Why I love it – Educated: A Memoir

educated20tara20westoverAwhile back, I took a speed reading class where they taught me to follow my finger as it swept back and forth across the page, because I would absorb not only the words I was directly reading, but also the words surrounding them through my peripheral vision.  That day was a failure, and I never attempted to do that again…that is…until I was trapped by the fangs of this book.  Educated is at times so horrifying an experience, that I could not bring myself to slow down, instead finding myself just moving my eyes faster and taking in image after visceral image.

When I was done, I put it away, and waited.  I wanted to give my brain a few days to turn things over.  Sometimes a book can do that to you, you are in love with the immediacy of it, but upon recovery, discover that it has left a literary residue in your mouth that you like a little less.

After a few days, I wondered what do you say to people who don’t believe the author?  I’m sure that had to be a fear.  Credibility and truth are treated like unicorns these days.  After a bit, I would say this: I can see why this book was impossible not to write.  I can see how the author needed to make her past something solid and immutable, a book that, once published, could not be undone.  If you look back at the elements of her past, you can see how everyone one in it was prone to shifting, betraying, and outright reconstructing: no, that never happened; I never said that; there was no knife; and so on.  If your childhood memories are a blurred whir of shifts and changes, and you are the cast as the villain in your own life story (logically, that this is not possible, because if there is one thing that you absolutely cannot change, it is the past), you have to find an anchor.  And if you have none, you have to build it for yourself, which is what she did.

The tone of the book, the way it casts the author, is as close to objective as you can come while talking about yourself  While presenting herself, she offers herself through the lens of other people.  This essay was good, because her professor told her so.  Her roommate thought that she was a slob.  The mostly painful accounts in this book, she reminds the reader, are verified by another.  In doing so, she reminds us that her memory on its own is not enough.  And thinking about that made something inside me crumble.

Eating a Donut After Fasting


Mr. Donut

I started fasting every other week a few weeks ago.  It’s no fun.  To make it more fun, I added a donut.  Let me first be clear: this has nothing to do with losing weight.  I decided to try this after reading that fasting may have an effect on autophagy*, or the destruction of damaged cells.  I decided to attempt this after reading that 2016 Nobel prize winning research has confirmed the benefits of this**.   Since attempting this, I have lost zero pounds.  I look generally the same.  There are no success stories about weight loss to be had here.

I love my donut.  I generally feel that a donut is a dish best reserved for special occasions, which don’t come often enough.  So, in keeping with the universal rule of moderate, I try to reserve them for times when I’ve had a fast.



*For autophagy, read This.

** For 2016 Nobel Prize research on autophagy and fasting, read Here and Here.

Things I Don’t Give a Tart About: Hair Edition


Somewhere in the right side of my head, a white hair is sticking out with the subtly of a middle finger.  I have gone to job interviews believing that if I wouldn’t want a job where I was judged by the state of my hair.  I regularly wait my turn in line beside the girlfriend of a guy who is getting his hair trimmed at Supercuts for $20.

This has done me zero favors.  While out browsing at Forever 21 (in my 30’s), after getting a really bad cut, a man directly approached me asking if I wouldn’t mind being his hair model so he could train.  I have no pride.  I knew I looked horrible.  I said hell yes.

Despite many attempts, I do not like hair salons.  I hate how small I feel in them, how universally unflattering the overhead lighting usually is, and I hate making small talk to someone while they are throwing my hair across my face.  While I was sitting get my hair modeled and listening to my hairdresser talk about calyxes, for half an hour I watched the woman next to me wear a backless 1960’s dress and three inch heels walk around continuously while cutting and styling the person next to me.  My feet ached.  My back felt parched and vulnerable.  My hair looked fine.  I never went back.

It’s so much more relaxing to go to supercuts without planning anything and not care about my hair, letting my cares go like farts in the wind.

Little Pockets of Sanity Between Liberals and Conservatives


A little while ago, I read this post from Emily Henderson’s Design Blog.  It’s the not post itself that is so intriguing, but the comments it evoked.  I don’t read comments sections because it’s usually akin to eating at table serving hate biscuits, if you understand my meaning.  But what I love about her blog, aside from showing me houses that I will never live in, is that Emily creates these spaces where liberals and conservatives can speak respectfully to one another.  And I am curious, not curious enough to venture onto Fox News, but I am curious.

Here’s a quote from a self-acknowledged conservative, that is rational, accepting, and wonderful.  In this, she points out that some pictures of Obama are perceived as aggressive, which had never occurred to me before.  This also indirectly leads to another point: that both sides feel aggression from the other, and how meeting aggression with aggression helps neither cause.  But I like to know that there are places, where people can come together and respectfully disagree.  It gives me hope.

While I am a bleeding conservative, I LIKE YOU!! I love my liberal friends! Your sentiments were thoughtful and I can tell they come from a place of understanding and open-mindedness, which our country needs a whole lot more of right now. I didn’t love the insta post, if I’m being honest, mostly for all the reasons you spelled out above–the aggressive tone, propensity for more polarization, etc. Politically, I feel like Obama sent our country to hell in a handbasket, but I have always respected the man and the office he held. I can say the exact same thing about Trump. While I don’t agree with a lot of what he has done or said, I still retain respect for the office he holds and pray we come out of his presidency in one piece.

By definition, I AM A FEMINIST. I stand for women’s rights and equality and empowerment. I do not, however, feel like it helps our cause to stand for these rights with anger and an aggressive undertone, and with the underarching message of “society needs to see us the same way they see men!” Men and women are divinely different, and we need to celebrate those differences. Both genders have strengths they bring to the table, and rather than striving for SAMENESS, we need to strive for EQUALITY in our differences. The world needs more gentlemen who value women, and more ladies who value men, not more women acting like men. We need more kindness and love, more acceptance and understanding, more respect for each other, and we need to calm the heck down and be more unified as a country!


Recognizing Kindness, Always a Good Time


In my twenties, and why I sometimes find my past self to be something of an embarrassment, I walked around in an oblivious haze.  One which, if I hated myself, I would call stupidity.  But choosing to be kind, I will say that I was simply unaware.  Around that time, my first job out of college, was minimum wage, and involved commuting to the nascent abscesses of South San Francisco, in a building which has since been razed, paved over, and replaced with a Lowes.  In that building, I worked for a tiny family run biotech firm under the dual leadership of the married co-founders, who both received their Ph.D.’s from UCSF.  So there was no shortage of intelligence or drive between the two of them.  I worked directly “S” who was a tiny, brilliant, and the mother of three, yet still tiny.  She was unnecessarily kind to me every day I worked there.  And this was not not the norm.  In my last job, the one where I labored free of charge, I had been threatened with being fired.  Not for incompetence, but on a whim.  In the same way I let almost being fired for no reason slide right on off, like shit off a boot, I also did not recognize that there was someone, without any basis, who worked alongside me  every day who was encouraging and saw the best in me.  Me, right out of college, fog in the brain and all.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but looking back now, I see it and take it out, and appreciate it.

A second instance, again in retrospect, stands out.  Again, at the time, it was not something I recognized as extraordinary at the time.  I just let it pass me by, in one ear and out the other, deep in my fog.  It was during one of a series of one-on-one graduate school interviews.  I was led by a student to one professor’s office after another, in a series. It was uncomfortable and tiring on both sides.  On one interview with Professor M, I said, and to this day I still believe this to be true, that I was destined to have a difficult life, because I would always choose the more difficult path.  It was simply my personality, and that part of me has not changed.  A lot of my difficulties are self-inflicted, which means that the way to resolve them lies within me as well.  But I digress.  I think this little piece of information triggered something.  She took out a piece of paper, and gave me her contact information.  She said she understood, and that if I wanted, I could always give her a call.  Of course that didn’t resonate with me.  I wadded up that paper and put it in my pocket and forgot about it.  I see it now, years later, as an exceptional act of kindness.

Here is what I take from this: these were both women who were fulfilled, strong, and in their prime.  While in that glorious state, they had the capacity, the energy, to genuinely invest themselves in the welfare of those around them.

The End of the F***ing World: Candy for your eyes, you ears, and your brain


While I was watching this show, maybe about the third episode in, it occurred to me that a lot of talented people came together to create this magical, beautiful thing.  A world that teems with hostility, child molesters, serial rapist-murderers, with a few lashes of parental neglect and sexual abuse, is set against a backdrop of instagram filtered swirls of gray, sharpened reds, shocks of orange, and the ambient vocals of Francois Hardy (who I tend to forget exists because I’m an idiot and is amazing when I rediscover her each and every time).  I could walk around every scene, taking photographs, and every picture would be moody, bleak perfection.  None of this can be a mistake, it is the culmination of talent on every level to create this cocoon of loveliness, around a hard, cruel core. I love it.

I knew somewhat, in the back of my mind, that to stay true to itself, the show was not going to end well.  The ugliness would out, the cocoon would shatter, but it shows just how well the other elements come together that the show does not leave a sour aftertaste, but a kind of clingy dreaminess.

And of course, of course, there is that wonderful scene that shows you just how to say no when you’re just not in the mood to have sex:




South Korean Women Rebel Against Beauty Standards


South Korean women are rebelling.  They’re videoing themselves smashing their makeup, and by proxy, lofty Korean standards of beauty.

“I felt as if I had been born again,”Cha Ji-won said. “There’s only so much mental energy a person has each day, and I used to spend so much of it worrying about being ‘pretty’. Now I use that time to read books and exercise.”  Cha – I love you.  You are correct. Reading books and exercise are a much better use of your time.

Just looking at that the before and after photos exhaust me.  Her “everyday” look, for me, is reserved for those rare occasions when I want to ruin my the Ex’s wedding to that woman he threw me over for – for her looks.  While cutting the bride off down the aisle singing K-pop, toned and resplendent, I might add, I would prefer to look like the shot on the right.  But that’s because I might get filmed.  And after that?  Never again.

Dog That Go Splat


While some people are debating whether automation will destroy the middle class, whether YouTube is perpetuating extremism, I fixate on the memory of a small dog I saw on a train station in Florence during my first post-college European sojourn.  It was the very tip of August and the entire country was baking hot, and while larger dogs could still prance about like horses, this little one had been baked flat.  It was my first trip to Europe and the first time I had seen a dog splatting.  Even in retrospect,  I find it slightly disgusting, and yet also completely adorable.


The only other pose I obsess over just as much, is the dog doing the splits.  It’s is not half as interesting, but arresting nonetheless.





Going in a New Direction


I’ve started avoiding the news.  Every headline that begins – “Breaking news…” – is a personal guided nuclear missile designed to hit the “piss me off” button somewhere in my amygdala.  I get about three news updates a day.  I never open them, but knowing that anytime, the NYT is putting these headlines out, makes the world unsafe.  I know, there is such a thing as “unsubscribe,” which I will do, shortly.   And join BBC, because it has this incredible gift of making excruciating information boring.  Have you ever seen people debate on that channel – the civility!  How do they do it?  But I digress.

What this leads me to changing my direction: I teeter between hard hitting news that launches emotional nuclear missiles, pretty pretty picture blogs that offer no engagement, and shopping, which is becoming an addiction.  Not good.

What I have decided to do, is to put out content of all the things that make life good.  The good distractions.

On Failure

“Sometimes you experience failed expectations as heartbreak and disappointment, and sometimes you feel rage. Failure or things not working out as you’d hoped doesn’t feel good; that’s for sure. But at that time, maybe instead of doing the habitual thing of labeling yourself a “failure” or a “loser” or thinking there is something wrong with you, you could get curious about what is going on. And really this is where I think your education will come in handy.

“If you can just remember that you never know where something will lead. Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they are impacting you, noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is, this is the key. If you want to be a full, complete human being, if you want to be genuine and not pretend that everything is either one way or the other way but you can hold the fullness of life in your heart, then this is the opportunity when you can get curious about what is going on and listen to the storylines. And you don’t buy the storylines that blame it on everybody else. And you don’t buy the storylines that blame it on yourself, either.”

“Your best qualities come out of [failure] because it’s unguarded and you’re not shielding yourself. Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face. And so I can tell you that it is out of this same space that come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, and the ability to really reach out to and care about each other. It’s where real communication with other people starts to happen, because it’s a very unguarded, wide-open space in which you can go beyond the blame and just feel the bleedingness of it, the raw-meat quality of it.

The question is, are you going to grow or are you going to just stay as you are out of fear and waste your precious human life by status quo-ing instead of being willing to break the sound barrier? Break the glass ceiling, or whatever it is in your own life? Are you willing to go forward?”

–  Pema Chodron, Fail Again, Fail Better


These two quotes, put together, called out to me.   First, relabeling of the experience of “failure” and second, using it as an opportunity to become something more.  She uses the terms breaking the sound barrier, the glass ceiling, ceasing the status quo, not wasting your life, moving forward.  All very strong words to shuffle around.