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.
Some things that happened today, Monday, August 24:
— I walked to the grocery store in full incognito mode. I hate wearing shades because they make me feel like an asshole but the smoky air left me no choice. Also, am I the only one who feels like shades create a barrier between them and the outside world? Whenever I wear them I get this feeling that I’m not seeing everything as it actually is – like the vividness and authenticity of my surroundings is lost – and it bothers me.
The covid/fire combo feels like some sort of cruel joke (99.99% sure we are being rightfully punished by some higher power for being a shitty species), but at least I’m so unrecognizable that I won’t have to make small talk with anyone I run into at Whole Foods! Which reminds me of an old tweet:
— I got pissed at Thomas when his alarm went off early because a) I’m on my period which means I’m incessantly tired and b) he never wakes up when it goes off?! Like…you’re going to wake me up early…when I’m exhausted…just to turn it off and doze back to sleep…and then browse ESPN for 20 minutes on your phone before getting out of bed?!
Luckily, he made up for it when, at 4:30pm, he saw I was stressed and exhausted and suggested that we “get some burritos for dinner to cheer Maddy up.” You have to hand it to the guy; he knows the way to my heart.
— I did 20 minutes of yoga on a mat on my kitchen floor because I’m trying to rest my body more and not run/ride/hike every day. The bad air quality is simultaneously making it easier to stay inside and making me feel more claustrophobic than ever, as if I didn’t already feel relatively trapped by covid.
(Actually, “yoga” is a generous term; it would be more accurate to say “stretching and deep breathing” which, hey, is more than I can usually say for myself! And whenever I take the time to slow down and take some deeeeep freakin’ breaths I notice just how tense I am. Years of practice ignoring my body and mind, I suppose!)
— I finished the last 10 pages of a book it has taken me ages to get through because it was good at the start but ended up dragging on forever. My inability to finish this book in a reasonable amount of time might set me back on my quest to read 50 books this year. Goddammit.
— I researched ways to help those impacted by the wildfires and donated to some of the following causes: http://linktr.ee/aidandresourcesfrom805. You should, too! And don’t take for granted the food on your table tonight. Speaking of food:
— I thought about attempting to make homemade gnocchi with the leftover potatoes we have in the fridge. Needless to say, that was a passing thought and I will instead order a burrito tonight because I’m a lazy piece of crap (who loves to support local businesses!).
—I came across this sign on my walk to the grocery store:
And now it’s 7:41pm and I’ve had my chips and burrito and I’m reading this fantastic article that was published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2017 that everyone should read! And then maybe I’ll start watching “Selling Sunset” because three different people have mentioned it today. We’ll see where the night takes me.
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.
I’ve recently started “live-documenting” my morning bike rides. Not only do my “best” (relative, of course) ideas come to me when I’m out riding (or walking/hiking/etc.) but I feel most alive and creative in those moments. So I’ve been stopping more often – at stoplights, on the side of the road, at public bathrooms (duh) – to take time to document in photos and words what I’m thinking and feeling, in the hopes that I hold on to more of these ideas and emotions once the ride is over. Walking and hiking are much more conducive to live-documenting than riding so I’ve had to experiment a little with doing so on the bike. I told Thomas the other day that I need to get a handheld recorder so I can talk and ride at the same time:
I’ve tried using voice-to-text on my phone – as I already do to send texts and emails – but the wind always obscures my voice. For example, earlier this morning I tried to say something about “Sausalito” but my phone typed out “Chinese kids”????
Anyway, here are some thoughts and pictures from my Tuesday morning cruise:
This was one of my more color-coordinated rides: I wore a blue hoodie, blue bib shorts, blue gloves, and my blue helmet. Disclaimer: the hoodie and gloves are Thomas’. One of the pros of him never reading what I write is that he’ll never know (I’m trusting my readers here) that I got his favorite hoodie extremely sweaty. Fingers crossed he doesn’t notice it’s missing until I’ve thrown it in the laundry.
My bike was looking pretty good, too. I got a tune-up recently so it’s not making awful screeching and squealing noises and I specifically requested new yellow bar tape to match the grip tape on my squash racket:
In typical Maddy fashion, I rode a random route through the city which led me past Bob’s Donuts, so of course I had to stop in for a quick glazed (#GlazedOrGTFO) for breakfast. There are only so many Clif bars I can eat before I need to diversify with a donut.
Speaking of donuts: everyone knows I love a restaurant with a good pun name. It was only recently that I discovered the “Thai Tanic” (!!!!!!) in downtown Sausalito, which absolutely blew my mind. And this morning, as I took a random route down Polk Street, I came across the brunch spot aptly-named “Friends with Benedicts.” I’m going to need all of my (three? four?) readers to submit their favorite restaurant pun names so I can feature them in my next #MorningRide update.
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?
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.
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…
I wake every morning before 6am, not to the sound of an alarm, but to racing thoughts in my head. My anxiety has made it difficult to sleep, breathe, sit still, or relax in any capacity. A good portion of my day is spent repeating deep breaths, deep breaths over and over to myself until I finally manage to get air into the depths of my belly. (I hate the word belly, by the way, it annoys me. But it feels more accurate than saying stomach in this context, so here we are.)
So when my eyes flew open this morning and it was still pitch black outside I wasn’t surprised. I stumbled out of bed and glanced at the neon green lights of the microwave clock: 5:41am. Nice. So much for sleeping in; my brain was already busy with thoughts about that day’s meeting schedule (when would I have time for lunch?), those starred-for-later emails I’d have to respond to, the personal items I had to take care of (had I paid that last medical bill? did my Dad want me to call him this afternoon?).
And thus began another day. I peed, brushed my teeth, drank a few sips of water in an attempt to “hydrate” before giving my body what it really needed:
Aside from being tired and anxious all the time – but who isn’t right now – waking up unnecessarily early has its perks:
Thomas is still asleep, so he can’t bully me about the disgusting amount of cold brew I chug
It’s already the afternoon in London, so I have plenty of time to FaceTime with Leslie
I’m finished 75% of my work for the day before my first meeting
If I don’t have work I need to do, I have plenty of time for a walk or bike ride
Because I’d been up til 11pm the previous night finishing work that was due today, I didn’t have as much to crank out before my 9am meeting as usual. An hour of solid work (the “requires focus and will definitely not get done after 3pm” kinda stuff) later I laced up my sneakers and gently closed the house door behind me. I was pretty sure I’d heard Thomas’ alarm go off already, but he has the enviable ability to hit snooze and fall back asleep so I kept quiet just in case. (Ugh, I am such a good wife.)
The sky turned from grey to orange as the sun started to rise and I could tell it would be a clear day. The first breath of fresh air is always the best; I inhaled as deeply as I could and closed my eyes. My breath felt quick and shallow in my throat. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
My legs carried me, slowly but surely, down 17th St., across Market, and up the hills of Corbett. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
Up a set of concrete stairs, past a small community garden, then to a vista that terraced the hill.
The sky was by now a clear blue and I turned to look at the sprawling city below me. The morning light filtered through the wide, unshuttered window of the house in front of me, and sprinkled onto the shrubs and flowers on the sidewalk below.
I took a deep breath, and felt the morning air make its way alllll the way down to the bottom of my belly.
At exactly 4:07pm on Wednesday, April 8 – four days ahead of schedule – I achieved “To-Do List Zero.”(That’s my version of “Inbox Zero” but, instead of an email inbox, refers to the weekly to-do list I write each Sunday that details everything I want to accomplish that week, both work-related and personal.)
I had a shockingly productive Monday and Tuesday and, despite starting to fade earlier this afternoon, kept plugging away at the list items (note to self: where does the idiom “plug away” come from?). I finished the hefty work projects I’d been putting off for days (in favor of responding to one-off emails and chats which made me feel productive but weren’t exactly high-value activities), paid the medical bills that had been piling up on the corner of my kitchen table for two weeks, painted my mom’s birthday card (two weeks ahead of schedule, I might add #bestdaughterever), and put away my laundry.
So it was in the middle of a conference call that I referenced my weekly planner, distractedly planning what to work on next, and saw that all the checkboxes had been…checked off. The ensuing joyful sensation would have been much more gratifying were I not confined to my house with absolutely nothing better to do than immerse myself in work and household chores, but for a moment I experienced the brief high one gets from productivity.
It was in this state – of realizing I’d done everything on my list, but that the list itself was what had given me purpose the past few days – that I drew this quick sketch of the table in front of me:
And here it is with my “desk” (read: kitchen-table-turned-workspace) for reference:
Having nothing else to do for the day, while daunting and slightly depressing at first, gave way to an appreciation for the opportunity that lay ahead. The world was (almost) my oyster! Like…a tiny oyster! Who’s confined to a small section of ocean! I could read! I could walk! I could cook! I could write (this post)!
And so, at 5:28pm, a few minutes after my last meeting finished, I went outside for a short walk. Because my “office” doubles as my personal reading/writing desk as well as my kitchen table (a multi-purpose function explicitly not advised by any article titled “Helpful Tips for Remote Work”) I make sure to step outside to signal the end of a work day. (Also, on days like today when Thomas and I have a delicious-smelling curry made for dinner in the Crockpot, a short walk is a useful way to kill time so that I don’t eat dinner at 4:45pm.)
I bring my phone only in case of emergency and relish the time away from a screen. When I started going on these short walks after my spinal surgery – always within the same five-block radius of my house – I challenged myself to notice something new on each of them. These walks quickly became the most joyful part of my day.
And, as it turned out, there was absolutely no element of challenge involved in noticing something new each time. There was always an intricately-designed door on some house I’d never noticed; or a few flowers that had bloomed since the last time I walked by; or a street that looked entirely different depending on the weather and how light was reflecting that time of day.
Today, for example, I encountered the following interesting things on my 20-minute walk:
I may not be able to travel far these days, but I’m managing to keep things pretty interesting over here in Potrero Hill. That’s all for now; I’m off to Google the history of “plugging away.”