How to Be Productive







(Inspired by an epiphany I had while reading this insightful, but ironically time-consuming, post. For “check email,” substitute “read articles about how to be more productive,” and that’s pretty much my day )


on kindness

Strangers are usually really kind to me.

Sometimes I like to pretend that this is because of some particular virtue of mine. Actually, scratch that: I harbor a deep-seated certainty that this is because of some particular virtue of mine. It’s only intellectually, not emotionally, that I realize that the kindnesses I receive–little things, but they happen often: offers of help with bags, smiles, friendly chats–are mostly about a constellation of intrinsic factors, elements over which I have no control. I’m petite, white, female, habitually non-confrontational, and, like a sheep, typically smiling, even at rest. I know this, intellectually. But it’s very difficult to feel.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because the past week has been more than usually kind to me. I was in the UK for the New Chaucer Society Congress, after which I visited and stayed with two of my friends and their families. Both the Lewises and the Regans were incredibly generous with their time, space, food, and friendship, and I constantly found myself fighting back tears of gratitude. Sunday, the 17th, was also my 30th birthday, which brought me the well-wishing of strangers and even more kindness from my friends. It was a joyful, soul-filling week with wonderful people in some of my favorite places, and I’m so grateful for it.

At the same time, though, that I was having this extraordinary week, the world was having a terrible one. And though Imwasn’t keeping up on the news very closely, I certainly knew enough for the juxtaposition to haunt me. It’s no accident that the words kin and kind are at the root of kindness, and throughout the world people are refusing to recognize the kind-ness of other people, a refusal of kindness that is devastating, deadening, and deadly. But I felt drenched in it, part of the family–kin–almost everywhere I went.

The first time I visited the UK I was twenty years old, spending a term studying abroad.I thought a lot about that version of myself over the past week. Twenty-year old Haylie was so happy to be in London, so excited about the world, but also: so very, very sad. My family had collapsed over the previous couple years, and I was having frequent panic attacks. I felt, not unloved, exactly, but love hungry. I was surrounded by kindness then, too, but less able to access it; I couldn’t feel secure or safe in my friendships.

I felt so much tenderness for twenty-year old Haylie over the past week, but also so much gratitude and relief. Because she pulled through. I’ve never felt happier than I am now, or luckier. And I do deserve the kindness I’ve received, but (and this is important) only because we all do. Thank you to all of you for extending it to me. I promise to do my very best to radiate it outward.

a thank you note, and an announcement

Dear Friends,

What a month it’s been! As I write this, Philia has been listened to 145 times, far more than I ever expected for the first, fledgling episode of this little passion project. Thanks so much for listening, for your kind comments and messages, for offering to be interviewed (keep those offers coming! I want to hear your stories), and for sharing Philia in your social media universes.

The very first episode of my radio god, This American Life, aired almost exactly 20 years ago: November 17, 1995. In it, right at the top, Ira Glass (blessedbehisname) says something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past month:

Well, one great thing about starting a new show is utter anonymity. Nobody really knows what to expect from you . . . We’re one minute five into the new show. Right now, it is stretching in front of us, a perfect future yet to be fulfilled. An uncharted little world. A little baby coming into the world, no little scars on it or anything.

Nobody hearing my words right now is thinking, “Oh, man, remember that show, back when it used to be good? That show, I never missed that show back in the old days, back in the first couple years before it got so-called popular. Back when it was still good.”

No, actually, I think that force, that human desire to say that is so strong, to say that “I was there back when that show was good,” that force is so strong, it is so basic to who we are as people that I know– OK, what are we? We are two minutes into the program– I know that somewhere out there, one or two of you are saying, “Oh, sure. I used to listen to that show back in the first 30 seconds, back when it used to be really good. Remember back when they used to do all that crazy stuff? When they had that guy on the phone? Remember back then?”

Fortuntately, I’m pretty sure that you’re all going to like the second episode, which is about my good friend and colleague D Gilson, a beautiful poet and writer. Look for it on December 11th, and thanks.



Episode 1: Haylie (for BABEL)

This is the first episode of Philia, a podcast about the personal passions behind our academic work. Here, I start with two stories that inform my own work, two encounters with animals that have shaped my dissertation, “Precarious Intimacy: Humans and Animals at the Margins of Life.”

mouse 1mouse 2

If you have a story to tell about your academic work, please get in touch! I’d love to talk with you.

“Are Your Troubled at the Thought of Dying?” – Breakmaster Cylinder
“What’ll I Do?” – Pink Martini, Get Happy
“Oú Est Ma Tête?” – Pink Martini, Splendor in the Grass
“Canis Lupus” – Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
“La Redécouverte” – Yann Tiersen, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Bande originale du film)
“Mr. Fox in the Field” – Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
“Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” – Wing Narada