waiting for The Marriage of Figaro to begin at San Francisco's opera

What a month! Can you believe that we're halfway through the year already? This is around the time I start thinking that holiday music sounds good (I am a notorious holiday-indulger), but I'm holding out this time. This month has been full of launching new projects, finishing up lingering ones, family visits, birthday magic, and planning, planning, planning ahead. This yearly midpoint always gives me pause to reassess how I'm feeling about how the year. Is it going as I'd intended? Am I keeping my year's intention in mind with every move I make? If your New Year's resolutions, goals, or intentions have fallen by the wayside, I encourage you to pick them up again, if only to reexamine them to see if they still serve you or if it's high time you replaced them with something new.

I'm still happy with my intention to feel more expansive and capable, but I can see areas where I've begun tacking in a different direction and need to rechart my course. Part of that is taking stock of what's working and what's maybe not working so well, and finding satisfaction i n all that's working out just fine. In that spirit, here are some things I'm loving on this month!

✦ Discovering San Francisco's tiny (sometimes hidden!) lending libraries

✦ Catching up on my languishing National Geographic issues

✦ Being surprised with (HELLO) tickets to the San Francisco opera. If you're in the city and have the inkling, go see The Marriage of Figaro!

✦ A little decision that opens up a lot of possibility for a lotta lovely people throughout the U.S.

✦ Setting up my desk to be an actual workspace (it's been a while!)

✦ Anticipating our new couch. I've been sitting on the floor for nearly a month and am sooooooo ready for a cushy new seat!

✦ Buying myself do-goody birthday present that encourages me to give more

✦ Eating cherries by the pound!

✦ Trying my hand at cooking (even when the result isn't great. A for effort!)

✦ Finding a meant-to-be mashup with running and audiobooks

✦ Indominable spirits. Send some good vibes to my aunts who recently got in a serious collision and are recovering, slowly but surely. <3

Sending you ✦ summer love ✦, ✦ twilight charms ✦, and ✦ firefly winks ✦

Getting Started: Social Media for Lit Mags

Black and white photo of women reading on verandah photo by: State Library Victoria Collections

Nearly everyone these days is keen to the fact that authors, artists, nonprofits, and publications need to be on social media, but that doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes, the whole thing can be overwhelming! When I started working with Hayden’s Ferry Review’s social presence, it was clear that many publications (not to mention authors and creative foundations) were making an effort but somehow missing the mark. It doesn't have to be that way, though! In an effort to streamline my efforts and to ensure that I was only posting interesting, valuable content, I stuck to a three-punch approach that spun our one-way conversation into a true community. I hope these work for you!

Schedule posts about your publication’s upcoming events

If you don't yet have a service for scheduling social posts, this is step one! Services like Hootsuite are free and allow you to write and schedule posts far into the future, so you can batch your work and get it done quickly. Use this service to schedule posts about your upcoming events, and link to a page that contains more information. As a practice, I usually scheduled a total of three posts about a single event: one about a week before the event, one the day prior, and one the day of. In addition to your own events, also post about events where your staff or contributors will be involved. Make time to schedule these types of posts once a week, and your social feeds will always be relevant and never silent.

Join in current community conversations

Every day, take a scroll through your incoming feeds (which should be populated with peer publications, authors, and your industry's publications), and find a conversation to join in. Share an article on the ongoing conversation, and add some valuable insights to the conversation or post a question regarding the situation. Being involved in and knowledgeable of ongoings in your field is a way for you to engage with peers and authors, as well as show some thought leadership.

Strike up a conversation with questions to your community

Whether playful or serious, taking the time to ask your audience what they think about something is a great way to really engage with your community. Instead of being a blasting horn for news and events, take the time to ask people what they're up to or thinking about! (It should go without saying, but the conversation doesn’t stop with your initial question. If someone answers you, engage in conversation!) No one likes a narcissist in real life, and that goes doubly for social media. If you want people to stick around and care about your events and updates, they need to feel like they're in a true relationship, where communication goes both ways.

Getting into the habit of posting three times per day in each of these categories ensures that your social content is varied, informative, and engaging. There’s more that can be said about social media best practices and how to get better engagement rates, but if you stick with the foundational principles at work in any type of conversation, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating a rich, vibrant social community.