Hi, I’m Sara, and this is Tiny Revolutions, a weekly dispatch of personal writing and links about the art of becoming who you are. Reply anytime, I love to hear from you.
Greetings from Atlanta, where I’ve come to escape the smoke and smog and visit with family for a few days. Traveling yesterday was incredibly refreshing — it was nice to get out of my L.A. bubble and see all the different kinds of people you see in transit. One thing I noticed since the last time I flew (in early July) was the wide variety of masks there are now, from brightly colored surgical masks to all the wild prints and fashion options. It was fun to see how people are using them as yet another means of self-expression.
Photo taken by my grandma as we embarked on a road trip circa 1984-ish. I’m in there somewhere.
I’ve been thinking about a lot lately about how if you want to make progress in some area of your life, it’s incredibly important to have a community or some other kind of social structure in place to help you do it.
I have eight brothers and sisters, and growing up we were a tribe. We had our values, our hierarchies, our routines, and our practices, none of which were ever spelled out, but all of which were enforced daily in large and small ways.
It was a great way to grow up, all things considered. In a tight-knit family like ours, you always knew where you stood, you knew what was expected of you, and you knew what the penalties were when you didn't hold up your end of the deal.
In our world, the routines of school and church and sports were our main touchstones. In every season there were fluctuations, but you could always depend on some kind of rhythm to keep things moving.
In the case of my parents, there were jobs and there were meals and laundry and all the little things you have to do to keep a family loved and cared for. The work never ended. But one good thing about having an army of children is that after a certain point, the system becomes self-propelling — and self-policing.
So for example, after a while, the older kids can help get the younger ones dressed, teach them how to do things, and tune them up when they break a rule.
In our family, the simple logic was that mostly we wanted to do what we wanted to do within the framework we had to operate within, and if someone was disrupting the operation, that was a threat to us all. So we kept each other in line, for the most part, and only called in mom and dad to adjudicate when things escalated beyond our control.
When people ask how my parents successfully raised nine rowdy animals and released them into the world as functioning adults, I sort of shrug and say, well, they were in a sense superhuman, no doubt, but also? They created a system. And the system worked.
As an adult without a family of my own, I’ve spent quite a lot of time operating outside of the bounds of a community and/or a conventional job. And you know what? It’s overrated. You think with all your unstructured time you will accomplish everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Which may be true for the most exceptionally driven among us, but in my experience, mostly what ends up happening is that you get lost in all that freedom. Without the demands and deadlines and commitments to other people — and all the relationships riding on them — it’s just easy to put things down and not pick them up for a while. Especially in our world of unrelenting (and addictive) distractions.
During the pandemic especially, I’ve made a point to join multiple online communities to get further along with all the various personal and professional things I’m working on than I might have gotten by myself. I’ve made lots of friends and lots of progress, and I’m looking forward to the day when we can do these things in person once more. At the same time, it’s nice to be able to access them from anywhere.
Here are some of the communities I belong to, and how they help me:
Angel City Zen Center is kind of my bedrock — we meditate together and talk about Zen Buddhism, of course, but it’s also just a kind and interesting group of curious people thinking about the grand mystery of life.
A group coaching program with Dewpoint Communications and my wonderful coach Victoria Dew helps me tremendously on the professional front as a solopreneur.
Reading The Small Bow newsletter and attending weekly Zoom meetings hosted by brilliant founder and writer A.J. Daulerio has helped me stay committed to not drinking alcohol (which has made my life immeasurably better, but that’s a story for another time).
I’ve only recently joined the Ness Labs community, which is about “mindful productivity,” but I’ve already learned a lot about making the most of your brainpower without treating yourself like some kind of inexhaustible work machine.
I love exercising with The Class by Taryn Toomey, which is described as “a practice of self-study through physical conditioning.”
And finally, I’m really enjoying being part of the crew at Compound Writing, which has not only inspired me to keep writing this newsletter week after week, but also to pick up long-form essays I’ve written in the past and begin pitching them again for publication.
Adding the social component to all these projects just helps. It’s like expanding your own brain by harnessing the brains of others — and getting inspiration, commiseration, and encouragement in the process.
On to a few things I found worth sharing this week.
For the obsessively curious, here is a link to a Twitter thread full of interesting online communities you can join.
Good meme here.
“Here is something bracing to think about: it is hard to learn how to be yourself.”
I loved this essay about a professor of medieval literature’s experience delving into the MasterClass catalogue. Contains some withering remarks about Anna Wintour and Malcolm Gladwell and some endearing ones about RuPaul and Ron Finley. Highly recommended if you, like me, have not been willing to pony up the $200 for an exploration of your own.
“When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
There are so many great things you can read right now about the remarkable life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but I especially enjoyed revisiting this op-ed she wrote for the The New York Times in 2016.
“When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response.”
The above is from a great read from Oliver Burkeman, who was a columnist at The Guardian for more than a decade. His final post is a distillation of what he learned over years of writing about how to lead a meaningful life.
A Tiny Assignment
Are you trying to do something difficult? See if you can seek out some others who are too. See what they have to say about it.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, as ever.
p.s. Welcome new subscribers! Glad to have you aboard. If you liked this post, please share it with someone who might as well. 💫