The idea you carry..

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When I was younger, I wanted to be famous. What to be famous for? Some skill, a book, writing, performance? Who knows? Some as of yet unknown thing.

When I was even younger, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I fell in love with James Herriot and Animal Ark books, and I never looked back. I wanted to be necessary in that way. I wanted to contribute to rescuing animals, to reducing pain, to healing families.

And then I wanted to be a teacher. And I thought: better to be a vessel than a star. I’d love to be famous for not being famous. For helping to facilitate other people’s growth and success.

I want to be famous the way my grandfather was famous to me.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.


(Notes): A sense of curiosity about each other’s lives.

The deep attribute of poetry to pause, to look, to listen, to respect, to pay  attention to variety.

I think a lot about empathy, one community to another. Paying attention with respect and curiosity to people who aren’t exactly like us.

Poetry can help us have a window into someone else’s experience, or loneliness, or difficulty.

Seeing often a kind of respect rising up (among kids) after someone describes something with an honest voice — what changes in the room.


These are a few of my favourite things!

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A prompt to Start Writing, from the wonderful Sarah Peck. This is the perfect prompt that I actually desperately need today.

Write a list of at least 50 things that make you feel good.

  1. The ocean. The sea. The sea and the sky.
  2. Mountains. Hills. The moors and the highlands. Anything rolling.
  3. Books. Pages and pages and pages. Empty books, books with print, amazing fonts. Books with images.
  4. Tea. Black tea, Earl Grey, white tea, Darjeeling, ginger tea (Andrew just taught me this year: ginger tea is my new personal migraine solution.)
  5. Letters. Envelopes with handwriting, stamps, addresses, pictures, tape, secrets. Paper, lines and lines of stories. Anecdotes. Photos. Found things. The unfolding. (Yes, emails do count, if you craft them like a good letter).
  6. Correspondence. Linked to letters, but I feel good getting to know someone. Learning them. Seeing the way their world looks.
  7. Soft fabrics. Sheets, sweaters, blankets, socks.
  8. Skylights. Skylights that let the sunlight in. Skylights that show the stars.
  9. Pens. I can’t believe pens made it so far down on the list. Lamys, Pilot pens, .3, .4, .5 size pens. The random free pen from which I will mourn when it runs out. Uniball jet stream. And, the new Retro 51 Tornado Classic.
  10. Fresh air.
  11. Trains.
  12. Sofas you can sink into.
  13. Libraries.
  14. Hiking and camping.
  15. Seeing the stars.
  16. Ferries. Sailing. Kayaking. Boats on water.
  17. Music.
  18. Singing.
  19. Dancing. Jazz is fun — tap is so happy!
  20. Gene Kelly.
  21. The Scottish highlands and islands.
  22. Swimming — feels like flying.
  23. Rock climbing.
  24. Rope courses — stepping out of my comfort zone.
  25. Manicures. First, to stop biting my nails. Then, to reward.
  26. Homemade soaps.
  27. Farmer’s Markets.
  28. Cooking with Andrew
  29. Playing video games with Andrew
  30. Philosophizing with Andrew — of all the things I love to do with Andrew, these are my top three
  31. Going to the movies by myself. And taking notes.
  32. Observations of the world.
  33. Dogs; specifically, I love when they are happy and fulfilled.
  34. Cats; specifically Purrface.
  35. Sherlock Holmes.
  36. Benedict Cumberbatch.
  37. Cate Blanchett.
  38. Live theater. And taking notes.
  39. A great book series. Or four.
  40. Reconnecting with old friends
  41. And finding kindred spirits in a short span of connection
  42. Knowing other INFJs (the redeeming part of my Myers Briggs experience)
  43. Exploring the Enneagram.
  44. Kindle reading, especially while travelling.
  45. Beer, especially in Amsterdam.
  46. Amsterdam.
  47. Naps.
  48. Pinterest!
  49. Wellow, specifically my Grandfather’s cottage.
  50. Reading and exchanging ideas with Granddad.
  51. Sitting on benches, reading.
  52. Passports.
  53. New jeans.
  54. Lists.
  55. Finishing things.



Shame and Money

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I didn’t mean to ask for English notes. I didn’t mean to call them ‘British’ either.

It’s just… I was so nervous I was asking for too much from the first moment I walked into the bank:

Hi; can you change my address? Yes, to Australia. No, I don’t live in Scotland anymore. No… I don’t have my card either. It expired, and it’s back in Sydney. I didn’t expect to be in the UK right now.

Oh, right. Well, yes — I imagine a new card would have been sent to me. But I didn’t receive it, because I couldn’t change my address. I did try. But I also need to change my phone number. Oh, and my email address. Basically all of my contact information. You can do that for me? Thank you *so* much!

And also… can I take out £200? Without a card?

James was amazing. He told me we could do all of that. He changed all of my details, walked me to the front of the queue (I was already embarrassed about that), asked the teller to take out £200 and gave her a slip of paper with my information. He signed for me. He vouched for me. And, as she was counting out the money, he turned to me and asked:

‘Are you going to be staying here? Are you sure you don’t want English notes?’

Usually, I scoff at English shops who refuse Scottish notes. Scottish notes are legal tender. Even if you haven’t seen them before, they clearly say ‘Bank of Scotland’ or ‘RBS’ on them. Just use your eyes and read. They are still British pounds. Don’t be stupid. Take the money. Scotland is still part of the UK (sigh). Don’t demand that we only use your money too.

But I send English notes to my siblings in Manchester. They live in a small town, and I don’t want to make life difficult for them. I don’t want them to have to fight for a cause they may not have chosen for themselves.

And — in all honesty, — James kind of read my mind. Do I want Scottish notes? Of course. Did they have the potential to make my life more difficult in the coming week? Of course.

I’m travelling in the UK unexpectedly. I didn’t mean to be here right now (hence, I’ve left all of my relevant debit cards/documents/travel cards at home). I’m travelling on one expired credit card (the new one is sitting at home in Sydney). The only remaining card I have is linked to my US account, but they’ve currently put a hold on it twice in the past week. Once for travelling without telling them (I live in Sydney. My whole life is travel). And once for an overdue balance for $1.26. Which I couldn’t pay on time because: a) I also left my computer at home, and b) the 4th of January very nearly didn’t exist for me. I lost that day to flying.

On Sunday, I’ll fly down to Bristol, take a bus to Bath, take a taxi out to Wellow: a small, beautiful, hamlet of a town my grandfather called home until he died last week. I don’t know what exactly I’ll be needing the cash for. But I do know I’ll be unlikely to be able to make a withdrawal again. Not without James. Not without being at a huge branch in a big city, as I am right now.

She’s counting out the money, and I’m thinking: do I need to fight for this cause, or do I need my life to be a lot less difficult right now?

James turned and asked through the glass: ‘Can you also give us English notes?’

Teller: Moment of disbelief. ‘… Really?!’

I was ashamed. I am ashamed. I have an English accent (I have to censor myself from calling it ‘British,’ like I explain to the rest of the world. Here it’s not British. Here, it’s offendingly English). I don’t want to come across like someone who voted ‘No’ in the referendum, who is afraid to take Scottish notes anywhere outside of Scotland. But the truth is harsh: I am choosing to make my life easier. I am choosing not to stand for this cause today.

It might seem silly. It’s only money. It can be explained away. It shouldn’t matter whether this teller is judging me, or can’t take me seriously anymore after asking for English notes. James had to go into the back and open up his box, because she was going to count out £200 in £10 English notes (‘It’s *all* I have here.’ read: This till is reserved for Scottish notes. We’re in Scotland, after all).

Maybe I’m projecting all of these reactions. What I do know:

  • James was amazingly kind to me, during the 20+ minutes we interacted. I felt taken care of, and not in a way I could ever accurately reflect on a Bank of Scotland customer survey.
  • I’ve always been a person to fight for Scotland’s autonomy and equality within Britain. I correct people when they don’t know that Scotland is an actual country. I tell them the difference between Scotland, England, the UK, Britain, and the British Isles*. But, today, I just wanted my future transactions to be unquestioned, unchallenged.
  • I already feel like I’ve failed myself because I don’t live here anymore. This has been pointed out to me in many different ways over the past few days. I don’t need anyone to point it out. I already feel it.
  • In some ways, coming home is harder than staying away. In many ways.
  • It’s just money. I have a lot of different currencies in my wallet, and they are not all political statements of identity or belonging.
  • I felt like the teller was disappointed in me. Because I’m a little disappointed in me.
  • It’s not just money. At least, it’s not just about the money. It’s also about the book I’m reading (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and all of the things I’m thinking of. Which are, but not limited to, the following:
    • Identity & belonging
    • Questions of home
    • The ways intimacy evolve and disperse
    • Language, and how it betrays us
    • Where I am, where I want to be, where I have been
    • Self vs other. Local vs foreign.

All the questions. So many questions. In the end, I took the money.


*See below:


Ice Bucket Challenge: There’s a Book For That

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In 2010, it was hard to even approach technology with any kind of problem or question without being met by the Apple trademark slogan: “There’s an app for that!” I found myself parroting it back to friends for the humor factor – “Can’t remember if you called your mom today? – (Everyone join in!) – There’s an app for that!”

But anyone who knows me will tell you – I’m not a subscriber to technology’s apparent universal wisdom in solving all of life’s problems. In fact, four years later, I find myself parroting that familiar cadence with a new replacement:

There’s a book for that.

Having a hard time adjusting to life in a new country, or finding where you belong? There’s a book for that. (I would recommend: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit).

Unsure about the future, or your life’s work, or really everything in general for that matter? There’s a book for that. (Definitely pick up Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields).

Even – bear with me – searching for meaning in this seemingly ridiculous viral trend of throwing a bucket of ice water over your head in order to raise awareness for ALS?

There most certainly is a book for that.

Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, and NBC are only three of the major networks engaging in a current debate to answer the question: how does dumping ice water help to cure a debilitating disease? (By the way, my favorite subtitle: “Ice Bucket Challenge Brings Flood of Donations.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for puns).

Does taking a video of your flinching face, posting it to Facebook, and challenging friends benefit ALS awareness in the long run? Probably so, judging by all the current statistics of money raised, visits to the ALS Association website, and also likely to Google or Wikipedia. There is a conversation happening, and that fact cannot be denied.

The heartier debate is whether or not the simple act of social media circulation really bolsters causes towards a solution. Or, conversely, whether we are all just made to feel better, more “involved” in the current trending discussion or debate, assuaging our sense of participation, duty, or accountability without actually taking action.

But I digress. That’s just one discussion. For the other part of this video – the momentary meeting with a bucket of ice water – there’s a book for that.

In 2011, Julien Smith wrote a book called “The Flinch”. It’s short, sweet, and free on Kindle. But just because it’s short, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. And just because it’s free, that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

What is “the flinch?”

“The X is the flinch. The flinch is the moment when every doubt you’ve ever had comes back and hits you, hard. It’s when your whole body feels tense. It’s an instinct that tells you to run. It’s a moment of tension that happens in the body and the brain, and it stops everything cold.”

Julien circulates this book for free online purely because of the weight behind its content. The flinch is a problem that too many of us face, without facing up to it at all. And this kind of problem – this shrinking back, this maintaining the status quo, this fear of change – is exactly the problem that perpetuates apathy. Fake involvement. The desire to reach out and affect something, but the inability to take the step. In essence, exactly what this ALS donation versus social media is about.

“If the flinch works, you can’t do the work that matters because the fear it creates is too strong.”

In “The Flinch,” Julien has created a practical workbook, short enough that you may actually finish it, but dense enough to be packed with real challenges. When I read it, I had to fight the urge to flip forward past a “homework assignment” I didn’t like – I wanted to keep reading, yes. But my mind was also glossing over the work of having to do A Real Thing – an action that I could really perform, a step I could take right now to start affecting a change.

Where does change first happen? Within the self. The person who finds a cure for ALS will have to believe that it’s possible for them to do it. And a small – although not insignificant step towards this – is the urge to walk forward and face your own flinch. To know that action is important, even if your instinct is to pull back. To push on through the reflex, towards a better result with more resolve.
Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 22.33.19
Yes, this #icebucketchallenge is a summer-month flinch, a wearing-your-bikini-while-filming-flinch. But after watching ten of my friends drench themselves, it was easy to recognize the moment when the body pulls back, wants to abort. And then decides to push on through anyway.

In fact, the first homework assignment in “The Flinch”: take a two-minute cold shower, everyday for a week. Meet your flinch. Get to know what that feels like in your body.

“This is a book about being a champion, and what it takes to get there. It’s about decisions, and how to know when you’re making the right ones. It’s also about you: the current, present you; the potential, future you; and the one, single difference between them.

It’s about an instinct – the flinch – and why mastering it is vital.”

There’s a book for that.


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Hopelessly, whitely beautiful as was the night and sweet and bitter the wind and attractive the conversation of the mallards, we got blue with cold and our ears felt like wounds. We rushed back to the warm house and played the whole album of the Benny Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall. The only difference was that we played it much louder than the original could possibly have been. I drank a beer and the kids made a horrid mixture of chocolate that poured like fudge. Then we went to bed, half praying for a snowstorm. The Point is wonderful when the good snow blows over it riding the wind like a horse.
(Note 1 — Must winter-spray my fruit trees tomorrow if possible.)
(Note 2 — Take lawn mower to town to be repaired
against the time when we will have a lawn.)
(Note 3 — Stay off their backs.)
We slept sweetly and long.

– John Steinbeck, Conversation at Sag Harbor

Cassidy, map-reading on Mull (2014)

Goodreads Review: S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

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I bought this book when I was living on the Isle of Iona for 2 months. Iona is a six-mile island, off the West coast of Mull (which is a larger island, off the West coast of Scotland). It takes 8 hours to travel from Iona to Edinburgh. It took many more than 8 hours for this book to travel from the mainland to Iona.



My friend T. recommended the book to me for its marginalia, for its blatant role as J. J. Abram’s love-letter to books. Doug Dorst, I am unfamiliar with, but I was willing to give him a try. I ordered the book on Amazon, and waited. I ordered a few other books as well, from other sellers. And waited.

The other books came. I waited. S. was ellusive.

I contacted the sellers.

Where is my book?

“Coming,” they said. “Just wait,” they said.

Eventually, they admitted it was lost.


They sent a new copy, which arrived 2 days later. It only takes 2 days for a book to come from the mainland to Iona, when that book is in a hurry, when those sellers are in trouble.


It was wrapped so carefully, and the package was heavy. This book has heft. It came in a brown envelope, which opened onto bubble-wrap, which held the clear-wrapped book inside — at least, the box which holds the book. I had to break a seal. It was all very official. More than official. It was adventurous.


When I was younger, I fell in love with marginalia. It was a magical conversation between unknown elements: a book that cannot be changed, an author that cannot speak back, a reader that cannot be silent. I read Mortimer Adler’s essay How to Mark a Book, and made it my manifesto. When I got S. this spring, I carried the book around with me, all over the island. I was crawling out of my skin with excitement. I showed it to everyone.


My roommate Cassidy was from Canada. She and I became friends by virtue of the fact that we were accidentally reading the same book. She showed up on Iona, moved into the room, and started reading John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. She had brought a copy with her. I had left most of my books at home, but had found Steinbeck downstairs in the volunteer house’s communal bookshelves. When she told me what she was reading, I didn’t believe her. I made her hold up the book to make sure she hadn’t stolen mine.

I had told her all about S. from the beginning, when T. first introduced me to it, when I ordered it, when the order got lost. She was the first person I showed the book to, when it actually arrived. We were in the Abbey refectory after dinner. I turned away for a second, and when I looked back, the book was gone. I panicked, glared around, and eventually caught on to the joke. Cassidy had ‘borrowed’ it — just moving it out of my reach into her bag. She stood there grinning like the prank was the best of the century. She hadn’t even held it for 5 minutes when I demanded it back.


Later in our room in Cul Shuna, Cassidy broached the topic.

“Emma, I know this is kind of like asking to play with someone else’s Christmas present before them…”

Go on, Cous Cous.

“… but can I read S. while you’re not reading it?”

My immediate response: absolutely not.

I had chosen not to start delving into S. until after returning to Edinburgh from Iona. I had read the introduction, part of the first chapter, and discovered that I was getting too far in over my head. I was getting lost in the book. It felt really overwhelming and suffocatingly wonderful, like if left to my own devices I could drown before putting the book down. It scared me slightly. I thought, now might not be the time for this. It didn’t mean I wanted anyone else to have the book first.

At the time, I was sleeping with it in my bed. No joke.

But it only took me ten minutes to change my mind. I laid ground rules:
– Don’t take the book outside of the house.
– Don’t let any of the added things fall out of the pages.
– Don’t spill anything or eat anything near it.
– Above all, DO NOT speak to me about the book while you are reading it.

S., from The Guardian

S., from The Guardian

My philosophy for the rules: I wanted my knowledge of the book to be exactly the same as if Cassidy wasn’t reading it. That is: I wanted to know NOTHING.

My philosophy for letting her read it before me: This is clearly a book that deserves to be read.

And I guess that’s the bottom line.


Part 2 to come: When I finally started S...


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How much does one imagine, how much observe? One can no more separate those functions than divide light from air, or wetness from water.

– Elspeth Huxley

Isle of Iona, 2014

A poem can travel far…

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       ‘Presence is something you sense and know, but cannot grasp. It engages us but we can never capture its core; it remains somehow elusive. All the great art forms strive to create living icons of presence. Poets try to cut the line of a poem so that it lives and dances as itself. Poems are some of the most amazing presences in the world. I am always astounded that poems are willing to lie down and sleep inside the flat, closed pages of books. If poems behaved according to their essence, they would be out dancing on the seashore or flying to the heavens or trying to rinse out the secrets of the mountains.

      Reading brings the presence of other times, characters and cultures into your mind. Reading is an intimate event. When you read a great poem, it reaches deep into regions of your life and memory and reverberates back to you forgotten or invisible regions of your experience. In a great poem you find again lost or silent territories of feeling or thought which were out of your reach. A poem can travel far into your depths to retrieve your neglected longing.’

– from Eternal Echoes: Exploring our hunger to belong by John O’Donohue


This blog is a novel…

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I’ve discovered (been directed towards) It’s pretty much great. One of the founders of the site is a fantastic writer (the other contributors are as well), and I stumbled upon her personal blog this morning. A quote from a recent post:

     ‘This blog is a novel about a heroine in her twenties lost in a giant dirty/beautiful city. She’s swallowing hearts and breaking fingers. She’s giving herself daily emotional autopsies and they’re always inconclusive. — She’s excessively maudlin at odd hours and doesn’t know what to do when her shoe breaks on 14th street. 

     Now I’m in California. It’s another chapter, or it’s an Afterword that might never end. The Neverending Afterword.’

– by Riese, posted on This Girl Called Automatic Win


This is the island I love.

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Isle of Iona, 2014

Isle of Iona, 2014

This is Thisby, I think. This is the island I love. I suddenly feel I know everything about the island and everything about me all at the same time, only I know that it will go away as soon as we stop…

… Something wild and old spins inside me, but I don’t have any words.’ (368)

– from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater