Feel-Better Friday, Part 3

I’m confused as to how this work week was only four days because it seems to have lasted ages…? In addition to being busy at work my back has been acting up, making it difficult to sleep or move around without pain. As a result (and compounded by the fact I’m on my period, wtf Mother Nature) I’ve been exhausted, slightly sad, and unable to go on the rides/runs/hikes that often bring me joy.

All of that’s to say: I need me some “Feel-Better Friday”! Let’s get to it.

To start, I thought I’d share a cartoon from one of my favorite Twitter cartoonists:

Half of the time I don’t really understand what his cartoons mean, but they make me laugh anyway.

Next, a video of a #gooddog I saw on my walk to work this morning (sorry for the weird video formats, I had to use a third-party tool to upload them):

…which then reminded me of another video I took on my way to work a few months back. May we all aspire to this level of commuting efficiency:

I’m also reminded of a man I saw on a my neighborhood walk earlier this week who was carrying a large bag of cleaning supplies and a vacuum (presumably on his way to a job). He was holding the bag in one hand and had the vacuum nozzle expertly slung over his shoulder, so that in the other hand he could hold his iPhone. I passed him as he was FaceTiming his young daughter and I overheard him say, “I love you so much.” I’m inspired by all the hardworking people supporting their families each and every day.

Speaking of inspiration – I’m more uninspired than usual this week (again, #thanksalot period-induced exhaustion and anxiety) and struggling to find other “Feel-Better”s to share.

The hashtag #FridayVibes happens to be currently trending on Twitter, which I thought would help inspire some content but in reality was just a bunch of selfies. In the spirit of the #FridayVibes selfie trend, however, I thought I’d share a pic of my current “Friday Vibe”:

Live from the office, it’s me, looking tired! If you zoom in you can even see pimples 🙂

To finish up, I’ll draw from another source of content: the book I’m currently reading, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant. If you don’t follow its author, Joel Golby, on Twitter yet, you should probably do so. Here are two of my favorite (humorous, personally relatable) passages from the book thus far:

(The author is British. I enjoy this quote in particular because Leslie frequently mentions how she wishes she could come back to the United States not to visit me, of course, but for the snacks.)
@my own mom.

That’s all for this week, folks… I managed to cheer myself up so I hope this post had the same effect on some of you!

A New Dress (and Something More)

How do we know which of our words and actions – however small – will be the ones that stick with someone else? The ones they’ll remember and hold on to, despite that never being our intention or expectation?

That’s a somewhat rhetorical question, since the common advice is to live your life with an awareness that any small word or action could have a bigger impact on others than you might expect. But, of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when we aren’t aware of the impacts – both positive and negative – of our actions. Sometimes we only discover the impact they’ve had on others in hindsight. Sometimes we may never know.

But the rhetoric around “being aware of the impact your words and actions have on others” is more often applied to unintended negative effects on another than to positive ones. For example: an offhand criticism of another’s physical appearance may drastically impact their mental and physical health for years to come. Hopefully that’s an idea most of us have come to appreciate, and adjusted our behavior accordingly.

Today, however, I’m reflecting on times when someone’s actions have a far more positive impact than they may realize. When someone says or does something that makes me feel good or appreciated, I like to let them know. Gratitude and appreciation are emotions that, like many other positive emotions, I’ve found only to be amplified when shared with others. And hey, if I’ve made someone else happy, it feels good to know!

Which is why, sometime last month, I sent my dad a text to let him know I was wearing a dress he’d bought me seven years ago (pictured below in the selfie I sent him). It was a small action, in the grand scheme of things, but one that meant more to me than he probably realized.


My dad came home on a Sunday afternoon seven years ago with a huge Macy’s bag and a massive grin on his face.

“Girls,” he said, beckoning to Leslie and I, who were sitting on the couch, “I’ve got something for you.”

(For those who haven’t had the privilege of meeting my dad, he has been known to get excited about the smallest of things, so Leslie and I had no way of knowing if this surprise would be exciting for us or something we’d mostly appreciate for the joy it was giving our father.)

“I went to Macy’s to get myself some new work pants since mine were in need of an upgrade,” he said, rummaging through the massive paper bag, “and while I was there, I noticed these on display that I thought might be good for when you start your summer internships.”

He pulled out two dresses, one dark purple and the other teal blue. “I got you this one, Mads,” he said, handing me the blue one, “and this one for you, Les,” handing the other to my sister. “They are very different, but I chose them because I think they’ll flatter you both and suit your individual styles.”

(His interpretation of our “individual styles” is something I would love to understand, given that most of the clothes he wears are ones that my mom has purchased for him, but that’s for another time. And, for what it’s worth, the dress turned out to be extremely flattering; I get compliments every time I wear it.)

Aside from the fact he’d gotten us new work dresses (it was item of clothing I desperately needed, as you can imagine), it was the thought behind the action that makes me smile every time I wear that dress.


Growing up as identical twins who played the same sports, had the same friends, took the same classes, looked pretty much the same, and had otherwise similar tastes and preferences (Leslie has since taken an affinity to country music, so that statement is no longer applicable), it was rare that people recognized us as individuals. We were known as “the twins” or “LeslieAndMaddy,” and therefore consistently received similar gifts, were invited to the same parties, and included in the same group texts.

So it meant a lot to me that my dad had gone to the store and picked out two very different (in both color and style) dresses, because it implied that he’d thought of us as two separate people and, more importantly, recognized how different we were in many ways.

Since then we’ve gone on to major in different subjects at different universities, develop different friendships, and live in different cities. (It makes me laugh to realize some of my coworkers don’t even know I have an identical twin.) But that day, seven years ago, was one of the first times I remember being acknowledged as just “Maddy.”

So thanks, Dad, for giving me more than just a dress that day, and for a reason to smile every time I wear it.

More Thoughts on Feeling Guilty

I wrote a few weeks ago about my incessant feelings of guilt and shame. In an ideal world, I’d be updating you all with the news that I’ve found a way to rid myself of these overwhelming (and, more often than not, overwhelmingly unhelpful) feelings. But, of course, my weekly therapy sessions and iterative self-improvement processes (journaling, meditating, thought-restructuring) don’t produce change overnight.

What I have done, however, is continue to explore and challenge these thoughts and feelings of guilt. I had two revelations this past week I wanted to share, especially if the struggles I described in my original post resonated with you.

First, and, ok, this wasn’t so much a “revelation” as it was a conversation with (my logical half) Thomas:

Me: I’ve been doing a lot of pro bono work [at Salesforce] recently. It’s cool because I get to work with a bunch of different nonprofits instead of just one, and it’s amazing how passionate people are about so many different causes.

Thomas: *sits there silently because he knows I’m entering full-on ramble mode, so even if he managed to get a word in edgewise I’d probably interrupt him*

Me: But it also stresses me out because I become more and more aware of causes that need attention and I can’t give to all of them. So it kind of just amplifies this guilt that I have about never doing enough. And also the guilt that I have about my privilege because people are suffering in so many ways.

Me: *continues to ramble about how guilty I feel for not doing more volunteer work, or doing something greater to help people, and how awful I feel about myself because of what I’ve been given, but haven’t “deserved”*

Thomas: Well, you could use the energy you spend tearing yourself down to raise other people up instead.

Yowzers. Get owned, Maddy.

Like I said, Thomas is my voice of logic and reason. Whenever I find myself spiraling down into a black hole of unhelpful/intrusive/negative thoughts I ask myself, “What would Thomas say about this thought?” More often than not I end up laughing because, when my thoughts are articulated – especially out loud – it becomes clear that they are generally… pretty ridiculous. Or dramatic, or illogical, etc.

In this conversation’s case, I was struck by how right he was. Of course it’s not helpful for me to waste time and energy tearing myself down. Somewhere along the line I’d convinced myself that privilege, suffering, and happiness were zero-sum games: that if I tore myself down, it would inherently raise others up. That if I self-inflicted suffering, others would feel better. That beating myself up would “motivate” me to do better and more for others.

But, of course, that’s not how the world works. Feeling additional guilt for my privilege wasn’t only not helping others, it was also leaving me paralyzed and less able to help others. And also, how did it make sense for me to want to ensure that everyone (including myself) was on the same – but lower -level, instead of wanting to raise those below me up to mine?


My second revelation came – in what had to be more than just coincidence – in the book I was reading: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. In it, Kalanithi touches upon religion’s role in his life:

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time. Not only that, but maybe the basic message of original sin isn’t ‘Feel guilty all the time.’ Maybe it is more along these lines: ‘We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.'”

!!!!!!

There’s no better feeling than being delivered a message – via a book, a song, a conversation, a scent, whatever it may be – when you need it most. (Or maybe, of course, we now hear the message because we’ve opened ourselves to receiving it.)

Yes, I could be giving more. I could be a better, more selfless, more good person. But, for the most part, so could everyone else I know. And while it might be impossible for me to stop striving for this “good” ideal, I could probably start cutting myself a little more slack.

Feel-Better Friday, Part 2

Hello, and welcome to the second edition of “Feel-Better Friday!” Thanks for joining me on this quest to end my work week on a positive note.

I would like to start by giving a quick shout-out to the receptionist at the imaging center where I got an MRI earlier this week: you are the most delightful and positive person the world has ever seen and you made my day – and what should have been a tedious doctor’s appointment – extremely pleasant. If I were to work in the service industry there would be a ten minute window of time – immediately after I’d had my morning coffee, of course – in which I’d manage to be friendly, after which I’d definitely be extremely rude and impatient. So, to all the service workers out there (I’m looking at you, Starbucks baristas and bus drivers!) who manage to remain amiable in the midst of all that human ignorance and idiocy, I salute you. I hope you get the raise you undoubtedly deserve.

What else… ah, yes, the discovery that this drink exists:

And I thought they couldn’t make chocolate milk any better. Found at the local Walgreens.

Thirdly, the incredible “Dinosaur” song, which is not only adorable and catchy but an emotional rollercoaster:

Next, this awesome sign I saw posted on the back of a truck, which was made that much awesome-r when I discovered the trunk was full of puppies (pretty sure it was owned by a guy running a dog-walking service):

All I’m saying is – if the doctor’s office receptionist dealing with angry patients all day can be kind and patient, so can we.

And lastly, I finished reading Madeline Miller’s Circe earlier this week. It had been on my “To Read” list for a while but it wasn’t until my wonderful friend bought me the book that I got around to reading it. You all were right: I should have read it sooner. I loved it. I’ve convinced Thomas to read it by selling it as a “creative retelling of familiar Greek mythology” (because he loves Greek mythology, and to be fair the book is exactly that), but really my agenda is for him to appreciate the themes of feminism, motherhood, and sexism that permeate the novel. Maybe he’ll even be able to relate the novel’s events to the plight of females in modern society! *smirking emoji*

(He admittedly does not read this blog, so I’ll let you know if he comes to appreciate female strength a little bit more after finishing the novel.)

If anyone has yet to read it, this is your cue… and we can have a virtual book club when you’re finished! I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but I loved how Miller addresses the question of mortality in the novel. As someone who struggles with the ideas of life and death (what does it all mean?! What’s the point?! We’re all going to die! Life is constant pain and struggle!) I was left feeling hopeful and grateful for the gift of life and the human experience.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Feel-Better Friday

I started watching Schitt’s Creek a few weeks ago at the recommendation of many friends and, first of all…

I was not!!!!!!! expecting it!!!!! to get so emotional!!!! For context: I finished Season 3 last night, and the Grad Night episode took it right out of me. I’ve been watching an episode per night as comic relief after stressful days, so when the characters started doing nice, genuine, heartfelt things for each other, I just… wasn’t ready.

And so, as I sit down to commence Season 4 tonight:

.

In other news:

It’s been a rough past few days, and in case it has been for you, too, here are some things that have cheered me up (aside from Schitt’s Creek, of course):

1. This new song from The 1975, which sounds exactly like most of their other songs, and for that reason is perfect.

Every time I listen to them I’m transported back to the months I spent backpacking in Australia and New Zealand, cooking pasta and drinking cans of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey & Coke in hostels, falling in love lust with wild, man-bunned men, picking weeds on a farm in Tasmania, watching summer sunsets on a deserted beach. There’s a lot to be said for music that reminds you of simpler times, when your biggest concern was trying to look cute when you passed your crush in the hallway between periods.

The band also released their 2020 North American tour dates which devastatingly do not include any locations in Northern California. How else am I supposed to relive my feelings of teen angst and swoon over Matt Healy with a bunch of other like-minded young adults?!

2. This live performance of “In Your Eyes”:

How had I never seen this before?! Luckily, I discovered this amazing live version just when I needed it most: on a Tuesday morning when I couldn’t motivate myself (even after a large coffee) to commence another banal day. This timely discovery resulted in a 7am dance party in my kitchen and an eventual motivation to get on my bike and ride to work.

3. This incredible article from OneZero that answered one of my life’s most pressing questions. It also led me down the rabbit-hole that is browsing random articles on wikiHow and scrolling through pictures on the finely curated cursed wikihow’s Twitter. Here’s a slideshow of my personal (not to mention relatable) favorites:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4. Last night’s sunset and – even better – this father in a Subaru who, with his two young children in tow, pulled over to the side of the road to take a picture of it:

IMG_7800
IMG_7804
If I ever had a spirit animal, this guy would be it.

5. This book I came across at a bookstore after work on Wednesday night:

img_7725

If I had to sum up a few of my mental health issues in a sentence, it would be something like: “I don’t have realistic or concrete goals and therefore continually set myself up for disappointment and depression.” So, when I saw this cover on display in the bookstore, it made me laugh out loud. Sometimes you just have to make fun of yourself and your problems to get through.

Lists & Small Joys

I sat on my couch last Sunday night and – as I do every Sunday night – stared at the week I’d anally planned ahead in my notebook, down to each 20 minute interval of time. If there’s one thing that assuages my anxiety (temporarily, at least) it’s writing lists and schedules. Something about seeing everything I have to do written out – instead of floating about, untamed, in my brain – makes it seem more manageable. The simple act of putting each item down on paper transforms my thought process from “OMGIhaveamillionthingstodonextweekit’sgoingtobesooverwhelminghowamIgoingtogetitalldone” to “Ok, I have lots to do, but I can tackle everything day by day, hour by hour, line by line, and it will get done.”

(That’s that only advice I’ve got, folks: a list on a piece of paper. That’s my best trick; my “life hack”; the sagacious culmination of 27 years of life experience.)

The most interesting thing to note about this list, however, is that most of the time I never reference it the following week! Just the knowledge that it’s there, sitting in my notebook in case of emergency – in case I need to consult my “master plan” – is all I need to remind myself, “Hey! You can do it! One line at a time!”

 


 

But what about the hours during those busy days, when I’m rushing from meeting to meeting and trying to send emails and dial in to calls on both ways of my commute, and all I can think to myself is, “I’m stressed” or “This stinks” or “I could really use a nap” or “I wish I were [insert something I enjoy here].”

It’s during those times, when I wish so badly I were doing something else – napping, riding my bike, playing squash, hanging out with friends, reading, hiking, eating at my favorite pizza place – that I try harder to find small moments of joy. Just because I don’t have time for “big” sources of joy (a hike, a meal with friends) doesn’t mean I can’t experience any! There are so many small joys to be noticed, I just have to look for them a little harder…

 


 

Because I’m starting to sound preachy – trust me, I am not anywhere close to having anything about life figured out – I want instead to share some of my “small joys” from the past week. All of these pictures were taken at times during which I was otherwise stressed or preoccupied (commutes, running errands, etc.) but in which I was able to find joy…

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset
This sign outside of a store in the Mission which validated my preferred M.O. (turns out I’ve been an advocate for sustainability my whole life!)

Processed with VSCO with fp4 preset
These trees, whose wonderful scent hit me as soon as I turned the corner onto this block, against the unusual clouds

Processed with VSCO with ka3 preset
This little piece of art that reminded me there’s good in the world

Processed with VSCO with kt32 preset
These men who looked so peaceful and wise as they enjoyed morning coffee and donuts in Chinatown

Processed with VSCO with kp4 preset
The contrast between these deep pink flowers and the blue sky

Processed with VSCO with au5 preset
This man painting on Valencia St. as I walked home from BART

Here’s to hoping this next week brings you many small joys, and the perceptiveness to find them.

Feeling Guilty for Feeling Guilty

I’ve heard the prayer of confession over a hundred times in my life. But as I sat in church this Christmas Eve watching the reverend at the altar lead the parish in reciting its words, I realized I’d never listened to it.

(For the record, I know exactly why I never listened: because I was a bored kid sitting in church, flipping through that Sunday’s handout to see how much longer it would be until the service was over (Ok, we’re on page four now, and there are nine total pages, so we’re almost halfway done).)

Maybe it was the new reverend’s presence that day – commanding and sure – or maybe it was the congregation, more engaged and earnest than usual on Christmas Eve. Or maybe I had finally made progress at “being present” in each moment (#mindfulness!!!). Whatever the reason, for the first time in the many hours of church services I’ve attended, I stopped to listen to the words of the prayer. I listened closely, following along line by line in my handout as we read together.

And in my mindful listening, or close reading, or whatever you want to call it — one part of the prayer stood out to me:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.”

By what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

 


 

I’ve been asked, and asked myself, many times before: “What’s your biggest regret?” And for whatever reason – though this may seem obvious to others – in that moment I finally understood why I’ve never been able to answer that question: because I never regret things I have done, but instead the things I haven’t done. And, furthermore, “regret” probably isn’t the accurate word to describe how I feel: it’s guilt.

The concept of leaving things “undone” is usually associated with regret (“I regret not doing this” or “I regret not saying that”), but regret isn’t something I often experience. Instead of regretting something I didn’t do or didn’t say, I feel guilty for it. I feel guilty about the plans I cancelled with my friend because I was tired. I feel guilty about not traveling to see my grandmother and family more often. I feel guilty about not volunteering as much as I could, and about having so much privilege. I feel guilty that I don’t work harder and I feel guilty that I’m not as good or kind or selfless of a person as I could be.

It’s a guilt that is persistent and pervasive. It’s a guilt that sits heavy in my stomach and permeates everything I say and do. It’s an unending guilt about everything I could be doing but am not; about the person I could be but am not.

What’s the relationship between guilt and regret? Does it make sense that in my head I confound the two? Where does “shame” fit in? If I feel guilty about who I am, does that qualify instead as shame? Is it useful for me to feel guilty all the time? Does it make me feel worse, or is it motivating?

At the end of the day, I want to operate out of love and honesty, not guilt and fear. I’m afraid the latter is what I’ve been doing.

 


 

Obviously, the next logical step in this self-discovery process is to consult the interwebs, namely Psychologytoday.com.

img_7447.png

Ha. Interesting. Seems relevant.

I’m writing about this because I don’t have answers (Is my guilt warranted? Is it at all helpful? If not, how can find a more productive emotion? One that enables me to be simultaneously selfless and good and not paralyzingly guilt-ridden?). And, in a shocking turn of events, Psychologytoday.com did not provide me with much insight into my own psychological issues. It’s something I’ll have to think more about. This, my friends, is why I go to therapy!

To the Mountains…

Thanks, Spotify, for letting me know that Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry” was one of my top played songs in 2019. I’m not sure what that says about how I’ve emotionally progressed since middle school, but make of it what you will. I wonder how many of Spotify’s “Top Songs of the Year” playlists create a virtuous cycle in which you listen primarily to that playlist the following year, causing your “Top Songs” for that next year to be the same list. Another question I have is why every single white girl I know had at least one – if not many – Maggie Rogers songs featured on her Top Songs of 2019. Has anyone written a think piece about her appeal to the white, privileged female audience? (This isn’t a knock on her or anyone who listens to her – I enjoy her music myself – but genuine curiosity).

While I always enjoy my yearly recap of top songs, this year’s was especially interesting as it featured a look back on my top songs and artists of the decadeas well as top tracks by season. It’s crazy how well these songs correlate to specific seasons (literally and metaphorically) of my life. For example: I had MUNA’s new album on repeat during my four month injury recovery because it filled me with a kind of excitement and movement and hope despite not being able to leave the couch. Ben Howard features prominently on these playlists, and I can pinpoint the weeks of time when I had a certain song of his on repeat (literally, on loop for hours on end) and remember in detail the walks I went on while listening to it and what I was thinking about and what streets I explored and what the sunset looked like that night. Spotify calls its personalized, curated throwback playlists “Your Time Capsule” which might be the best way to describe music’s function for me: the facilitator of connection between myself and a place, or people, or emotion at a given time.

Kinda nuts to think about what my life would look like without music. Pretty empty, I imagine.

Anyway. I’m in the car with Thomas and Aaron; it’s late on a Thursday night and we’re driving up to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. I’m psyched for some mountains. And some beer. And an opportunity to wear fuzzy socks without my feet overheating. That last item there is what the holiday season is all about. I take that back – it’s also about stressing for weeks prior because you don’t have gifts for anyone and, if you do happen to have a gift, it’s not nearly exciting enough and you’ll need to supplement it with something else otherwise they will be disappointed and won’t love you. Don’t mind me, I’m just over here getting in the holiday spirit! Living in fear of letting everyone down and being abandoned! Ho ho ho!

Here’s a question for everyone: what’s your favorite holiday tradition? I need to lock down some new “traditions” for Thomas and I that I’ll force him to endure each year so that I feel fun and festive and like we’re a family who has traditions. The only one I attempted to institute this Thanksgiving was “give a speech before dinner about what you’re thankful for” but that didn’t work out because Thomas didn’t want to participate and sat there stubbornly until we all got too hungry and started to eat. (It should be noted that I even prompted him by saying, “You could say you’re grateful for me,” to which he responded, “I’m grateful that you have me.” I suppose I signed up for this.)

We’re cruising down 80 now and Aaron’s playing the kind of folk/rock-ish music that I only enjoy when driving to the mountains (think Silversun Pickups kinda stuff). It’s pitch black; I’m used to the bright overhead lights of Connecticut’s I-95 and am always overwhelmed by the feeling of isolation that washes over you on these dark, lonely roads. We pass the small towns that make me sad at night but transform into beauty and safety and light in the morning. I’m lucky to be in good company.

Yosemite

Here is a visual representation of my last weekend to weekday transition:

   

Some things to note:

  • I am drinking hot coffee in the first picture, an anomaly in my “iced-or-bust” lifestyle
  • Starbucks is at it already with their holiday-themed cups
  • In a world full of surprises, I make sure to control the one thing I can: having a morning coffee

The only way to improve upon my daily ritual that is drinking a morning coffee is to drink said morning coffee in Yosemite Valley with the scent of ponderosa pines and lupine in the background. The smell of the Valley when you first step outside your tent in the morning might just be the greatest scent of all time. I wish I could bottle it up and bring it home (which is why I’ve purchased almost every pine tree-scented candle I’ve ever come across in a futile attempt to recreate the smell in my house).

Yosemite. Ugh. I wondered if it seemed grander and more magnificent than usual after my injury but when I think about how I’ve felt every time I’ve gone… it’s always that grand. And magical. And soul-filling.

If I were a half-decent writer (or even one who spent some time thinking about what she wanted to express, rather than just ranting on her computer after drinking too much coffee), here is where I’d write something poetic and half-deserving of Yosemite’s beauty. And – if I were writing in my paper notebook – here’s where there would be a few watermarks left by the inevitable tears shed when I dream about it.

I think a lot about what makes my life worth living; the moments of stillness in which I think, “This, right here, is why I’m alive.” Of course I derive so much meaning from smaller, less distinct, more intangible things: my relationships, love, nature, and music in all its various forms. But as someone who often finds themself asking “what’s the point?” it’s an incredible feeling when the answer comes with such force and clarity. Like, “Thank God I’m alive otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to experience this moment. All the pain of life is worth it to feel its complete opposite.”

How can I carry this feeling with me each day? When things are difficult and life feels more full of suffering than beauty? Often it’s enough to know that Yosemite is there, in all its majesty, changing with the seasons but its scent familiar each time I return.

P.S. Everyone go donate to the Yosemite Conservancy.

A Sky, Conflicted

Date & Time:
Thursday, November 6, 8:18am. It feels more like 5am. My mind is cloudy and coffee isn’t helping clear the fog.

Location:
The local Starbucks. I came here earlier this morning to get some work done and was surprised to find, upon entering the store, that Starbucks’ “Christmas-mode” was in full force. I double-checked the date on my phone to confirm that it was, in fact, November 6, and then tried to reconcile this with the sound of “O Holy Night” playing on the speakers and red coffee cups everywhere.

I always forget how this Starbucks comes alive just after 8am; packed with commuters in a rush to catch the bus and chatty groups of women who appear – noisily and all dressed in the same jeans-and-booties combo – from offices nearby. I’ve usually left – fully-caffeinated and with multiple emails sent – by this time, but today I experience the overwhelming, frantic energy radiating from this crowd of coffee-craving customers.

I can’t get any work done because I’m nosy and curious and instead of focusing on the document on my computer screen I’m trying to listen in on my neighbors’ conversations. There is an inverse relationship between my productivity and the level of good people-watching in any space. I often want to tweet something #overheard but then I remind myself to consider respecting people’s privacy.

Weather:
Foggy. Foggier than yesterday; the kind of fog that renders the entirety of the Salesforce Tower invisible. Good thing I’m outfitted appropriately: in a full-on groutfit, grey sweatpants and a grey jacket, with a dress in my backpack for when I get to the office. Sweatpants make bus commutes more comfortable, that’s just a fact. I don’t make the rules.

Listening to:
Nothing. Well- Starbucks’ Christmas playlist, I guess. Earlier this morning I spent (way too much) time lying in bed listening to various renditions of “Amazing Grace” because I was sad and felt the need to amplify my already-emotional state with an incredibly beautiful song. I probably could have used something a little more enthusiastic and pump-up-y, but I’m not always my own best friend.

Later this evening:
I walked the few blocks home from the bus stop as the sun was setting. I stopped for a long while outside my door to stare up at the sky. Everything felt hazy and weird: my brain, the sky. Like neither of them could make up their minds: am I colorful or tired? Half the sky was shrouded in fog and the rest brilliant puffs of pink.

I watched traffic pass on the freeway to my right and noticed how telephone wires framed the still-translucent moon. At the bottom of my street bike commuters in hats and gloves dodged UPS trucks making their way in and out of the warehouse garage. I love cities during rush hour; the purposeful energy of the throngs of people walking and biking and standing on buses; everyone looking like they have somewhere to be, someone to go home to. When I’m feeling sad or hopeless I’m reassured by the sight of these commuters, like their purpose gives me purpose. In those moments I like to believe – wish, even – that everyone is just a few blocks away from a safe home and a warm meal and hugs from family.

Wednesday (in a) Fog

(Disclaimer: I’m testing out this new, self-devised template for my posts, not because it will generate exciting content – there’s a chance my writing becomes more mundane and rambling than ever – but because I hope it motivates me to share here more often. I write every day but my thoughts usually don’t make it much farther than the pages of my old notebook and, if they do, they sit in the draft folder of this blog. I’m not under the illusion that anyone other than my sister reads these posts, but at the very least they’ll be more organized and lasting for myself. So here goes day one of my experiment: write – however much or little – scan quickly for typos, and post.)

Date & Time:
Wednesday, November 6. It’s just after 7am and I’m groggy. The only reason I’m even out of bed is because Thomas is getting ready for work and as soon as he starts opening drawers and heating oatmeal in the microwave I wake up and can’t fall back asleep. I’m usually a morning person but have felt heavy the past few days – exhausted and a little sad – so I haven’t been getting up early. By this time most mornings I’ve already drank an iced coffee, written my daily to-do list, and responded to some work emails, so that when Thomas’ alarm goes off and he stumbles out of bedroom to the bathroom I’m hyped up on caffeine and dancing to music through my headphones (“Maddy, wtf, why don’t you sleep?”).

Location:
Home sweet home. I’m in no rush to work out or get to the office this morning, so I’m savoring the additional time in my sweatpants.

Weather:
Grey, and a little foggy. Chilly in the morning. I like when the weather matches my mood. (Or does my mood match the weather?! Chicken or the egg?!)

Listening to:
Judah and the Lion’s cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

Usually I’m like, “Why the F do we have to add banjos to everything?” (I’m looking at you, Mumford & Sons) but this cover bangs. It’s also one of my favorite Tom Petty songs and the lyrics were just what I needed this morning after feeling overwhelmed and a little hopeless.

You know how some days you wake up and feel as though you can take the entire world on… and others you can barely get out of bed and those same routine events – going to work, meeting up with friends, doing the dishes – seem so formidable? When you start asking yourself “what’s the point?” before undertaking things you’d normally do without a second thought? Sometimes — despite probably sacrificing a lot of what makes me human —  I wish I could always go through the motions like that, thoughtlessly and robotically, because to have any sort of thought around “what’s this motion’s purpose?” makes me depressed. I hope that for some people asking the question of purpose is a useful exercise; that it helps them prioritize what’s important and meaningful in their lives. But for me, most of the time, it leads to rumination and feelings of hopelessness.

Reading:
Three weeks later, I’m still reading The Goldfinch. To be fair, it is an ~800 page novel, but I’m not used to taking this long to get through a book! It’s… interesting, to say the least, but I enjoyed it more when I first started reading because now I kind of just want it to end. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize so I’m curious to Google it and read others’ reviews and reactions, which of course I can’t do until I’m finished for fear of encountering a spoiler! Just writing these words makes me want to do a quick search but I must remain strong! I might be one of the only people who genuinely misses high school English class because at least the teacher would discuss books with me. (Yes, I know I should join a book club, but that requires coordination and not necessarily getting to choose which books I read.)

Fall in the Fillmore

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on one of my long and wandering walk-jog-runs. Today’s edition of “Saturday Streets” was a lot more urban than usual, but don’t worry, I’ve still got some tree and flower pictures because there’s only so urban you can get in a beautifully open-spaced, full-of-parks-and-nature city. (Also, I just typed out “Saturday Streets” on a whim but need a better name for my weekend adventures in San Francisco; let me know if you’ve got any thoughts. Other ideas that popped into my head: “Solo San Francisco,” “Wandering Maddy,” “Fog, Flowers, and Findings,” or “41-Findings” – that last one is wordplay on area code 415 – but none of them quite roll off the tongue.)

The best part about chugging coffee, lacing up my sneakers, and heading out the front door on a Saturday on which I have no other plans is that I never know where my feet will take me. Each of my city-ventures is different but all are unified by the same principles:

  1. Do not – under any circumstances – have a plan.

Actually, that’s it. That’s the only principle. Other things to keep in mind include:

  • Bring your Clipper card in case you get tired and want to take the bus home
  • Have a fully-charged cell phone so your husband doesn’t wonder if you’ve fallen off the face of the earth
  • Carry cash because you never know where you might need to stop for snacks along the way, and god forbid you smell something delicious nearby but the vendor doesn’t take credit cards
  • Wear comfortable clothing, ideally a full-on groutfit

Most of my weekdays are spent religiously following schedules I’ve outlined for myself because I a) have a compulsion to feel in control and b) genuinely do thrive with routine. My life is pretty logistically complicated on a day-to-day basis (“If I’m biking in the morning, what clothes to I need to change into for work?” “Should I pack lunch, or will I have time to get some in between meetings?” “If I’m taking the bus home, should I take the bus in the morning too, or leave my bike at the office?” “If I’m meeting friends after work, should I wear my work clothes or bring something cuter?”) so having the time on weekends to finally not have a plan is a luxury.

Today’s adventure took me through Hayes Valley, up into the Fillmore, across Pac Heights and along the edge of the Presidio, and down into Golden Gate Park:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 4.19.27 PM

Most of my recent walk-jogs have found me leaving my house and heading west towards Buena Vista Park, Glen Canyon, or Mount Davidson, to optimize for solitude and nature. Today, though, Thomas was away camping with his friends and I felt the need to be surrounded by people. So, instead of continuing on through the Mission into the Castro, I turned onto Octavia and made my way through Hayes Valley into the Fillmore.

After dodging the unsurprisingly incredibly long line outside of Stacks (can’t you just make pancakes and eggs at home? Sorry, I have controversial opinions about waiting in line and overpaying for brunch), I kept moving until I reached the Fillmore Farmers’ Market. I’ve never been to the Fillmore Farmers’ Market and, while small relative to other neighborhood markets, it had the same assortment of beautiful produce and smiling faces behind its stands:

Processed with VSCO with ke1 preset
Accidental first time at Fillmore Farmers’ Market #ScrunchiesOrBust

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset
Could these sauces and curries make my Indian food taste authentic?!

Processed with VSCO with fp8 preset
Gotta get the tomato pic.

Processed with VSCO with av8 preset
Peppers, small and big.

Processed with VSCO with av8 preset
Cool, grey.

I spent some time chatting with a farmer wearing a 49ers sweatshirt at one of the stands, mostly because I love making “small talk” with friendly strangers, and also because I felt the need to let him know how much I know about football these days (if you spend enough Sundays sitting next to Thomas on the couch, you become an NFL expert by osmosis).

And because I can’t leave a farmers’ market without buying something – but couldn’t carry anything with me because I’m not supposed to be lifting (and also because I’ve tried many times to jog with apples in my backpack and it’s not exactly comfortable) – I bought a juicy peach to scarf down right there on the sidewalk.

I continued along Fillmore Street, stopping to take two pictures for all of my New England haters who claim they can’t move to California because it “doesn’t have seasons” (we all know you’re just trying to make yourselves feel better about living 3/4 of the year in the freezing cold):


Fillmore Street is interesting because when you first turn onto it from Duboce or Webster (or anywhere just above Market) you get the Fillmore District, Farmers’-Market-where-longtime-residents-shop vibe; you see elderly people and ethnic diversity (the district experienced an influx of diverse populations after the 1906 earthquake), and obvious signs of its legendary jazz history (in the 50s and 60s it was known as the “Harlem of the West”). But as soon as you cross over Geary, and make your way up to Post St., and then Bush St., it quickly becomes Lower Pac Heights, meaning… a street packed with Instagrammable brunch spots where hungover friends and acquaintances-on-first-Tinder-dates are congregating on a Saturday morning and ordering Eggs Benedict and hipster coffees for $30.

While I do rarely pass up the opportunity to people-watch, something about the whole brunch scene in San Francisco turns me off (if I had to put my finger on it, it’s probably because every single girl is wearing the same sunglasses and fuzzy-sweater-with-jeans combo, and the guys look disheveled even though they’re probably making five times my salary). So I passed quickly through most of Pac Heights, stopping only to grab a picture of this beautiful mural which looked even brighter against the grey sky:

Processed with VSCO with ke1 preset

I’m gonna give it to you straight here: I go to specific parks in the city because of their abundance of babies and puppies. Alta Plaza Park is chock-full of adorable babies and leash-free puppies, and I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make my day to watch children on the playground and dogs chasing tennis balls. Call me creepy, but it’s hard not to smile when confronted with such stark images of youth and carefreeness, especially when you find yourself unable to believe there could have ever been a time when life was that simple.

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset
Is there anything more wholesome than kids playing soccer?

Processed with VSCO with av4 preset
#views

After a brief puppy-chasing hiatus, I turned west and headed towards the Presidio for an even bigger dose of #nature. The problem with the Presidio is that once I start, I can’t stop, meaning I’ll spend hours wandering its trails. I knew my energy would be more limited than usual and didn’t want to end up exhausted and miles away from home, so I dragged myself away after a brief hike up the trail along West Pacific Ave.

I love trees n trails.
I love trees ‘n’ trails.

Heading away from the Presidio and back down towards Golden Gate Park via Arguello, I found myself being passed by tens of middle-aged men in lycra (there is a movie by this name, by the way, in case you are desperate for ways to kill time) who I knew could only be heading one place: Arsicault. Because, are you even a cyclist in San Francisco if your morning ride doesn’t end at Arsicault?! Sure enough, when I reached the bakery a few blocks later, all of the men I’d seen were standing in the line that, as usual, extended out the door onto the sidewalk. (I’ll admit, the croissants are pretty darn good there.)

And now, multiple neighborhoods and a few hours later, my wandering was just about over. Why? Since you asked, here is a comprehensive list of reasons my weekend walk-jogs come to an end:

  1. I get a text from Thomas saying, “Are you still alive?”
  2. My thighs are chafing to the point it’s too uncomfortable to walk and I’m dreaming of Vaseline
  3. I get hungry or stop for food and then have no desire for any sort of movement

This week I waved the white flag due to reason #2, and took the bus back home from the Haight, but not before picking up an entire bag of groceries from the Whole Foods near the Panhandle and spending the entire ride home trying not to eat it all.

If you need me, I’ll be on my couch. Eating my snacks.