The world is a beautiful place

I first read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry in AP Literature my senior year of high school. I can’t remember which of his poems we read (was it “Sometime During Eternity“? “Constantly Risking Absurdity“?); since then I’ve read his poems so many times that most of the words seem familiar.

When I moved to San Francisco I started seeing a therapist whose office was in North Beach. Every week after our session I would walk from her office to City Lights Bookstore and spend as long as I could among its shelves before walking the next few blocks to my office downtown. That was always a jarring transition: from the quiet of therapy and a bookstore to the noisy, crowded office.

For Christmas two years ago my mom got me a copy of Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems. I didn’t remember telling her about any of his poems that I loved, or all the hours I’d spent kneeling by the shelves in the cramped basement of City Lights.

I took the book with me down to Ocean Beach one day and read my favorite of his poems, “The world is a beautiful place,” by the water. It begins:

And then, later:

I read of Ferlinghetti’s death in between meetings yesterday afternoon, during a five minute break in which I was scrolling through Twitter.

In the evening, after work, I took the book of his poems and went out for a walk. I looked at everything and smelled the flowers.

Eating Disorders and Privilege

Before I begin: I have hours of thoughts on this topic beyond what I’ve shared below so…I would love to talk more with anyone who is interested. Please message me if you want to talk; it can be as general or as personal as you wish.

A few other prefacing notes/disclaimers:
The podcast I talk about in this post is eating disorder-themed, but its messages are universal and I imagine anyone who has struggled with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions will resonate with them. While I consider myself recovered from my eating disorder, my eating disorder was nothing more than a manifestation of certain harmful beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. I have been in therapy for years and am still working to address the “bigger issues” and foundational beliefs that may no longer result in disordered eating but present themselves in other ways.

I spend so much time struggling to figure out how I fit in in the world: where to take up space and where to make room for others; when to listen and when to speak up; how to find purpose, and how to act in a way that spreads love and compassion rather than violence and hate.

I listened to a podcast last month and – I never thought I’d say this about a podcast – it changed the way I view myself and the world.

In working to find my purpose I look for the intersection of “things I know about” and “things I care about.” So when this podcast explained the relationship between something I know about (white privilege and white supremacy) and something I care about (eating disorders and social justice) I felt compelled to share my experience. I hope that, in reading this, I give you at least one of four things: 1) knowledge to take with you, 2) a framework for your own experience if this resonates with you, 3) a place for contemplation and discussion about how we can better the world going forward, 4) an affirmation that the work you are doing on yourself (whether it be from a place of privilege or from a place of oppression) is important and brave.

The podcast begins with the interviewee, Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, CEDSS, highlighting that the purpose of the conversation is not to center it around privileged white people, but rather to acknowledge the ways in which we are implicitly taught racism and the importance of breaking from this model so that we can bring justice and equity to those who are oppressed. She then goes on to describe my personal experience in an eerily accurate way (picture me listening to this podcast with my mouth open, wondering if my therapist had secretly been disclosing what I have shared with her in our sessions). She says:

“Over the years of working with many quite privileged white teenagers, I’ve discovered that underneath their eating disorder and the ways that their self care is disrupted, there is often a terrible guilt and self loathing. And when we explore more deeply, they have so many conflicts about the excesses they enjoy, the privilege, the money, the education, the lessons, the training, all of the freedoms they enjoy, while they are really sensitive and in touch with the suffering in the world. So these are women who are attuned and sensitive and who care about the world and who can’t reconcile their own privilege.”

I mean…ok…wow. If there’s a word that comes up more than all others in my journals (except “grateful” of course) it’s “guilt.” I’ve tried to move beyond the phrase “I hate myself” but that was certainly a staple in my high school journals. But other than knowing I am a “sensitive” person, I had never been able to make sense of why I hated myself so much and why I have never been able to shake the guilt and shame. Scott goes on to present the answer in the form of a metaphor perfectly apt for someone who spent their whole childhood playing sports: children’s soccer.

“We win and we get more. We win because we are extra good, extra special, which is … training our kids to numb themselves against the loser, and teach us this competitive model of self-worth that is inherently problematic and fragile because we have to always be above average in order to be eligible for our privilege.

So these kids, as I did myself, produce a drive to be “more competitive, more supreme, more perfect, in order to make sense of the fact that things are really unequal and we can see that they are.” As I listened I started to understand how my perfectionism and competitiveness (both traits which lent themselves perfectly to an eating disorder) have been ways of trying to reconcile the inequality I saw with the privilege that I had. It was this constant desire to have “earned” the privilege, to fight against the idea that there was something inherently bad about me, to – in Scott’s words – “balance the equation, or not take too much.” And, more importantly, I saw how this idea itself – that I always had to be above average; this competitive model of self-worth – is white supremacy. We take the parts ourselves that we hate and we project them on to others. Racism quite literally developed as a result of white people afraid of being less worthy than other white people and projecting that violence and hate onto black and brown bodies. (Quick note: you might be reading this and think to yourself, “Sounds like capitalism!” which…yes…but that is for another time.)

Everything Scott talked about felt like holding a mirror up to myself. And it became perfectly clear to me why I developed an eating disorder (and anxiety, depression, etc.): “Many times people with eating disorders are just the most obedient to what we’ve been taught, which is that we must always be special and supreme and apart from ‘those people.'”

Growing up, I don’t think I understood who “those people” were. In fact, in my community, there were so few minorities that the only people to whom I ever compared myself were other privileged white people! But the fact remains that I had internalized this cultural and societal message that I had to get rid of the “bad” parts of myself, the parts that I didn’t want, the parts that didn’t make me eligible for my privilege. The same parts that white people have tried to get rid of for centuries and have instead projected onto black and brown people.

And therein, of course, lies the biggest impact of all of this: “people who are in black and brown bodies are dealing with a tremendous amount of negative projection and violence. It’s a violent idea, to take what I don’t like about myself and push it on to your body, and to destroy you to get rid of that part. It causes this toxic violence to be internalized into their bodies, and they have to endlessly shovel this anger and criticism out of their own bodies.”

I return to an interview with Toni Morrison who (of course) puts it perfectly: “Despite (and because of) its lofty delusions, white supremacy makes things worse for everyone, white people very much included. It succeeds because the belief in “whiteness” as a category of specialness covers up deep-seated insecurity and doubt.”

White supremacy is hurting us all and that applies explicitly to mental health. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that rates of anxiety and depression continue to grow, do you?

But where does that leave us? Where does that leave me in my quest to heal myself so that I can heal others?

For white people, Scott says this: “Learn to be brave. Learn to turn towards [your] fears and turn towards that which we don’t want, and integrate it, in the same way you would integrate trauma. It’s a trauma to constantly be cutting ourselves off with scissors [trying to remove parts of ourselves we don’t like]. So the work is similar: … integrating how to inhabit our bodies with all of our parts … and for people of color, it’s having the support and protection to be free of those projections. For white people it’s about being brave…and [facing] the parts of ourself that we fear…rather than projecting them.”

A big part of my work, then, is to be brave and to practice self-compassion rather than self-loathing. It is to accept and integrate all the parts I fear or dislike in myself rather than try to push them away, or worse, project them on others. It is a radical act to accept myself as I am. It is a radical act to accept and to love my body. And it’s only when I stop being paralyzed by self-loathing that I am motivated to act, to change, and to have time and energy to dedicate to helping others.

Thanks for reading and listening. Again, please reach out if you want to talk.

Link to the podcast on Spotify here:

I Still Don’t Know How To Change a Tubeless Tire

When I bought my gravel bike it came equipped with “tubeless” tires. Even though I had ridden plenty of miles by that point, I had no idea what tubeless tires were. (For the non-cyclists reading this post, knowing what tubeless tires are is irrelevant to the rest of the story.) So, when I needed to have my tire changed earlier this week, of course I was unfamiliar with how to do it. I spent a while watching instructional YouTube videos and started to grasp the basic concepts, but because it was my first time and I didn’t have the right equipment, I took my bike to the shop to get the new tire put on properly.

I have always been intimidated by other cyclists and insecure about how little I know about bikes in comparison. The first time I changed a flat tire by myself it took me almost three hours (to be fair, I later learned that my tubes were particularly difficult to remove from my tire). I have spent many hours sitting on the floor rewinding instructional YouTube videos on my laptop in futile attempts to adjust parts of my bike.

When I arrived at the shop and told the bike mechanic I needed help mounting my new tire he rolled his eyes. “Sure. What kind of tape do you want?” he asked patronizingly. When he thought I was out of earshot I heard him say to his colleague, “Ha, she didn’t even know what kind of tape she wanted.”

I meekly watched as he changed the tire; I was eager to learn so that I could do it myself next time, but all I could think about was how shameful and stupid I felt. I thought back to a time in college when I had asked a question in a grad-level math class and some PhD dude in the front row turned around with an “are you serious?” look on his face, making sure I knew he had turned around just to see who could have asked such a stupid question.

I didn’t ask questions in math lectures after that. My grades suffered but I convinced myself it was better to be stupid in secret than risk being so in public.

Looking back on the math class and my experience at the bike shop I am filled with anger and frustration both at myself and at those men. Why hadn’t I been secure enough to be OK with the fact that I didn’t know everything? Why hadn’t I been strong enough to keep showing up and asking questions even when I felt judged by others? Why are there people who need to put others down in order to feel superior? How many people have been dissuaded – myself included – from an interest or passion because others made them feel they weren’t worthy of it?

On the other hand, I find myself filled with gratitude for the many people who have not made me feel that way: the cyclists I have met (you know who you are!) who are patient with me when I ask a question to which I should already know the answer, the TA who never rolled her eyes when I showed up week after week to her Office Hours, the boss who encouraged me to make mistakes and let my voice be heard. If it hadn’t been for those people I probably would have stopped cycling a long time ago or decided not to pursue the math degree with which I graduated.

How can I be a person who never makes another feel inadequate? How can I be open and welcoming and non-judgmental of other “beginners” when I am the “expert”? How can I encourage others rather than tear them down? We all have to start somewhere.

Last night I sat reading on the couch next to Thomas. I came across a passage in my book that described a disease with which I was unfamiliar; I asked him how it operated and what the symptoms were. Apparently these were answers I should have known because, before he answered my questions, he said, “Are you serious?”

Immediately my mind went to, “Why did you ask that, you should have just Googled it and avoided yourself the embarrassment.” I almost responded by saying, “No, nevermind, I misread the passage.” But – in a moment of bravery and resilience sparked by my earlier reflections – I said, “Yes, I’m serious. I don’t know and I asked so that, in the future, I can know.”

One small step for Maddy…one giant step for refusing to perpetuate the cycle of shame!!!!!

P.S. The best part of my bike shop anecdote is that, as I was biking home from the shop with my new tire…it deflated. Turns out Mr. Condescending had not mounted it properly and I had to get it redone by someone else.

A Lil Holiday Gratitude

I’m a sucker for gratitude. Some of you probably want to vomit every time you see yet another “how to practice gratitude” infographic but developing a gratitude practice over these past ~5 years has undoubtedly had a positive impact on my life, and so I will continue to preach the gratitude gospel. (Ooooooh, I like that: “gratitude gospel.” Nice lil alliteration for ya.)

As someone who is prone to picking myself apart, beating myself up, and focusing on my flaws, a gratitude practice provides an amazing respite from thinking about myself all the time and all the ways I am wrong or bad or stupid or worthless.

Before I get too on-my-soapbox about gratitude and how it’s changed my life for the better, I want to share the gratitude prompts I responded to in my journal this morning. Because it’s the holiday season and things are kind of hard I’ve been spending extra time in the morning on my practice. (Fuck- I hate the word “practice.” It makes it sound like a freakin’ chore or like some fancy-ass routine when really it’s just taking 30 seconds to acknowledge some good shit in your life…I don’t wanna be the “practice” person…like, I don’t even do yoga…)

A Person I’m Glad to Have in My Life
The best part about this prompt is that I could answer it with one of 30+ people because I am forever blessed with the most amazing friends and family. Hella gratitude!!!!!! But for the sake of being more specific today I’m going to answer with Thomas because I had an extra moment of gratitude for him last night. I was listening to a podcast on which two women (probably about my age) were discussing how many guys they had been on dates with who told them they were “too much,” or who had ended the relationship because the woman’s aspirations for herself and her career were “unattractive.” I’ve heard that sentiment expressed many times in many places: that a woman is told she is “too much” and she then carries that insecurity around with her eternally, or that a woman has diminished herself to appease a man. In listening to these girls talk about their personal experiences with men like this I thought to myself, “How lucky am I to have a partner who has never made me feel that way.” Thomas supports me in any dream I have for myself and, if anything, he prefers when I’m *loud* because – his words, not mine – “someone has to keep the conversation going.” Anyway, I’m thankful I found a partner who doesn’t make me feel like I need to diminish myself because I’ve felt that before and it sucks. And my wish for all women (and everyone else, really) is that they surround themselves with people who never make them feel that they need to be different.

A Future Event I’m Excited For
Visiting Leslie in London. This is a totally nebulous event, by the way – there are no plane tickets booked or dates decided (for obvious reasons) but it makes me happy to think about a time in the hopefully near future in which we are in London together. Activities include: jogging around various London parks, drinking wine, watching dumb TV shows on the couch, admiring flowers, eating my “favourite” white chocolate Milky buttons, drinking coffee, watching sunrises and sunsets.

Some Positive News I Received Recently
That I will get to lead another support group in the new year for those in recovery from eating disorders! (For the past few years I’ve led community support groups for individuals who can’t otherwise afford treatment, and I was selected to lead more groups in the coming year! Woo!)

A Memory That Makes Me Smile
I have been thinking a lot about previous Christmases and how lucky I’ve been to spend so many of them with family and in amazing places. This year Thomas and I are celebrating in Berkeley and of course we both miss our families (stay tuned for how much of an eight-person meal the two of us can eat) but instead of being sad about not being able to be with them I’ve been remembering the wonderful times we were able to spend together. Two years ago we spent Christmas with Thomas’ extended family in Belgium and I have the best memories of the dinners we ate together. I remember in particular a dinner we had at his grandparent’s house and – after Grapa was extremely generous with the wine, as usual – dancing in the kitchen with Thomas’ dad, uncle, and grandparents to Dire Straits. A lot of the time I spend with his family in Belgium is marked by me feeling stupid for being unable to understand the conversations being held French (why didn’t I pay better attention in high school!!!!!) so it felt amazing to connect with everyone through music (#theuniversallanguage). I have a picture of that moment, all of our teeth stained red from the wine and cheeks flushed pink from dancing, and am grateful to have this memory to carry with me.

Rain, rain

Has everyone listened to the viral “Reply All” podcast episode “The Case of the Missing Hit”? If not, go listen to it before reading the rest of this post. “Reply All” remains the only podcast to which I regularly listen and that episode was my initiation.

I bring this up because I am currently having my own “missing hit” mystery. This morning I woke up to the sound of rain and my brain – for whatever reason – remembered a song from my childhood. I am almost positive it was a song that existed on a videotape we had at home, and that it was some sort of episode or segment from this video that we used to watch all the time. The lyrics (sung by a woman, if I remember correctly) are as follows:

“I sit and watch the rain, as it falls from the sky
And I am glad to be inside, where it is warm and dry.”

Where is this song from?!?!?!?!??!

I just spent twenty minutes googling and came up empty-handed. I don’t know that anyone outside of my family would have seen this video – I think it was relatively obscure – but I am going crazy trying to remember where the song is from. And why, every time it rains, does this song get stuck in my head?!

So yes, it’s a rainy Sunday morning in Berkeley. And for the first time in months, my daily gratitude list included “rain.”

I never understood what that (mystery) song was talking about because, when I was ten years old, all rain meant was that my soccer game, the highlight of my week, would be cancelled. It meant that I’d have to wear a big, inconvenient raincoat to school and worry about the homework and paper bag lunch in my backpack getting wet (and no one likes a wet cheese sandwich).

But now, ~as an adult~, I have more of an appreciate for rain. Or maybe it has nothing to do with being an adult – though I no longer have to worry about my sports games getting cancelled – and more to do with being able to work from home. Because I have nowhere to be, including at an office, I don’t have to deal with the chaos of adjusting my entire daily schedule to accommodate the weather. I am such a creature of habit and routine that rain in California upends my entire day (should I brave my bike commute in the rain? Or should I test the unreliable waters of the bus? Will I have time to shower when I get to work if I’m wet? etc. etc.).

This morning I can bask in the sound and smell and sight of rain because I have nowhere else to be but at home. Better yet, I can read poetry in bed as I watch and listen to the rain fall. And better still, I can read poetry in bed about the rain and have a meta-rain-poetry experience. Raymond Carver:

Did you know that Raymond Carver went to Chico State (I am now reading a short biography of Raymond Carver)?

Thomas R. Edwards describes Carver’s fictional world as a place where “people worry about whether their old cars will start, where unemployment or personal bankruptcy are present dangers, where a good time consists of smoking pot with the neighbors, with a little cream soda and M&M’s on the side … Carver’s characters are waitresses, mechanics, postmen, high school teachers, factory workers, door-to-door salesmen. [Their surroundings are] not for them a still unspoiled scenic wonderland, but a place where making a living is as hard, and the texture of life as drab, for those without money, as anywhere else.”

So really what I am hearing is that Carver is the poet equivalent of Bruce Springsteen. They both write about – and in many ways, to – the working class, whose hopes and dreams are often obscured by the day-to-day realities of work and hardship.

While Bruce explores these themes in a more lyrical and verbose fashion, Carver tends toward minimalism: simple, few words. Yet they often tell the same story of a working class person or family and, in the words of critic Geoffrey Wolff in his New York Times Book Review on Carver’s poems, “almost all of them hold a promise of mayhem of some final, awful breaking from confines, and breaking through to liberty.”

If that isn’t a good thematic summation of “Born to Run,” I don’t know what is.

The question then becomes: why am I so drawn to these stories in art? I can’t pretend to relate to the experience of factory workers or small-town laborers. I think it’s because I love the reminder that so much of the human experience is universal; that, even though I don’t work 9-5 at a factory like a Springsteen character, I struggle with the same wants for freedom and love and fullness of life, and the same fears of loneliness and broken promises and unfulfilled dreams.

“It’s a town full of losers and I’m pullin’ out of here to win.”

I Don’t Always Cry…

…but when I do, it’s because I am out on a walk and the sun is setting on a cool fall evening and I am listening to David Gray and am overwhelmed by the beauty of the golden light caught in the tops of the trees, and the sadness hanging in the dry air, and the love of the father holding his son’s hand as they cross the street, and the calm of the lone pink rose on a bush on someone’s lawn, and the grace of the setting sun disappearing behind the houses.

Sometimes I don’t know what else to do with myself besides go for a walk. When my heart gets so full and heavy that it feels like it might burst and nothing makes sense but at the same time everything becomes so simple.

Is it weird that I am sharing a picture of myself crying? Probably. But unfortunately my writing isn’t good enough to capture all that emotion and so we return to the old adage: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” (A picture might be worth 2,000 words if you’re a bad writer, and only 500 if you’re a good one. That would be a funny metric by which to judge authors: how many of their words is a picture worth?)

I came home and ate pumpkin curry and rice and finished reading Louise Edrich’s The Night Watchman while Thomas watched Sunday Night Football.

“The sun was low in the sky, casting slant regal light. As they plodded along, the golden radiance intensified until it seemed to emanate from every feature of the land. Trees, brush, snow, hills. She couldn’t stop looking. The road led past frozen sloughs that bristled with scorched reeds. Clutches of red willow burned. The fans and whips of branches glowed, alive. Winter clouds formed patterns against the fierce gray sky. Scales, looped ropes, the bones of fish. The world was tender with significance.”

Louise Edrich, The Night Watchman

I swear…this has happened multiple times now…I’ll be reading something that reflects almost exactly a thought or feeling I recently had. The above passage from The Night Watchman, for example, is a beautiful depiction of the way I felt earlier this evening. I am also confronted with the difference in ability between myself and a professional author because, in an ideal world, I would have crafted the sentence “The world was tender with significance” to describe my evening walk, but instead I shared a stupid meme and a picture of myself crying. Nice!

Anyway. I’m sure many similar sentiments have been described, but I’m reminded of a quote from author and philosopher Alain de Botton: “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us.” I think it goes both ways, though: we can enjoy a book because we are reading it “at the right moment,” but also we can create new significance or meaning from a book that might not have seemed relevant at the outset. Does that make any sense?

It’s getting late; I will post this tomorrow morning after a cup of coffee and a good laugh at my sorry attempts at philosophizing.

An Odd Moment of Beauty

Thoughts at the end of a busy Wednesday:

  • I love California. So much. I’ve lived here seven years now and still have that thought almost once a day. The only problem with California is that my twin sister and best friend lives 5,351 miles and an eight hour time difference away. This is a real bummer, especially when at 5pm Pacific Time I discover a hilarious TikTok that I have to share with Leslie and she won’t be awake for another few hours. I cannot stop laughing at this one in particular.

  • My obsessive-organizing method of coping (with the pandemic? with general anxiety? who knows at this point) translated today into sorting through our kitchen cabinets and re-shelving everything. The big win was moving our spices from a cluttered mess in a bottom cabinet to this beautiful display in a drawer:
(Yes, I know we have duplicate spices.)

The spice reorganization initiative ended up being a double win in that it inspired me to cook a curry for dinner. It came out pretty well, if I do say so myself:

I also, while making the curry, came to the realization that peeling potatoes is extremely meditative. Because I am awful at sitting still, most of my “meditation” – or, more accurately, mindfulness practice – happens when I’m doing something else: cleaning, walking, biking, peeling potatoes. (That being said: I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I peel potatoes often; I’m generally extremely lazy and buy frozen, pre-chopped vegetables.)

  • I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I absolutely loved. It wasn’t so much an “I-couldn’t-put-it-down” type of book as it was a book that made me feel better about life. I – which should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog – have always been plagued by questions about “the meaning of life,” “what the point is of it all,” etc. The book simultaneously explores these questions and recognizes them as absurd; it validates my tendency to ask them while at the same time reassuring me they don’t need to be answered in order to live a full life. A few of my favorite quotes:
    • “When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
    • “I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never.”
    • “There’s so much humanity in a love of trees, so much nostalgia for our first sense of wonder, so much power in just feeling our own insignificance when we are surrounded by nature…yes, that’s it: just thinking about trees and their indifferent majesty and our love for them teaches us how ridiculous we are – vile parasites squirming on the surface of the earth – and at the same time how deserving of life we can be, when we can honor this beauty that owes us nothing.”
    • “I have read so many books. And yet, like most Autodidacts, I am never quite sure of what I have gained from them. There are days when I feel I have been able to grasp all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches suddenly spring out of no where, weaving together all the disparate strands of my reading. And then suddenly the meaning escapes, the essence evaporates and no matter how often I reread the same lines they seem to flee ever further with each subsequent reading and I see myself as some mad old fool who thinks her stomach is full because she’s been reading the menu.”
  • One of my favorite things in the whole, whole world is when I am listening to a live performance of a song and the artist forgets his own lyrics or starts singing the wrong verse, and the audience helps them out. Earlier today I was listening to a live version of Bruce’s “Spirit in the Night” in which he forgets the lyrics to a verse (~3:45). It’s something about the way he laughs at himself and keeps going, the whole crowd cheering him on, that makes me break out into a huge grin every time. I guess it’s a reminder that even Bruce is human.

  • I am now retroactively titling this blog post “An Odd Moment of Beauty” in homage to the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog and its manifestation in the simple experience of listening to a Springsteen song.

Pizza Ponderings

I accidentally ordered buffalo chicken on my pizza this evening instead of barbecue chicken which, when eaten, is the equivalent of biting into a chocolate that you think is filled with caramel but is actually filled with raspberry, or eating a cookie that you think is chocolate chip but turns out to be oatmeal raisin. Disappointment across the board.

Aside from the chicken incident, the pizza tasted delicious, even more so because it marked the end of a long work week. There are few better feelings than sitting on the couch and eating pizza knowing you have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow. Similarly: getting into bed and not having to set an alarm.

Today was the culmination of months of work on a product our team has been building. When I heard we had “signed off” on the product this afternoon I was overwhelmed with relief. You know the feeling you get when you finish a school paper and then close out of the 30 research tabs you had open on your web browser? It felt like that. This evening I sat on the couch and opened the Notes app on my computer where I’d taken pages and pages of meeting notes about the project, jotted down unanswered questions, and listed out “action items” and “follow-ups.” I thought back to a few months ago when the project felt too enormous and complicated to tackle and every meeting seemed to end in more questions than answers…and yet, here we are, somehow having finished it. Another reminder (to myself, mostly) that things get done one day at a time, one answered question at a time, one small decision or task at a time.

I’m feeling extra grateful for Thomas this week, not because he’s done anything different than usual, but because of that. Because together we got through yet another long pandemic week and I know my mental health would be in a much worse place if it weren’t for him. No, wait – I take that back, he did do something different than usual this week: he did the dishes last night. Unprompted. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

On a related note: I’m baffled by how many dishes we go through each day now that we’re eating all of our meals at home. It feels like I’m doing a full sink’s worth of dishes multiple times a day, and we are going through dishwasher detergent like nobody’s business. I’m hoping – and this might just be my optimistic, make-myself-feel-better-about-all-the-dishes take – that our increase in dishes has meant a decrease in plastic packaging. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of our packaging consumption, which also became increasingly evident during the pandemic as we generated way too much recycling each week. It’s easier to forget all of the plastic-packaged salads and sandwiches I consumed at the office when the waste didn’t pile up in my own recycling.

Speaking of waste: Simplify the Holidays is a great resource I will be using to guide my celebrations and gift-giving this holiday season. I also loved this video:

Both Thomas and I have been busy with work lately so the quality time we spend together is usually an hour (two if we’re lucky) in the evening. My favorite nights are those on which we eat dinner together and then, just before bed, watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show. Over the past month, however, we’ve managed to watch every historical episode of GBBS and thus were in need of a new series to watch. After increasing pressure from my dad (he would text me once a day asking if we’d started watching yet), we decided on The Queen’s Gambit. “What could go wrong?” I thought. “Thomas is interested in chess and I love a good strong and complicated female character!”

What ended up happening, however, was that his inner chess nerd resurfaced (apparently he played competitively in high school???) and we had to pause the show every time the chess board was shown on screen so that he could analyze it. Exhibit A:

A few days ago I woke up to pee in the middle of the night and rolled over to find Thomas playing chess on his phone. I’m not sure he slept this week. Thanks a lot for the recommendation, Dad.

Pop Tv Thank You GIF by Schitt's Creek

Aside from finishing The Queen’s Gambit this week, I read Girl, Woman, Other. I enjoyed it, in particular the way the author portrays the changing face of feminism and what it means to be a woman through generations. It made me reflect both upon the progress we’re making in certain realms (from “white” feminism to intersectional feminism, for example), as well as how much perspectives are nuanced and a product of our context and environment. It made me think about the relationship between the past, the present, and the future, and how much each one should factor into our actions and experience. There were many passages and quotes that left me confused about how I felt or what I believed, which I appreciated – and in many ways see as the point of reading – buuuuuut I didn’t have anyone to discuss them with! So, if you’ve read the book, let me know! Some examples:

“she didn’t tell them she’d taken her father for granted and carried her blinkered, self-righteous perspective of him from childhood through to his death, when in fact he’d done nothing wrong except fail to live up to her feminist expectations of him.”

“I tell Mum she married a patriarch
Look at it this way, Amma, she says, your father was born male in Ghana in the 1920s whereas you were born female in London in the 1960s
And your point is?
You really can’t expect him to ‘get you’, as you put it
I let her know she’s an apologist for the patriarchy and complicit in a system that oppresses all women
She says human beings are complex
I tell her not patronize me”

“What matters most to me, is that I know how I feel, and the rest of the world might catch up one day, even if it’ll be a quiet revolution over longer than my lifetime, if it happens at all.”

“she runs for her life because to slip up is to begin descending the slippery slope to giving in to failure, to inertia, to feeling sorry for herself about that moment in her life which still creeps to the front of her memory when she least expects it”

There were also plenty of passages and quotes that made me think, “wow. yes” such as:

“ageing is nothing to be ashamed of especially when the entire human race is in it together”

“be a person with knowledge not just opinions”

“his bredren and sistren could damned well speak up for themselves why should he carry the burden of representation when it will only hold him back? white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race”

“I don’t want you to give in, I want you to change, to understand my reasoning at a deeper level and accept it as the truth.”

“We should celebrate that many more women are reconfiguring feminism and that grassroots activism is spreading like wildfire and millions of women are waking up to the possibility of taking ownership of our world as fully-entitled human beings
How’s can we argue with that?”

ANYWAY. If you have read the book – or if these quotes intrigue you enough to read it- I would love to discuss. In the meantime, I will be selecting a new book to read while Thomas plays online chess.