The Pleasure of Wandering

Black and white photo of stacks in a library

Last Saturday morning, my husband asked if I wanted to drive to a nearby town and have breakfast.  I glanced at my to-do list and replied that I had too much on my plate for the weekend and would rather just stay home and start on my chores.

One of those tasks was to replace a perpetually leaking tire on my car, so at about 11:00 AM, we drove together to the tire shop.  By the time we left, I needed to eat something (pregnancy hunger can be sudden and intense).  Rather than swinging through a fast food drive through lane, we decided to stop by a downtown coffee shop that we rarely visit.  Though they had healthier options, I indulged in a delicious cinnamon roll and a chai latte.

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Ask Alexis: How Do I Raise My Kids to be Kind and Open-Minded?

Painting of a row of back patios, divided by fences
September Morning, 2008. Private collection.

Reader Rebecca sent me the following question:

“I have two boys and I live in a very conservative area. I love where I live (mostly), but I don’t like how a lot of people around here talk about people with different skin colors and religions, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and women. I don’t want my sons to ever talk like that. Do you have any advice for raising kind and open-minded boys in an area that isn’t always very kind and open-minded?”

Thanks for the question, Rebecca!  First, a couple of caveats.  I don’t have kids myself (yet), so I’m hesitant to give parenting advice.  In particular, I don’t know your kids, their personalities, or how they might respond in various situations, but I’ll do my best to share some general thoughts on this topic.

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Ask Alexis: How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Charcoal portrait sketch of a young woman
Erika, 2004.

Caroline wrote to me with the following question:

I struggle with my self-confidence. Do you have any suggestions for building self-esteem? I love your confidence. Do you remember any lessons your parents taught you that helped your self-esteem/confidence?

Thanks for the question, Caroline!  First, let me say this:  You have just as much right to be on this planet as everyone else.  You are a unique, worthy person who has many gifts to give: gifts of perspective, kindness, creativity, and more.  We are all works in process, learning and growing as we move through life.  Though it may at times seem like others have everything figured out while you’re still struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, rest assured that everyone has moments of self-doubt.

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Learning a New Language: Why You Should Do It, and How to Get Started

A word cloud of Greek words from a newspaper article

As I mentioned last weekend, I recently began studying the Greek language.  My husband and his family (who hail from Athens) had previously taught me a few basic words, but until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t tried to learn the language in any disciplined way.  The main reason is that my husband and his mother, sister, and brother-in-law all speak English, so I can communicate with them just fine in my own native language.

Still, that felt a bit lazy on my part.  And now that we are planning a trip to Greece, I want to be able to read street signs, say hello to any non-English speakers I encounter, and ask the kinds of questions one often needs to ask when traveling.  My husband will be there to translate for me, but there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from being able to speak and read at least some of the local language when traveling.

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Resisting Polarization and Encouraging Compassion

Double rainbow and seagulls over Niagara Falls, with onlookers

We humans like to place people into buckets: good and bad, left and right, us and them. This seems to be an age-old tendency, and it isn’t all that surprising that the rise of social media and the proliferation of news and opinion platforms have allowed our divisions to become more entrenched and more apparent. We can choose to read and listen to only those sources that affirm what we already feel and believe, and we can respond to those who disagree while protected by a screen that keeps us from seeing and experiencing their humanity, their emotional reactions.  Our quickly typed words can be amplified through shares and retweets, carried far beyond the small circles that might once have heard them.

Many, many people have written about the heightened state of polarization in which we live these days, lamenting how destructive it is and postulating about what led to this environment.  It is distressing and disheartening.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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Bridge the Gap: Start a Conversation, Change Your Perception

A brightly colored abstract painting
Inner Space/Outer Space, 2014. For details or to purchase, please contact Alexis.

The public radio program On Being, as part of its Civil Conversations Project, recently aired an interview called “Repairing the Breach” (transcript). The show featured a white male Libertarian leader of the Tea Party movement, Matt Kibbe, and a black female millennial progressive leader, Heather McGhee, discussing how we can engage difference and better understand each other.

Near the end of the show (at 44:30), Heather brought up a conversation she had with Gary from North Carolina on a C-SPAN call-in show last year.  Gary called into the show, admitted to being prejudiced, and explained why he thought he held certain attitudes.  Then he asked Ms. McGhee how he could change, “to become a better American.”  McGhee thanked him for his honesty and offered suggestions such as getting to know black families, reading books about the history of African-Americans in the U.S., or attending a black church.  The video clip went viral.

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The Weekend Listen

A pair of wireless headphones for podcast listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts while driving, working out, and doing chores around the house. In this weekly feature, I’ll tell you about one episode I particularly enjoyed that week.

My recommendation for this week is On Being’s episode Eula Biss–Let’s Talk About Whiteness.  You may have heard On Being on your local public radio station.  It’s a Peabody Award-winning show hosted by Krista Tippett that explores the question, “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?”

In this episode, Krista and writer Eula Biss talk about race, the language we use to discuss it, aspects of privilege like opportunity hoarding, and how we might start conversations about these things.  It’s a thoughtful, frank, and insightful discussion.

Race is a subject that often provokes strong feelings.  I encourage you to approach this interview with an open mind and to observe any emotional reactions that arise in you as you listen, whatever they may be.

Is there a podcast you think I should be following?  Let me know in the comments, send me an email, or tweet using #LexListens.