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.
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:
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 (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.)
Last Thursday morning I went for a bike ride. The best kind of bike ride, in my opinion: one on which I take more pictures than I ride miles.
It was the first day that week the smoke had cleared enough to get outside and I can’t remember ever breathing in the morning air so heavily.
Since then, the smoke has returned, and – maybe related, I’m not sure (so many confounding factors these days!!!!) – I’ve been feeling exhausted and sad.
I’m too tired to write anything of my own but I have spent the past week doing a lot of reading. So, in appreciation for the healing powers of both nature and art, I thought I’d share some of my favorite redwood-related poems and excerpts with you all:
The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
by Jane Hirshfield
More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
Woods are not like other spaces… They make you feel small.. like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in a woods and you only sense it. They are a vast featureless nowhere. And they are alive.”
I like to think of me and Thomas’ brain cell count as a zero sum game: if he’s gaining brain cells, I have to be losing them at the same rate. For example: it’s 8pm on a Saturday evening and he is doing readings for his policy classes. Therefore, in order to balance out his brain cell gains, I must lose the same amount by binge-watching “Love Island.” I don’t make the rules.
(Look: it’s not my favorite show, but I’ve already rewatched “New Girl” twice during the pandemic and I read an entire book today so I’m not sure what else to do with my time.)
I’m feeling lighter-hearted now because it’s 6am and I’m always more optimistic in the morning, but a lot has been weighing on me the past few days. My excuse for watching “Love Island,” therefore, is the same one most would give: it’s escapist. If I can’t be outside or with friends due to a pandemic and wildfire smoke, I might as well live vicariously through the dramas of 20-something-year-olds in Las Vegas.
Most of the weight I’m experiencing is feelings of helplessness; I see my friends (not to mention the world) struggling and I feel powerless to help them. Maybe it’s the pandemic or maybe it’s just life (probably the latter) but so many of my friends are going through tough times and I want nothing more than to make their pain and anxiety and hurt go away. Maybe I feel more helpless than usual because it’s hard to physically be there for others and therefore I’m relegated to sending texts, cards, and small gifts to let them know I’m thinking of them. I sit on my couch and read (or watch “Love Island”) but no matter how hard I try to concentrate on some alternate reality my thoughts inevitably return to my friends and family.
I don’t know what to do with this pent-up energy, this frustration that I can’t flip a switch and make the problems of those I care about go away. It’s not like I had that power before – though I can probably attribute a lot of my anxiety to the fact I can’t accept that as truth – but something about being physically still and confined aggravates it. That’s probably why my most effective form of escapism (or coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it) is being outdoors and exercising. (Jury’s still out on the fine line between helpful and harmful there.)
The sun is finally rising (I think? It’s impossible to tell through the smoke) and I want to end this post with a poem I read yesterday:
I, like most others in California right now, have been dreaming of rain…
My intention for today is to keep the spirit of the rain within me: “to fall, to be fellow, to feel to the root, to sink in…”
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!!!!!!
Last week I accidentally unmuted myself during a work call while funneling the remains of a family-size bag of popcorn into my mouth. A few seconds later: “Hey, Maddy, could you mute yourself?”
F*ck. Such is my life these days.
This week, however, my work laptop decided to stop functioning entirely so I’ve been trying to do my work using a combination of my phone (which has my work apps and VPN access) hooked up to a bluetooth keyboard I happened to buy last year. I’m feeling both resourceful and stressed.
It’s 6:19am and I’m sitting on the couch drinking coffee after waking up at 5 with awful period cramps. I spent a good portion of last night curled up in a ball on the couch before convincing myself that a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream would make the pain go away. (It did temporarily, for the record.) Now I’m banking on the fact that coffee will help, though there’s a better chance it will have the opposite effect.
Speaking of coffee: as of last week Safeway started stocking the Starbucks pumpkin spice blend which I’ve been using to craft my homemade cold brew:
I was planning to go for a ride or jog but the combination of cramps and smoke outside means I’ll be hanging out on the couch until my 8am meeting, which is just as well considering I have plenty of work to do and only a phone to do it with!
Thomas just emerged groggily from our bedroom, which reminds me that last night I discovered he doesn’t know who Jason DeRulo is. Or, more accurately, he “maybe recognizes the name?”. I love Thomas but sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed married for three years to a man who lives under a rock.
I can already tell this day is going to be a struggle so there’s only one thing left to do: