The Pleasure Of...Incrementalism

Snow, trash, and abstractions, better late than never.

It’s been a quiet week. I met a couple of deadlines, hunkered in against the cold, read a couple of novels, organized the space in our bedroom where the crib’s going to go. It snowed, and I thought a lot about trash. We’re about to have a baby, which means thinking actively about labor (in all senses) and waste (likewise). About cost versus effort, and where our values land along those axes. 

Figuring out how to tread a little more lightly on the earth is not easy. It requires chasing information through forests of conflicting opinions about what actually helps reduce our impact, and facing failures on a municipal, national, global scale that can make you throw up your hands. Trying to acquire less stuff, or produce less waste, or just make do feels at odds with a lot of the norms of having a baby, which may be why, in my bloody-mindedness, I’m feeling especially driven to this effort right now. So we’re going to try to trade off some convenience for the joy of doing a little better than before: taking food waste to the bins in the park, using cloth diapers, getting maternity and baby stuff mostly second-hand. Making do. Figuring out how, and when, to stop listening to the world of advice. For someone who’s used to being easily persuaded, and dissuaded, and distracted, and prone to second-guessing, there is something quite powerful and exhilarating about learning, gradually, to stand my ground.

In some ways pregnancy is like starting to exercise or diet—a bodily arena where laboratory science meets individual experience meets politics and opinions and deep-rooted fears, where you are constantly balancing authorities, trying to figure out who to trust. If there’s anything universal about the experience at all, I think it’s this state of spending nine months as your own constantly whirring spam filter, trying to monitor everything coming in and decide what to consign to junk. To landfill. When I started running seriously, I learned (slowly) the value of incremental change, how strength builds slowly, how long it takes to wear down your lizard brain’s resistance to pain, to control its panic responses, to take control, to be patient. I don’t know yet how well I’ve learned all that, but it seems like an appropriate lesson, or discipline, for January, for the depth of winter. To make small changes in the right direction, and trust that we’re getting stronger as the days are getting lighter.

Reading & Writing

Two stories of mine this week, about two remarkable women: first Crystal Eastman, the underappreciated leftist activist, suffrage leader, and pacifist, whose biography I reviewed for the New Republic, and second the brilliant children’s author Jacqueline Woodson, who I met at her stunning Brooklyn brownstone to profile for the Guardian in the UK (online here), in celebration of her gorgeous new novel for adults, Red at the Bone. (I promise I used fewer gushing adjectives in the actual piece, but she deserves them all.) I also just finished Jenny Offill’s new novel Weather, which is funny and anxious and incisive, the kind of book that pokes you repeatedly to see if you’re paying attention, to it and the world. More on that soon.

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