Working Forwards

Yesterday I received an email reminder from my company that it was “time for Quarterly Check-Ins with your manager.” I let out an audible groan, despite being the only person in my house. Time to get asked, yet again, what my career goals are! (Spoiler alert for my manager: I don’t freaking know!!!!! I don’t even know where I see myself in two weeks (except hopefully alive and healthy?)!!!!)

I have taken every online quiz and read every article meant to “identify your strengths” or “find jobs that match your lifestyle” or “find your purpose” and have Googled “what should I do with my life?” multiple times. I’m not proud of any of these things.

To add insult to injury, I was scrolling on LinkedIn a few hours ago (again – not proud) and almost cried in frustration when I saw the following post from a colleague: “Create a vision for yourself, and execute. I like to think in terms of 1-3-5 year milestones which I can then backcast and build a roadmap towards.”

I don’t have a 5 year milestone, much less a 1 year milestone! I’m just trying to be a good person and hopefully make a positive difference in at least one person’s life!!!!

I sat in my desk chair, swiveling around, trying not to spiral as I opened the “Quarterly Check-In Guide” I was supposed to fill out.

I took a deep breath. And another. And I recalled the passages I’d read a few weeks ago in David Epstein’s Range, which I’d copied out carefully in my journal:

Ibarra[‘s research] concluded that we maximize match quality throughout life by sampling activities, social groups, contexts, jobs, careers, and then reflecting and adjusting our personal narratives. And repeat. If that sounds facile, consider that it is precisely the opposite of a vast marketing crusade that assures customers they can alight on their perfect matches via introspection alone. A lucrative career and personality quiz and counseling industry survives on that notion. “All of the strengths-finder stuff, it gives people license to pigeonhole themselves or others in ways that just don’t take into account how much we grow and evolve and blossom and discover new things,” Ibarra told me. “But people want answers, so these frameworks sell. It’s a lot harder to say, ‘Well, come up with some experiments and see what happens.’”

If only you fill out this quiz, the promise goes, it will light the way to the ideal career, never mind what psychologists have documented about personal change across time and context. Ibarra criticized conventional-wisdom articles like one in the Wall Street Journal on “the painless path to a new career,” which decreed that the secret is simply forming “a clear picture of what you want” before acting.

Instead of an answer to “Who do I really want to become?,” their work indicated that it is better to be a scientist of yourself, asking smaller questions that can actually be tested—“Which among my various possible selves should I start to explore now? How can I do that?” Be a flirt with your possible selves.* Rather than a grand plan, find experiments that can be undertaken quickly. “Test-and-learn,” Ibarra told me, “not plan-and-implement.”

When I first read these passages I remember feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Here was an entirely different way to approach my career and life!

The book continues with guidance from Ibarra that is highlighted so heavily in my journal that the yellow ink bleeds through to the following pages:

“‘Here’s who I am at the moment, here are my motivations, here’s what I’ve found I like to do, here’s what I’d like to learn, and here are the opportunities. Which of these is the best match right now? And maybe a year from now I’ll switch because I’ll find something better.’”

I know many people do have specific goals or a vision of themselves they’re working towards. But I have to think that there are also many people like myself who look at those people with envy and frustration because we have no idea what we want to achieve, or what our purpose is, or what we want our lives to look like in 10 years.

I find so much solace and hope in the idea of working forwards instead of backwards, of assessing who I am right now and what brings me purpose and joy and promise today, and moving forward from there.

Before my dreaded (although less so now) Quarterly Check-In, I’m simply going to think about what I enjoy most about my work today and how I can do more of that going forward; how I can assess what opportunities are available to me and try out ones that seem interesting; how I can spend more time doing the things that bring me purpose, like my volunteer work, and joy, like being outside among the trees and spending time with my friends and family.

“We learn who we are only by living, and not before.”

insignificant moments / dipping into the ~archives~

Life is a collection of moments.
– Someone’s Instagram caption, probably, paired with a picture of the back of their head as they look out onto a teal blue sea. Or, a message embroidered on a pillow in a suburban mom’s house that is being meme’d by their teenage daughter on TikTok à la this video.

To be fair (and less cynical) it’s a true statement, and maybe a helpful mantra if you’re trying to practice mindfulness and live in the present.

But as I reflect on the moments that comprised my past week, I frustrate myself with my tendency to subconsciously filter for the “significant” moments, and then to attribute that week’s meaning to those few recollections. For example: if there was a week I got a promotion at work, that would be the first moment my brain would focus on, and I’d quickly categorize the week as “good” or “successful.” Similarly, if my brain cannot immediately access any “significant” moments, I write the week off as “uneventful” or “just another week.”

Sometimes, as I sit in bed with my journal on a Sunday morning, trying to draw writing inspiration from the events of the past week, I hear my brain saying, “Well, good luck finding something to write about – nothing of note happened this week.” AKA: “Your week was full of insignificant moments.”

But – this thought is a wonderful example of a way in which, if I stop to think about it, my experience contradicts my thought pattern.

In reality, I have found the most joy in recounting the “insignificant” moments through writing: the way you can make them expand, take up space, even tell a story. When I go back and read my old journal entries or blog post drafts, it’s the ones in which I talk about “insignificant” or mundane moments that make me smile or laugh. I didn’t appreciate at the time how much recounting those moments gave them new life, or how much I’d enjoy reading them later on.

When I googled “Life is a collection of moments” in the hopes of finding amusing ironic content (such as the video I shared at the beginning of this post), I did find a lot of that. But I also found a quote by Amit Ray, an Indian author and spiritual master known for his teachings on meditation, yoga, peace and compassion.

“Life is a collection of moments,” he writes. “Mindfulness is beautification of the moments.”

If I’d come across this quote in the context of an Instagram post or a pillow platitude I probably would have rolled my eyes and moved on with my day. But because I came across it in this context of writing this post, I found myself nodding and mumbling “so true, so true” to myself.

Really, though – that quote describes what I experienced when writing about the insignificant moments. The act of paying attention to those moments through writing made them beautiful, and some of the best writing I’ve read is that which takes the small moments and beautifies them through attention and language.

I guess what I’m saying is that you can write about anything, really. And that I shouldn’t be afraid of writing about the mundane because it brings me joy which, at the end of the day, is basically the point of it all.

In the spirit of writing about the mundane (and in case you have nothing better to do with your day and therefore wish to keep reading), here is some writing I did a few weeks ago about various “insignificant” moments:

1. The only thing I love more than a good scone is an eating establishment with a punny name. This week I had the good fortune of enjoying both simultaneously when I came across a bakery in Berkeley named “Sconehenge.” Incredible. If there’s one way to guarantee my business it’s having a clever name. As I entered the shop I imagined the opening a small café at Stonehenge named “Sconehenge” (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) and excitedly shared my newfound dream with Thomas. I could already picture the tourists lining up for my world class blueberry scones. Thomas, however, was quick to burst my bubble: “But in England they call scones scons, so your pun wouldn’t work.” Goddammit, he was right. Determined not to let his pessimism ruin the moment, I ordered a package of four blueberry scones (one for now, three for later) and enjoyed buttery taste in my mouth.

2. I’m never good at starting things. For example: I only started writing these words because I wanted to hold Leslie accountable to writing something. I suppose most of us need extrinsic motivators at the end of the day. Anyway. It had been a while since I made any art, mostly because I make up dumb excuses in my head as to why I can’t (“my supplies are out of reach,” “you are bad at painting anyway”). So I was grateful for an extrinsic motivator that came along this week in the form of my mom’s impending birthday. It was just what I needed: a concrete deadline by which I needed to have a homemade card finished and mailed. On Thursday morning – having left the task to the last possible day by which I could mail the letter and trust the USPS to deliver it on time, of course – I sat down with my coffee and pulled my watercolors out from under my desk. Within 30 seconds of dipping my brush in water and putting it to the paper I was glad I had started. The watercolor palette, full of bright colors that I tried my best to turn into flowers on the paper, had been a gift from my sister and put a smile on my face as well. I felt surrounded by reminders of love and tried to put them from my heart onto the page.

3. My work days have been long and stressful. And most evenings when I desert my laptop (for a few minutes, at least, in an attempt to mark some sort of end to the day before inevitably checking my messages an hour later) I turn to the next task at hand: dinner. On Wednesday evening I found myself still in a meeting at 6:30pm, entirely distracted by thoughts of hunger and what we had in the house that I could quickly turn into a meal. Imagine my surprise when, in a move that was totally out of character, Thomas texted me (from the same room, of course) to let me know that he had ordered us burritos and was going to walk to pick them up in a few minutes. T!!!!!! Coming through!!!!! As I closed my laptop just before 7pm I thanked my lucky stars for Thomas and – more importantly – a big ass burrito.

On Flying

“I would never move to Denver because then I’d have to fly in and out of this airport every time,” declared Thomas last week as we taxied on the runway at Denver airport. He’s convinced that wind patterns over the mountains near Denver make every flight in or out of that airport extremely turbulent, and this flight had added an affirming data point.

Thomas hates flying in a way that I didn’t understand until some time into our marriage. We had already done a lot of air travel together by that time but he’s never been one to let others on to his emotions, much less anxieties. Over time, though, the subtle comments he’d make – an occasional “I hope this flight isn’t turbulent,” or “This one shouldn’t be too bad” – made me realize, Oh, he really doesn’t like flying. He even goes so far as to factor in the plane size (he knows every common plane model by heart) when booking flights because larger planes are less likely to be turbulent.

During this specific trip to Denver I happened to be in the middle of reading Ann Patchett’s essay collection “These Precious Days.”

In one of the essays she writes about her husband’s love of flying planes and how she’s had to reconcile her desire to support his hobby with her fear for his safety: “I understood he wasn’t interested in baking bread, that there would be no Scrabble or yoga in our future as a couple, but couldn’t there be a hobby in which death was not a likely outcome?”

She shares how her relationship to these emotions evolved: “Over time I learned to offer no resistance. “Pretty,” I would say when he showed me the picture [of a plane]. I didn’t want to be the reason he didn’t have a plane, the reason he was gripped by fits of misery specific to a man who wants to be in the sky and is stuck on the ground.”

But my favorite part of the story came towards the end when she talks about flying in the plane with Karl. “When I am in the plane with Karl [as the pilot],” she writes, “I read, I look out the window, I sleep an untroubled sleep, my head against the window.”

Which, to me, was another way of her saying, “I don’t get scared or nervous when he flies if I’m in the plane next to him…because whatever happens, happens to us together.”

Back on the runway at Denver airport, as we impatiently waited for the captain to turn off the seatbelt sign, I said to Thomas, “I feel like I finally understand how much you hate flying.”

“Well, yeah,” he said, as if I’d said something incredibly obvious, “why do you think I always want to take flights with you if I can?”

Now – Thomas is not an emotional person. (He would also be extremely annoyed to know I was writing this, and I told him if I was sharing anything that made him uncomfortable I’d stop. But he prefers to live in a state of blissful ignorance, aka one of not reading my blog, and so this is what he risks as a result.) And, as far as love languages go, he’s never been one for verbal expressions of love. So when he said, seemingly offhandedly, to me that he didn’t like taking separate flights (which sometimes happens for logistical reasons, or if he’s taking a trip I’m not going on), I heard, “You make me feel safe.”

I smiled to myself and made a mental note to write what he’d said down because love is not always shown with flowers (especially not if you’re T, who is tragically allergic to almost everything alive) or explicit “I love you”s. And while there are times I get frustrated that he doesn’t always share his love for me in the most conventional ways, I can never justifiably doubt its existence.

Even though I am not as fearful of planes as Thomas, or as afraid of my husband having flying as a hobby like Ann Patchett, I felt she captured how I feel when Thomas is around: “I read, I look out the window, I sleep an untroubled sleep.”

Thoughts from the BART on my way to a morning squash match

It’s still dark outside and I’m walking the mile from my apartment to the Ashby BART station. I’m not in a rush – I woke up before my alarm and have plenty of time before I need to be in the city – but I check the transit app anyway to see when the next trains are arriving. My backpack is heavy with the weight of my laptop, notebook, chargers, squash shoes and racket, and two changes of clothes, but my steps are energetic in these blissful hours of the morning.

I stand on the BART platform with a few other bleary-eyed commuters and feel full with a sense of purpose: today, I have somewhere to be, a person to meet. Ok, fine – the “somewhere” is a squash club, and the “person” is my friend/match opponent … but still. I have missed this feeling of needing to be somewhere, a feeling that’s been foreign in these past years (?!?!?!) of working from home. 

I can’t complain about working from home. For someone like me (no kids, good WiFi in a good apartment) I feel privileged and lucky to be able to do so. But this morning I’m reminded of how good it feels to be needed somewhere, at a certain time, even if that time and place are arbitrary or contrived.

When we lived in San Francisco I’d get up every morning and walk to get coffee at the Starbucks a few blocks from our house. Most of the time I’d pick it up on my way to work, just before I caught the bus, but I’d also go on weekend mornings when I had nowhere to be.

Thomas didn’t understand why I’d bother going there and spending money on days I had no reason to. “Why don’t you just have coffee at home?” he’d ask.

I’d respond with some version of “the coffee tastes better,” but that was never entirely true.

At some point during college, waking up and leaving the house to get coffee became an important ritual for me: something I looked forward to in the morning, something that got me out of bed and out of the house (dorm) on my darkest days. 

I’m sitting on the BART now – we’re just pulling out of 12th St. Oakland station – and typing this out on my laptop as the sun rises in beautiful streaks of orange and pink. I remember writing something about my morning Starbucks ritual a few years ago … I search my journal app’s archives for the keyword “Starbucks.” Aha! I’ve found it (and silently thank technology, without which these words probably would have been lost in a random journal forever):

[An Excerpt From Maddy’s Journal, Dec 28, 2018]

How Starbucks Cured My Depression

At the end of the day, of course the big things saved me: therapy, medication, a supportive family and friends. If I position elements of my recovery as a pyramid, those would be the foundation. But what do you do you from there? Just because I didn’t want to die anymore, or wasn’t in the hospital, doesn’t mean I was enjoying life. So I like to acknowledge those smaller things, the things higher up in the “pyramid,” that have made a difference in helping me overcome my depression. These things are sometimes tough to notice in the moment and I rely on retrospect to properly identify them.

One such thing is my morning trip to Starbucks. Every morning I wake up, place my Starbucks order on their mobile app, and walk the five minutes to my local Starbucks. When we first moved in together, Thomas thought this routine was silly. In his eyes, I was paying three dollars for a coffee I could make at home, and he didn’t understand my urgency to head there immediately after waking up. He would get frustrated (and rightfully so), wondering why I didn’t want to lie around in bed longer or have a slow morning.

But I have an explanation – one that might not make sense to him, or to everyone, and that might not be as applicable now as it was before: I know what it feels like to not be able to get out of bed in the morning, to feel so hopeless and purposeless that I didn’t see the point in getting out of bed. And on days when I was severely depressed, getting out of bed was in and of itself a triumph for the day. So maybe on the surface it was a silly, small thing, but walking to Starbucks for a coffee got me out of bed in the morning on days when I could find no other reason to do so. (Quick shout-out to the baristas who worked at the Stanford campus Starbucks, y’all kept me going.) …

Ok, so 2018 me is basically the same person with the same thoughts as I have now. Whatever. Also my entry title is so dramatic … but also sort of true and I love it.

But back to the present moment: I am reveling in this feeling of going somewhere, of being needed, of feeling the purpose and hope and promise in the day ahead. Sometimes it’s the short walk to a Starbucks coffee that gives me that feeling, sometimes it’s a morning commute to the office, today it’s a squash match. And I am grateful for these things.

Musings on Multitudes

“I contain multitudes,” I say to myself, as I sit at the kitchen table on a Saturday morning, painting a landscape while listening to Meek Mill.

Sometimes I want to read a book on data analysis, sometimes I want to binge watch reality TV. Sometimes I want to go for a bike ride, sometimes I want to sit on the couch and read poetry. I should be able to do all of these things and not question what they say about ~who I am~. Why do I feel this need to label and categorize myself?

I dislike social media for many reasons, one of which is that it incentivizes us to label and categorize ourselves in order to curate an identity (or – god forbid – “brand”) we want to project into the world. Are you an athlete? A photographer? A writer? A chef? A fashionista? And who are you if not the sum of these labels, professions, and hobbies? I read a Vox article that summarized the phenomenon well: “’Decreating the self — that’s the opposite of social media,’ … Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms are all about identity construction. Users build up an aspirational version of themselves, forever adding more words, images, and videos, thickening the self into a ‘brand.’”

It’s not a phenomenon unique to social media, of course – I struggled with my “identity” long before Instagram. For example, when I graduated from college, what did it mean that I was no longer playing a sport seriously? Who was I if not an athlete, or a math major, or a twin? What would I share with the new people I’d meet at some random party to gave them an idea of who I was (or, at the very least, who I wanted to be)?

But that is exactly the reason we try so hard to distill ourselves and others into a compact identity: it makes everything simple, less complex and nuanced. Black and white, instead of grey. A few words or phrases that exactly capture who we are and what our place is in the world. It sounds almost ridiculous when you phrase it that way, but that’s what I find myself doing on a daily basis. And for what? So I can feel more confident that yes, I do, in fact, have a specific place or function in the world? Or so I can easily curate a five word bio to include on my social media profiles?

A few weeks ago, a coworker asked me if I’d done anything fun over the weekend and I told her I’d done some painting. Her response was, “Wow! Who would’ve thought that Maddy the athlete was painting?!”

I know she meant it kindly, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve spent the past year trying to explore different parts of myself – the parts that I probably neglected before because they didn’t fit into this image of myself that I’d worked so hard to curate. Being a math major, for example, left no room for creative pursuits, much less for acknowledging that maybe I didn’t enjoy quantitive fields as much anymore. Being an athlete meant that I had to keep proving to others that I could be good at sports even after I stopped competing.

And the larger problem, really, is that I feel the need to assign myself these labels at all. When it comes down to it – I’m just Maddy. I’m more than the sum of these labels I try to assign to myself, or that others assign to me. A person can’t be dissected into these smaller, more digestible parts because that’s not how humans work. I’ve been working for a while on moving away from the “black and white” in many aspects of my thinking and leaning in to the grey: the in-between, the non-concrete, the indefinable, the constantly moving and changing. I am trying to give myself more permission and room to change, to explore, to not feel so limited by a false concept of identity, to reject others’ tendencies to want to put me in a box.

I return often to these passages from “The Journals of Sylvia Plath,” which I’m sure I’ve shared before on this blog but bear repeating in this context:

“If I could cut from my brain the phantom of competition, the ego-center of self-consciousness, and become a vehicle, a pure vehicle of others, the outer world … My interest in other people is too often one of comparison, not of pure intrigue with the unique otherness of identity. Here, ideally, I should forget the outer world of appearances, publishing, checks, success. And be true to an inner heart … Yet I fight against a simple-mindedness, a narcissism, a protective shell against competing, against being found wanting. To write for itself, to do things for the joy of them. What a gift of the gods.”

Progress, not perfection.

Leslie got me a lil paint set from CVS and it’s been bringing me so much joy this week. It may have been designed for kids but that means it’s full of bright colors and doesn’t stain my clothes or the furniture when I make a mess! It’s also kind of crazy how a week of mental and physical rest (time off from work, time off from biking and/or running) leaves much more room for a different type of energy: the creative kind!

Despite having done much more art in the past year than I ever have before, I’m still not great at actually ~sitting down to do it~. After a long day at work I’m so emotionally exhausted that, instead of doing something relaxing or meditative like painting, I sit on the couch and scroll through my phone, obsessively refresh my work email, and eat a concerning amount of popcorn and ice cream. This week, however, I’ve found myself much more likely to sit down at the table and pull out my paints.

It feels good to make something – “no matter how small” (or bad) – and I’m hoping to hold on to this practice until it becomes more of a habit. I also return to my current mantra of “progress, not perfection,” because I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to doing or trying things I’m not “good” at. I get so overwhelmed by the fear of failure (an “ugly” piece of art, a “stupid” piece of writing) that I don’t do anything at all. But it’s better to pick up the pen or the paintbrush than it is to let myself remain paralyzed by my own high expectations.

Anyway. Thanks again, Leslie, for being my biggest patron and supporter in my artistic endeavors – these little sketches are dedicated to you!

[Above] Two sketches/paintings from this past week, the left one inspired by a photo Leslie took in London.

An accomplishment’s an accomplishment, no matter how small.

Does anyone remember the line from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”? For whatever reason that line often pops into my head (probably because I’ve watched the movie more than a few times).

Today, after a difficult week, I found myself thinking, “An accomplishment’s an accomplishment, no matter how small.” As in: what feels like an accomplishment to me might not seem like one to others, but that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment. Which then lead me to list out everything I’ve accomplished (by my own standards) this week:

Oh, and I also made a painting, which is an accomplishment because it means I 1) painted instead of scrolling through social media, therefore improving my mental health rather than harming it, and 2) overcame my fear of being “bad” or “mediocre” at something and did it anyway.

Inspired by the Berkeley hills, which are extra green after lots of much-needed rain

Which reminds me of this amazing post that spoke directly to my soul (read: is a primary topic of conversation in my therapy sessions):

Happy Friday, everyone.

Sometimes life surprises you [a poem]

Sometimes life surprises you

Like on Saturdays when you’re sad
and the sun is nowhere to be found,

So you ride your bike down to the shoreline where
– growing from the sand – are signs that say, “Jazz Quartet; Follow the signs or sounds.”

So you follow the sign along the trails through the waterfront park that juts out into the bay
and you stumble upon a makeshift amphitheater where four men dressed in suits and shiny shoes have set up a little stage by the sea

And they’re playing their drums and trumpet and cello and trombone as the audience sits scattered on seats of rock
And the sounds of jazz drift out over the water
In this little corner of the world.

Does it sound dark to say that I was glad to have stayed alive for this moment?

My “chill out maddy” Spotify playlist didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

I spent the weekend trying to relax.

I didn’t go for any long bike rides or runs; instead, I went for short walks and took naps. I read an entire book. No, wait – two books. I made a playlist called “chill out maddy” and listened to it for a few hours. I meditated. I painted:

Manifesting my dream home in the Cotswolds, inspired by a photo Leslie took a few months ago.

Suffice it to say I was disappointed when I woke up at 4:13am this Monday morning with painful stomach cramps (diagnosed thus far as anxiety-related).

I’m not here to complain, though. I did have a relaxing weekend. I basked in the hot sun (but not in the red flag warnings reminding us that another fire season is on our heels). I made a picnic for me and Thomas which we enjoyed with a fancy bottle of rosé we purchased a few weeks ago in Mendocino as the sun set on Saturday night. I called my mom and spoke with some friends. My life is good; I am blessed in many ways.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I love California. I spend a lot of time thinking about that, actually. I browsed thrift store clothing racks in Oakland and imagined myself as a fashionable woman who put thought and intention into each of her outfits. I rolled my eyes at the obscenely long lines outside of “trendy” East Bay bakeries. I watched the first five minutes of four different Netflix shows.

I would also like to share the possibly hot take (given its Goodreads rating of 4.31) that I did not enjoy The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The premise of the book – a girl named Addie makes a pact with the devil that means she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by everyone – was too obvious of a metaphor for me. Passages and quotes that clearly resonated with many readers (e.g., “Do you think a life has any value if one doesn’t leave some mark upon the world?”) felt…basic and silly. Maybe I’m too cynical but I found myself rolling my eyes frequently as I kept being hit over the head with thinly-veiled metaphors about the meaning of life.

(I did, however, enjoy The Incendiaries, probably because I have a fascination for cults and enjoy mysterious characters.)

As I’ve now successfully wasted these pre-sunrise hours sharing my ramblings, I want to wish each and every one of you a joyous Monday. Since I am now a self-proclaimed “breakfast person,” I am going to make myself some breakfast. And by “make breakfast,” I mean I am going to microwave one of the frozen breakfast sandwiches that I bought in bulk from Safeway. Please comment below with your favorite breakfast and/or a book that I can read so I don’t have to rely on (disappointingly incorrect) Goodreads reviews.

A short note

I was drafting a new post this morning (related to mental health, actually) but I will save that for another time as I want to share this short note instead:

I heard earlier today of another death of someone I knew by suicide. I hope it goes without saying at this point, but if anyone ever wants to talk or needs help getting help I’m always around. I have been open about my struggles in the past in the hope that it makes others more comfortable in coming to me if they need someone safe and non-judgmental to talk to.

Things like this will never not hit me so incredibly hard. You are loved.

“To The Young Who Want To Die” by Gwendolyn Brooks:

little things, april 2021

I. blooming flowers and a friend, reminding me: you have to start somewhere. not all things are beautiful when they first begin.

II. a morning walk on a summer day
in northern california
which means I am wearing two jackets and a hat
but you can hear the rising sun saying to the world “watch out for me today.”

III. collage (n): an assemblage of different forms…thus creating a whole.
when I pick up these camellias (that have fallen onto the sidewalk – once beautiful on their bushes, now browning and alone) and press them underneath a heavy book, I like the idea that I am giving them a second life.

IV. I look at the clock and see an hour has passed
since I sat down on the couch to read my book.
I am thankful for artists who conjure up these other worlds
that can so readily relieve me from my own.

V. I see a whale! – no, it’s a wave
and then – a spout!
I am sitting near the edge of the cliff and my sister is on the phone and I start crying.

whale watching in mendocino

Little Things / March 2021


In a brief moment of culinary inspiration last weekend I decided I wanted to bake some scones. I’d just had my morning coffee – so the possibilities for my day were seemingly endless and I dreamt my biggest, most wild dreams – and seen an inspiring photo of local produce from Berkeley Bowl.

“What flavor scones should I make?” I asked myself as I sat on the couch, already envisioning the Samin Nosrat I was about to become. I had the essential ingredients in my pantry – flour, butter, heavy cream, sugar – and decided on lemon poppyseed: a classic, hard-to-mess-up flavor that would only require buying a lemon or two from the grocery store. And then – of course, as usual – the moment of inspiration passed before I even made it to the store.

I went for a walk through the neighborhood later that afternoon. I had spent most of the day attempting to read, but mostly ruminating, and sought fresh air to clear my mind. A few blocks from my house I came across a plastic dog bowl placed on the sidewalk with a paper sign taped to the rim that read “FREE” in black Sharpie. Inside the bowl were three large, bright yellow lemons that a neighbor had picked from the ripening tree in their yard. I smiled, picked one up, and put it in my fanny pack (yes, I was wearing a fanny pack).

Lemon x fanny pack

As I walked home with the lemon displayed proudly in the pocket of my fanny pack I felt so blessed. A lemon in a bowl on the sidewalk. It was such a small thing and yet it felt like a huge gift, to have this thing that I’d been “needing,” but hadn’t been able to give myself, brought to me with no strings attached. It was as if someone, somewhere had known that if I were presented with a lemon it might have the capacity to turn my day around.

At home that evening I stood at the counter zesting the lemon over a glass bowl. I grated the frozen butter, mixed in heavy cream and flour, and added just the right amount of poppy seeds. I’m not much of a baker but every time I bake or cook I notice how wonderful it feels to make something from scratch, to shape and create it with my own hands. When the scones came out of the oven looking and smelling just as I’d hoped, I thanked the world for the gift of a lemon that reminded and inspired me to create.


The wildflowers are in bloom!

On Sunday afternoon I sat on a bench by a field of poppies and reread one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry:

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and goes, 
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.


Ben Howard released a new album that I (shockingly!!!!!) have not been able to take off repeat: Every time I listen to his music I think about what a gift musicians are to the world; how talented artists have the ability to make us feel and experience the world more deeply.

I read an interview he gave with Flood Magazine after the album release and one particular quote resonated with me:

“I think I’m always just looking for a little flash of inspiration rather than working on some great orchestral piece, and that kind of became what the record was—it was little fragments. I hate to use the word “vignette,” but these songs are little glimpses of life and of musical ideas. They didn’t even need to be completely finished—as long as the essence is there, it counts.”

Sometimes that’s how I feel about this blog (I am not, by the way, attempting to compare myself to a musical genius!): it’s a place where I can capture my flashes of inspiration – a poem, a wildflower, a lemon on the sidewalk – rather than trying to produce something cohesive or complete.

I’ll leave you with something else he said in the interview that I thought he articulated beautifully:

“I think that’s why I’m always reluctant to spell out every single element of a song, because feelings are supposed to change. It’s supposed to change with interpretation, and that’s one of the most interesting aspects of it all. Meaning can be quite an elusive thing. And actually, the most incredible moment is when you get presented with an image that you can’t get out of your brain, but you don’t know why.”

Happy spring, everyone! May it bring lots of wildflowers and hope.