"something like hope"

The other day, I stumbled upon a memory lane: my YouTube "likes." Far down that lane -- early in my YouTube history -- I found a gem: a low-budget music video for "Postcards from Paradise."

Where did I come across this great song? A hazy recollection suggested that one of my Carnegie Mellon professors, Nico Slate, had asked us to watch the video for a class of his that I took. A short email to Nico confirmed that this was true and his good taste in music. If I had to guess, it was a class called India Today. (An aside: Nico taught my very first class at Carnegie Mellon, a small seminar called Barack Obama and the History of Race in America that met Monday morning. I loved the way Nico taught and asked us questions, so I took every class I could from him. One of them was a class he taught on India, where I found this song. Later, Nico created a service learning study abroad program in India and invited his students to apply. During that trip I fell in love with another person who had also found Nico a bright spot during her time at Carnegie Mellon. We're now engaged. Thanks, Nico.)

The song exemplifies the powerful blend of stark realism ("We deep inside hysteria / outside of history / On the fray"; "Religious riots, firebrands scar a black night") with a resilient hope ("Something like love, something like hope / Something like beautiful, something I wrote"; "Psychological damage, famines, but we managed"). This is the space that I want to live in: that of clear-eyed, deeply human hope.

I was so taken by this gem of the past, listening to it on repeat, that I tried to learn more about the artist, Chee Malabar. I came across this fantastic essay he wrote about how he found hip hop and why he found it such a powerful art form. I was struck by these three sentences:

These days I approach my work in the tradition of the griot. I tell stories. Not only my own, but those of my larger community (Black, Brown, White) who have helped me weave my experience into the American fabric.

A griot is "a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician." I love the many manifestations of the storytelling traditions across history and cultures. Whenever I want to understand progress or what's broken or painful, I look for stories. It makes sense that I was enthralled by this song; it's deeply rooted in storytelling.


We need more griots. More storytellers. No story is too small. Do your part in sharing "something like love, something like hope."

I am the bear and the mountain

Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself" has a verse that I think about a lot:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Even the verse itself contains multitudes. I've written before about this verse and how I sometimes feel like I embrace paradoxes.

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But on this revisit of the verse, I'm pairing it with Asha's image: a bear that contains within it the mountains and forests it roams. There is little difference between the landscape and the animal adventurer. They are one and the same; in the bear is the mountain and in the mountain is the bear.

I've found it very difficult to translate the state that some of my meditation retreats have dropped me into, but this image hints at the feeling. After the dust of daily living has settled and I slip deeper and deeper into practiced contemplation, that feeling of being separate and apart from my environment fades. The lines between me and everything else become fuzzy. I'm not divided from the environment, I am it. I am the bear and the mountain.

this could help

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On a recent podcast, Patrick Rhone talked a little bit about choosing the title of his book This Could Help, a lovely collection of advice that covers everything from creativity to sickness.

Patrick shares that he named the book This Could Help rather than This Will Help because he saw those two titles as varying promises, and he knew that if just one person found his book and walked away with nothing useful for them, then he "would feel the weight of that one promise broken."

I admire this careful attention to a reader's relationship with an author's words and to delicate nature of advice-giving in general. I'd add that offering advice from this place of humility makes the advice more likely to stick. When the receiver of advice takes on board a suggestion with the promise that it might help, they are relieved of the burden that it must help. There's no stress that they've found the solution to their problems and that if it didn't work, they didn't do things right, or there is something wrong with them. The advice is more likely to work when freed from that burden and that stress of a definitive promise. In other words, saying "this could help" makes it more likely that "this will help."

In that spirit, this could help: buy a cheap alarm clock and charge your phone anywhere but your bedroom. I started doing this a few months ago and found that it dramatically improved the quality of my sleep, encouraged me to linger quietly in bed in the mornings, and made me walk to another room if I wanted to do something on my phone. It's not revolutionary. It's just a small change that sparked welcomed and easy improvement in my quality of life. It might help you.

the new muses

Myth tells us of the nine Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who served as the inspiration for the world’s creatives. While the gods are dead, in their swirling dust we continue to create. We are each other’s muses.

And so comes this project: two muses in a simple, two-step dance. One pulls from the void, creating something out of nothing. The other builds off that creation. Then, the muses swap and the initiator becomes the responder. Ad infinitum.

In other words, sometimes I will write and Asha will create in response. Like this post, for example. Other times Asha will create art and I will write in response.

Step by step, we mutual muses inspire one another.