“Introduction To Poetry”

On Saturday afternoon I head out for a walk under the guise of needing to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. I do, in fact, need to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, but Thomas and I both know that when I say I’m “going to walk to the pharmacy” that’s code for “I’m going out for a walk and there’s no knowing when I’ll be back.”

Needless to say, I take a slight detour at Pegasus Books on Shattuck. In my defense, it’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that Pegasus has been open for in-person browsing, and obviously I have to support my local bookstore (f*** Amazon!!!!!!!!!).

I spend thirty minutes browsing and in every section – philosophy, spirituality, literature, gardening, poetry, critical theory – I see a book I want to take home and spend the rest of the afternoon reading. I wish for not the first time that I had room in my apartment for more books, instead of the already-overflowing few shelves I hacked together in our bedroom. There’s a chance it collapses at some point soon; I keep stacking more and more books horizontally on the top shelf.

My book-browsing is interrupted by the realization that the pharmacy closes soon and if I don’t leave now I’ll fail to accomplish the actual task I set out to do. I hurriedly grab and pay for two of the used books I’ve had my eye on: Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Spring and Poetry 180, an anthology of contemporary poems.

The mini-haul.

On Tuesday morning I remember that, because Thomas is a student, we have a free subscription to The New York Times. I browse their website and come across this Letter of Recommendation that suggests you read the same poem every day for a month. While not a novel idea, I loved the author’s intention and practice behind it: “I always read my selected poem aloud, to hear the rhythm, and I like to read it first thing in the morning. Reading the poem at dawn, with my coffee, is a kind of meditation. And rereading the same poem forces me to slow down, to hone my observations.”

Over the past few months I’ve strayed further from starting my mornings in a meditative way. I used wake up and read or write; now, I immediately open my laptop to start work, or spend too long on Twitter catching up on the latest apocalyptic news. This letter feels timely – especially since I’d just bought a poetry anthology a few days prior. I resolve to start my next few mornings by reading a poem.

On Wednesday morning I wake up and open the anthology to the first poem, Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry.”

“Introduction to Poetry”

I’ve read it before – shout-out to my favorite high-school English teacher who introduced me to some amazing poems – but poetry will always be better when chosen rather than assigned. In the words of Billy Collins himself: “High school is the place where poetry goes to die.” (I might be one of the few who gained a greater appreciation for poetry in an academic context. To all the high school teachers: don’t give up hope!)

I will spare everyone my commentary on the poem (which would also be ironic given its content) but here are two of my favorite Billy Collins verses I want to share in the hopes others enjoy them as much as I do:

“But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her,
barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.”

“And I should mention the light
which falls through the big windows this time of day
italicizing everything it touches…”

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.

The world is a beautiful place

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.

Pizza Ponderings

I accidentally ordered buffalo chicken on my pizza this evening instead of barbecue chicken which, when eaten, is the equivalent of biting into a chocolate that you think is filled with caramel but is actually filled with raspberry, or eating a cookie that you think is chocolate chip but turns out to be oatmeal raisin. Disappointment across the board.

Aside from the chicken incident, the pizza tasted delicious, even more so because it marked the end of a long work week. There are few better feelings than sitting on the couch and eating pizza knowing you have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow. Similarly: getting into bed and not having to set an alarm.

Today was the culmination of months of work on a product our team has been building. When I heard we had “signed off” on the product this afternoon I was overwhelmed with relief. You know the feeling you get when you finish a school paper and then close out of the 30 research tabs you had open on your web browser? It felt like that. This evening I sat on the couch and opened the Notes app on my computer where I’d taken pages and pages of meeting notes about the project, jotted down unanswered questions, and listed out “action items” and “follow-ups.” I thought back to a few months ago when the project felt too enormous and complicated to tackle and every meeting seemed to end in more questions than answers…and yet, here we are, somehow having finished it. Another reminder (to myself, mostly) that things get done one day at a time, one answered question at a time, one small decision or task at a time.

I’m feeling extra grateful for Thomas this week, not because he’s done anything different than usual, but because of that. Because together we got through yet another long pandemic week and I know my mental health would be in a much worse place if it weren’t for him. No, wait – I take that back, he did do something different than usual this week: he did the dishes last night. Unprompted. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

On a related note: I’m baffled by how many dishes we go through each day now that we’re eating all of our meals at home. It feels like I’m doing a full sink’s worth of dishes multiple times a day, and we are going through dishwasher detergent like nobody’s business. I’m hoping – and this might just be my optimistic, make-myself-feel-better-about-all-the-dishes take – that our increase in dishes has meant a decrease in plastic packaging. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of our packaging consumption, which also became increasingly evident during the pandemic as we generated way too much recycling each week. It’s easier to forget all of the plastic-packaged salads and sandwiches I consumed at the office when the waste didn’t pile up in my own recycling.

Speaking of waste: Simplify the Holidays is a great resource I will be using to guide my celebrations and gift-giving this holiday season. I also loved this video:

Both Thomas and I have been busy with work lately so the quality time we spend together is usually an hour (two if we’re lucky) in the evening. My favorite nights are those on which we eat dinner together and then, just before bed, watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show. Over the past month, however, we’ve managed to watch every historical episode of GBBS and thus were in need of a new series to watch. After increasing pressure from my dad (he would text me once a day asking if we’d started watching yet), we decided on The Queen’s Gambit. “What could go wrong?” I thought. “Thomas is interested in chess and I love a good strong and complicated female character!”

What ended up happening, however, was that his inner chess nerd resurfaced (apparently he played competitively in high school???) and we had to pause the show every time the chess board was shown on screen so that he could analyze it. Exhibit A:

A few days ago I woke up to pee in the middle of the night and rolled over to find Thomas playing chess on his phone. I’m not sure he slept this week. Thanks a lot for the recommendation, Dad.

Pop Tv Thank You GIF by Schitt's Creek

Aside from finishing The Queen’s Gambit this week, I read Girl, Woman, Other. I enjoyed it, in particular the way the author portrays the changing face of feminism and what it means to be a woman through generations. It made me reflect both upon the progress we’re making in certain realms (from “white” feminism to intersectional feminism, for example), as well as how much perspectives are nuanced and a product of our context and environment. It made me think about the relationship between the past, the present, and the future, and how much each one should factor into our actions and experience. There were many passages and quotes that left me confused about how I felt or what I believed, which I appreciated – and in many ways see as the point of reading – buuuuuut I didn’t have anyone to discuss them with! So, if you’ve read the book, let me know! Some examples:

“she didn’t tell them she’d taken her father for granted and carried her blinkered, self-righteous perspective of him from childhood through to his death, when in fact he’d done nothing wrong except fail to live up to her feminist expectations of him.”

“I tell Mum she married a patriarch
Look at it this way, Amma, she says, your father was born male in Ghana in the 1920s whereas you were born female in London in the 1960s
And your point is?
You really can’t expect him to ‘get you’, as you put it
I let her know she’s an apologist for the patriarchy and complicit in a system that oppresses all women
She says human beings are complex
I tell her not patronize me”

“What matters most to me, is that I know how I feel, and the rest of the world might catch up one day, even if it’ll be a quiet revolution over longer than my lifetime, if it happens at all.”

“she runs for her life because to slip up is to begin descending the slippery slope to giving in to failure, to inertia, to feeling sorry for herself about that moment in her life which still creeps to the front of her memory when she least expects it”

There were also plenty of passages and quotes that made me think, “wow. yes” such as:

“ageing is nothing to be ashamed of especially when the entire human race is in it together”

“be a person with knowledge not just opinions”

“his bredren and sistren could damned well speak up for themselves why should he carry the burden of representation when it will only hold him back? white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race”

“I don’t want you to give in, I want you to change, to understand my reasoning at a deeper level and accept it as the truth.”

“We should celebrate that many more women are reconfiguring feminism and that grassroots activism is spreading like wildfire and millions of women are waking up to the possibility of taking ownership of our world as fully-entitled human beings
How’s can we argue with that?”

ANYWAY. If you have read the book – or if these quotes intrigue you enough to read it- I would love to discuss. In the meantime, I will be selecting a new book to read while Thomas plays online chess.

Fires, coffee, books (the usual)

I woke this morning to a red “Unhealthy” warning on my AirNow phone app. Instead of waking up, rolling over to grab my phone, and checking my work email, my mornings now consist of waking up, rolling over to grab my phone, and checking the air quality maps. What an inspiring way to start the day!

For my friends in California, the California Environmental Justice Alliance has put together an Environmental Justice Voter Guide that I found helpful. For my family and friends not on the West Coast, this opinion piece echoes what my experience has been like with the wildfires. Please, please take the time to educate yourself on the devastating impacts of climate change and vote accordingly. Here’s another recommended reading about the intersection of climate change and racial justice. And if you’re reading this and have other resources to share, please do so in the comments!

After drinking coffee and contemplating the dire situation in which we find our country and our planet, I finished reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. Ironically, I was hesitant to read it after seeing it won the 2016 Booker Prize, as I have not enjoyed many of the recent Booker-nominated novels I have read. I finally picked it up after one of my friends gave me his copy and I’m so glad I read it. My sister and I are planning to discuss the book in our little two-person book club so if anyone else wants to join, here’s your invitation!

I need more time to process the book before delivering my final thoughts and opinions; at the moment my reaction is best articulated by “Trish” and this review she posted on Goodreads:

My copy of this novel is spiked with tabs marking something deeply insightful, stabbingly funny, or needing revisiting. There is simply too much to point to: Beatty must have been saving up observations about race relations in America to get so much into this relatively short novel.

Same, Trish, same. I’ve also been reading so many books on my Kindle that I’ve taken for granted the ability to highlight passages and return to them whenever I want via a simple search; now I have a paperback book covered in Post-It Notes with no way to organize my thoughts! Ahhhhh! (The smell and feel of a paperback book in your hands is still unparalleled, though.)

In other morning news: Thomas was so exhausted that he made himself a cup of coffee. On one hand, I want him to get sleep and feel well-rested. On the other, it gives me great pleasure to watch him pouring that black elixir-of-the gods into a mug…

Oh, and I can’t end this post without a mention of the best news to come out of this week (besides the fact that one of my friends is getting a puppy):

It’s Bruce time (now, forever, and always), b*tches!!!!!!

Accidental Ode to San Francisco

I love the elm trees on Folsom Street, and the way their leaves turn a fluorescent green as they capture the early morning light.

The other day I hiked up Bernal Heights with a friend and, until she pointed them out, I had never thought to look at those trees from above:

One of my favorite things about San Francisco is all the places you can view the city from above; how you can simultaneously be in it and feel so far from it; how you can walk through the bustling streets of downtown Mission and a few minutes later look down at the people and chaos from the quiet of a hillside trail.

This morning, as I ascend Bernal Heights…

I am overdressed in this Henley (where did the word Henley come from, anyway?). I dressed for an overcast walk but of course now I’m sweating and I’m going to ruin this nice white shirt with pit stains. The upper lip sweat collecting beneath my mask reminds me of humid summers spent on the East Coast.

San Bruno Mountain looks beautiful this morning, a perfect ridge rising behind the colored rows of houses.

I love San Francisco. As people escape to the mountains, to lakes, to other coasts and other cities, I am reminded of everything I love about San Francisco: the way different neighborhoods feel like different worlds, the bright colors and contrasts, the people and the farmers’ markets, the endless plants and birds and trees, the cloudless blue skies and romantic foggy days, the hidden parks and stairways.

I’m going to miss this city when Thomas and I moved to Berkeley. I’m excited for change – we’ve been living in the same place since I graduated from school four years ago (?!?!?!) – but every year I’ve fallen more in love with San Francisco. And, even after four years, it still has corners and secrets I have yet to discover.

I forgot how much my thighs chafe when I run. If I’ve learned anything from biking, it’s that pre-exercise Vaseline can only help.

On my way to Mt. Davidson I pass a Little Free Library and pick up a book I’ve been wanting to read. I take a picture of my location so I remember to bring one back.

Also on the shelf are some of the books I loved as a child: Gary Paulsen’s The Island and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door. I think back to elementary school, when my parents would turn my light off at bedtime and I would use a little red light-up “Hot Wheels” toy that I got in a McDonald’s Happy Meal to light the pages of my book as I read late into the night.

The book’s a hardcover, though, so I’m looking forward to a month’s worth of “upper body strength” as I carry it for the rest of my jog.

Mt. Davidson is green and lush and beautiful after days of fog and rain. Something about the morning light and the moss and vines and the eucalyptus trees always makes me feel like I’m in a fairy tale and that Tinker Bell is hidden somewhere behind a branch.

On days like these I never want to go home. On days like these I want to keep walking, further, deeper, longer, each step bringing me closer to myself and to the soul of San Francisco.

Feel-Better Friday, Part 3

I’m confused as to how this work week was only four days because it seems to have lasted ages…? In addition to being busy at work my back has been acting up, making it difficult to sleep or move around without pain. As a result (and compounded by the fact I’m on my period, wtf Mother Nature) I’ve been exhausted, slightly sad, and unable to go on the rides/runs/hikes that often bring me joy.

All of that’s to say: I need me some “Feel-Better Friday”! Let’s get to it.

To start, I thought I’d share a cartoon from one of my favorite Twitter cartoonists:

Half of the time I don’t really understand what his cartoons mean, but they make me laugh anyway.

Next, a video of a #gooddog I saw on my walk to work this morning (sorry for the weird video formats, I had to use a third-party tool to upload them):

…which then reminded me of another video I took on my way to work a few months back. May we all aspire to this level of commuting efficiency:

I’m also reminded of a man I saw on a my neighborhood walk earlier this week who was carrying a large bag of cleaning supplies and a vacuum (presumably on his way to a job). He was holding the bag in one hand and had the vacuum nozzle expertly slung over his shoulder, so that in the other hand he could hold his iPhone. I passed him as he was FaceTiming his young daughter and I overheard him say, “I love you so much.” I’m inspired by all the hardworking people supporting their families each and every day.

Speaking of inspiration – I’m more uninspired than usual this week (again, #thanksalot period-induced exhaustion and anxiety) and struggling to find other “Feel-Better”s to share.

The hashtag #FridayVibes happens to be currently trending on Twitter, which I thought would help inspire some content but in reality was just a bunch of selfies. In the spirit of the #FridayVibes selfie trend, however, I thought I’d share a pic of my current “Friday Vibe”:

Live from the office, it’s me, looking tired! If you zoom in you can even see pimples 🙂

To finish up, I’ll draw from another source of content: the book I’m currently reading, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant. If you don’t follow its author, Joel Golby, on Twitter yet, you should probably do so. Here are two of my favorite (humorous, personally relatable) passages from the book thus far:

(The author is British. I enjoy this quote in particular because Leslie frequently mentions how she wishes she could come back to the United States not to visit me, of course, but for the snacks.)
@my own mom.

That’s all for this week, folks… I managed to cheer myself up so I hope this post had the same effect on some of you!

More Thoughts on Feeling Guilty

I wrote a few weeks ago about my incessant feelings of guilt and shame. In an ideal world, I’d be updating you all with the news that I’ve found a way to rid myself of these overwhelming (and, more often than not, overwhelmingly unhelpful) feelings. But, of course, my weekly therapy sessions and iterative self-improvement processes (journaling, meditating, thought-restructuring) don’t produce change overnight.

What I have done, however, is continue to explore and challenge these thoughts and feelings of guilt. I had two revelations this past week I wanted to share, especially if the struggles I described in my original post resonated with you.

First, and, ok, this wasn’t so much a “revelation” as it was a conversation with (my logical half) Thomas:

Me: I’ve been doing a lot of pro bono work [at Salesforce] recently. It’s cool because I get to work with a bunch of different nonprofits instead of just one, and it’s amazing how passionate people are about so many different causes.

Thomas: *sits there silently because he knows I’m entering full-on ramble mode, so even if he managed to get a word in edgewise I’d probably interrupt him*

Me: But it also stresses me out because I become more and more aware of causes that need attention and I can’t give to all of them. So it kind of just amplifies this guilt that I have about never doing enough. And also the guilt that I have about my privilege because people are suffering in so many ways.

Me: *continues to ramble about how guilty I feel for not doing more volunteer work, or doing something greater to help people, and how awful I feel about myself because of what I’ve been given, but haven’t “deserved”*

Thomas: Well, you could use the energy you spend tearing yourself down to raise other people up instead.

Yowzers. Get owned, Maddy.

Like I said, Thomas is my voice of logic and reason. Whenever I find myself spiraling down into a black hole of unhelpful/intrusive/negative thoughts I ask myself, “What would Thomas say about this thought?” More often than not I end up laughing because, when my thoughts are articulated – especially out loud – it becomes clear that they are generally… pretty ridiculous. Or dramatic, or illogical, etc.

In this conversation’s case, I was struck by how right he was. Of course it’s not helpful for me to waste time and energy tearing myself down. Somewhere along the line I’d convinced myself that privilege, suffering, and happiness were zero-sum games: that if I tore myself down, it would inherently raise others up. That if I self-inflicted suffering, others would feel better. That beating myself up would “motivate” me to do better and more for others.

But, of course, that’s not how the world works. Feeling additional guilt for my privilege wasn’t only not helping others, it was also leaving me paralyzed and less able to help others. And also, how did it make sense for me to want to ensure that everyone (including myself) was on the same – but lower -level, instead of wanting to raise those below me up to mine?

My second revelation came – in what had to be more than just coincidence – in the book I was reading: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. In it, Kalanithi touches upon religion’s role in his life:

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time. Not only that, but maybe the basic message of original sin isn’t ‘Feel guilty all the time.’ Maybe it is more along these lines: ‘We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.'”


There’s no better feeling than being delivered a message – via a book, a song, a conversation, a scent, whatever it may be – when you need it most. (Or maybe, of course, we now hear the message because we’ve opened ourselves to receiving it.)

Yes, I could be giving more. I could be a better, more selfless, more good person. But, for the most part, so could everyone else I know. And while it might be impossible for me to stop striving for this “good” ideal, I could probably start cutting myself a little more slack.