Friday, October 16, 2020


Decided to make some time for celebration before November 3rd. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Where to start.

I just turned 30.

I am happy to be 30. Pretty uneasy about the general state of the world but excited for a new decade.

I don’t have much to say about the milestone but I do want to talk a little about my last year. I spent most of the last year with my hands going numb, the pain increasing as the day wore on. Often by night, my whole hand and arm would be in pain and all I could do was go to sleep and hope that I would wake up, the pain slightly less.

I did not expect for my hands to rebel at me in my twenties. To go to the doctors and get my test results back with the diagnosis: severe carpal tunnel in both hands.

In a way, I was lucky to get the diagnosis. My pain was not in my head, after all. It wasn’t just anxiety manifesting in my arms. It was real and it had a remedy that was relatively quick and easy. I could get surgery in both wrists to release the pressure on my nerves and from what I was told, the pain would be gone. And so I had two surgeries, spent four weeks off of work, and hoped for the best.

I was lucky to get the diagnosis and yet, I want to talk about the pain. About not really being able to use your hands anymore. About the pain coming every day. First in my fingers then the wrist then the elbow then the forearm. It throbbed. It rendered my hands useless. I worked through it day after day for years and then at night, I was done. I couldn’t cook, write, scroll through Instagram like the rest of my peers seemed to be doing. All I could do was occasionally cry and hope it would be better tomorrow.

I am still healing from my surgeries. The pain still subsists and I’m still trying to figure out why. The whole thing was a good lesson in something we’ve all come to know as life goes on, and strikingly so, this year. It was a lesson in things going wrong and having to change your plans and adapt, despite wishing I didn’t have to. It was a lesson in growing older and realizing my body can give out if I don’t take care of it (sometimes even if I do). It was a lesson in deep empathy, realizing in a small way what those with disabilities and chronic pain experience.

As for the cherry on top that came for all of us, after four weeks of leave after my surgeries, COVID-19 came. I never ended up going back to the office. Instead I set up shop in my spare room and worked, while I watched as our collective health was threatened every day. 

After my first week in quarantine, I bought Eula Biss’ book, “On Immunity: An Inoculation,” where she put the lesson I was learning in such wonderful and plain terms. “Immunity is a myth,” she said. I underlined it, repeated the words to myself. Immunity is a myth. If you’re lucky, it’s not something you realize when you're young but I have finally taken it in. No matter my deep-seeded plans and my attempts to stay healthy, I am not immune. Not ever - and thanks to COVID-19 and our flailing government, especially not now.

In addition to my doctor’s visits, I started therapy for the first time this year. Like most people, I’ve tried it a few times before but it never stuck. Thankfully, this time it took, thanks to a partner who helped me to take the leap after years of seeing me live with deep anxiety. I asked him to help me find a therapist for my birthday last year and he did. He sent me a list of six or so therapists and after calling everyone on that list and trying to judge as much as I could about a person from a phone call, I found a really good fit.

Therapy broke me. It broke me so much that in the middle of it, I had to postpone my wedding. As I do, I piled things on this past year (working late nights, taking on large projects outside of work as a volunteer for the Sierra Club, trying to find a new job because I wasn’t happy where I was, trying to write a book in any free time I had, and also planning a wedding
all while my hands slowly deteriorated). Something had to give and despite the deposit we had put down, it was my wedding that got the boot.

All of this to say I’ve been thinking a lot about how to take care of myself this year and it seems to be a bit complicated.

I have never been great at self-care. I think I’ve been fine, but not great. So much of self-care seems capitalistic. Buy this sheet mask. Buy this $200 serum (!). But the notion of it shouldn’t be dismissed. Jenny Odell in her wonderful essay “How to Do Nothing” examined the idea of self-care in a way that made sense to me: “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way,” she said. “[Take for example a rose garden], the most constant regulars of the garden are volunteers doing maintenance.”

Maintenance. I like that term. Or as someone said in a podcast I listened to, think of self-care as self-parenting. As adults, we don’t have parents checking in on us daily anymore, making us dentist and doctor's appointments, dealing with insurance once the bill comes. In this way, I can get behind the idea of self-care. It’s not a face mask. It’s getting yourself to the doctor (something I avoided for too long).

I have spent more this year on medical care than I ever have, though I know this is probably just the beginning of ailments. For the first time, I have a primary care physician. I have seen a few hand specialists, surgeons, physical therapists. I have a therapist I see regularly. And while it isn’t cheap, it does make me realize that what we need more than self-care is just care, in general. Sometimes, we need a team of medical personnel to help care for us. We need insurance that allows that to be possible.

For me, the hardest part about incorporating self-care into my life is figuring out where resistance fits into all of this. I gave up a lot of “self-care” time for my volunteer work last year and my volunteer work fed me but it also exhausted me. Part of me thinks that’s just what activists have always been doing, sacrificing their free time out of necessity to fight against injustice and unrelenting power, but I wish it was acknowledged a bit more (though the term "self-care" did originate from Audre Lorde, a feminist and black rights activist, who was using the term in relation to activism)

I felt it deeply when climate activist Naomi Klien talked about self-care in an interview for the Cut:“I don’t hold myself up as any kind of model for work-life balance,” she said. “I feel a genuine terror about how little time we have. I feel that incredibly intensely and have ever since I have started to listen to the climate clock. So I go hard. My balance is really about my son, my family. That does come at a cost to what these days is called “self-care,” but that’s just life. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do the work, be there for my son, and also have a regular yoga and meditation practice and chill out at the spa.”

In a way, I also go hard and then I take breaks when my body tells me to. Usually, when it screams at me to. This isn’t a great process, but I don’t know any other. I’m trying. I am seeing doctors when my body hurts and I’m talking to a therapist to sort out the many issues I just thought were a part of life and inevitable when they weren’t.

I’m also 
 in the midst of a pandemic — quitting my job due to my continued chronic pain. It’s scary to say the least but as my therapist tells me, “It’s okay to take breaks.” My body needs it, though I don’t know exactly how to take breaks without feeling guilty or worried about finances. But this is part of it too. She reminds me often, so wisely: “Learn to sit with discomfort.”

So now, here I go, off to sit with some mental discomfort for the sake of my physical health. Hoping I can enjoy, just a little bit, some time in the rose garden doing maintenance.

Pictured above: some shots from my first roll of 35mm film. Everything came out overexposed or out of focus but I'm a big fan.

Also: I know. It's a bit of an eye-roll to talk about my own negligible pain right now and the concept of care as a white woman when for so long, we have denied black communities access to this care, as well as trauma therapy, quality education, job opportunities, food equity, community safety, an unbiased justice system, reparations, and other basic human rights. Our black communities have been deeply devoid of care for so long and we need to be working towards major shifts in our communities and personal lives. I've said this in a post before but as writer Brittany Packett suggests, "Spend your privilege. And then when you think you've spent enough, spend some more." I.e: Donate monthly to black organizations as a form of reparations. Move money from white people who have benefited from a history of privilege to black spaces. Become personally / monetarily invested in the health and safety of black communities. Work toward the defunding of police and for the funding of social services (Every year at the non-profit I worked for in Chicago, our trauma therapy and after school programs were cut and social workers were asked to do more with less. I thought it really was a budget thing, that we didn't have the money, but now I know the funds were just being put into policing first. Our social workers and therapists and teachers and care workers deserve more, especially since they do the desperate work we need). Volunteer, get immersed in the cause, learn to occupy spaces with people of color and work to release the racialized trauma your own body holds. Put your kids in the neighborhood public school. Support the school and then listen to the community who was there before. Read "What Is Owed" by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and the many others who have taken the time to teach us. Support black art that celebrates black beauty. See the joy and full humanity. Support black businesses. Support black farmers. What else? I've learned so much in the past months and have a lot of work to do. Please, I hope you're doing the work too.

Final note: Eula Biss' "On Immunity" is not only the perfect book for this time in terms of COVID-19 (I never thought a book about viral disease would be so relevant and interesting, especially in terms of how it also speaks to climate change. Her interview with the Cut talked about the idea of community care so well.) but she has also been a formative writer for me in terms of white privilege and debt. I highly encourage reading her essay "White Debt" and "No-Man's Land" and listening to her interviews about whiteness here and here.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Just wanted to sign on to say hello, post photos of a magical hike I took through Millcreek Canyon last week, and make a list of favorites of the year, which I can't help but do.

Not surprisingly, most of the writing that stuck with me this year was activism-related. This Rebecca Traister piece kept replaying in my mind all year. "Seek the organizing that is already underway," she wrote, among other illuminating advice. 

Then there was Rebecca Solnit's piece "When the Hero is the Problem" that was incredibly refreshing in its messaging. We don't need heroes, she theorized. We need community work, community efforts, community action! I also loved Naomi Klien's "How I Get it Done" interview. Her bluntness about how hard and urgently she works on environmental issues was comforting, as I feel a similar urgency / lack of balance this year. 

In terms of beautiful things that crossed my paths, I stumbled on Nikala Marie Peters' photography this year and couldn't stop scrolling through her photographs that so beautifully portray domestic life and what looks to me like a midwest childhood.

FKA Twigs "Cellophane" was the most captivating thing I heard all year. Her music video and live performance of the song left me speechless.

Alex G's House of Sugar and Angel Olsen's All Mirrors were so dreamy that I couldn't help but play them on repeat.

Jenny Odell's interview on the Longform podcast was delightful.

This Modern Love piece "Taking Marriage One Year at a Time" absolutely destroyed me in how much it spoke to me as I made the difficult / incredibly healthy decision to postpone my wedding this year. 

Of course, I woke up most days this year and read my way through books, as I do most years. 

Braiding Sweetgrass was the shining gem of everything I read and I wish it were required reading. Imagine if our schools taught a book that raised the question: "What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence?" 

Like most people, A Little Life consumed me and left me desperately sad, but mostly in a way I appreciated. The Golden State also stuck out as one of the best books I read this year. The whole novel flowed so naturally and in some magical way, seemed to leap from the page.

In terms of favorite things I watched, I can't emphasize enough how much I loved America to Me and Minding the Gap. Such important pieces of art / documentation made so close to home. Parasite and Shoplifters were also mesmerizing.

And then of course, there was Fleabag: Season Two. To me, that show was such a quiet, profound feat. I laughed a lot but I mostly sat in awe of the imperfect love that it was trying to display and so incredibly did. 

Some other things of note that made my year: finding a healthier relationship with Instagram and Twitter (haven't deleted them entirely but logged off a lot more), going to regular therapy sessions, discovering Weleda's Skin Food, fitting in a lot of twenty-minute yoga sessions at home with Adriene, getting a little bit better at learning how to live without a plan.

All I can say is, it was a year. Now on to the next decade (!).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

I just went on a walk to pick up take out on a Sunday night and felt it: the pull I have towards this place. 

Walking past the six-foot-tall sunflowers, the Russian sage growing on corners, the neighborhood cats that follow me down the block, the myriad of dog walkers in every direction, and the view of earth beyond the houses that sits miles high, I felt lucky to be here. 

I never expected to live in Salt Lake City but here I am. Most people probably only have one idea of what Salt Lake City is like, which is religious, and that's not at all incorrect. In a weird way though, despite the conservatism of its suburbs, Salt Lake City checks a lot of boxes of what I wanted in a place to live.

At one point on this blog, I wrote: "If I could choose, I would live in a place where you could hike on the weekends, somewhere quieter and smaller where houses have yards, maybe down South where winters aren't as long.And here I am, in a city that's smaller, quieter, living in a house with a yard, hiking on the weekdays and weekends and waking up to blue skies that are so common they can almost seem oppressive.

Honestly, part of me can't believe people actually grow up here. When I moved here, it felt like another world and so I looked to books for some history, turning to Amy Irvine, Scott Carrier, and Wallace Stegner for some guidance. It was Stegner who taught me, as a Midwesterner, to look at the brown, parched land that comes in the summer differently, writing in Thoughts in a Dry Land: "You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale." An inhuman scale. I'm reminded of that phrase often while I'm here.

Oddly though, the proximity of everything in Salt Lake City is what I find myself liking the most. It might be the thing that has improved my quality of life the most. I can get to places after work multiple nights a week and not feel utterly exhausted after due to the commute. The relative smallness of this city also means it's a community I can quickly find a place in. A year in, I know writers, I know activists, I know legislators personally. The mid-size city migration, which I very much feel a part of, has its perks.

But you know what people don't tell you about getting a thing you had planned / hoped for? It's often so different from what you had in mind. I can speak of the positives of Salt Lake City and post photos from my time in its mountains but of course, my mind is a mix of emotions. My mind races on the weekdays, for whatever reason, and relaxes on the two days off I get a week. Recently I wrote in my journal: I can't tell if I'm happy or sad here. I think I'm a little bit of both, all the time. I know that sounds depressing but it's sort of just the truth. I upped and moved away from my friends and family, and while I'm slowly making friends here, there is a lingering sense of loneliness too.

Alain de Botton assures me this is okay. I read his book The Art of Travel earlier this year and he wrote a line about the wavering nature of human emotions, especially evident when traveling, that felt so perfectly accurate. While vacationing in the Bahamas, he wrote, "My body and mind were to prove temperamental accomplices in the mission of appreciating my destination. The body found it hard to sleep and complained of heat, flies, and difficulty digesting hotel meals. The mind meanwhile revealed a commitment to anxiety, boredom, free-floating sadness, and financial alarm." 

He went on to say: "The condition [actual happiness] rarely endures for longer than ten minutes." A comforting, infuriating realization that pretty much sums it up.

Despite an array of mixed emotions, I know that whenever I leave Salt Lake City, I will miss the mountains deeply. I will miss them like I miss the kids I worked with in Honduras. I will miss them like I miss nights with my girlfriends in Chicago and Sundays with my parents at home. Every place I have lived has given me something different and I wonder if I will ever have it all (i.e. will I ever not be plagued by feelings of anxiety, boredom, free-floating sadness, and financial alarm?).

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the best I can do is write these thoughts down and practice gratitude and finally, make myself a therapy appointment. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A few months ago, I had a work conference to go to early in the morning and so I rushed to the hotel, grabbed a plate of the hotel breakfast, and sat down to listen to the opening speaker. He was an Ironman athlete who had completed the extreme triathlon more times than I can count. Granted it was 7:30 in the morning and I was just beginning to wake up but I looked at him the whole time, deadpan. I ate my eggs, I'm sorry to say, rolling my eyes.

I know I shouldn't be so harsh  and I don't know why it irks me so much  but mainly I was just thinking about how refreshing it would be to sit down and listen to a motivational speech from someone more modest in their ambitions, perhaps steady or quiet or balanced. Since then I've watched Free Solo and The Dawn Wall and Homecoming and countless other documentaries of people achieving the unachievable and I walk away from so many of them thinking, can you ever achieve your dreams and still have healthy relationships with people you love and get eight hours a sleep a night? (Eh, probably not.)

To be fair, I loved the aforementioned movies and think people should pursue absolutely anything they want within reason I suppose but at that conference, I kept thinking that I wanted nothing more than a co-worker of mine to go up on stage and give a motivational speech. He lives in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and does his job just fine and looks completely inconspicuous but also like maybe he really has life figured out. I can't be sure but I feel like his speech would go something like, Hey, don't work yourself to death. 

That being said, I probably could benefit from the stories of accomplished athletes more than most. I told myself that I would be done with a second draft of my novel before I left for a two-week vacation to the Southwest last month and I failed to meet that self-imposed deadline. It's been six years since I started the first chapter of this novel and I'm still chipping away at itMy deadlines for the book are usually arbitrary and unrealistic considering the other things I have going on in my life (and the fact that I don't focus solely on this novel) so it's laughable that I didn't think it was going to take 6+ years. But still, that number: 6+ years. It's longer than I thought. 

In the end, the important thing is to see this thing through, which I will do, but I should knuckle down. I should just get this thing done but as someone with a slower, more "everything-in-moderation" demeanor, I can't help but be drawn to hard work and balance. A blessing, I suppose, but also a curse.

I am a writer, not an athlete, but in light of this post, it's interesting to note that I have recently moved to Salt Lake City, a city of outdoor enthusiasts, and have been dabbling in things I never thought I would. By my nature, I am drawn to the slow, steady activities of hiking and backpacking but I have also have been trying my hand at more extreme endeavors due, a bit, to my partner. Ever since the move, the riskier, more intense, more testosterone-prone activities of climbing and mountain biking and skiing have been pushing me past my limits, for better or worse.

Just yesterday, I was walking my mountain bike up a trail, huffing and grumbling, and thinking the thing I always think when I'm struggling: When is it good to push yourself? When is it good to just accept who you are? It seems a question there is no real answer to. It seems the question I am getting at.

Basically all of this rambling and lamenting to say, if I had my way, I think I would have invited a poet to be the opening speaker of the sales conference (can you imagine?) because you know what has been invigorating me lately? The words of Mary Oliver and Nikki Giovanni and Bernadette Mayer. The poetry of Tony Hoagland and essays of Robin Wall Kimmerer.

"I really don't think anybody ever listens to poets so it doesn't matter what you say," Nikki Giovanni said laughing in her interview with WNYC, and then added: "If they did, it'd be a whole different world." I can't help but agree, though I'm biased. 

I do hate posing questions and just leaving them there so I will end with this: I have learned a lot in the past year. I have learned, for example, that you can get over your fear of, and even enjoy, hanging from a forty-foot wall if you do it enough. I have learned that you can write a novel slowly and still, hopefully, get it done. 

Pictured above: shots from a recent two-week long adventure through the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe and Moab