Nowhere to Be

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.)

Without Expectation

The morning air is cold and dry. Beneath the trees, on the trails covered with cracked and faded-brown leaves, it smells like winter. There is no one else around and I imagine myself on a mountain.

I am trying on this Monday morning to approach the week “without expectation.” I say these words to myself on the empty trail; they seem truer when I speak them aloud.

Maybe it’s because I am now “officially” a year older – my birthday was last week – that my thoughts about where I should be at this point in my life, or what I should have accomplished, are worse than usual. My tendency to compare myself to others has been strong and inevitably I’ve been feeling bad about myself. (“Why aren’t you this?” “Why haven’t you done that?” “If you weren’t so lazy you could have [xyz].”

Maybe, too, my anxiety is running especially high in anticipation of next week’s election – I know I’m not alone in feeling scared. I oscillate between doing the small things I can (donating, voting, writing postcards) and being paralyzed by fear and helplessness.

Usually when things are uncertain and I feel bad about myself I return to unhelpful coping mechanisms to maintain a semblance of control. I make plans for things I “need” to do or accomplish that week; I’ll sign up for too much; I’ll put pressure on myself to accomplish something grand. My expectations of myself are unrealistic and founded on fear and shame rather than pride and self-esteem. They are harmful rather than helpful as I always end up feeling worse when I (inevitably) cannot meet the exceedingly high expectations I have set for myself. In addition, I am unable to celebrate whatever things I may have accomplished because anything less than my original expectation is automatic failure. It’s all-or-nothing in my mind: perfection or disaster, there is no in between.

So there is no list of “things I need to do in order to be good enough/not fail” this Monday morning. I sit with the part of me that wants to give in to this compulsion to plan, to act, to expect of myself, but I don’t give in to it. Instead I close my weekly planner and go for a walk. (To be more explicit: a walk, rather than some intense exercise or a workout with a goal in mind. This is me slowing down. Without expectation.)


Monday evening: I lie in bed with Thomas, we watch an episode of “The Great British Bake Show.” In a shocking turn of events, I have not saved the world today. I have not single-handedly influenced the results of next week’s election; I have not founded my dream nonprofit; I have not run a world-record-breaking time on the trail nearby. And if I had started my day by expecting these things of myself…well, let’s be honest, none of them were going to happen anyway. My expectations would have done nothing but set me up for feeling like a failure at the end of the day. My belief that these expectations “motivate me” is unfounded. In retrospect, not once has setting too-high expectations meant I’ve achieved more. If anything I am more motivated when I begin from a place of acceptance and self-esteem: that I am OK as I am, that whatever I do or don’t do that day has no bearing on my worth as a person.

Am I overthinking my birthday? Probably. But it feels good to write this out, to acknowledge and give voice to parts of myself I’m ashamed of. Also – and maybe this will be the more optimistic part 2 of my “birthday reflection” series – Thomas took me to Sonoma for some amazing wine-tasting and so, as we lie in bed watching adorable British people bake biscuits, my anxieties are equally matched by my gratitude in this first day of my next year of life.

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.

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.

Some Things I Thought While Watching the Sun Set This Evening

Feel free to call me out as hypocrite here; I know I’m usually the person running and riding and squashing around like crazy. But today, the only exercise I got was walking two blocks from my front door to watch the sunset (OK, fine, also to pick up dinner at the Whole Foods hot bar because I’m a lazy and impatient piece of garbage who didn’t want to wait for pasta water to boil). And as I watched the exceptionally beautiful sunset (again, probably played a role in my current sentiments) I thought to myself, “I don’t need any more from ‘exercise’ than this.”

By which I mean that even though I have spent the majority of my life playing sports or being active, there’s only so much the intense physical activity is necessary for my happiness. I run and ride and hike because for me, to be outdoors is to be happy, no matter what it is I’m doing. To be able to sit outside and watch the sunset, or to spot the new flower blooming in front of my neighbor’s house, or to smell the ocean or the eucalyptus trees when they’re nearby; that is happiness.

And the feeling of my legs underneath me and my breath colder against the becoming-crisper October air; that is happiness.

And to notice: the smallest corners of the earth, my breath, the simultaneous silence of a sunset and the background cries of a bird or a child; that is happiness.

When I heal I will return to my sports and my jogs, I can’t pretend I won’t. There’s something about my heart beating hard in my chest and the burning of my quads that gives me an endorphin rush. But after not having any of that for the past six weeks – and believe me, I never thought I’d say this – I genuinely think I’d be ok without it. As long as I have this sacred earth’s nature, and the ability to notice and feel even the smallest moments of beauty and awe within it, I think I might just be alright.

(P.S. I wrote this stream-of-consciousness while sitting outside, in the dark, on the sidewalk outside Whole Foods. When I say that these are my unfiltered thoughts, know it’s no exaggeration.)