A lot has happened since my last newsletter. Russia invaded Ukraine; Quebec lifted its vaccine passport requirements; Lucy said her first words (Mama, followed mercifully by Dada). She also started walking! We're also neck-deep in Lenten fasts if fasting or intentional spiritual practices are something you're into.
I've got a bit of a grabbag of words for you this month. Much of them are related to staying human in small ways amidst tragedy and trial. Also, the costs of doing, well, anything – from building strong relationships to simply reading a book.
I'm especially eager to share the review of Aggressively Happy I wrote for Fare Forward (below). I want you to read the review because I really want you to read the book. But first, a violinist from Ukraine.
Everything Must Be Paid for Twice
An enormously helpful reflection despite how obvious it all seems by the time you finish reading.
There’s the first price, usually paid in dollars, just to gain possession of the desired thing, whatever it is: a book, a budgeting app, a unicycle, a bundle of kale. But then, in order to make use of the thing, you must also pay a second price. This is the effort and initiative required to gain its benefits, and it can be much higher than the first price.
Relationships Don't Just Happen. They Take Training.
Our need for relationships is innate; our ability to cultivate them is not. It may sound silly, but my practice for Lent this year is to invite people over for simple dinners. Friends, acquaintances, neighbours. I hope it shakes the rust from my social graces.
Belonging isn’t like breathing. There is nothing automatic about it, especially given the changing conditions of modern life. The skills for relationships can’t simply be caught today. Habits of belonging must be taught.
Small Talk Is Not Small
In line with the above piece, this ode to casual conversation is a potent reminder of the value of weak ties. Every robust relationship must begin somewhere; weak ties can grow strong, and strong ties often need quiet moments of low-stakes love.
Small talk is “small” in that it fits the fleeting fragments of time we share with others: time waiting, time in-between, time on our way to somewhere else. A small ale is low in alcohol, and neither is small talk rich in content. It’s not the medium for imparting knowledge, stirring controversy, or looking smart, which may explain why some of us discount it.
More Good Words
- Review: Aggressively Happy – Fare Forward
I wrote this one. I hope you'll read it and immediately order Joy Clarkson's book because it is that good. I bought three extra copies to give to friends, which I've never done before.
- A Brief for the Defense, a poem – Jack Gilbert
This poem, wow. It has strong "aggressively happy" vibes in the best sense. It reminds me very much of C.S. Lewis's essay on living in the shadow of the atomic bomb. In it, he proposes that, even in the face of death, we should be found "doing sensible and human things," by which he means partaking in the common delights of daily life. Things like "praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts."
A part of me wants to viciously reject the sentiment expressed in the poem, but I believe that part of me is self-righteous and wrong.
- Songs you're entitled to sing – Alan Jacobs
None of the songs I sing belong to me. The best I can give my daughter is humming folk songs I discovered on Spotify – it will have to do.
- To Have and Have Not – Alan Jacobs, The Hedgehog Review
A distillation of the (empty) impulse behind NFTs: "Ownership without consumption; consumption without ownership—this is the circuit many of us occupy. A binary oscillation, on/off, zero/one, as the ultimate distillation of culture. Of human experience."
Thanks for reading Good Words! The best way to support my work is by sharing it with a friend – or you can buy me a beer.