Desert Summer & Harnessing Nostalgia

As you probably know, 2017 was a particularly hard year for me. I wrote exactly two blog entries. While it seemed like the longest 365 days ever, eventually the year came and went; slowly, in 2018, I began to seek out and relish good food & books with my usual healthy appetite. I traveled to a lot of places (Miami, London, Asheville) and I read some good books. But I didn’t return to blogging about these ventures, fictional and otherwise, mostly because I found the task daunting. I had retreated, and I didn’t know how to…un-retreat? Advance?

There’s gotta be a better word there. Annnyways: This summer, I’ve been trying to find some good resources for my online English 101 students as a lot of them are beginning to write in earnest for the first time in years. Of course, Anne Lammot comes in swinging with some good advice about avoiding writerly anxiety by ditching the perfectionist attitude (via my favorite blog, Brainpickings). So I’m thinking: Why shouldn’t I take her advice, too? Here goes— a brief blog post about spending summers in the valley of the sun.

drink: Iced Americano w/Coconut Milk from Dutch Brothersread listen: “Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present” by the podcast team at Hidden Brain

I’ve learned that one way to cope with grief (& the accompanying depression) is to avoid checking in to social media first thing in the morning. For about a year, I’ve been reading a book for the first 15-20 minutes of my morning. This strategy has allowed me to actively choose how I began my day; usually, I choose to read fiction (most of it fun, a lot of it YA). But morning time is especially precious in the valley of the sun during summer; since it reaches 90 degrees by 8:00 am, early mornings are really the only safe time to spend outdoors. So lately, I’ve been trying to get up early, put on my tennis shoes, and go for a morning walk with a podcast I lined up the night before.

Thus my Phoenix book & food pairing results from my 7:00 walk to the only place within walking distance of our Mesa home: Dutch Bros Coffee. Only Iced Coffee will do at these temperatures, and Dutch Bros Iced Coffee is really good. The drive-through line is usually insanely long, but the walk-up window’s a breeze.

My dog has summer ennui and I can’t blame her.


Today is a stupid hot Phoenix day, and I’m drinking my coffee inside with the AC at 80 degrees. For comfort, I have Wimbledon on in the background. The sound of the ball hitting the rackets and the various grunts emanating from the players’ mouths =  a familiar soundtrack of my childhood summers. My dad was a tennis player/fan, and there was often a match on the car radio or living room TV.  The soundtrack pairs perfectly with this episode of Hidden Brain I listened to.

My favorite podcasts are those that braid science, philosophy, and stories of human experience. Hidden Brain is really good at this. In “Looking Back…,” Shankar Vedantam introduces and interviews Clay Routledge, a psychologist who studies nostalgia:

[Routledge] says that taking time to reminisce, even about the hard times, can help you rewrite the story of your life. “There is a big element of nostalgia that isn’t about us retreating to the past,” he says. “It’s about us pulling the past forward to the present, and using it to mobilize us, to energize us, to take on new challenges and opportunities.

Having spent so much time wallowing in memory, I love thinking about how I can use nostalgia as an energizing force. How I can keep Wimbledon on in the background, say, and consider maybe taking a tennis class or dreaming up a new blog post. I like thinking about what my dad would say if he* could see me, now: growing, learning, reading, dreaming. Grieving, still, but differently. In a way, I hope, that uses my connection to the past in order to look forward.


further eating & reading/listening

  • Listen: *Another podcast I love is Invisibilia, and this episode (“I, I, I, Him”) made me think a lot about how the language I use can support my emotional & mental health. In particular, how using third-person pronouns can help me get out of my own looped anxiety.
  • Read: Poetry is also great to take on a walk in the desert. When you get hot, just take a short break, drink a LOT of water, and read a poem in the shade. Check out my husband Bojan Louis’s first book of poems, Currents. His poems live in Arizona landscapes: “hours from Phoenix, oasis greedy and artificial…”
  • Eat/Drink: Changing Hands First Draft Book Bar: I used to live a few blocks away from this amazing book store/coffee shop/bar, and even now that I’m a long drive through Phoenix traffic away, I’m still here at least once a week. The staff are so friendly and good book nerds with great recs. And they have my favorite summer drink: A Foxie rosé with hops & sparkling grapefruit.
  • Eat: At The Best Taco Truck Ever, Taqueria Hacienda #1
  • Eat: Gallo Blanco, particularly a yummy  torta for brunch.
  • Drink/Play: At Cobra Barcade, the best bar in Phoenix.
  • Be on the lookout: Last week I saw a woman on a horse going through the Mesa Dutch Bro’s drive-through. I wish I had taken a picture. But I *do* have proof that you never know where you’ll see this anachronistic mode of transport in Arizona:


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