Monkey in the Middle

In my dream kitchen, there would be a shiny blue Smeg the color of a robin’s egg tucked into one corner. Its [scarcely] more affordable cousin would be perched on a nearby countertop, in the end justifiable for both the additional pop of color and the perfectly timed toast. There would be a windowsill wide enough to warrant a new plant baby a week, and it’d be bright enough not to cast any serious shadows on my ability to nurture. To take good, gentle care of things.


To be generally: supportive, attentive, patient.


How have you been doing in that department? Have you been buying yourself big bouquets just because? Have you been wrapping your arms around every one of these days criminal to spend sequestered away inside? Have you been coaxing yourself to say “yes” just a smidge more — to birthdays and barbeques, to brunch dates and beach days?


Have you been cooking? What have you been cooking. I don’t know if this counts, but the other day I made the hummus currently breaking the Internet, and it was all of the adjectives everyone said it would be plus three more. It made for very good plain-Jane-toaster-oven toast. What’s left of it now lives on the top shelf of my other sadly-not-Smeg appliance, next to the yogurt-marinated chicken I have in mind for lunch this week.


Last weekend I took a break from cooking, from cleaning, from writing, from exercising, from almost all of the tricks I normally use to occupy myself on Saturday and Sunday. It was a little experiment of sorts — to see if I’d feel less lonely if I made more of an effort to do less solitary things.


I don’t know that I reached any real conclusions, but I was proud of myself for freeing myself from my [okay ironclad] routine, even if only for a short period of time. And it certainly was nice to press the pause button on thinking so hard. Actually it was more than nice; it was nothing less than a really welcome relief. It could’ve been thanks to the switch to sun/spring (!) we’re experiencing in the Pacific Northwest, but I just felt lighter. Less burdened, in a very immediate sort of way.


I wish I could bottle up that feeling. I wish it were something I saw everywhere, at all of the stores. I wish it were something I could just throw into my purse, along with my wallet, phone, keys, Burt’s Bees. Emergency almonds.


I’m still having trouble accessing it when I need it. When my friends and family feel so far away, and what am I doing out here, really. When professional success feels so precarious, in the grand scheme of things. When it doesn’t seem very smart to make my job my whole life. When it feels pretty fruitless to keep trying to plug the gaping holes — no, sheer hollows — in my home life with more and more hours at my desk.


I wish I could brandish that little bottle of hope, of easy, eternal optimism, of don’t worry, it’s all going to work out (look, watch this piece working itself out now) at other times, too.

When I meet another potential friend but it’s not immediately apparent whether I’ll ever be able to stick a “best” out in front. When I scroll through Bumble (uh-huh, Bumble now, enough of Tinder) and feel 90% sure I’m never going to go on a decent date again — let alone ever get to experience any of the other eight yards. It all feels so very far away: the little home I want, the security I crave, the sense of belonging I just can’t seem to give to myself. Or find, or create, or however it is people go about feeling safe and loved and not afraid.


This is a strange question, but how much people watching do you do? (How much is normal, and how much is, well, probably time to go get ourselves another hobby?) Yesterday I put a book, a blanket, and an apple into a backpack and walked down to a park not far from my apartment. I went partly to people watch and partly to enjoy the sun. I tried very hard to appreciate the latter — every second of it so good on my skin. You can yell at me about SPF tomorrow — it’s been months without sun. Months.


When my eyes weren’t doing that gloriously lazy drift between open/closed, I did some surreptitious spying on the families scattered around the fountain and spilling out over onto the lawn. At one point there was a pair of twin boys, maybe two or three years old, circled by Mom, Dad, Grandma, and Grandpa. All four with arms outstretched. The twins’ steps were so unconcerned, their smiles so contagious. What would it be like to be surrounded by so much loyalty, I wondered? What would it be like to be cushioned by such love.


“Life, in her experience, had a kind of velvet luster. You looked at yourself from one perspective and all you saw was weirdness. Move your head a little bit, though, and everything looked reasonably normal.” -Jonathan Franzen


“Don’t plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke ’em down to nothin’.” -Tom Waits

“Was it a bad day? Or was it a bad five minutes that you milked all day?” -Unknown

“I’ve been riding on the crest of a slump lately.” -Tom Waits


“How boring these emotions are that we’re caught in and can’t get free of, no matter how much we want to.” -Doris Lessing

“Roads around mountains cause we can’t drive through — that’s poetry to me.” Eileen Myles


“Time passes. That’s the rule. No matter what happens, no matter how much it might feel like everything in your life has been frozen around one particular moment, time marches on.” -Cynthia Hand

“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive only in the present moment, that now is the only time there is for us to be alive.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

“I wanted my life to start — but in those rare moments when it seemed like something might actually change, panic shot through me.” -Curtis Sittenfield


“People who like to be in control of things can have a hard time with intimacy. Intimacy is anarchic and mutual and definitionally incompatible with control. You seek to control things because you are afraid.” -Jonathan Franzen

“But I know there is something, wadded and beautiful and glittering inside of you, that would give anything to kick down doors to let other people in. And I think you should go with that. Go with that dream of yours.” -Hannah Brencher


“Though I knew I shouldn’t have cared, the words still hurt like pinches, and pinches can be very painful when done in the same place many times in a row.” -Nnedi Okorafor

“The only kind of love I have to offer is stupid and blind and so deep and powerful that I feel like I’m cracking just to hold it in.” -Brent Weeks

“Maybe you’re gonna get hurt. Maybe you’re gonna get bruised. Maybe you’re gonna stay waiting at the window for a long, long time. And maybe, just maybe, it’s worth doing it anyway.” -Hannah Brencher


“This is a call to arms. A call to be gentle, to be forgiving, to be generous with yourself. The next time you look into the mirror, try to let go of the story line that says you’re too fat or too sallow, too ashy or too old, your eyes are too small or your nose too big; just look into the mirror and see your face. When the criticism drops away, what you will see then is just you, without judgment, and that is the first step toward transforming your experience of the world.” -Oprah Winfrey

“I think there is a certain age when you become fearless. It may be a different age for every woman, I don’t know. It’s not that you stop fearing things: I’m still afraid of heights, for example. Or rather, of falling — heights aren’t the problem. But you stop fearing life itself. It’s when you become fearless in that way that you decide to live. Perhaps it’s when you come to the realization that the point of life isn’t to be rich, or secure, or even to be loved — to be any of the things that people usually think is the point. The point of life is to live as deeply as possible, to experience fully. And that can be done in so many ways.” -Theodora Goss


“Sometimes you break your heart in the right way, if you know what I mean.” -Gregory David Roberts

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.” -Miyamoto Musashi

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” -Shannon Hale


“The people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different people, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check. -Cheryl Strayed

“She was the most beautiful person I’d ever met. And she was pretty to look at, too.” -Pierce Brown

“Know that you can start late, look different, be uncertain, and still succeed.” -Misty Copeland


“Sometimes we take leaps of faith, and sometimes we take tiny steps. Even the tiniest step can require a lot of courage. Like climbing out of denial and admitting my real need for help. Like trusting someone who said I wouldn’t die from eating a bowl of pasta, and taking another bite. Like searching for a smile in my heart when my mind was busy screaming about how sad and serious I should be.” -Shannon Kopp

“There is a kind of crying I hope you have not experienced, and it is not just crying about something terrible that has happened, but a crying for all of the terrible things that have happened, not just to you but to everyone you know and to everyone you don’t know and even the people you don’t want to know, a crying that cannot be diluted by a brave deed or a kind word, but only by someone holding you as your shoulders shake and your tears run down your face.” -Lemony Snicket

“Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt — I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamed. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed; I wanted what you wanted.” -Cassandra Clare


“He stroked my hair, and there was something so tender about the gesture. He might as well have been whispering I love you.” -Cynthia Hand

{Sweetest work/shop sign via @findfarah, blue sky buildings via @jennhouston, Portland sunset via @dboyersmith, long road via @samuelelkins, Oregon coast via @dboyersmith, Mt. Hood via @kylezegedi, Objects in Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear via @alexbaileypdx, streaming sun via @sam_cahill, rainy window via @thomasguy, sunset via @5arastarr, rock formations via @gregbalkin, PDX spring sidewalk via @thomasguy, yellow on yellow via @katiemilliken — all on Instagram.}


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