Leslie got me a lil paint set from CVS and it’s been bringing me so much joy this week. It may have been designed for kids but that means it’s full of bright colors and doesn’t stain my clothes or the furniture when I make a mess! It’s also kind of crazy how a week of mental and physical rest (time off from work, time off from biking and/or running) leaves much more room for a different type of energy: the creative kind!
Despite having done much more art in the past year than I ever have before, I’m still not great at actually ~sitting down to do it~. After a long day at work I’m so emotionally exhausted that, instead of doing something relaxing or meditative like painting, I sit on the couch and scroll through my phone, obsessively refresh my work email, and eat a concerning amount of popcorn and ice cream. This week, however, I’ve found myself much more likely to sit down at the table and pull out my paints.
It feels good to make something – “no matter how small” (or bad) – and I’m hoping to hold on to this practice until it becomes more of a habit. I also return to my current mantra of “progress, not perfection,” because I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to doing or trying things I’m not “good” at. I get so overwhelmed by the fear of failure (an “ugly” piece of art, a “stupid” piece of writing) that I don’t do anything at all. But it’s better to pick up the pen or the paintbrush than it is to let myself remain paralyzed by my own high expectations.
Anyway. Thanks again, Leslie, for being my biggest patron and supporter in my artistic endeavors – these little sketches are dedicated to you!
[Above] Two sketches/paintings from this past week, the left one inspired by a photo Leslie took in London.
Does anyone remember the line from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”? For whatever reason that line often pops into my head (probably because I’ve watched the movie more than a few times).
Today, after a difficult week, I found myself thinking, “An accomplishment’s an accomplishment, no matter how small.” As in: what feels like an accomplishment to me might not seem like one to others, but that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment. Which then lead me to list out everything I’ve accomplished (by my own standards) this week:
Oh, and I also made a painting, which is an accomplishment because it means I 1) painted instead of scrolling through social media, therefore improving my mental health rather than harming it, and 2) overcame my fear of being “bad” or “mediocre” at something and did it anyway.
Which reminds me of this amazing post that spoke directly to my soul (read: is a primary topic of conversation in my therapy sessions):
Like on Saturdays when you’re sad and the sun is nowhere to be found,
So you ride your bike down to the shoreline where – growing from the sand – are signs that say, “Jazz Quartet; Follow the signs or sounds.”
So you follow the sign along the trails through the waterfront park that juts out into the bay and you stumble upon a makeshift amphitheater where four men dressed in suits and shiny shoes have set up a little stage by the sea
And they’re playing their drums and trumpet and cello and trombone as the audience sits scattered on seats of rock And the sounds of jazz drift out over the water In this little corner of the world.
Does it sound dark to say that I was glad to have stayed alive for this moment?
I didn’t go for any long bike rides or runs; instead, I went for short walks and took naps. I read an entire book. No, wait – two books. I made a playlist called “chill out maddy” and listened to it for a few hours. I meditated. I painted:
Suffice it to say I was disappointed when I woke up at 4:13am this Monday morning with painful stomach cramps (diagnosed thus far as anxiety-related).
I’m not here to complain, though. I did have a relaxing weekend. I basked in the hot sun (but not in the red flag warnings reminding us that another fire season is on our heels). I made a picnic for me and Thomas which we enjoyed with a fancy bottle of rosé we purchased a few weeks ago in Mendocino as the sun set on Saturday night. I called my mom and spoke with some friends. My life is good; I am blessed in many ways.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I love California. I spend a lot of time thinking about that, actually. I browsed thrift store clothing racks in Oakland and imagined myself as a fashionable woman who put thought and intention into each of her outfits. I rolled my eyes at the obscenely long lines outside of “trendy” East Bay bakeries. I watched the first five minutes of four different Netflix shows.
I would also like to share the possibly hot take (given its Goodreads rating of 4.31) that I did not enjoy The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The premise of the book – a girl named Addie makes a pact with the devil that means she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by everyone – was too obvious of a metaphor for me. Passages and quotes that clearly resonated with many readers (e.g., “Do you think a life has any value if one doesn’t leave some mark upon the world?”) felt…basic and silly. Maybe I’m too cynical but I found myself rolling my eyes frequently as I kept being hit over the head with thinly-veiled metaphors about the meaning of life.
(I did, however, enjoy The Incendiaries, probably because I have a fascination for cults and enjoy mysterious characters.)
As I’ve now successfully wasted these pre-sunrise hours sharing my ramblings, I want to wish each and every one of you a joyous Monday. Since I am now a self-proclaimed “breakfast person,” I am going to make myself some breakfast. And by “make breakfast,” I mean I am going to microwave one of the frozen breakfast sandwiches that I bought in bulk from Safeway. Please comment below with your favorite breakfast and/or a book that I can read so I don’t have to rely on (disappointingly incorrect) Goodreads reviews.
I was drafting a new post this morning (related to mental health, actually) but I will save that for another time as I want to share this short note instead:
I heard earlier today of another death of someone I knew by suicide. I hope it goes without saying at this point, but if anyone ever wants to talk or needs help getting help I’m always around. I have been open about my struggles in the past in the hope that it makes others more comfortable in coming to me if they need someone safe and non-judgmental to talk to.
Things like this will never not hit me so incredibly hard. You are loved.
“To The Young Who Want To Die” by Gwendolyn Brooks:
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.
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).
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.
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.
I first read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry in AP Literature my senior year of high school. I can’t remember which of his poems we read (was it “Sometime During Eternity“? “Constantly Risking Absurdity“?); since then I’ve read his poems so many times that most of the words seem familiar.
When I moved to San Francisco I started seeing a therapist whose office was in North Beach. Every week after our session I would walk from her office to City Lights Bookstore and spend as long as I could among its shelves before walking the next few blocks to my office downtown. That was always a jarring transition: from the quiet of therapy and a bookstore to the noisy, crowded office.
For Christmas two years ago my mom got me a copy of Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems. I didn’t remember telling her about any of his poems that I loved, or all the hours I’d spent kneeling by the shelves in the cramped basement of City Lights.
I took the book with me down to Ocean Beach one day and read my favorite of his poems, “The world is a beautiful place,” by the water. It begins:
And then, later:
I read of Ferlinghetti’s death in between meetings yesterday afternoon, during a five minute break in which I was scrolling through Twitter.
In the evening, after work, I took the book of his poems and went out for a walk. I looked at everything and smelled the flowers.