My first draft of this letter came out a little too sentimental so I’ll instead lead with the lede: I have a new podcast. It’s called BookSmitten, and I’m co-hosting it with a group of big-hearted children’s and YA authors (who all just happen to live here in Michigan). We’re talking about writing and craft, but also very much about reading. We’re talking about children’s books, and how they can be a source of hope and connection – and sometimes escape – amid everything else that’s happening in the world.
You can hear how this podcast came together in the first episode, embedded above and available in the usual places (Apple, Spotify, Google, Overcast, etc.) Toward the beginning, my co-host Patrick really gets at the sense of isolation that some of us had been feeling, and how stoked we all were to sit down, on a regular basis, and talk about books:
You know, there’s a lot of random, getting together with a writer friend at a coffee shop to talk about what we’re doing … a lot of get-togethers around books and writing. And you know, we’re isolated when we write and there is joy that we get in that, but it can’t happen without balancing that out with making real human connections around art and creativity, and just humanity and the world. So a resolution of mine being to try to reach out and make more connections, and this regular podcast makes that a lot easier for me.
There are too many things I want to excerpt from this episode, from Patrick and from our other co-hosts Kelly and Heather. So instead I’ll just encourage you again to listen and subscribe. We’ll be posting new episodes every other Wednesday.
A final note on this new lunar year, because I can’t help getting just a little sentimental: the last big gathering we had here at our house in Detroit was also the first – a housewarming hotpot party almost a year ago today.
We crammed every table we owned in one long row in our living room, set up three portable burners, and invited a couple dozen friends. At the time, my parents were under lockdown in their apartment in Shanghai (albeit in good spirits), and at the party guests and I jokingly elbow- or foot-bumped at the door, and took lighthearted guesses at if or when the virus would make it here.
I think back on all this with horror, knowing that by all indications, the virus was very much Stateside and spreading quickly at the time of our party. And here were two dozen of us, huddled in close proximity eating food out of the same plates and pots. How innocent and naive we all were – babes unaware of R-naughts and monoclonal antibodies and the nuances of face masks. And how lucky, too, that no one got sick.
At the same time, I also think back on that party with gratitude, because the memory of it has been its own kind of lighthouse. Joy can be a slippery thing, recognized maybe only in hindsight. In the moment, I think it’s something closer to presence, or contentment. You’re not thinking about doing anything else, or being anywhere else. I write some about finding that joy in your work and art, and not enough about finding it in communion and connection with other people.
This presence and contentment – this joy – is something I wish for you and yours, in all quarters of life, this Year of the Ox.