Striving Toward Radical Kindness
The Body, Brain, and Books: Eleven Questions with writer and editor Sari Botton
Enjoy the long form interview with Sari here.
What are you reading now?
What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
As a little girl, I was obsessed with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. It was assigned in both regular school and Hebrew school, and it both moved and terrified me. I wonder if it was the first thing that influenced my becoming involved with first-person writing, as a writer and editor.
What I hid from my parents was my subscription to Show Business, a theater trade that my best friend and I pooled our allowance for when we were like 11 or 12. We were performing kids who shared an agent, but whose parents held us back because they (wisely!) didn’t want us to become child stars. So we secretly got this trade rag that had listings for auditions we hoped to go on, even though we were way too young to drive or take the train into the city on our own. I have great tenderness for this version of myself.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
The two books I’ve re-read the most are Fierce Attachments: a Memoir by Vivan Gornick, and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. To me, Fierce Attachments is the gold standard of memoirs. Gornick fearlessly and lovingly portrays her difficult mother and their challenging dynamic. Similarly, Traveling Mercies is the gold standard of memoir-in-essays. As a seeker myself, who’s struggled to find what works for me, faith-wise, I find Lamott’s stories of her own seeking and struggling to be comforting and inspiring in dark times. (Are there other kinds of times?)
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
Old Levi’s 501s, some tattered pairs of which I’ve owned since the late 90s. (I have a noted habit of hanging onto clothes for a really long time.) They’re just an old favorite going back to junior high, and they fall nicely on me.
What’s the best piece of wisdom you've encountered recently?
Not recently, but a long time ago someone said to me, “What you think of yourself, people think of you.” That wisdom comes to mind whenever I’m down on myself, or get caught up in toxic compare-and-despair. I immediately switch gears and try to remember my virtues and talents, and to believe in myself.
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
My sister had an adorable, black cocker spaniel that I took care of during the days when we both lived in the East Village, from the mid-90s to the early aughts. The dog was incredibly loving, but also very needy, spoiled, and not well trained. For example, when my sister went on vacation and left her with me for two weeks, and I asked what to feed her, my sister said, “in the morning, give her a handful of her dry dog food, and at night, just share with her whatever you’re eating.” Initially I didn’t want to have to take care of a dog, but she grew on me, and I found it a comfort to have her around.
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
There was a guy I thought was my soul mate who turned out to be more like my nemesis. I really thought I’d spend my life with him. I was so heartbroken when it ended. But after that I met my husband Brian, and we’ve been together 20 years, married for 18. And I’ve evolved to a place where I now understand how that other relationship was unhealthy and never would have worked in the long-run.
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
Singing in the shower, and everywhere. I love to sing, and it is my greatest source of release. Last year for my birthday my husband bought me Bluetooth karaoke mics, and they get a lot of use.
What are your hopes for yourself?
That someday, I’ll have the time and focus to write and publish more books, and maybe get to adapt one or more for the screen. That I’ll find the money and time to travel more, to Europe and around the United States. That someday Brian and I might get to live in California, in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles area. That I’ll be able to save enough money to someday retire, even though I didn’t start saving until very late, and have very little in my retirement account now. That when my time is up, I’ll die an easy, painless death.
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
What’s a guiding force in your life?
I strive toward radical kindness. We live in a cruel world, and while I’m uncomfortable with religion, I have always believed in The Golden Rule—treating others as you’d have them treat you. It made sense to me from the time I was a child. It’s not always easy to adhere to. But, as I said, I strive toward it. And when I succeed with it, I’m never unhappy with the results.
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Meet me in the comment section
Do you hold tenderness for earlier versions of yourself? How do you fare with karaoke? Do you strive for radical kindness? If so, what does that look like?
Tell me in the comments!