Leslie got me a lil paint set from CVS and it’s been bringing me so much joy this week. It may have been designed for kids but that means it’s full of bright colors and doesn’t stain my clothes or the furniture when I make a mess! It’s also kind of crazy how a week of mental and physical rest (time off from work, time off from biking and/or running) leaves much more room for a different type of energy: the creative kind!
Despite having done much more art in the past year than I ever have before, I’m still not great at actually ~sitting down to do it~. After a long day at work I’m so emotionally exhausted that, instead of doing something relaxing or meditative like painting, I sit on the couch and scroll through my phone, obsessively refresh my work email, and eat a concerning amount of popcorn and ice cream. This week, however, I’ve found myself much more likely to sit down at the table and pull out my paints.
It feels good to make something – “no matter how small” (or bad) – and I’m hoping to hold on to this practice until it becomes more of a habit. I also return to my current mantra of “progress, not perfection,” because I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to doing or trying things I’m not “good” at. I get so overwhelmed by the fear of failure (an “ugly” piece of art, a “stupid” piece of writing) that I don’t do anything at all. But it’s better to pick up the pen or the paintbrush than it is to let myself remain paralyzed by my own high expectations.
Anyway. Thanks again, Leslie, for being my biggest patron and supporter in my artistic endeavors – these little sketches are dedicated to you!
[Above] Two sketches/paintings from this past week, the left one inspired by a photo Leslie took in London.
Does anyone remember the line from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”? For whatever reason that line often pops into my head (probably because I’ve watched the movie more than a few times).
Today, after a difficult week, I found myself thinking, “An accomplishment’s an accomplishment, no matter how small.” As in: what feels like an accomplishment to me might not seem like one to others, but that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment. Which then lead me to list out everything I’ve accomplished (by my own standards) this week:
Oh, and I also made a painting, which is an accomplishment because it means I 1) painted instead of scrolling through social media, therefore improving my mental health rather than harming it, and 2) overcame my fear of being “bad” or “mediocre” at something and did it anyway.
Which reminds me of this amazing post that spoke directly to my soul (read: is a primary topic of conversation in my therapy sessions):
Like on Saturdays when you’re sad and the sun is nowhere to be found,
So you ride your bike down to the shoreline where – growing from the sand – are signs that say, “Jazz Quartet; Follow the signs or sounds.”
So you follow the sign along the trails through the waterfront park that juts out into the bay and you stumble upon a makeshift amphitheater where four men dressed in suits and shiny shoes have set up a little stage by the sea
And they’re playing their drums and trumpet and cello and trombone as the audience sits scattered on seats of rock And the sounds of jazz drift out over the water In this little corner of the world.
Does it sound dark to say that I was glad to have stayed alive for this moment?
On Saturday afternoon I head out for a walk under the guise of needing to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. I do, in fact, need to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, but Thomas and I both know that when I say I’m “going to walk to the pharmacy” that’s code for “I’m going out for a walk and there’s no knowing when I’ll be back.”
Needless to say, I take a slight detour at Pegasus Books on Shattuck. In my defense, it’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that Pegasus has been open for in-person browsing, and obviously I have to support my local bookstore (f*** Amazon!!!!!!!!!).
I spend thirty minutes browsing and in every section – philosophy, spirituality, literature, gardening, poetry, critical theory – I see a book I want to take home and spend the rest of the afternoon reading. I wish for not the first time that I had room in my apartment for more books, instead of the already-overflowing few shelves I hacked together in our bedroom. There’s a chance it collapses at some point soon; I keep stacking more and more books horizontally on the top shelf.
My book-browsing is interrupted by the realization that the pharmacy closes soon and if I don’t leave now I’ll fail to accomplish the actual task I set out to do. I hurriedly grab and pay for two of the used books I’ve had my eye on: Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Spring and Poetry 180, an anthology of contemporary poems.
On Tuesday morning I remember that, because Thomas is a student, we have a free subscription to The New York Times. I browse their website and come across this Letter of Recommendation that suggests you read the same poem every day for a month. While not a novel idea, I loved the author’s intention and practice behind it: “I always read my selected poem aloud, to hear the rhythm, and I like to read it first thing in the morning. Reading the poem at dawn, with my coffee, is a kind of meditation. And rereading the same poem forces me to slow down, to hone my observations.”
Over the past few months I’ve strayed further from starting my mornings in a meditative way. I used wake up and read or write; now, I immediately open my laptop to start work, or spend too long on Twitter catching up on the latest apocalyptic news. This letter feels timely – especially since I’d just bought a poetry anthology a few days prior. I resolve to start my next few mornings by reading a poem.
On Wednesday morning I wake up and open the anthology to the first poem, Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry.”
I’ve read it before – shout-out to my favorite high-school English teacher who introduced me to some amazing poems – but poetry will always be better when chosen rather than assigned. In the words of Billy Collins himself: “High school is the place where poetry goes to die.” (I might be one of the few who gained a greater appreciation for poetry in an academic context. To all the high school teachers: don’t give up hope!)
I will spare everyone my commentary on the poem (which would also be ironic given its content) but here are two of my favorite Billy Collins verses I want to share in the hopes others enjoy them as much as I do:
“But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her, barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.”
“And I should mention the light which falls through the big windows this time of day italicizing everything it touches…”
When I was younger I thought of gifts only as things that were exchanged on holidays and birthdays: toys, money, anything that could be bought or sold but that I received “for free.”
Now, when I think of gifts, what comes to mind are the less tangible things: time, thought, effort. The things that can’t be purchased in a store, or that can’t be quantified, or that people might not even know they’re giving to you. I have also come to think of gifts not as things that you receive on Christmas – or other times when people might expect to give and receive gifts – but as the things that arrive when you least expect it.
But I also believe there is truth in the common wisdom that you have to be open to receiving gifts; that you have to adopt a certain mindset that allows you to be receptive to, and aware of, the gifts you may be being given. This article in particular, I thought, summed up well my experience with gift-giving and gift-receiving:
“No one ever taught me how to receive. Not a compliment; I am a master at countering any comment with insight about all my faults. Not a gift; I immediately feel the need to give something in return, preferably bigger. Not a kindness; I wave people away from helping me in a grocery line, no matter that I am dropping bread as I speak.
How could I have gone through so much life and have no experience with such a fundamental act as the ability to receive?
As I begin to examine this, I realize for me receiving involves vulnerability. When I give, I feel in charge. When I receive, I feel less.
Give feels like an action word; receive feels like something passive. Yet I can see how mistaken I am. Giving and receiving are yin and yang, the equivalent of the infinity symbol—looping back and forth, neither side larger than the other, both integral to the larger whole.
But I am becoming more open to receiving gifts: a few weeks ago I wrote about the gift of free lemons I found on the sidewalk, and just yesterday I experienced a similar moment on my walk around the neighborhood. I came across a plum tree that I only noticed because the over-ripen fruit that had fallen from its branches made splashes of bright reds and purples on the road. I looked up and saw, camouflaged in the tree’s purpley-red leaves, a few small, cherry-sized plum fruits that remained clinging to its branches. I reached up and picked two of the fruits and was shocked to discover their sweetness upon putting them in my mouth.
As I sucked the juices from the plum, rolling the pit around in my mouth once its flesh was gone, I noticed how I savored its flavor: first full and sweet as I bit into the skin, then a bit of sour as I reached a piece of its unripened flesh.
I noticed how my experience of eating this fruit – that I had received as an unexpected gift – was so different from how I might have eaten a plum that I purchased at the grocery store. Something about the way I had come across the plum – as a gift from nature, rather than a store-bought object – fundamentally changed how I interacted with it.
I think of a book I read recently (thanks, Dana, for the recommendation!) called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. In it, its author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, discusses nature through the lens of both modern science and indigenous wisdom. When I get home from my encounter with the plum tree I go to my bookshelf and find the passages from her book that I’d highlighted:
Perhaps it was because I’d read this book that I had this momentary awareness of my relationship to the plum, and I’m grateful for it. And I think about how, if we truly receive and appreciate nature’s gifts, we also cultivate a relationship with nature that is inherent with respect, gratitude, and reciprocity – in essence, the one native people have always had. It’s the same notion that’s described in the blog article: when we receive a gift, we are allowing ourselves to partake in a cycle that relies on both giving and receiving, and that both parts of the process are made more full as a result.
I didn’t go for any long bike rides or runs; instead, I went for short walks and took naps. I read an entire book. No, wait – two books. I made a playlist called “chill out maddy” and listened to it for a few hours. I meditated. I painted:
Suffice it to say I was disappointed when I woke up at 4:13am this Monday morning with painful stomach cramps (diagnosed thus far as anxiety-related).
I’m not here to complain, though. I did have a relaxing weekend. I basked in the hot sun (but not in the red flag warnings reminding us that another fire season is on our heels). I made a picnic for me and Thomas which we enjoyed with a fancy bottle of rosé we purchased a few weeks ago in Mendocino as the sun set on Saturday night. I called my mom and spoke with some friends. My life is good; I am blessed in many ways.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I love California. I spend a lot of time thinking about that, actually. I browsed thrift store clothing racks in Oakland and imagined myself as a fashionable woman who put thought and intention into each of her outfits. I rolled my eyes at the obscenely long lines outside of “trendy” East Bay bakeries. I watched the first five minutes of four different Netflix shows.
I would also like to share the possibly hot take (given its Goodreads rating of 4.31) that I did not enjoy The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The premise of the book – a girl named Addie makes a pact with the devil that means she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by everyone – was too obvious of a metaphor for me. Passages and quotes that clearly resonated with many readers (e.g., “Do you think a life has any value if one doesn’t leave some mark upon the world?”) felt…basic and silly. Maybe I’m too cynical but I found myself rolling my eyes frequently as I kept being hit over the head with thinly-veiled metaphors about the meaning of life.
(I did, however, enjoy The Incendiaries, probably because I have a fascination for cults and enjoy mysterious characters.)
As I’ve now successfully wasted these pre-sunrise hours sharing my ramblings, I want to wish each and every one of you a joyous Monday. Since I am now a self-proclaimed “breakfast person,” I am going to make myself some breakfast. And by “make breakfast,” I mean I am going to microwave one of the frozen breakfast sandwiches that I bought in bulk from Safeway. Please comment below with your favorite breakfast and/or a book that I can read so I don’t have to rely on (disappointingly incorrect) Goodreads reviews.
I was drafting a new post this morning (related to mental health, actually) but I will save that for another time as I want to share this short note instead:
I heard earlier today of another death of someone I knew by suicide. I hope it goes without saying at this point, but if anyone ever wants to talk or needs help getting help I’m always around. I have been open about my struggles in the past in the hope that it makes others more comfortable in coming to me if they need someone safe and non-judgmental to talk to.
Things like this will never not hit me so incredibly hard. You are loved.
“To The Young Who Want To Die” by Gwendolyn Brooks: