Image by Jepret Hikmah/ Unsplash


Dear friends,

I’ve been a fan of science fiction for as long as I can remember. Television and books. When I was younger, it was all aliens and flying saucers. But in my twenties, I began reading science fiction that was less about alien occupation and more about the human condition. And then in my thirties, I read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow (six word version: Jesuits in space; doesn’t go well) and everything changed. 

For me, it felt like that kind of literature was actually asking — sometimes demanding — that readers pay attention to their lives. Stories about aliens or outer space are literary devices for (among other things) making the reader attend to the quality of humans in human space. 

My interest in science fiction, in a certain sense, had been a distraction. I had outsourced hope to fiction, rather than imagining that actual improvement — for myself, or in the wider society — was possible. And because I’d outsourced hope, I had also outsourced accountability to make decisions in the here-and-now to act on hope. I still read science fiction; but I’m asking different questions of that genre now. 

The On Being interview this week is a conversation between On Being Studios’ Executive Producer Lily Percy and Alex Elle. Alex Elle has written After the Rain: Gentle Reminders for Healing, Courage, and Self-Love and is a beloved voice about self-care on her overwhelmingly popular Instagram feed, as well as in her hey, girl. podcast. For Alex, the move to include self-care in her life was one that did not come easily, nor with luxury. Having a daughter at 18, Alex was facing a system that had ideas about how she could live, a system that would seek to control what opportunities would be available (or unavailable) to her as a young Black single mother. 

Now 32, she speaks about what it has meant for her to redefine self-care, to do the hard internal work of providing love for herself when love was not forthcoming from others, and to see self-care as part of community care. By looking at how she could provide for herself the kinds of things she could, she was also realizing that this helped her show up for other people: across generations in her family, as well as outside her family. This interview is grounded in the reality of what self-care looks like beyond a motivational poster, but as embedded in the realities of a contemporary life. In her words: “So self-care as community care, for me, is the filling up of self so that we can pour into others and not be depleted, right?” 

Self-care has become an industry, but this interview goes deeper than that in highlighting that there’s something much more fundamental going on in true self-care: giving permission to self to recognize the systemic constraints put upon you; considering whether forgiveness — including self-forgiveness — is a possibility; seeking to have conversations that are avoiding some of the patterns of regression; and recognizing that surviving a life is a failing that has been put upon the shoulders of so many. In many ways, this conversation is a serious engagement with the question of accountability: what it means to hold yourself accountable for the care that you might be able to give yourself; what it means to be accountable for your own boundaries and imagination in work and relationships; what is the hard work that’s needed for now. 

Our Poetry Unbound episodes this week also ask questions about accountability. Ilya Kaminsky’s “We Lived Happily During The War” is written in the voice of a person who lived through a war, but in that war chose more convenience than protest; comfort than accountability. “Forgive us,” the poem asks. And as listeners to this poem, I wonder what we’d — you’d — answer. Friday’s poem was the final poem in this season of Poetry Unbound, and it’s Katie Manning’s poem, “What to Expect.” She compiled this alphabetical poem from the index in Heidi Murkhoff’s famous pregnancy book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. In many ways, what Katie Manning does is to put something other than pregnancy under the spotlight. Instead, she puts expectation under pressure; by building up a cacophony of expectations she creates space for the independent self.

Poetry Unbound will be back for its fourth season at the end of September this year.

Friends, in all your engagements this week, we wish you all good things when it comes to the meat of your hope, and the possibility of care, accountabilities, and actions based on this hope. 


Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound




This Week at The On Being Project

Our Latest Episode

On Being Logo

On Being with Krista Tippett
Alex Elle (with Guest Host Lily Percy)
Self-care as Generational Healing

The beloved writer, teacher, and Instagram community-builder on the meaning of self-care — beyond the buzzword.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website



Poetry Unbound

Ilya Kaminsky
We Lived Happily During the War

An appeal for forgiveness for having chosen complacency during a war, Ilya Kaminsky’s poem amplifies the chaos and complicity of conflict.

Katie Manning
What to Expect

An A-Z of pregnancy expectations. Everything from accidents to fruit juice, guns to nasal strips; sex and smells. 

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website


The Complete Poetry Unbound Plus Series

Poetry Unbound Plus Series Image

As we end Season 3 of Poetry Unbound, we are excited to share with you a curated home for our recent Poetry Unbound Plus series. This suite of content includes Pádraig in conversation with four poets about how their work intersects with the literature of the bible. He talks with Mary Karr, David Kinloch, Lorna Goodison and Diane Glancy about their craft and story, imagination and spiritual practice. Explore the Poetry Unbound Plus series on the On Being website.



Image by Sarah Wicorek/ All Rights Reserved

Read | Meet Lucero Torres

Each of the poems included in the third season of Poetry Unbound are accompanied by photographs from Seattle-based photographer, Lucero Torres. To celebrate the end of the season, we talked with her about the role of photography in her life and the process behind photos from the season. Learn more about Lucero and her work in the Q&A.

Watch | This Species Moment

On June 18th at the York Festival of Ideas, Krista was interviewed by Tom McLeish, Professor of Natural Philosophy. Together, they explored questions we all find ourselves grappling with: What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other in this century of such extraordinary promise and peril? 

Visit their YouTube to watch a replay of this talk.




The On Being Project
1619 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403
United States