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.

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.

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

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.

Eating Disorders and Privilege

Before I begin: I have hours of thoughts on this topic beyond what I’ve shared below so…I would love to talk more with anyone who is interested. Please message me if you want to talk; it can be as general or as personal as you wish.

A few other prefacing notes/disclaimers:
The podcast I talk about in this post is eating disorder-themed, but its messages are universal and I imagine anyone who has struggled with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions will resonate with them. While I consider myself recovered from my eating disorder, my eating disorder was nothing more than a manifestation of certain harmful beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. I have been in therapy for years and am still working to address the “bigger issues” and foundational beliefs that may no longer result in disordered eating but present themselves in other ways.


I spend so much time struggling to figure out how I fit in in the world: where to take up space and where to make room for others; when to listen and when to speak up; how to find purpose, and how to act in a way that spreads love and compassion rather than violence and hate.

I listened to a podcast last month and – I never thought I’d say this about a podcast – it changed the way I view myself and the world.

In working to find my purpose I look for the intersection of “things I know about” and “things I care about.” So when this podcast explained the relationship between something I know about (white privilege and white supremacy) and something I care about (eating disorders and social justice) I felt compelled to share my experience. I hope that, in reading this, I give you at least one of four things: 1) knowledge to take with you, 2) a framework for your own experience if this resonates with you, 3) a place for contemplation and discussion about how we can better the world going forward, 4) an affirmation that the work you are doing on yourself (whether it be from a place of privilege or from a place of oppression) is important and brave.

The podcast begins with the interviewee, Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, CEDSS, highlighting that the purpose of the conversation is not to center it around privileged white people, but rather to acknowledge the ways in which we are implicitly taught racism and the importance of breaking from this model so that we can bring justice and equity to those who are oppressed. She then goes on to describe my personal experience in an eerily accurate way (picture me listening to this podcast with my mouth open, wondering if my therapist had secretly been disclosing what I have shared with her in our sessions). She says:

“Over the years of working with many quite privileged white teenagers, I’ve discovered that underneath their eating disorder and the ways that their self care is disrupted, there is often a terrible guilt and self loathing. And when we explore more deeply, they have so many conflicts about the excesses they enjoy, the privilege, the money, the education, the lessons, the training, all of the freedoms they enjoy, while they are really sensitive and in touch with the suffering in the world. So these are women who are attuned and sensitive and who care about the world and who can’t reconcile their own privilege.”

I mean…ok…wow. If there’s a word that comes up more than all others in my journals (except “grateful” of course) it’s “guilt.” I’ve tried to move beyond the phrase “I hate myself” but that was certainly a staple in my high school journals. But other than knowing I am a “sensitive” person, I had never been able to make sense of why I hated myself so much and why I have never been able to shake the guilt and shame. Scott goes on to present the answer in the form of a metaphor perfectly apt for someone who spent their whole childhood playing sports: children’s soccer.

“We win and we get more. We win because we are extra good, extra special, which is … training our kids to numb themselves against the loser, and teach us this competitive model of self-worth that is inherently problematic and fragile because we have to always be above average in order to be eligible for our privilege.

So these kids, as I did myself, produce a drive to be “more competitive, more supreme, more perfect, in order to make sense of the fact that things are really unequal and we can see that they are.” As I listened I started to understand how my perfectionism and competitiveness (both traits which lent themselves perfectly to an eating disorder) have been ways of trying to reconcile the inequality I saw with the privilege that I had. It was this constant desire to have “earned” the privilege, to fight against the idea that there was something inherently bad about me, to – in Scott’s words – “balance the equation, or not take too much.” And, more importantly, I saw how this idea itself – that I always had to be above average; this competitive model of self-worth – is white supremacy. We take the parts ourselves that we hate and we project them on to others. Racism quite literally developed as a result of white people afraid of being less worthy than other white people and projecting that violence and hate onto black and brown bodies. (Quick note: you might be reading this and think to yourself, “Sounds like capitalism!” which…yes…but that is for another time.)

Everything Scott talked about felt like holding a mirror up to myself. And it became perfectly clear to me why I developed an eating disorder (and anxiety, depression, etc.): “Many times people with eating disorders are just the most obedient to what we’ve been taught, which is that we must always be special and supreme and apart from ‘those people.'”

Growing up, I don’t think I understood who “those people” were. In fact, in my community, there were so few minorities that the only people to whom I ever compared myself were other privileged white people! But the fact remains that I had internalized this cultural and societal message that I had to get rid of the “bad” parts of myself, the parts that I didn’t want, the parts that didn’t make me eligible for my privilege. The same parts that white people have tried to get rid of for centuries and have instead projected onto black and brown people.

And therein, of course, lies the biggest impact of all of this: “people who are in black and brown bodies are dealing with a tremendous amount of negative projection and violence. It’s a violent idea, to take what I don’t like about myself and push it on to your body, and to destroy you to get rid of that part. It causes this toxic violence to be internalized into their bodies, and they have to endlessly shovel this anger and criticism out of their own bodies.”

I return to an interview with Toni Morrison who (of course) puts it perfectly: “Despite (and because of) its lofty delusions, white supremacy makes things worse for everyone, white people very much included. It succeeds because the belief in “whiteness” as a category of specialness covers up deep-seated insecurity and doubt.”

White supremacy is hurting us all and that applies explicitly to mental health. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that rates of anxiety and depression continue to grow, do you?

But where does that leave us? Where does that leave me in my quest to heal myself so that I can heal others?

For white people, Scott says this: “Learn to be brave. Learn to turn towards [your] fears and turn towards that which we don’t want, and integrate it, in the same way you would integrate trauma. It’s a trauma to constantly be cutting ourselves off with scissors [trying to remove parts of ourselves we don’t like]. So the work is similar: … integrating how to inhabit our bodies with all of our parts … and for people of color, it’s having the support and protection to be free of those projections. For white people it’s about being brave…and [facing] the parts of ourself that we fear…rather than projecting them.”

A big part of my work, then, is to be brave and to practice self-compassion rather than self-loathing. It is to accept and integrate all the parts I fear or dislike in myself rather than try to push them away, or worse, project them on others. It is a radical act to accept myself as I am. It is a radical act to accept and to love my body. And it’s only when I stop being paralyzed by self-loathing that I am motivated to act, to change, and to have time and energy to dedicate to helping others.

Thanks for reading and listening. Again, please reach out if you want to talk.


Link to the podcast on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0vss46ZREPajaJCNFKuk7b?si=MoCJA8U4TLmfu47OPobQng.