Every few months I publish a short eNewsletter called GOOD THINGS. It's a thoughtfully curated list of four recommendations. Items might include a film, an album, a podcast, a book, an essay—anything that brings joy or perspective. (Samples below.)
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Book. Austin Kleon’s instructional manual for a creative life, Keep Going, offers some helpful nuggets to sustain any type of creative practice. The content applies to both those who are just starting out and those who are feeling a bit burned out. Smartly-packaged and easy to read, Keep Going encourages you stay the course to making creative work. And we can all use a bit of encouragement.
Comedy. Wanda Sykes is a living legend—the comedian veteran has been performing for more than 30 years. In her new special, Not Normal, Sykes tackles politics, reality TV, racism and the secret she'd take to the grave. Her impersonations of her French wife reacting to Vicks VapoRub are comic perfection. Available on Netflix now.
Musician. If a glass of whisky could sing, it might sound like Dermot Kennedy. At times raspy and at times buttery, the twentysomething lad is on his way to join the iconic lineup of exquisite singer-songwriters of Ireland. For a simple introduction, listen to For Island Fires and Family. Key lyric: “And even though this life, this love is brief, I've got some people who carry me.”
Book. In We Contain Multitudes, Sarah Henstra stitches together a beautiful story about the growing relationship between two teen boys, told through the letters they write to one another. Henstra ties the plot together with Walt Whitman quotes, the death of Prince, and a nuanced portrayal of addiction. The result is a tender and timely love story. My only beef with this book is that it didn’t exist when I was in high school.
Comedy. Mohammed Amer is an American stand-up comedian and writer of Palestinian descent. In his Netflix special, Mohammed recounts his life as a refugee comic, from travelling with such a name to his long path to citizenship. Ultimately, the jokes poke fun at the ridiculous ways that we humans treat each other. Lolz guaranteed.
Lifestyle. Graphic design professor Summer Winston's plan when first deciding to move to California was to build a tiny house. And though they stepped away from the idea for a while, Summer became obsessed with the idea of building a home on wheels. “The power is in the doing,” says Summer, “even when it’s really scary.” Sunny and warm, this clip is ultimately about the idea of what home can be.
Article. In cities across North America, a cultural phenomenon is occurring called “Performative Workaholism.” Young professionals—and especially those devoting themselves to startups—are populating their social platforms with rapturous updates about how hard they are working. Productivity has taken on an almost spiritual dimension. This New York Times article examines the ugly side of #Hustle.
Video. Adam and Neil Pearson are identical twins, but you’d never know it from looking at them. Although they share the same DNA, their appearances are vastly different; each suffers from neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that has affected them in divergent ways. They tell their story in this deeply moving, must-watch short documentary.
Essay. Recent research reveals that mental disorders are exceedingly common and often transient. Only one in five people will avoid mental health problems throughout their life. How do they do it? What can we learn from them? This essay called Temperamentally Blessed is one of the best things I’ve read about mental health.
Poem. Stephen Hawking theorized that a dying star collapses to form a singularity — a tiny point of infinite density and infinite curvature of spacetime at the heart of a black hole. He also theorized that the reverse is how the universe was born, that everything comes from a singularity. Still with me? Good. One of the great poets of our time, Marie Howe, wrote a stunning poem about singularity. Watch her perform it.
Essay. In The Mother of All Questions, Rebecca Solnit addresses the absurdity of having to respond to questions about her decision to not have children. “We speak as though there is one good plot with one happy outcome, while the myriad forms a life can take flower—and wither—all around us.” The accessible essay ultimately moves beyond the concept of Motherhood to how we collectively construct happiness. Required reading for outliers.
Film. In late 1950s Ontario, seven-year-old Saul Indian Horse is torn from his Ojibway family and placed in a Catholic residential school. Saul is denied his language and suffers numerous abuses. Despite this, he finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and favourite Canadian pastimes: hockey. But make no mistake, this film is ultimately not about hockey. Indian Horse is required viewing for all Canadians.
Book. My friend Jeffrey suggested a book called A Little Life. “I’m not going to tell you anything about it,” he said, “just read it.” And so I did. The fictional narrative follows the lives of four young men coming of age in New York City. The sprawling 800-page book is a modern dark fairy tale, containing desolate lows and unapologetically romantic peaks. My recommendation: just read it.
YouTube Video. The passing of physicist/cosmologist/author Stephen Hawking caused ripples of sadness around the world. To honour his life, I decided to learn about physics and stuff. From the smallest known particles to estimates on the size of the universe (93 billion lightyears across), The Universe in Four Minutes brings you up to speed with our place in the cosmos. The video is horrifying and comforting, and I think Hawking would have found it hilarious.
Book. Living a brave life is not always easy. The physics of vulnerability state this: If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall. In Rising Strong, researcher and author Brené Brown sheds light on the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle. If you’ve ever stepped into the arena of life, and then subsequently got your ass kicked, this book is a must-read.
Album. I know that I won’t be shattering any stereotypes by recommending an indie band from Brooklyn. But this band called Cigarettes After Sex — I mean, if you’re going to pick a name for your band! — has made a magnificent ambient pop album. Get started with a track called Sweet. Key lyric: “It's so sweet, knowing that you love me. Though we don't need to say it to each other.”
Short film. Oscar-winning short film Stutterer is about a young London typographer who expresses himself effortlessly with an online romantic interest. When the idea is posed to meet in real life, things become more complicated. Simultaneously heart wrenching and heartwarming, the film beautifully captures the idea that communication — like love — is never easy.
Film. In The Big Sick, a comedian (Kumail) meets a graduate student (Emily) at his stand-up show. As a romance blossoms, Kumail becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents will think. Then illness strikes, and things get complicated. Two easy reasons to love this movie: 1) a nuanced narrative of a mixed-race couple, and 2) it'll make you smile.
Television. Godless is a seven-episode miniseries revolving around a town where virtually all the men were killed in a mining accident. Led by heroines Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie), Godless has feminist undertones that refresh the boys club of the western genre. I didn't know I could love westerns. Now I do.
Book. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi learned he had lung cancer when he was 35 years old. Two years later the cancer took his life. When Breath Becomes Air is a type of untimely swansong, a memoir about how he transitioned from doctor to patient, and the life lessons he extracted along the way. Yes, it will likely elicit complex feelings around our mortality. But it might also encourage you to live.
Good advertising. We're the Superhumans is an advertisement for the British Paralympic Association. Produced to promote the 2016 Summer Paralympics, it flips the typical narrative on disability by focusing on what people can do. Sure, the games are over; but the video is timeless. Watch and cheer.
Photography. Peter Garritano takes pictures of people who are looking for connection. Seeking is an ongoing portrait project based on personals ads in the "strictly platonic" section of Craigslist in New York City. The images are simple yet stunning, and when paired with text we witness something tender: humans making sincere requests to the universe.
Essay. Helen Ellis used to be a slob. She once went on a date with a used panty liner stuck to her back. Yeah, awkward. To save her marriage, she taught herself to clean. Her New York Time’s essay is a meditation on evolving for the sake of our relationships.
Nonfiction. In her book Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles poses big questions. How do we live in the face of so much suffering? What difference can one person make in this beautiful, imperfect, and imperiled world? Sentilles took 10 years to write this story, and it shows. Each sentence feels intentional. She doesn’t waste words. Economical. Affective. Stunning. Highly recommended.
Short film. Silly, absurdist, but nonetheless meticulous, Wednesday With Goddard is a short film by Montrealer Nicolas Ménard. Awarded the top animation at SXSW, the film tells the story of a protagonist’s search for God amidst an existential crisis. Along the way he gets help, falls in love, and finds exactly what he’s looking for — well, sort of. See it here.
Life skills. There are many things we want to ask from other people. We want to ask for a job, for money, a chance to collaborate, a kiss. But we often don’t ask because of a little thing called fear. Why should a ‘no’ – such a small and innocuous word – prove quite so painful that we’d rather silence ourselves than face it? Watch this.
Family history. Lola lived with Alex Tizon in America for 56 years. She raised him and his siblings without pay. He was 11 before he realized who she was: a slave. Read (or listen to) the story of how Tizon, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, made sense of this inequity — and what he did with her ashes.
Relationship advice. What kind of data would emerge if you asked hundreds of couples their advice for successful partnerships? Blogger Mark Manson did just that: he polled the readers of his highly-visited website, and the results were incredibly repetitive. (But in a good way.) These 13 lessons might transform the way you engage in your own intimate relationship.
Television. The trend in television these days is to create hyper-real, flawed characters. (I’m looking at you HBO’s Girls.) Yet, as a viewer I just want characters that I can root for. That’s why I adored Please Like Me, a cutting-edge sitcom that has emerged from Australia. The lead character, Josh, is goofy and smart and imperfect. He's navigating a complex world while helping to care for his bipolar mother. The results are amusing and surprisingly touching.
Meditation. How do I stop the chatter in my head? I ask myself this question at regular intervals. In the past, I have employed a few techniques: some healthy (yoga classes) and some perhaps less healthy (bottles of red wine). Recently, I’ve dabbled with an app called Headspace that guides users through a daily meditation. I promise you that it’s not new-age baloney.
YouTube Clip. There’s something especially tender about old erotic. An image of a couple in coitus in the early 20th century has an amusing burlesque element — but it becomes disquieting when we consider that they are long dead. Because sex is the ultimate activity of the moment, perhaps old pornography is inviting us not to care about our own mortality. Not convinced? Watch this clip by The School of Life.
Film. Shot on location in India and Tasmania, Lion tells the story of a lost five-year-old Indian boy who is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. A few decades later, using Google Earth and piecemeal memories, he sets out to find his first family. The film taps into a universal human desire: understanding where we come from.
Album. Chris Staples, a Pacific Northwest singer/songwriter, creates the musical equivalent of a candlelit kitchen with soup on the stove. His 2016 album, Golden Age, centres around the myth that our pasts are idyllic, and offers a selection of poetic nuggets. Key lyric: “How can I say without sounding too cliché that I want to live each day like it’s my last?” (From a track called Park Bench.)
YouTube Clip. David Foster Wallace departed earth too early. The writer was haunted by a state of depression that ultimately led to his suicide. Yet despite his struggle with mental health, he was able to observe humanity with a rare clarity. This quote hit close to home: “Hip, cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human.” In an age of cultural disparagement and Instagram aloofness, perhaps we could all benefit from some good old sincerity. Watch this video.
Beauty. Lizzie Velasquez was born with a rare congenital disease that, among other symptoms, prevents her from accumulating body fat. Ever since she was dubbed the "World's Ugliest Woman" in a video posted on YouTube, Velásquez has spoken out against bullying. In this three-minute clip Velasquez tells a short story that will simultaneously wrench your gut and inspire you.
Legend. The title of Leonard Cohen’s latest (and last) album, You Want It Darker, is tongue-in-cheek for those who relish in his favourite subject materials: loss, infidelity, death, sex. Delivered in his trademark gravelly baritone, the songs have an unmistakable darkness to them, yet they also brim with his patented luminosity and life. This is his final testament, and he exits the stage as the dark saint of song writing. Godspeed, Mr. Cohen — and thank you.
History lesson. At the Olympic games in 1968, a powerful moment occurred when two winners put on black gloves to protest what was happening in the USA during the civil rights era. Most people don’t know the story of the silver medalist, an Australian named Peter Norman. The host of The Young Turks, breaks it down in this must-watch video.
Essay. A small but detailed study of young adults found that participants were using their mobile phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. The endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke Andrew Sullivan. His eloquent tale of trying to reclaim his brain is one of my favourite articles of the year.