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?


Plum Tree Ponderings

When I was younger I thought of gifts only as things that were exchanged on holidays and birthdays: toys, money, anything that could be bought or sold but that I received “for free.”

Now, when I think of gifts, what comes to mind are the less tangible things: time, thought, effort. The things that can’t be purchased in a store, or that can’t be quantified, or that people might not even know they’re giving to you. I have also come to think of gifts not as things that you receive on Christmas – or other times when people might expect to give and receive gifts – but as the things that arrive when you least expect it.

But I also believe there is truth in the common wisdom that you have to be open to receiving gifts; that you have to adopt a certain mindset that allows you to be receptive to, and aware of, the gifts you may be being given. This article in particular, I thought, summed up well my experience with gift-giving and gift-receiving:

No one ever taught me how to receive. Not a compliment; I am a master at countering any comment with insight about all my faults. Not a gift; I immediately feel the need to give something in return, preferably bigger. Not a kindness; I wave people away from helping me in a grocery line, no matter that I am dropping bread as I speak.

How could I have gone through so much life and have no experience with such a fundamental act as the ability to receive?

As I begin to examine this, I realize for me receiving involves vulnerability. When I give, I feel in charge. When I receive, I feel less.

Give feels like an action word; receive feels like something passive. Yet I can see how mistaken I am. Giving and receiving are yin and yang, the equivalent of the infinity symbol—looping back and forth, neither side larger than the other, both integral to the larger whole.

But I am becoming more open to receiving gifts: a few weeks ago I wrote about the gift of free lemons I found on the sidewalk, and just yesterday I experienced a similar moment on my walk around the neighborhood. I came across a plum tree that I only noticed because the over-ripen fruit that had fallen from its branches made splashes of bright reds and purples on the road. I looked up and saw, camouflaged in the tree’s purpley-red leaves, a few small, cherry-sized plum fruits that remained clinging to its branches. I reached up and picked two of the fruits and was shocked to discover their sweetness upon putting them in my mouth.

As I sucked the juices from the plum, rolling the pit around in my mouth once its flesh was gone, I noticed how I savored its flavor: first full and sweet as I bit into the skin, then a bit of sour as I reached a piece of its unripened flesh.

I noticed how my experience of eating this fruit – that I had received as an unexpected gift – was so different from how I might have eaten a plum that I purchased at the grocery store. Something about the way I had come across the plum – as a gift from nature, rather than a store-bought object – fundamentally changed how I interacted with it.

I think of a book I read recently (thanks, Dana, for the recommendation!) called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. In it, its author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, discusses nature through the lens of both modern science and indigenous wisdom. When I get home from my encounter with the plum tree I go to my bookshelf and find the passages from her book that I’d highlighted:

Perhaps it was because I’d read this book that I had this momentary awareness of my relationship to the plum, and I’m grateful for it. And I think about how, if we truly receive and appreciate nature’s gifts, we also cultivate a relationship with nature that is inherent with respect, gratitude, and reciprocity – in essence, the one native people have always had. It’s the same notion that’s described in the blog article: when we receive a gift, we are allowing ourselves to partake in a cycle that relies on both giving and receiving, and that both parts of the process are made more full as a result.

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

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

Ben Howard released a new album that I (shockingly!!!!!) have not been able to take off repeat: https://open.spotify.com/album/09P40BHcaue9iF4QasXMTK?si=hVrCF0tbRQOcOkeRzxl6Og. 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.

A Lil Holiday Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Odd Moment of Beauty

Thoughts at the end of a busy Wednesday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nowhere to Be

Nowhere to Be (a “poem” I wrote typed on my phone while on a walk)

What a privilege it is to have nowhere to be
this morning, outdoors, with the cold wind on my face.
I pass the construction workers on the main street nearby
as the sun rises
and I yell “good morning” and they yell “good morning” back
“Have a wonderful day!” we say.
They are working
and soon I will be, too, but for now
I have nowhere to be
but here, outdoors, with the sun shining on my face.


I love walks. I’m thinking of all the wonderful walks I’ve been on over the past few months. Coronavirus sucks a lot a lot a lot but I am thankful for the time it has given me to walk. Yesterday I watched a Sierra Club livestream about post-election work for environmental justice and Leslie Fields (fucking badass, by the way) said it beautifully: “One of the few silver linings about this syndemic…is that people have really gotten outdoors. People have really explored their local parks, they’ve explored their national parks, they’ve just explored their neighborhood better and gotten to know their neighborhoods. How do we bottle these feelings of connectivity and make sure it lasts when we get through this terrible time?”

Actually, the parenthetical appreciation for Leslie is not enough: WHAT A F*CKIN BADASS!!!!!! If you’re interested in the wisdom she has to share about environmental justice and the work we can do together, you can watch the recording here (22:15 onward is where she makes some of my favorite comments).

And as usual, a blog post that started about something (walking) ended up with me ranting about something else (badass women doing incredible work for environmental justice). That’s the point of writing – or any kind of critical thinking, really – though, right? To make connections between things? To find relations and intersections between everything we read and experience and consume?


Some of my favorite walking memories & photos from the past month:

With Dana along the coast in Half Moon Bay as the sun set. Golden hour with a golden gal, if you will:

With Thomas along the Tuolumne River on my birthday weekend. We sat along the edge of the river on the most wonderful, peaceful morning:

By myself through our new neighborhood. Moving from San Francisco to Berkeley has given me an entirely new 5-block radius to explore:

I brought home one of the pineapple guavas pictured above because I hadn’t seen any since Thomas and I did a hike along the Nā Pali Coast on our honeymoon. We hiked the full Kalalau Trail and had enough food for the round trip journey, but we (naïvely) underestimated the Hawaiian summer heat and humidity and ran out of water halfway through. On the trail home we picked pineapple guavas from surrounding trees and sucked their juices for hydration. I guess it worked, considering we made it back alive. And here’s a fun fact: the pineapple guavas are actually an invasive species and pose an ecological threat to the endemic flora and fauna in Hawaii.

A little thank you, then, to the random house in Berkeley who reminded me of our honeymoon adventure. (Thomas wouldn’t eat the guava, though, which was disappointing.)