Bagel

I tend to develop short-term obsessions. My current obsession is Lox Bagels: Cream cheese, salmon, red onion on toasted wheat, no capers. On Sunday, in Philadelphia, I visited a fancy bagel shop and paid over $14 for one measly bagel. This same bagel costs about $7.50 in my neighborhood bagel shop. I live in the outskirts of D.C., so I don’t think just being in Philadelphia accounts for the outrageous cost of the bagel. I felt really stupid pay that much for a bagel.

That’s all.

Faith

I am interested in the mechanics of faith. Sometimes, I listen to Christian podcasts or read books or articles written by people with a Christian or religious worldview. I find this kind of thing soothing and curious. I hold no overarching beliefs or religious views, but I sometimes find myself envious of those who do, and of the fellowship and community attached to places of worship. I imagine it is comforting and affirming to view your life — and your particular role in life — through the lens of your religion, and to believe that your views are right and true.

Silence and Solitude

I recently read The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, which is about a man who spent 27 years living in the woods of Central Maine with almost no human contact. It was an interesting read. It made me think. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent any time alone and in silence. So yesterday, on my 40-minute commute home, I gave it a try. No radio, no audio book, no podcast. Just me and my thoughts.

The first ten minutes were physically painful. I kept looking at my phone. I wanted noise. I wanted to be entertained. Several times I reached out and touched my phone–for comfort, I think. After the initial withdrawal, I entered a 10-15 minute period of serenity. Inner peace. Calm. Zen. Whatever you want to call it. At traffic lights, I was almost hypnotized by the tiny droplets of rain so daintily peppered across my windshield. I was startled every 20 seconds or so by the wipers erasing the entire canvas of delicate drops. I noticed how light reflects off the wet road, and how hard it is to see the lines clearly at night during a misty rain. Driving is more involved and complicated than you’d think, and there we all go driving down the highway at 60 miles an hour, almost unaware of our tiny swerves, our subtle braking. All the tiny things we do to stay alive on our way home from work. Then I noticed the boxy concrete buildings that define outer suburbia: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera, body shops, parking lots, 7-Elevens. Utilitarian, ugly, even, but familiar in a distant way. All the noticing started becoming burdensome.

Then I started thinking. Goodbye zen. I started thinking of possible diagnoses for clients I’d seen during the week, about a friend with mental illness, about the near impossibility of helping people get better, when we all have such deeply ingrained behavioral patterns and personality flaws. Is it all hopeless? What does it take to help someone? I took a few deep breaths in an attempt to recapture the zen. It didn’t work. I took more deep breaths. Nothing. Just a never-ending list of labels and questions: Did the presentation of the last client I saw most accurately point towards autism? bipolar disorder? schizoaffective disorder? schizoid personality disorder? avoidant personality disorder? schizotypal personality disorder? Trauma? What was I missing and why couldn’t I fit this client into a neat little box? How does superior intelligence factor in the presentation of mental illness? Is it possible the entire mental health field is messed up and reductive and people are just people and all these labels do more harm than good?

Then I was home. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d kept driving, what phase I would have entered next. It was a strange experience, one I rarely have, since I work with clients all day and live in a multi-generational house where I’m rarely home alone. But I am curious now. I’d be interested to expand the experiment a bit, to sit somewhere alone, in silence and see where my mind takes me. Maybe try 90 minutes. But the thought of 90 minutes alone, in total silence, is viscerally unnerving. It’s more the silence than the aloneness that unsettles me.

Snowy Day and New Year’s Resolutions.

snowy day

It’s been snowing all day, and I’ve spent most of the day with the baby or reading children’s literature. I read the first book in the Winnie-the-Pooh series and am now working my way through Dr. Seuss. I hated Dr. Seuss as a kid, but as an adult I kind of love his work. Just one of those cozy days: light snow falling all day, curled up inside with a book.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions very often because I rarely do any of the things I say I’m going to do, and I end up disappointing myself. But I figured I’d give it a try this year again. Plans for this year:

1.) Buy myself a nice pair of emerald earrings.

2.) Establish family tradition, such as “bagel day” or “breakfast day” on weekends my husband is off.

3.) Find a volunteer opportunity, preferably at a park I love.

4.) Find a playgroup for the baby and my mom.

5.) Find a book club that’s a good fit and commit to it, even if I have to drive 30 minutes.

6.) Read at least 25 books by writers of color. I tend to gravitate toward white women writers, and I’d like to read other perspectives.

7.) Make an album of baby’s first eight months; make framed collage for my mom, sister and aunt.

8.) Paint at least three completed water color pictures.

9.) Completely finish one short story.

10.) Actually finish C25K. I’ve gotten close, but I’ve never actually finished.

That’s it for now. Some are pretty doable, some are a reach.

Family Hike

On Sunday, my husband, the baby and I went on a short hike at a local state park. The scenery was pleasant but nothing special: lowland forest, a small marsh, occasional bay views, squirrels and woodland birds. But the way sunlight filtered through the trees, the way the marsh waters glittered and the sun made the tree bark shine…it was so beautiful it almost made me cry. I rarely experience that kind of appreciation of nature in winter.
My husband had the baby in the carrier and we put a knitted pink hat and fleece blanket on her to keep her warm. She looked around like she was seeing everything for the first time because she was. The ground was so saturated from the relentless rains we’ve had the leaves didn’t even crunch beneath our feet. My husband, who grew up in the rain forest, pointed out a bald eagle gliding a few hundred yards above us and a blue jay flittering from twig to twig in a thicket of dry sticks.

It was the first time it struck me that we – me, my husband and the baby – are a real family, and it made me so happy to see us in this light. We are a we; our very own unit.

Before our family hike, we had lox bagels at a strip mall bagel place, and afterwards, we went to REI and picked out a bike rack for our new car. It was such a great day.

Harm Reduction

I’ve taken a harm reduction approach to my eating habits. I don’t buy soda from the vending machine anymore. I don’t go out to eat, except to a nice restaurant once a month with family/friends/husband. I don’t stop at 7-Eleven for chips or ice cream on my way home. If I’m going to overeat, I’m going to do it with whatever not-very-exciting food is available at home. I’m letting myself “binge” on a pint of very rich/sugary/fatty ice cream OR on fresh mozzarella once a week, because when I try to control myself too tightly, I inevitably end up going off the rails for longer than I’d like. I don’t know if this will make a difference health-wise, but I think I feel better this way. This approach doesn’t seem undoable.

Back in Time.

From time to time, I like to walk around the old neighborhoods of my town, the ones that were there before the entire town became a suburb.

There are a handful of streets that are still intact. These retro houses are squat one story affairs on half acre lots, hitch trailers and American made-made cars in the driveway, pink flamingos and white statues dotting the front yard, and a tangle of old, peeling silver maples in the back. It’s a marvel these houses haven’t been knocked down to accommodate two-story, four-bedroom colonials. Whenever I walk down one of these streets, I feel like I’m recapturing a small fraction of my early childhood.