Here’s a peek behind my writing curtain. When I know the theme of the issue, I find a handful of books I think will fit. Sometimes, a book isn’t great and I have to start over. Perfectly, the books really hang together and share a theme. If these three books and I could give you some advice, it would be go outside and enjoy nature.
Writer, illustrator and Twitter star Jonny Sun would probably suggest that we stay inside and enjoy nature. In his collection “Goodbye, again: essays, reflections & illustrations,” Sun’s mix
of humor and sadness touch on topics that might seem mundane but are filled with depth. Many of them have to do with his attachment to his houseplants. The delicacy of our environment is mirrored in his story about caring for his pothos plant. He also takes on virtual nature with a gaming app to help him relax.
I was really moved by two of these essays. In “I Am Trying to Decide,” I found the most perfect description of your brain on an anxiety spiral. This essay should be required reading for anxious people to know they’re not alone. Pre-publicity for his work hyped that he “features a recipe for scrambled eggs that just might make you cry.” I didn’t see this blurb until I’d already cried over it.
You Belong: A Call for Connection
Sebene Selassie also takes on the need to feel like you’re not alone in “You Belong: A Call for Connection.” As an Ethiopian and Eritrean who lived in a mostly white neighborhood of Washington, D.C. as a 1980s teen, Selassie struggled with fitting in. She has constantly felt both “too much” and “not enough”—too Black for white folks, not Black enough for Black folks, too Americanized, too immigrant, too political, not radical enough and more.
In her current life, as a meditation instructor and Buddhist scholar, she still struggles with these feelings. She experiences anger and annoyance, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. But, as she states, that’s why they call it meditation “practice.” Selassie’s essays discuss concepts such as epistimicide, domination culture and more through the lens of race, culture and spirituality. This approach might strike fear that it is dry and intellectual or, as she puts it, too “woo-woo,” but neither are true.
Selassie is freely unique and real, and this book is ideal for those who might be contemplating meditation or journaling or for those who want a fresh way to look at their existing practice. Her thesis, that we are all connected both to each other and to the Earth, makes it impossible to feel alone if you think as she does, “I am nature. I belong to it all.”
Maybe you’re a person who doesn’t want an essay to relate to. You just want the facts, but you still go on anxiety spirals such as Jonny Sun or feel alone and inadequate like Sebene Selassie. Now, Ethan Kross is here to help you with “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It.”
Kross is a psychologist who has dedicated his life to researching people’s “inner voice” through his work as the director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan. But again, this work is not an academic tome, but rather one of the most helpful and practical books about the anxious mind I’ve come across. Does social media make it worse? Maybe and maybe not. Is going to a concert more than just the music? For many of us, absolutely. Does nature, even a photograph of it, improve our mental health? Many scientific studies show this observation to be true. You need ritual. You need awe-inspiring experiences, and you need a crew of folks to share those with you. Is it any wonder why the pandemic has been a mental health challenge for many?
When you know why a concert alleviates your stress, you can pull other tricks from your bag to tide you over.
Jamie L. Watson is a collection development manager with Baltimore County Public Library.