Goodbye for Now

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Today is the third birthday of this site. It started as an outgrowth of our career group, and turned into a place to talk about the personal backstories behind big life choices. We’ve devoted hundreds and hundreds of happy hours to it in that time, writing pieces, recruiting and editing guest authors, and making it into a site we were proud of. And now we have some news to share, which is that we’re going to stop publishing Small Answers (at least for now). (read more…)

ABCs for a Happy Life

ABCs_allAt the age of six, my sister told a stranger, “Don’t have a lugubrious day!” Even at a young age, she knew big words. She and my mom would practice vocabulary and would always stop to look up unfamiliar words when reading. They enjoyed distinguishing shades of meaning between similar words.

This was their thing; I didn’t bother. I read for plot, easily skipping over gaping, unfamiliar words. If I could understand the general meaning of the sentence, I wasn’t bothered by a quick skip over a missing word here or there. When it came time to study for the SATs, this attitude showed. I spent a bit of time with flash cards to make up for this. I learned the meaning of obdurate and lachrymose (words that my mom was shocked that I hadn’t known by then). Yet, even with new this new vocab, I didn’t fully understand the importance of words and their power to shape how we see ourselves and the world. (read more…)

Marriage—Who Needs It? I Do.

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In the early years of our relationship, when Lars and I were just out of college, we attended two weddings of our peers. The couples were pretty different from us—dating since their teens, religious—and we experienced the occasions like anthropologists observing exotic customs.

Then our mid-twenties arrived and, with them, a torrent of weddings. One after the other, our close friends all started getting married. These occasions allowed us to leave our ordinary lives behind for a weekend, drive to some inn or farm, don fancy clothes, and watch our peers act older and wiser than we felt.

Once Lars and I returned the rental car Sunday night, we’d be back to our cruddy apartment in Queens. Come Monday, I’d be sorting more newsclips for a boss who found me talentless and disappointing. The future did not seem fecund with promise; it felt unknowable and scary. On more than one occasion Lars had found me in our bathtub, sobbing into the water, telling him I’d peaked and was now a waste of space. While I believed in our relationship, I could not imagine declaring to the world my confidence in life ahead. Love was real, and we had plenty of laughs and joys together, but despair conquered all. (read more…)

Small Answers Readers Recommend…

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Do you remember the feeling, as a kid, of losing yourself completely in a book? That dreamlike state, composed of emotion and timelessness, that comes with complete absorption of something outside yourself?

When I remember that feeling, I think of the “Little House” books, of “Bridge to Terabithia,” of the “Alanna: Song of the Lioness” series. I still chase that feeling when I pick out books to read now, as an adult, and a few months ago I captured it. After hearing for many years about Jane Smiley’s “A Thousand Acres,” I took it out of the library and spent the whole weekend reading it on my couch. It had been a long time since I had lost myself so wholly in another world; for two afternoons I became fully consumed with the story of the Cook family, their choices, the world of Zebulon County, IA. It felt intoxicating.

Since we know that the Small Answers community is full of dedicated readers, we wanted to mine the wisdom and taste of our audience. We asked you to tell us about a book or two that has been meaningful to you at some point in your life. What follows is an amazing list of book recommendations along with notes about why these reads were significant. (read more…)

Perfection is Not the Goal

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No one would mistake me for a perfectionist.

When I think of perfectionism, the garden variety perfectionism that comes to mind has to do with completing tasks exactly right, redoing what isn’t perfect, endlessly researching a new gadget in order to make sure that you get the exact right one. This perfectionism is an exacting and unforgiving search that typically leaves the practitioner dissatisfied.  

This isn’t me at all. If you’ve been reading this blog, I’m sure you’ve noticed a number of misspellings and missing punctuation in my posts. Leda and I often use the motto, “done is better than good!” We apply this attitude liberally to our writing, a great number of sloppy craft projects, cooking, buying a new shirt; anything that can suffice will do just fine. (read more…)