Keep going

We are all looking for meaning, for something to set us on fire and keep us lit, bright and hot and immune to the wind.

This is why we look for love, why we fall in love, and why we run from it when it comes too close. We are all searching for that hair’s width of perfection, the breath between running away and running towards.

I have a memory of a warm place, many years ago, where for one moment I was walking towards my life, and my life was walking towards me. It couldn’t last, but in that sweet, brief moment I was perfection. I held myself still beneath the sun, an excruciating balance of wanting and receiving, until my legs gave out and my heart lost the beat.

Sometimes now, when I should be sleeping, and when the world feels flat, I unfold that memory and hold it to my face, hoping it still holds the scent of sweet heartache I can inhale, and dreading the day that I might breathe in nothing but the past, dry and powdered and unchangeable.

We all keep trying, for what else is there to do? Keep going. It is on the wind and it is waiting for you. And there are sweet memories to be made today.


Career advice at an Elton John concert

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kinds of things I want to accomplish in my work and in my life. I’ve felt a little lost and a lot discouraged. But, as usual, the answer was there all along. I just had to listen for it.

“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” just came on Spotify and I remembered when my husband and I saw Elton John on his farewell tour last year. We had to fight hours of traffic to get there. We had paid a lot for the tickets. Two women seated behind us were talking loudly non-stop. There was a giant screen on the stage showing videos during every song that kept distracting me from the actual performance. The band’s music was too loud and drowning out Elton’s voice, and because he is advancing in years, he mostly just sat at the piano. I was feeling grumpy and disappointed and angry with myself for not enjoying the moment.


Elton sang “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me”. It was mostly piano and the band played softly. I could hear his voice, and it was STILL GOOD. And I remembered all the times in the early 90s when the live version with George Michael would come on the radio while my family was in our white Honda driving to Fresno, and I was young and I didn’t know so much disappointment or despair and no one had broken my heart yet. And that feeling of connection to the past and the present flooded through my body like happiness and warmth. And for a moment, I felt like I was the right person in the right moment and I belonged so completely and truly in the world. And those ladies behind me were quiet and I sang that song SO LOUD.

And when it was done, I told my husband that those few minutes had made the whole thing worth it. And I was content.

I want to work, I want to create, I want to LIVE in pursuit of those moments. And I want to help others experience them too, in whatever way I can, whether it’s writing something that conjures a memory or emotion, or creating something seemingly mundane that makes someone’s life better and gives them the space and clarity and freedom to have their own Elton John moment. What else is there really, in the end? Not much for me.

What about you?

– Jenna


The promise of spring

It was 78 degrees in Los Angeles today, a brief little pocket of summer in January. I opened all the windows, took down the last of the holiday decorations, soaked up the sunshine with my dog and picked avocados from our tree for the neighbors.

I think Hemingway described these kinds of days best:

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits.”

– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I try to remember to document these days in some small way, these days with no problems except where to be happiest. They are all the sweeter for being fleeting. You can’t go looking for them. You just have to notice when they arrive, and live them as best as you can.

– Jenna


Start again…again

I’ve taken a long break from the blog, partly because I second guess everything that I want to write. Is anyone interested in reading it? Hasn’t everything important already been said by someone else? I stop myself before I finish because I think it won’t be perfect.

I think this is a hurdle for a lot of people. And I think the only trick for this situation is to start again. And then again. And keep starting again as many times as it takes, which is…maybe forever?

But there is another consideration that I often forget.

Sure, I haven’t been posting anything. But I’ve had lots of ideas, written scraps and scribbles of future posts, taken in new experiences and information, and basically been marinating in the good stuff that eventually ends up here.

As the saying goes, to everything there is a season. Whether it’s the weather, the decades of a life, or, in my case, a personal creative endeavor.

There is so much to be done, even if it’s all been done before, spectacularly. There is no later, more perfect moment. So soak it all in, and then start again.

– Jenna


America’s first female mapmaker

The Paris Review recently published an article on Emma Willard, America’s first female mapmaker and all-around badass.

Emma Willard

From the article:

Willard is well-known to historians of the early republic as a pioneering educator, the founder of what is now called the Emma Willard School, in Troy, New York. But she was also a versatile writer, publisher and, yes, mapmaker. She used every tool available to teach young readers (and especially young women) how to see history in creative new ways. If the available textbooks were tedious (and they were), she would write better ones. If they lacked illustrations, she would provide them. If maps would help, so be it: she would fill in that gap as well. She worked with engravers and printers to get it done. She was finding her way forward in a male-dominated world, with no map to guide her. So she made one herself.

And yes, while still in her twenties, she opened a school for girls in her own home, so that young women could get an education comparable to that of their own brothers. From the school website (which is still in operation some 200 years later!):

She pioneered girls’ education, taking it from focusing on “the charms of youth and beauty” to intellectually stimulating and rigorous courses in mathematics, geography, history, science, and philosophy.

My favorite of her illustrations is this this “‘map of time’ [used] to convey to students the interdependence and totality of human history”:


It feels like a 200-year precursor to Reebee Garofalo’s Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music chart, made recently famous (or recently re-famous?) by Edward Tufte:

An excerpt of Genealogy of Pop/Rock music by Reebee Garofalo, seemingly an ode to Willard’s work.

The sheer depth of information she presents in her illustrations is astounding…


There is nothing more satisfying and hopeful to me than someone striving for clarity and context and working hard to give it to those around her. And to help other women rise up with her along the way? What a lovely and inspiring life to lead.

– Jenna




The magical worlds of Chris Van Allsburg

Yesterday I mentioned how much I love buying used books from Thriftbooks. One of the best things about the site is being able to search for old books that I loved as a child.

One of my favorite author-illustrators from childhood is Chris Van Allsburg. You probably remember some of his most famous books, Jumanji and The Polar Express. Many of his books have been adapted into movies (some successfully, some not). But the worlds that he builds in his gorgeous, dramatic and striking illustrations are breathtaking.

Part of the magic of Van Allsburg’s illustrations, which often include children, is the scale. He takes the reader right into the middle of a scene…

from Jumanji

Or pulls so far back that we feel like we’re peeking into the world in miniature….

from Jumanji

As a child these books fueled my imagination and my sense of wonder…

from The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

And brought a feeling of extraordinary to the ordinary. They still do!

from Zathura

Do you have a favorite author from childhood? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

– Jenna



Sometimes life is too wonderfully messy

I had intended to write a lengthy post today about tips to be more organized, as a followup to my post earlier this week about finding yourself in the gap. But, ironically enough, today was just too messy to get it done. There was time in the garden, napping, spending time with my husband, filling the house with delicious baking smells, and re-watching a wonderful old movie.

I’ll resume more lengthy posts tomorrow. But for now, it’s a summer Sunday evening and the air is warm and the crickets are chirping and organization needs to take a backseat. I hope you’re having the same kind of Sunday, my dear friends.

– Jenna


A giant helping of bite-sized reading

If you haven’t read Tamara Shopsin’s book Arbitrary Stupid Goal (published in 2017), stop everything and get a copy immediately. It’s a memoir about growing up in 1970’s Greenwich Village, and her family’s diner/market, known affectionately as “The Store.”

The book is structured as a rapid-fire avalanche of vignettes, some several pages, some only a few sentences: remembrances, retellings and nostalgia all mixed together with a giant dose of humor, a realistic amount of sadness and several celebrity cameos.

Although the stories involving John Belushi (a regular at the diner who had his own key) are the most poignant and sometimes heartbreaking, one story involving Jeff Goldblum was the standout bite of delicious cake for me. Goldblum was in the diner with Shopsin’s parents and another employee when a well-dressed armed robber bursts in, herds them to the bathroom and tells them to empty their pockets…

“The thief takes fifteen dollars from my mom, forty off of Tommy, twenty off my dad, and hands Jeff back his ten, saying ‘you need this more than me.’”

Arbitrary Stupid Goal is the kind of book that marketers love to mention you can “dip in and out” of in bite-sized pieces, but it’s so good you’ll want to devour it in one sitting.

Don’t judge this book by its cover. Except, maybe you should because it perfectly captures the “what the $@&#?!” feel of reading it…in the best way possible.

And if you’re hungry for more, make sure to check out the famous eleven page EPIC menu of the original Shopsin’s, and patriarch Kenny Shopsin’s tribute in the New Yorker after his death in 2018.

– Jenna



eBooks are expensive for libraries

Blogger and book lover Modern Mrs. Darcy, posted today about how expensive eBooks are for libraries. I’ve often wondered how the process works, and it seems that it really doesn’t:

Should I have known this already? Probably. But did I? Nope. This spring I’ve done several events with librarians all over the country, who all echoed the same sentiment: the current model of lending ebooks to patrons is not sustainable, because the costs libraries pay to offer them are substantial. But patrons love ebooks.

And if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, she points to a Good Reader article that explains the whole model in detail.

When libraries put new paper books on their shelves, they simply buy the book. When libraries put ebooks into circulation, they don’t just buy the book. They buy ebooks at a significant markup, averaging $25 per copy in 2018, and they can only use them for a limited time before they are required to pay to renew the license. Some publishers don’t sell to libraries at all; they want every individual reader to purchase every book.

For more info, check out this breakdown of how much libraries pay for ebooks from publishers. It’s not the most current—and one top publisher just announced changes to their pricing model yesterday—but it’s thorough.

Food for thought. Library eBooks have always seemed like the best of all options, but it sounds like a monthly trip to your local branch might be better for the long term health of your library.

– Jenna


Getcha some cheap notebooks

I’ve bought enough fancy notebooks and journals in my life to outfit a small stationery store. And most of them stay empty. It seems like the nicer the notebook, the more preciously you treat what you should write in it (which is basically…nothing). And I’m not the only one…



Today I was sorting through a bunch of papers and things that I’d written in the past few years, and I realized the ONLY notebooks I write regularly in are…



Composition books are really the best kind of notebook. They’re cheap. Really cheap. They travel well. You can buy them at any grocery store. They’re not pretty, which is a good thing. You can write anything in them: good writing, bad writing, terrible writing, sketches of ponies….it doesn’t matter. YOU JUST GET IT ON THE PAGE. It’s the first step. And a cheap-ass composition notebook gets you there with a lot less fuss.

Do you suffer from the blank notebook syndrome too? Try picking up a STACK of these bad boys for the price of one of those fancy little numbers with the leather cover they sell at Barnes & Noble. Let me know how it goes!

– Jenna