Racing in the Street

Leslie and I were talking the other day about how we only have so many “energetic” hours in our day; namely, the first few after we wake up. My hours of peak focus and energy are probably 6am-11am, after which I become increasingly unfocused and useless. The problem with having this limited 5 hour window is that it means I need to fit into it whatever has to be accomplished that day.

I think back to my college years when I’d wake up at 5am, be waiting outside the door of our campus Starbucks for it to open, and sit there for the next few hours cranking out whatever math or CS problem set was due later that day. Being a morning person in a CS major did not work well, considering all my classmates would collaborate on their problem sets from 10pm-2am, long after I’d gone to sleep.

But I’m still the same way, and each morning I wake up and have to decide what to use those precious few hours to accomplish. If I’ve got a lot of work on my plate I’ll do that, which means that on days I used to head into the office around 8 or 9am I’d have already done my most important work of the day.

It’s frustrating, though, to not be able to focus on much after a certain time. Every silly “life-hack”/productivity post tells you to schedule around these hours of peak performance, but for me it’s difficult to decide what I want to use those hours for. If I have work to do that takes priority – gotta pay the bills! – but if I want to have energy for a run or bike ride, or to read or write, those activities fall by the wayside. With my writing, for example, either I do it first thing in the morning (like I am now) or it doesn’t get done. And I want to write more!

That’s the good thing about Sundays, I guess. I woke up with no plans and am now out for a walk, typing this on my phone as I head down Folsom St. The rain just stopped and the sky is clearing up and the trees lining the street look especially green this morning:

I’m listening to Bruce (duh) and thinking about how basically everything in life (work, sports, our bodies) is temporary except for art. My body will age and at some point I won’t be able to hike any more, but music will still be there. Maybe that’s why I love music so much? Because I’m subconsciously afraid of the day my job and my body can’t preoccupy me anymore and I’m left feeling empty and unfulfilled?

Just passed this beautiful rose still wet from the rain.

Ah, man. Well at least I got a few words down this morning. Most of my thoughts happen when I’m out walking or hiking or running or riding so the walk-and-type strategy works well for me. It does mean that I have to make sure I’m paying attention to traffic and, if I’m on a trail, rocks and divets. I said to Thomas earlier this week that I need to buy a cheap handheld recorder so I can safely dictate my thoughts while out on a ride. Maybe I’ll start updating this blog with some of my morning “one-liners,” which is how I like to refer to a random thought that pops into my head but never end up elaborating on.

Anyway. Back to Bruce.

Good Morning(s)

I love mornings because they feel like a clean slate. I don’t know if that’s always a helpful thought to have, because “clean slates” aren’t really how the world works. But sometimes it helps me to know that if I go to bed feeling depressed or anxious or angry that tomorrow is a new day, and the sun will rise again, and the way I’m feeling then won’t be how I feel forever.

Recently, though, mornings have been feeling less innately “clean” and hopeful. I don’t want to waste energy dissecting the impact of Covid on our mental health (there’s already plenty of good material out there on that topic), but of course these circumstances are unique. And it sucks that, in these circumstances, the “fresh start” I usually ascribe to mornings doesn’t seem to apply.

But mornings are still the best part of my day. They are, for logistical (Thomas is still asleep), logical (working hours have not yet begun), and some unfounded (I collapse into a useless ball of anxiety in the evening) reasons, the time of day when I feel most entitled to “take time for myself.” For me, that looks like sitting down with a nice big glass of iced coffee and listening to music. And if there’s one good thing that’s come from shelter-in-place it’s that I don’t have anywhere else to be in the morning except there, at my kitchen table, drinking iced coffee and listening to music.

Maddy Mornings: A Photo Series

Guys.

It’s official: I have too many feelings.

It’s very inconvenient, to have this many feelings all the time.

I keep meaning to finish and post the four other bits of writing I’ve started over the past few days…but, as usual, it’s now 8pm and all I’ve done since finishing work two hours ago is listen to music on the couch.

I think my real problem is that, for as fast as I can type, my heart feels and my brain thinks ten times faster. In the minute it’s taken me to type these sentences out, I’ve already felt like…five different things? Yeesh. Is everyone like this, or am I just crazy? I wouldn’t care as much if it weren’t so overwhelming: to oscillate between happiness and sadness, to barely start to understand one emotion before another comes crashing on in. And what about the times when my heart feels full but I can’t tell if it’s full of happiness or sadness? Or maybe something else entirely?

It doesn’t help that Thomas, the person I’m around most often, is one of the most straightforward and logical people I know. He never seems overwhelmed by his thoughts; whenever I try to explain to him what goes on in my brain he gives me a blank stare or says something along the lines of, “What the f*ck goes on in there?” Fair enough.

So this is nothing but an I’m-sitting-on-the-couch-typing-whatever-comes-into-my-head-as-fast-as-I-can post.

Here are some of the songs I’ve listened to in the past hour:

  • Depth Over Distance / Ben Howard
  • Forever / Ben Harper
  • All I Want Is You / U2
  • Round Here / Counting Crows
  • Hot Heavy Summer / Ben Howard, Sylvan Esso

And I’ve been looking at pictures of trees. Most of my phone’s camera roll is either pictures of trees or flowers from various neighborhoods and parks in San Francisco. Here are a few of my favorites, before I drift off to sleep on this couch…

Hang in There, Everyone

I’m using the boring post template I introduced back in November because I want to write more but my “well of ideas” is as dry as my skin right now (lol!). Being creative is hard when you’re someone who derives the majority of their inspiration from the outdoors. My mind – just like my body – feels stuck.

Date and Time: Wednesday, March 25, 2020. 8:37am.

It feels selfish and foolish to write or think about anything other than the coronavirus. It’s impossible not to feel helpless and confused and scared about the thousands of people suffering and in need of help. But it also feels necessary to read, write, and think about things other than the virus to maintain some semblance of psychological health. I’m lucky enough to have a job, a home, a wonderful partner, and my health. I know how lucky I am. I’m trying to help others in whatever ways I can. It’s a tired saying, but it’s true that you can only help others if you help yourself first.

I joked on Twitter the other day about how prepared I felt for the way this crisis would affect my mental health:

(#FollowMeOnTwitter)

On a more serious note: the coping strategies I’ve been practicing for years to deal with my anxiety and depression are now at the forefront of articles and media about how to stay mentally healthy during this crisis. Meditation, journaling, therapy, etc. are being recommended more than ever, to the point where I wonder if anyone’s actually doing these things or everyone’s just posting and tweeting about them????? (Also, if I see one more home workout video, I might lose it!!!!!!!)

The difficult thing about these practices is that they – whoa! – take practice. The only reason I’m able to take deep breaths and reframe my thoughts (#CBT) in this time of crisis is because I’ve practiced them over and over when I’ve been in…not a crisis. It was when things felt more manageable that I was able to gradually, successfully alter my trains of thought and transition from unhelpful behaviors to helpful ones. Then, when I did enter a time of crisis – a serious bout of depression, my injury, this pandemic – I had enough practice to have made these exercises a habit.

All of that’s to say: it’s OK if you don’t have things under control right now. I’m 99.99% sure no one does. So give yourself a break.

Location: At home (duh). I started sketching but then I realized I had a 9am meeting so here’s my half-finished sketch (was just getting to the reflections in the water…):

Guess what’s been on my mind….?!?!?!

I figured drawing mountains would be one way of feeling closer to them in this time. Thomas, however, was relieved when Yosemite announced its park closure because he’d spent the previous weeks afraid that he’d wake up one morning and I’d have packed up and gone to shelter-in-place in Yosemite. (I can’t pretend it wasn’t something I seriously considered.)

It’s also crazy how much I’m coming back to thoughts and sentiments I expressed over a year ago when I first started posting on this blog. For example: my first post in which, in the last paragraph, I talk about sharing more writing and art despite the fear of being “bad” at it. I hope others are encouraged to create more in this time just for the heck of it.

Weather: It’s been rainy and grey outside the past few days. For those of us who rely on sunshine and fresh air to stay sane, this weather (combined with the shelter-in-place, obviously) is a double whammy. The house in which Thomas and I live doesn’t receive much natural light; I ordered a “White Light Therapy” lamp online last week in the hopes that it makes it easier for me to stay inside. Thomas, meanwhile, seems to have no issue with staying inside all day, which is confusing to me but good for him.

Listening to: Lots and lots and lottttsssss of music (sorry, I still can’t get into audiobooks or podcasts). Ideally I would use this time to discover new music – or at the very least catch up on what everyone else has been listening to for the past few months (finally learned what the “Renegade” dance is last night, #let’sgo) – but I’m still listening to the same ol’ tunes.

Made this evergreen meme a few months back.

Music recommendations are very welcome at this time. And TV show recommendations, too. I started rewatching New Girl last night. Season 1, Episode 1, baby. Spoiler alert: it’s still fucking hysterical.

Hang in there, everyone. Much love.

(Finally) Writing About Springsteen

I’ve written pages and pages about Springsteen over the years: in my journals, in notebooks, even in a few high school English class papers (those definitely got As). I have multiple unpublished drafts on this blog that attempt to describe the impact his music has had on my life, but none of them ever feel complete. There’s too much I want to say and – because I’m not Springsteen, of course – I can’t find the words.

So I’m ditching that paradigm for now – the quest for the perfect words to describe everything I feel about his music and its influence on my life – and instead pedaling slowly on the stationary bike inside my house, watching the Springsteen documentary “Wings for Wheels” on the computer screen set in front of me, typing these words out on my phone as they come to me.

It’s no coincidence I’m watching and writing about Springsteen in the midst of this global crisis; his music is where I’ve always turned in personal times of crisis. I think back to deaths in my family, or when I’ve received difficult news or experienced bouts of serious depression…whenever I was grieving and needed hope, his music was there.

“Religion” is a loaded word and it sounds dramatic (not to mention slightly concerning?) to proclaim Springsteen’s music as my religion. But if you think about the purpose of religion in people’s lives, it’s often for that very reason: to instill faith and hope in dark and difficult times. (“Show a little faith,” I’m now singing to myself.)

There’s a solid chance I sound crazy to some of you (to be fair, last time I went to a Springsteen show the couple next to me alarmedly asked if I was ok when I started sobbing during the piano introduction to “Backstreets”) but in this – or any – time of crisis, it’s essential to have something that brings you hope. Maybe that’s religion (in the conventional sense of the word), maybe that’s music, maybe that’s art, maybe that’s family or friends.

In the words of the great Clarence Clemons, legendary saxophonist and member of Bruce’s E-Street band, “When a fan says, ‘Man, you saved my life; I heard [your sax solo on] Jungleland … and I cried … and I felt joy in my life again,’ that’s my hall of fame.”

Maybe one day I’ll find the right words to explain the role of Bruce’s music in my life; maybe I won’t. I guess that’s what faith and magic and music are all about.

Feel-Better Friday

I started watching Schitt’s Creek a few weeks ago at the recommendation of many friends and, first of all…

I was not!!!!!!! expecting it!!!!! to get so emotional!!!! For context: I finished Season 3 last night, and the Grad Night episode took it right out of me. I’ve been watching an episode per night as comic relief after stressful days, so when the characters started doing nice, genuine, heartfelt things for each other, I just… wasn’t ready.

And so, as I sit down to commence Season 4 tonight:

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In other news:

It’s been a rough past few days, and in case it has been for you, too, here are some things that have cheered me up (aside from Schitt’s Creek, of course):

1. This new song from The 1975, which sounds exactly like most of their other songs, and for that reason is perfect.

Every time I listen to them I’m transported back to the months I spent backpacking in Australia and New Zealand, cooking pasta and drinking cans of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey & Coke in hostels, falling in love lust with wild, man-bunned men, picking weeds on a farm in Tasmania, watching summer sunsets on a deserted beach. There’s a lot to be said for music that reminds you of simpler times, when your biggest concern was trying to look cute when you passed your crush in the hallway between periods.

The band also released their 2020 North American tour dates which devastatingly do not include any locations in Northern California. How else am I supposed to relive my feelings of teen angst and swoon over Matt Healy with a bunch of other like-minded young adults?!

2. This live performance of “In Your Eyes”:

How had I never seen this before?! Luckily, I discovered this amazing live version just when I needed it most: on a Tuesday morning when I couldn’t motivate myself (even after a large coffee) to commence another banal day. This timely discovery resulted in a 7am dance party in my kitchen and an eventual motivation to get on my bike and ride to work.

3. This incredible article from OneZero that answered one of my life’s most pressing questions. It also led me down the rabbit-hole that is browsing random articles on wikiHow and scrolling through pictures on the finely curated cursed wikihow’s Twitter. Here’s a slideshow of my personal (not to mention relatable) favorites:

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4. Last night’s sunset and – even better – this father in a Subaru who, with his two young children in tow, pulled over to the side of the road to take a picture of it:

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If I ever had a spirit animal, this guy would be it.

5. This book I came across at a bookstore after work on Wednesday night:

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If I had to sum up a few of my mental health issues in a sentence, it would be something like: “I don’t have realistic or concrete goals and therefore continually set myself up for disappointment and depression.” So, when I saw this cover on display in the bookstore, it made me laugh out loud. Sometimes you just have to make fun of yourself and your problems to get through.

To the Mountains…

Thanks, Spotify, for letting me know that Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry” was one of my top played songs in 2019. I’m not sure what that says about how I’ve emotionally progressed since middle school, but make of it what you will. I wonder how many of Spotify’s “Top Songs of the Year” playlists create a virtuous cycle in which you listen primarily to that playlist the following year, causing your “Top Songs” for that next year to be the same list. Another question I have is why every single white girl I know had at least one – if not many – Maggie Rogers songs featured on her Top Songs of 2019. Has anyone written a think piece about her appeal to the white, privileged female audience? (This isn’t a knock on her or anyone who listens to her – I enjoy her music myself – but genuine curiosity).

While I always enjoy my yearly recap of top songs, this year’s was especially interesting as it featured a look back on my top songs and artists of the decadeas well as top tracks by season. It’s crazy how well these songs correlate to specific seasons (literally and metaphorically) of my life. For example: I had MUNA’s new album on repeat during my four month injury recovery because it filled me with a kind of excitement and movement and hope despite not being able to leave the couch. Ben Howard features prominently on these playlists, and I can pinpoint the weeks of time when I had a certain song of his on repeat (literally, on loop for hours on end) and remember in detail the walks I went on while listening to it and what I was thinking about and what streets I explored and what the sunset looked like that night. Spotify calls its personalized, curated throwback playlists “Your Time Capsule” which might be the best way to describe music’s function for me: the facilitator of connection between myself and a place, or people, or emotion at a given time.

Kinda nuts to think about what my life would look like without music. Pretty empty, I imagine.

Anyway. I’m in the car with Thomas and Aaron; it’s late on a Thursday night and we’re driving up to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. I’m psyched for some mountains. And some beer. And an opportunity to wear fuzzy socks without my feet overheating. That last item there is what the holiday season is all about. I take that back – it’s also about stressing for weeks prior because you don’t have gifts for anyone and, if you do happen to have a gift, it’s not nearly exciting enough and you’ll need to supplement it with something else otherwise they will be disappointed and won’t love you. Don’t mind me, I’m just over here getting in the holiday spirit! Living in fear of letting everyone down and being abandoned! Ho ho ho!

Here’s a question for everyone: what’s your favorite holiday tradition? I need to lock down some new “traditions” for Thomas and I that I’ll force him to endure each year so that I feel fun and festive and like we’re a family who has traditions. The only one I attempted to institute this Thanksgiving was “give a speech before dinner about what you’re thankful for” but that didn’t work out because Thomas didn’t want to participate and sat there stubbornly until we all got too hungry and started to eat. (It should be noted that I even prompted him by saying, “You could say you’re grateful for me,” to which he responded, “I’m grateful that you have me.” I suppose I signed up for this.)

We’re cruising down 80 now and Aaron’s playing the kind of folk/rock-ish music that I only enjoy when driving to the mountains (think Silversun Pickups kinda stuff). It’s pitch black; I’m used to the bright overhead lights of Connecticut’s I-95 and am always overwhelmed by the feeling of isolation that washes over you on these dark, lonely roads. We pass the small towns that make me sad at night but transform into beauty and safety and light in the morning. I’m lucky to be in good company.

Women Are Magic

I’m starting my Friday the way I’ve started every day for the past week: brushing my teeth (difficult because I can’t bend over to spit in the sink), sitting on the couch (well-equipped with multiple pillows and blankets for maximum comfort), washing down my morning pain medication with iced coffee (who needs water?), and listening to music. I have to say – aside from the always-dull-and-sometimes-sharp pain in my chest and back – I’m enjoying having the time and space for these slow mornings. In my dreams of retirement this is how I spend each morning, though maybe I’ll have to substitute the coffee for decaf, and ideally I’m in a log cabin in the mountains (and will I even be able to retire in this economy?!).

This morning I’m listening to one of the most beautiful songs dans le monde:

This song feels like a secret that I’ve kept hidden away in some deep corner of my heart… the kind of secret, like a hidden trail in the mountains, that you simultaneously want others to experience the magic of but also don’t want to give away because it feels like losing a part of yourself?

Every time I listen to this song I’m overwhelmed by the power and emotion and incredible beauty that Joan produces from nothing but an acoustic guitar and her voice, the closest humans will ever come to making true magic…

And then I think about this woman, this one woman, and how I wish I were so beautiful, and how there are so many beautiful women in this world making magic, small and tender magic, loud and powerful magic, some of which will be recognized but most of which the world will never see, confined to their minds and souls and maybe sometimes shared with those closest to their hearts.

I hate that women have been reduced to external beauty. I hate that we as women have reduced ourselves to external beauty. F*ck the modeling industry and the media and superficiality and Instagram and any place where a woman’s body replaces her mind as the voice people listen to. I despise the society that forces this superficial beauty on us; but, even more so, I am angry that we often force it in ourselves; that women take pictures and sell bikinis and sports bras and an image of themselves to other women.

Women like Joan Armitrading and Jane Goodall and Toni Morrison and Ida B. Wells and Ada Lovelace and Patti Smith and Nina Simone and Billie Jean King and my best friends and the barista who greets me my name every morning at Starbucks and my grandmother and the mother sitting with her kids on the bus on their way to school and all the little girls writing poetry in their bedroom are who come to mind when I think of beautiful women. I feel lucky whenever I get to experience the power and depth and passion of these women, and am angered and saddened when I think about all the other beautiful women whose souls I haven’t gotten to know because they’ve been silenced or afraid or forgotten. As I share my thoughts here I think of women who have so much more to say, so much that needs to be heard but isn’t, and I wish I had a voice like Joan’s or a heart like that mother on the bus or a brain like Maya Angelou’s and I want to know them all. I don’t want to see another picture in a magazine, I don’t want to watch as a woman congratulates another women for being “beautiful” on a post on social media. I want us to know these women, to know all women, to recognize their real beauty.