Review: When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi put much of the “real living” of his life on hold for many years as he studied literature, medicine, surgery and the mind. Nearing the top of his ascent of an enviable professional mountaintop, he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and given only a little while longer to live. I happened to read this book while in a state of shock and mourning, following the devastating, upsetting American election, right around the time of a beloved deceased relative’s birthday, so you could say it was both the worst and best time to read this book. It’s a moving, thoughtful personal memoir that poses important questions about the meaning of life – how to find it, appreciate it, and create meaning for ourselves.

As he nears the end, Kalanithi explains plainly the folly of pretending there will always be a future, that more planning could possibly help. He describes living in the present, without ego, without plans and ambitions, thus:

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.

A thoughtful, poetic book. A hard, beautiful book.

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
5/5 stars.

The Grateful Challenge

Gini Dietrich threw down the Thanksgiving gauntlet and I’m game for it. So here’s my answer to the Grateful Challenge.

The challenge is this:

Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down all of the things you’re grateful for—or things that you love—as fast as you can. Can you get to 99 things in 10 minutes? (Spoiler: I couldn’t but it was still worth doing.)

  1. My able physical body (minor climbing injuries aside)
  2. My startling good health (hardly even a sneeze or cough all year)
  3. My wonderful partners
  4. My new apartment
  5. The second FIGMENT Oakland happened and it was great!
  6. New FIGMENT Oakland friends
  7. Finding old former-NY friends again in SF
  8. My cousins who I get to see now that I live in SF
  9. My parents’ good health
  10. My mother can now pop down for a quick visit to see a show with me on short notice
  11. The friends I am still close with a year after I left them in NY
  12. Ice cream sculptures by Anna Barlow
  13. Newfound minimalistic urges and stuff-purging has made me feel lighter and happier
  14. Bernal Heights park
  15. Corona Heights Peak
  16. Sunsets
  17. Full moons
  18. Hot tubs at night
  19. NYC – just so glad it is still there and I can visit it
  20. Central Park in the Fall
  21. Convertibles
  22. Puppies
  23. Tompkins Square Park
  24. Tacos
  25. Earth Balance vegan butter
  26. Avocados
  27. the Gramercy Tavern tasting menu
  28. Magnolia trees in full bloom
  29. Living a ten minute stroll from Mission Cliffs
  30. Santa Cruz beach boardwalk
  31. 6 Giant Dipper rides in a row
  32. Donuts
  33. Absinthe
  34. Quality cocktails
  35. My company is awesome
  36. My coworkers are awesome
  37. Yoga
  38. Massages
  39. Love letters
  40. Mixtapes
  41. Earl Grey tea
  42. Pumpkin pie
  43. Luxardo cherries
  44. Instagram, for helping me enjoy daily photo taking and photo appreciation
  45. Stephen King’s “On Writing” for helping over my writer’s block
  46. My new bike
  47. Spotify, the app that keeps me going all day long
  48. Fancy black lingerie
  49. Blue Bottle New Orleans coffee
  50. Space (simply for the inspiration and perspective)
  51. My young niece, the cutest little girl in the whole world
  52. My in-laws (because they have now known me for 12 years and seem to like me anyway)
  53. JEM and the Holograms (lifelong inspiration, the tv show, not the movie, obviously)
  54. Lana Del Rey
  55. Tori Amos
  56. Surprise flower bouquets
  57. Really high heels
  58. GRRM novels
  59. Hot springs
  60. Waking up well-rested and calm
  61. Lunch-break gym time
  62. Really long walks
  63. New socks
  64. Green hair
  65. Black leather
  66. The Kindle
  67. Switching to Mac
  68. The Orbit Room reopening
  69. Alpha Delta Phi
  70. Really good pizza
  71. Fresh homemade cookies
  72. When my husband makes my lunch
  73. Laying down in a pile of fresh warm laundry
  74. Odeur 71 by Comme des Garcons
  75. My wonderful friends Catherine and Noa who write me sweet handwritten letters
  76. Fancy stationary
  77. Scavenger hunts
  78. Game nights
  79. Cacti
  80. Not fearing the future

Not bad. I cheated and took 15 minutes. I could have easily thrown out 10 or 20 more but I wanted to choose things that were specific and actually meaningful to me, so I’m pleased with my list.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Ninja Inspiration

Watching Kacy Catanzaro complete the American Ninja Warrior finals obstacle course would be inspiring no matter what, but finding out that she’s even smaller and shorter than me makes it that much sweeter to see her rock it! What a great reminder to never let size or stature get between you and your fitness dreams.