Good Thing List

There’s a certain form of silly Internet positivity – “Let’s flood the news feed with pictures of cats!” – that, well, I don’t want to accidentally take part in. So I’d like to clarify, before I begin, that this list is not that.

It’s just something I started this morning. Possibly it’s that I turned 31 on Thursday; maybe being “in my thirties” instead of just 30 has prompted a sudden taxonomy of what’s nice. Or maybe it’s that being angry about legitimate injustice, well – you need to take a break from it every so often, and remember what it is you’re fighting to keep.

Anyway, the chances are good that if I don’t know why I’ve begun something, I should keep doing it and just see how it turns out, so here it is.

Ta-da: my Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp list, my Banal Dolores at the end of this season of Westworld list, my Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens list. It is presented in no particular order, and all exclusions, like the list itself, are unintentional.

Here’s what’s good.

  • Hanging out with a Very Good Dog who seems to know what you need – a lean-in to your leg, a loving look, a slobbery ball brought over.


  • The feeling of biking further than you ever thought you could, and of having all you need to keep going.


  • Small impractical trains that run on tracks embedded in the grass, rattling around corners, the passengers silent, taking in the view.


  • A trail ride on a horse who’s as into it as you are.


  • The first sip of an iced latte with a smack of vanilla, and how good it hits.


  • Warm raspberries, fresh off the bush.


  • Bourbon, on the rocks, with a beer back; all around you, shoulder-pressed, warm and chattery friends.


  • Meeting someone new in a new city in a new country; how surprisingly well you get along, and how excited you are to have found each other to talk to. (Looking at you, Gunnhildur.)


  • Running errands with old friends: how boring what you are doing would be alone, and how good it is now that you’re together.
    • (Looking at you, Jeri and Dini and that tight-packed car running out of oxygen because of how hard we were laughing.)
    • (Looking at you, Meg, gorgeous with ennui, ordering sandwiches in Icelandic.)


  • A book you just found that just gets you; having time for sitting down in a hard bookstore chair, disappearing in it for a while, every page a treasure.


  • Finding something beautifully-crafted and small and secret – a hobbit house, a tiny door in the wall of Grumpy’s, an inscrutable sidewalk stencil (“Say yikes and move on” / “Always working, drunk, or both!!”).


  • Finding out that you and lots of people you know all like the same show, and now you can yell “BAT!” at each other and flap away mid-conversation, if you like.


  • Surprise crying; the sweetness of sudden grief.


  • Making someone else cry, and/or possibly pee themselves, but with laughter.
    • Side note: the second is only good if they brought a spare pair of pants.
      • Often, they have. More people carry spare pants than you might think.


  • Long spontaneous extended evenings; twilight; soft gold lights coming on.


  • Blue sky, green prairie, the occasional tree; too lush, too much, but there it is.


  • Rereading something you don’t remember writing, and loving it.


  • A tweet so good it seems to have come from God. Knowing you’ll never write anything that crisply funny in this particular moment, and being okay with it.


  • Miles in charge, Miles sarcastic, Miles cracking up, Miles cradling the cats when he doesn’t think you’re looking.


  • How different people look in a Really Good Dress or a Haircut that Absolutely Suits Them, or if you’ve cleaned their office and they weren’t expecting it, or if you’ve made them a braid-crown and stuck flowers into it.


  • When a sentence edit slaps just right.


  • When you’re ten and eleven and twelve, and with your cousins, and unsupervised (the parents are all enjoying each other’s company too much), and you’re up to no good, but somehow by the end of it you’re all alive and now you are the age of the parents having fun.


  • How, to some extent, you can lie about or exaggerate to people their capacities —
    • and then how it turns out that you were lying to yourself, and they were actually, all along, capable of so much more than you thought they were.


  • People who really listen, who enjoy being somewhere, who pop in at just the right moment with something deliciously clever. (Looking at you, Dad.)


  • Reading someone else’s private notebook after they have let you, and being amazed that they can draw faces, just like that, without even looking at the pen and pad as they talk. (Looking at you, Madi.)


  • Private follies: Miles’s mom’s garden room, the House on the Rock.


  • Those who appreciate… like… jazz, and talk so adoringly about it that you wished you appreciated it too, and now maybe you do.


  • The sheer hedonism of the lagoon we visited in Austin last summer: dangerous slippery rock, soft moss, people everywhere, waterfalls and inner tubes, a friend swimming excitedly for the very first time, proud above the pink floatie a stranger had given us.


  • Your friend losing her mind at the beauty of a wee little fern.
    • Again, you didn’t think the fern was cute before, but now, because Alice is so excited about it, you realize that the fern is indeed supremely cute. Look at its smol fiddle-top, and how tenderly it brushes her hand!


  • Laughing, with your mother, at a truly horrible time to be laughing – you’re driving over a bridge and need to concentrate but you’re both just being so damn funny.


  • Making something you think is imperfect and messy, but people watching it anyway and pointing out good parts you didn’t think were there.
    • See: Jessie’s Dollhouse, the quarantine Prairie Home Companion parody show that nobody asked for, but that we did anyway.


  • People who don’t ever write anyone off, not completely.


  • The way focused attention can make a person bloom; the level of understanding that can be reached once the secret compact has been established that neither of you is going to hurt the other.


  • Conversations with cats that go on for far too long, and seem intense, but what are you even talking about, Bernard?


  • The mysterious foot-size hole that opened up in your backyard during quarantine, and which you have showed everyone since.


  • The small child on an even-smaller motorcycle, being his best bad self.


  • The conservatory in Morris, accessible only by a secret door through the greenhouse.
    • Why was it there? Who knows.
    • What does it teach? Unclear.
    • Is it perfectly maintained anyway, and does it have a banana tree, and several living fish, and is it the best place to be in mid-winter, a humid oasis amid the falling snow? Yes, yes, and yes.


  • The good part of winter: pink-white sky, steaming homes, the snow-squeak of boots, unplowed streets, the promise of a warm inside.


  • The people who try so hard, every-every day, who give their ceaseless inward-burrowing and constant questioning and determination to everyone around them; who are always thinking about what it is and why we are here and what is good; who become, for moments, a shelter in the world, going in and in until they are a warm black hole, a lovely exploded star pulling in mass, reaching momentarily a place where time does not matter and nothing can hurt.

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