At exactly 4:07pm on Wednesday, April 8 – four days ahead of schedule – I achieved “To-Do List Zero.”(That’s my version of “Inbox Zero” but, instead of an email inbox, refers to the weekly to-do list I write each Sunday that details everything I want to accomplish that week, both work-related and personal.)
I had a shockingly productive Monday and Tuesday and, despite starting to fade earlier this afternoon, kept plugging away at the list items (note to self: where does the idiom “plug away” come from?). I finished the hefty work projects I’d been putting off for days (in favor of responding to one-off emails and chats which made me feel productive but weren’t exactly high-value activities), paid the medical bills that had been piling up on the corner of my kitchen table for two weeks, painted my mom’s birthday card (two weeks ahead of schedule, I might add #bestdaughterever), and put away my laundry.
So it was in the middle of a conference call that I referenced my weekly planner, distractedly planning what to work on next, and saw that all the checkboxes had been…checked off. The ensuing joyful sensation would have been much more gratifying were I not confined to my house with absolutely nothing better to do than immerse myself in work and household chores, but for a moment I experienced the brief high one gets from productivity.
It was in this state – of realizing I’d done everything on my list, but that the list itself was what had given me purpose the past few days – that I drew this quick sketch of the table in front of me:
And here it is with my “desk” (read: kitchen-table-turned-workspace) for reference:
Having nothing else to do for the day, while daunting and slightly depressing at first, gave way to an appreciation for the opportunity that lay ahead. The world was (almost) my oyster! Like…a tiny oyster! Who’s confined to a small section of ocean! I could read! I could walk! I could cook! I could write (this post)!
And so, at 5:28pm, a few minutes after my last meeting finished, I went outside for a short walk. Because my “office” doubles as my personal reading/writing desk as well as my kitchen table (a multi-purpose function explicitly not advised by any article titled “Helpful Tips for Remote Work”) I make sure to step outside to signal the end of a work day. (Also, on days like today when Thomas and I have a delicious-smelling curry made for dinner in the Crockpot, a short walk is a useful way to kill time so that I don’t eat dinner at 4:45pm.)
I bring my phone only in case of emergency and relish the time away from a screen. When I started going on these short walks after my spinal surgery – always within the same five-block radius of my house – I challenged myself to notice something new on each of them. These walks quickly became the most joyful part of my day.
And, as it turned out, there was absolutely no element of challenge involved in noticing something new each time. There was always an intricately-designed door on some house I’d never noticed; or a few flowers that had bloomed since the last time I walked by; or a street that looked entirely different depending on the weather and how light was reflecting that time of day.
Today, for example, I encountered the following interesting things on my 20-minute walk:
I may not be able to travel far these days, but I’m managing to keep things pretty interesting over here in Potrero Hill. That’s all for now; I’m off to Google the history of “plugging away.”
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.
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:
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:
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:
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):
A fallen leaf.
Get owned, Connecticutians..
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:
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.
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.
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:
I get a text from Thomas saying, “Are you still alive?”
My thighs are chafing to the point it’s too uncomfortable to walk and I’m dreaming of Vaseline
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.