Love with its sleeves rolled up

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, with a trainee at Homeboy Industries

Ryan and I caught a livestream last week of Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, the beloved Jesuit priest and founder of the gang rehabilitation program Homeboy Industries, in conversation with Oregon Humanities.

Boyle strikes me as one of those Jesuits who’s equally Catholic and Buddhist in his grounding. (Or, as a Catholic friend once said when an acquaintance asked him if he was Buddhist, “I wish!”)

He has been doing the daily work of accompanying “homies” and “homegirls” for decades, and what he does seems to be so transformative exactly because he’s not trying to force behavioral change or to measure KPIs or to implement programs to change the nature of gang activity. He simply shows up, over and over, for people who have never had stability in their lives.

He appreciates how his smartphone helps him keep in touch with the vast amount of people who’ve come into his life through his work. He says his relationships are stronger because he can send texts to let people know he’s thinking of them. What would our world look like, he mused, if we practiced micro-affirmations instead of micro-aggressions?

Or in the poet Mary Oliver’s words:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Be astonished.
  3. Tell about it.

His approach at Homeboy Industries, he says, is based on two unwavering principles:

  1. Everyone is unshakably good.
  2. We belong to each other.

His work is a mix of theology, psychotherapy, and companionship. He calls it “love with its sleeves rolled up.”

Former gang members come to Homeboy Industries for 18-month stints (the same timeframe in which an infant forms an attachment bond with primary caregivers, Boyle noted) to work, receive services, and to develop what Boyle calls “a muscular hope and a sturdy kind of resilience.” In short, they learn that they are cherished.

Hence, the name of Boyle’s forthcoming book: Cherished Belonging, which I’m looking forward to reading and giving to others.

The conversation had me thinking of a phrase used by psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy (who also uses the phrase “sturdy,” to describe how parents should act as leaders for their kids — to show empathy while holding firm boundaries).

She encourages parents to embrace the “most generous interpretation” when their children are acting out.

“Choosing the most generous interpretation of your child’s behavior does not mean you are ‘being easy’ on them, but rather you are framing their behavior in a way that will help them build critical emotion regulation skills for their future — and you’re preserving your connection and close relationship along the way,” she writes in her book Good Inside.

Emphasis mine. (And advice worth taking to other relationships, too.)

It feels like in-person human connection can be in short supply these days, or when we encounter other people, especially those in pain, we don’t know how to help. But we don’t build relationships alone.

As Boyle says, “Healing happens in a community. I’ve never healed anyone.”


100 things that made my year in 2018

1. Early walks to and from yoga class. The mystery nest of twigs that someone built around a sycamore tree. The grouchy little brindle dog in the neighbor’s yard. The sun glowing on the buildings across Broadway.

2. A hungry rush of consuming Oscar-nominated movies: The Shape of Water; I, Tonya; Call Me By Your Name; Phantom Thread; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

3. Green tea with almond milk and honey.

4. BOGO pho on Wednesday nights at iPho Tower.

5. Painting murals for an MLK Day of Service at Northeast High School. 

6. Lurking around the edges of the experience of motherhood. Lydia Kiesling’s essay on yelling at her children. Laura Turner’s beautiful birth story. Angela Garbes on claiming space (and science!) as a mom of color.

7. Watching Planet Earth on my new 4K TV.

8. A front-row spot at a morning yoga class three times a week. Finding community on the mat. Smelling sage and palo santo on my clothes hours later.

9. Launching a membership program at NCR in the hopes that we can sustain our mission of delivering independent Catholic journalism.

10. Discovering the group Choir! Choir! Choir! and their lovely project of teaching an audience popular songs in harmony.

11. Quinoa bowls.

12. Walking through Roanoke Park and playing on the adult-sized jungle gym.

13. A February visit from my youngest sister. Eating a lot of barbecued meat. Donning Gonzaga gear to create an impromptu Kansas City fan club. Making cookies and drinking Disaronno. Underground beers at O’Malley’s in Weston. Dancing at The Ship. Screaming at each other in an escape room: “That’s not what you do with binoculars!”

14. Watching the Winter Olympics and becoming an instant expert on snowboarding and every other obscure alpine sport. Stealing the phrase “nimble little sucker” from a commentator for perpetual inside joke use.

15. The first breaths of cool, thick air when landing back at PDX.

16. Eating dinner at Thames Street Oyster House in Baltimore. Walking the snowy streets in shoes with leather soles. Escaping into a bookstore for warmth and finding some hidden gems. Watching the Olympics in a Mediterranean restaurant. 

17. Welcoming my sister and her friend as our first weekend guests in the new place. A lineup of LC’s barbecue takeout on the kitchen island. Getting dressed up for a Sam Smith show. Riding Bird scooters in the rain. Having a tour guide and the beer taps to ourselves on a Boulevard Brewery tour. 

18. A recipe for stir fry sauce from Michelle Tam.

19. Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You.

20. Jackson’s Honest apple cider vinegar potato chips.

21. Mike Leach and friends’ gentle spiritual reflections on care and grace in NCR’s Soul Seeing column. 

22. Watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor in the theater on the Fourth of July.

23. My boyfriend’s dad making smoked ribs when my parents visited in September.

24. A crunchy hike at Wyandotte County Lake in late January. Taking photos from the dock of the icy lake. 

25. Grappling with how to be a better podcast host. Terry Gross on the art of the Q&A.

26. Using the Marinara extension to stay focused with the pomodoro technique.

27. This staggering, brilliantly reported longread about America’s richest farmer. You may not have heard of his name, but you’ve eaten his pomegranates or lemons or pistachios.

28. Catching the biannual misprint sale at Hammerpress.

29. Melissa Clark’s hot honey shrimp.

30. St. Vincent yanking on my heartstrings in her Tiny Desk Concert. Grace VanderWaal’s lovely, scratchy, aching voice. YoYo Ma returning again and again to Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello

31. Boulevard Brewing’s tequila lime gose.

32. Original glazed donuts from Lamar’s.

33. Changing my phone display to grayscale, thanks to a little nudge from Vox.

34. Winning “Best Podcast” from the Catholic Press Association.

35. Buying two new bras.

36. Supporting a new local cafe and bookstore… and a second outpost of my favorite KC ice cream shop in the same neighborhood.

37. “Through the Eyes of Picasso” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

38. Reflecting on the Catholic Church in a messy, heartbreaking, awful year. 

39. Sea Fare Pacific soup pouches.

40. Anne Helen Petersen on gentrification, experience-driven millennial tourism, and what that very specifically looks like in the trend of bachelorette parties taking over Nashville.

41. Making a Spotify playlist based on Kurt Harden’s “Essential Mixes.”

42. Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast.

43. My sister Erika and Jonathan’s wedding. My parents’ yard filled with 450 happy guests. Doing my own updo and liking it, for once. Erika’s shoulder shimmying during their first dance. Eating quesadillas in the kitchen late in the night.  

44. Going to a podcast listening party featuring an episode of Ear Hustle and then listening to a panel of local speakers on the societal and emotional effects of longterm incarceration.

45. “Neighbors” by Lucius. “The Upswing” by Bell X1. “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande.

46. Observing candle hour.

47. The Obama presidential portraits

48. Snapping up boxes of Traditional Medicinals Healthy Cycle whenever I can get them. When cramps strike, it’s better than Advil.

49. Watching Making Movies perform at the mayor’s State of the City address.

50. Hanging out in an infrared sauna on a cool spring day.

51. Appreciating the seasons.

52. Women standing in their own power. Ellen Pompeo and Aminatou Sow being unafraid to demand their professional worth. Lauren Groff’s By the Book column, shot through with searing poise and brilliant recommendations. Women!

53. Volunteering for KC Scholars and helping lots of striving youth and adults continue their higher education.

54. Lunch with my writing group at The Sundry.

55. Hosting friends for paella and tinto de verano. Feeling my heart swell at finally having a place suited to entertaining.

56. Florida by Lauren Groff. And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact. Autumn by Ali Smith.

57. Receiving a creative compliment from my new dentist.

58. Buying garden plants at the City Market and helping Ryan’s dad till his garden beds so we could reap the benefits of fresh peppers, tomatoes, herbs and squash.

59. A weekend in Spokane celebrating my youngest sister’s graduation from college. Showing Ryan the waterfalls and trails and parks of Spokane. Live piano music at a long, loopy dinner. Soaking up the Gonzaga love. Breaking bread with three good friends and their partners. Burgerville milkshakes on the drive back to my parents’ place.

60. Flint Town on Netflix.

61. Finding a kindred spirit who shares my unpopular opinion about Kansas Citians.

62. Sister Jean.

63. Creating a game of “Sex Jeopardy” for my sister’s bachelorette party. Creating the best Bloody Mary bar. Hiking Black Butte even though it felt impossible. Shutting down a karaoke bar in Sisters, Oregon.

64. Seeing The National live at Starlight Theatre in early October, their music pulsing out across the soggy crowd as rain pelted us continually and Matt Berninger waded out into the audience to share the moment.

65. Long walks at Champoeg State Park while visiting my parents.

66. Maggie Rodgers’ singles “Light On” and “Fallingwater.” Her technically and emotionally very good performance on SNL.

67. Taking a dance class from my brother-in-law. My entire family doing the Wobble on a wedding dance floor… and at a suburban TopGolf. 

68. Red wine and Cheetos at my grandparents’ house.

69. Witnesses like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in a year that for women felt like a long uphill hike through quicksand. 

70. Hating on the big four (Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon) despite using their products every week. Thinking more critically about my consumption of technology.

71. Comedian Ali Wong’s specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife.

72. Choire Sicha’s clever editing of the New York Times style section. Take, for example, this primer on self-care. His goofy, real advice in the Work Friend column.

73. Shrimp tacos for dinner.

74. Dancing all night at a silent disco during a weekend in Des Moines. 

75. Trying to keep up with good e-newsletters. The Ann Friedman Weekly. Matthew Ogle’s Pome. Anne Helen Petersen’s The Collected AHP. Katie Hawkins-Gaar’s My Sweet, Dumb Brain. Tributaries by John Graeber and John Hawbaker.

76. The music video for Janelle Monae’s “PYNK.”

77. Wesley Morris, very good as always, on the “anxious confusion of activism and criticism” that “robs us of what is messy and tense and chaotic” about art.

78. Moving into a condo just a few blocks away, but also a flying leap into cohabitation. A wall of west-facing windows. Bright, natural cabinets and hardwood floors. A gas range and a gas fireplace. A soaking tub. Waking up next to my love. Paring down two households into one. Sharing candles and furniture and kitchen counters.   

79. Feeling happy and bright on a day trip to Rocheport. Riding bikes under the beautiful fall canopy on the Katy Trail. A delicious lunch at Abigail’s. Hanging out with sweet, sleepy Clydesdales at Warm Springs Ranch. A glass of wine on top of the bluff.  

80. Watching Wild Wild Country and squirming with glee at the strange, strange phenomenon that briefly swept through my home state. 

81. A week in Florida with the fam. Reuniting Ryan with Gomek, a renowned (and now taxidermied) alligator at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Sticking our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Iced tea on long afternoons in theme parks. My brother-in-law’s joy at taking the entire family to Waffle House for breakfast. Backyard pools. Celebrating Erika and Jonathan at a reception in Jacksonville. 

82. Seeing Spoon and Grizzly Bear at the Middle of the Map Festival on a hot, heavy June day.

83. Kyle Chayka on the depressing homogeneity of coffee shops, AirBnBs and Instagram accounts everywhere: AirSpace. (Bring on that book!) 

84. Frank Ocean’s cover of “Moon River.”

85. A very thoughtful, thorough goodbye to Rookie magazine and to the challenging media landscape, from Tavi Gevinson.

86. Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.

87. Receiving a total of 34 bath bombs for my birthday and Christmas from family members who know me the best.

88. David Foster on Celine Dion. Her wacky, earnest ballad for Deadpool 2. Her killer summer of high fashion.

89. A long weekend with my college girlfriends. Learning too much about labor and delivery. Making dinner together. Swinging in the living room and on the porch with my honorary nieces. Breakfast at Rockwood Bakery. Craft cocktails. Trying to remember the names of buildings on campus.

90. Having a community of neighbors who know us by name. Greetings in the elevator. A housewarming gift. Closing down the holiday party with the 60-something retirees. Petting neighbor dogs.

91. Sarah Taber’s smart, informed Twitter threads on agriculture, animal husbandry, biology and technology. Especially this one about draft horses

92. A summer “progressive tapas” crawl through the Crossroads.

93. Voting.  

94. Discovering a technique that finally brought life back to my dry ends: heated deep conditioning.

95. Walking through the Water Gardens in Fort Worth. 

96. The duet version of “Party of One” with Brandi Carlile and Sam Smith.

97. Frequenting our neighborhood vintage market on First Friday weekends. Finally finding an original, bright piece of art to hang over our bed.

98. Birthday cocktails at Miracle, a pop-up Christmas bar.

99. Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix.

100. Saying yes to spending the rest of my life with Ryan.


Say how you are feeling

I bought myself a ring last weekend when I was home in Oregon. I’d been looking at this designer’s work for months, maybe years. The purchase wasn’t a big splurge at all, but when the store was in my backyard, I never felt like I had a reason to walk in the door and buy the ring. Being 30 is reason enough.

I wear this delicate piece on the middle finger of my left hand. A hammered brass band rises up into a thin ridge studded with seed beads of silver. The silver pieces are threaded through holes in the ridge, so they have the freedom to move.

As the cashier at the shop handed me my receipt, she told me that sometimes the pieces break. Some women don’t have any problems, she said, but if you shoved your hand into the pocket of your skinny jeans too fast, maybe you’d lose them. “Don’t worry, though. The designer is happy to repair rings. You can mail it in. If for some reason it keeps happening, she could even solder the pieces in place.”

So I look at this dainty ring often, tilting my hand to count the little dumbbells of silver, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I love looking at the ring. It’s not conventionally pretty. It’s interesting. It’s mine. 

And because it’s on my finger, my particular brain likes to send up a little flare of anxiety from time to time. Did I lose a piece? No, no, they’re all there. Admire the ring, go back to my day. That knee-jerk reaction reminds me that I haven’t been feeling (clinically) anxious lately. It feels good to have a baseline of calm and ease. I haven’t missed reading about heart failure on internet health forums at 11 pm.

This new habit of checking the ring is a way to safeguard against further wreckage. Oh, because I have been feeling. I’ve been angry. I’ve been grieving. This winter and spring have been flooded with a salty wave of sadness, and treading water in that sea has been exhausting. Some days, I’m only plunging my hand into a tide pool of sad, not minding the cold sting because I’m closer to the beauty under the surface. And other days, I’m choking on the salt water as waves crash over my head, my legs churning to keep myself afloat, everything inside feeling rusty and hollowed out and close to cracking.

Simple things start the sorrow rocking: A taste of Cran-Raspberry La Croix, the first stuttering notes of a Local Natives song, admiring other people’s dogs on a bright Sunday loop through the park. These things once belonged to us, all the tiny details of a love now lost.

Sometimes the pieces break. 

Here I am now, afloat, adrift. A relationship rooted in my new city has ended, and it is hard work to be submerged in that loss, to trust that my strong legs will keep kicking, that my chest will one day cease to ache. It takes energy to acknowledge that I am alone, that I am still out here. I wave hello to a friend relaxing on the beach. I ask another to join me in the bobbing waves as crusts of salt dry on my face. I’m moving closer to the shore. Soon, I’ll be able to stand on the sand bar under my feet.


Talk more about what you love

Celine Dion Concert Singing 'Taking Chances' 2008

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.” – Dave Grohl


Twelve years old. I am lying on a mattress in the narrow loft above the driver’s seat of our rented RV. My headphones are on, the bridge resting against the back of my neck. The black CD in my Discman whirls as a soulful ballad soars into my eardrums. I feel myself leaning into the ache of the string instruments. I wiggle my head imperceptibly along with the vocal acrobatics. “YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! Ohhhhhhh yeah-haaaa, ohh whoa whoa yeah WHOA OH OH! YEAH! Ohhhhh, oooooo, the reeeeeeasoooon,” Céline Dion belts, and I sigh, staring at the miniature curtains swinging in the miniature windows, blissed out.


I stand before the 20 or so members of my freshman English class. A synthesized beat fades into the background as I press the pause button on the boom box and turn back to the class. “So, that was Rain, Tax (It’s Inevitable) by Céline Dion. This song touches deep on our human dependence and the laws of nature.”

I’m deconstructing the song, as we have each been required to do, and many of my fellow classmates look bored, but no one is laughing. I’ve sat through a dozen of these presentations already. Most of them were probably about the last song that came on the radio. Christina Aguilera, Blink-182, The Offspring. When I was planning my presentation, I considered choosing a more popular song by a less dramatic singer. Just for a moment. But I’ve never been one to deny my love for Céline Dion, and I’m not about to start now.


I’m sitting in a concert hall next to my sister, my mom and grandma on the other side of her. We’re here. We’re actually here. Céline will be live before us on this Caesars Palace stage in less than 15 minutes and I am squirming with excitement. I don’t care that I’m 19 and usually have a little more poise in public. My idol and I will be breathing the same air tonight. 

The hall darkens. A video screen glides into place. I can feel the tension of all 4,296 of us holding our breath. I bounce in my chair, gripping my sister’s leg. “Oh my god!” I whisper. “She’s here!” 

“I know!” Erika whispers back. The screen lights up to show an endless staircase with a tiny, elegant figure at the very top. I make a small squeak in my throat. The figure moves. She moves. She slowly comes down the staircase and I realize that the screen has vanished. Her human self is in front of me. She begins to sing a single note and I can feel my chest burst into sunshine and wildflowers. I don’t care what I’m supposed to be listening to or who it’s cool to like. I love Céline Dion and I won’t deny myself this pleasure. 

After the show, I go to the gift shop and buy a black T-shirt with her silhouette outlined in red and blue. I wear the shirt to bed, around the house, at the gym. Even when it’s on the shelf, that is enough for me.


Let’s Talk About Love is probably my favorite Céline album. For starters, it got me and my friend Lucas through a Philosophy of Human Nature course during our sophomore year of college, and then brought us together in 2012 to see Céline in Vegas (yes, again). The songs on this album swing wildly from a power ballad penned by Carole King to a goofy reggae-lite anthem to a gospel-style inspirational. Céline can sing them all, even if she can’t make you believe every word. 

Let’s Talk About Love is also a book written by Carl Wilson, subtitled Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste. The book is brilliant and funny and thought-provoking. He chose Céline’s 1997 album as the subject of his book as an example of global fandom and schmaltz and pop culture that he could never fathom. He pulls apart the Céline phenomenon piece by piece in chapters: “Let’s Talk about Pop (and Its Critics),” “Let’s Talk About World Conquest,” “Let’s Sing Really Loud.”

Taste is subjective, he says, but more importantly, it’s ruled by (often) young critics who trade in cultural capital, which is to say: cool. By the end of the book, he comes to a simple conclusion: Céline Dion is decidedly uncool. 

So, let’s talk about love. I love that Céline is brazenly emotional. I love her dedication to her slightly-creepy-but-solid marriage with her late husband Rene Angelil, 26 years her senior. I love her absolutely kooky personality. I love her Quebecois accent. I love the fact that we were both raised in big families and small towns. I love her campy vocal acrobatics. I love that she has the chutzpah to duet with hologram versions of famous singers…or her own self. I love the way her voice sounds. I love the way she makes me care about schmaltzy love songs that talk about things I’ve never felt. I love her bombastic, unnecessary arm motions and chest pounding. I love her. 

Nick Hornby sums it up in an essay in part two of Let’s Talk About Love: “In my ideal world, people would be reading and listening to music and watching movies all the time, and loving the stuff they’re consuming; to judge these people, or the things they love, whether it’s Céline Dion or a Schubert symphony, is to damage their relationship with culture in a profoundly unhelpful way.”  

I’m young and critical and care about my cultural capital, but there are some places where the brain cannot deny the heart.