Make a start. See what happens.

Help yourself

By Teresa Jacobs

The tablecloth flaps in the wind, threatening to upset the settings that sit on top. Each place is marked with a smooth white plate, a golden piece of square fabric, and a heavy fork. There are no place cards because the guest list is fluid.

She invites each person she interacts with in the days prior – store clerks, her children’s teachers, colleagues, and neighbors. Most folks think she is friendly and a little strange, and the combination causes the adventurous to accept her invitation at least once. Everyone agrees that the meal is always exquisite.

This week there is a small group assembled. Jim the bus driver, John from the store – he’s a regular – Patty from school, and her own family. The table is piled high with the bounty from her garden. There is a succulent late summer fruit salad spilling out of a deep ocean blue bowl. Her small hands hold the bowl gently as she passes it around the table encouraging the group to help themselves to seconds and thirds. The group talks softly with occasional swells of too loud laughter that happens when unfamiliar people endeavor to connect and please each other with story.

She moves slowly but with certainty as she works her way around the table. Her comfort is obvious – a person at ease with others. Her smile is genuine and her pleasure with the assembly of humanity at her table is a salve for the times.

Beside myself

By Hao Tran

I never thought that a singing voice could move me, but it did. I am a purist at heart and I have argued and argued that music is all about sound and sound only. Adding words to it is like adding weight to a cart and asking the oxen to carry more load. I practice music without words. I look for beauty in the chords and harmony between instruments. I deplore the puzzled look by people who wait for me to sing every time I lift the guitar. But, something happened.

Yesterday, I browsed the YouTube channels looking for guitar performances of a piece I am working on. So many good players, all playing brilliantly different versions of Historia de un Amor with the beautiful bolero 4/4 thumping beat. Oh, so beautiful.

Then I wandered off to the next and the next. A girl was in a contest. She lifted her voice and the words came out. There was something in her notes: nectar, honey, lemon. I heard pain, sweetness, longing, passion and love–something magical about the music with words that I had not heard before. Perhaps I had been wrong all this time? Perhaps I didn’t listen? Perhaps I had shut out the words? Her voice was the magic, the passion, and the feelings that only a human voice can show.

I was beside myself.

Beside myself

By Anna Bray

Beside myself in the sidecar of my life
Sits many other “me’s”
There isn’t just one
And why they need to be along for the ride
Instead of inside
Is a curiosity

There’s cautious Anna
Adventurous Anna
Protective Anna
and more

Sometimes they all cram in together as we zoom around the roads of life
Sometimes one wins out, calling “shotgun”, relegating the others to take a back seat

But make no mistake – the sidecar occupant is the driver
The one calling the shots
The navigator
Through the curves and tunnels, the mountains, and beach byways

It’s a wonder we get anywhere at all
With all of these new drivers taking over
When they feel bold enough
Or needed enough
To take charge

And “we”, the chorus of me
Is another curiosity
Why we? The many “me’s”?

The sidecar is blue, shiny, egg-shaped
With a thick white line and two think red lines slicing down the center

It thrums excitement when I look at it
The “we’s”, the many “me’s”, always want to be a part of it
– Inside
– Beside me
– Calling the shots 

If I just kept going …

By Jan Martinez

We climbed to the top of the bleachers. In our 60s, still agile as mountain goats, walking on the seats instead of the treads. Those seats, dusty, straw covered wooden planks.

Then the cows came in, each one led by a child or young teen often no taller than the animal’s shoulder. On closer inspection I could see they weren’t cows, but steers – aggressive, mid to heavy weight in class, grades one or two.

In the center of the barn stood a woman in boots, flared jeans, and a surprisingly frilly smocked top. The 4H judge. The cows paraded around her in a circle as the judge announced their merit. Or lack.

“I like this guy because he has a straight back,” she’d say. Or, “I have a problem with the way this guy walks.”

We went outside to see Bailey, Larry’s great niece, with her steer, a mean guy named Gatsby.

Mean or nice, Gatsby would be in the freezer by the fall. This was already a known truth. But did Gatsby know it? I wonder. I don’t think cows have awareness of self – something called theory of mind. Or is it the Mirror Test? This is reserved for primates, including children, elephants, and some crows – a personal favorite. And this means that they recognize a discrete self. Put any one of them in front of a mirror with the paint mark on their heads and they’ll likely try to clean their heads, not the mirror.

As I gazed into Gatsby’s enormous dark eyes, I doubted he had this awareness. If I just kept going I’m sure I could wonder some more. Instead I turned and went back into the barn.

Around in circles

By Michelle Hynes

I love a labyrinth. I’m looking forward to seeing the ones at Grace Cathedral, perched at the top of a San Francisco hill. I often forget, though, that we have a few much closer by — a short neighborhood walk away. One of the nearby churches even created one in their parking lot during the pandemic. Somehow that doesn’t quite work — I can’t still my mind on an urban street.

For going around in circles, I prefer the beach or the garden. No real destination. Just picking up rocks or pulling weeds. Going around in circles with my feet until my thoughts can stop circling, settle in to some kind of straight line.

Going around in circles. This can feel like an endless road to nowhere… but also like freedom. Birds circling in the sky. Going around and around on two wheels on a summer day. Roller skating — a middle school memory of a rink with a wooden floor and 80s music.

Going around in circles can feel like going nowhere — or anywhere. No need to decide. Just keeping on a track, in and out, around and through, the endless spiral of a life still unfurling. Going around. Shaping the track of the day. Shaping myself into a perfect sphere, like a soap bubble. Going around, blowing around, just being taken by the breeze.

Around the corner…

Around the corner, there’s a donut shop. I can hardly eat anything there, but its sheer nearness distracts me. They’re closed on Mondays, and at 2pm, and any time they run out of donuts. They’ve been advertising frantically for bakers and baristas. Sometimes they’re just closed — too hot, no staff, no donuts.

It’s a small frivolous thing. And also a close-by reminder of what’s happening to the workforce. To retail. To the small certain joy that there will be a mochi donut around the corner after lunch. That this small local business will still exist next weekend. 

Around in circles

By Tess Bradley

A round, in circles.
A child grabs an armpile of round lids, round cups, the yogurt container, the frisbee, and traces wildly. She is manifesting near perfection. The grace, the power of this shape feels more of a miracle than an art activity on a rainy morning.

Out the large tile of glass panes is the wet sand, the railroad ties soaking with black brown sky juice, the weeds and steel pipe climbing structures screaming I’m so shiny, I’m so free.

The electricity inside of the child is vibrating above the music that is playing out of the plastic tape recorder at her side.

The lightning in her being lifts her up out of the lightweight curved seat. The chair falls on its side, two legs sticking sideways. The metal is dry, rubbed, dull.

The child squeaks and half turns her head to see, again the mastery of her mistake. I did that!

The chair doesn’t work now. We move on— to the door, how she knows the pivot of the button AND the twist with two fists, or one hand with a straight elbow.

She flies out of her heart and circles back. Her eyes on the pirate ship – the ship ladder rope wet, the sunlight, yellow. Mad delight.

More than anything else …

By Laura Hughes

More than anything else, I need space to be me. To explore. To sink into my feelings, my self, my depths. To know who I am at 43, vs. who I was at 23, or 29, or 33. To discover what pleases me, now. What brings me alive. What encourages me out.
(I seem to know plenty about what irks me).
But, at 43, gosh – nearly 44, what’s important to me now? What really matters?
I must be close to dead on halfway through my life. (If I’m lucky). So, surely these questions are ripe for the asking.
What pleases me? What builds a steady foundation for me to show up in the world each day? Not as my best, but, my most real… my most true.
What opens my eyes? With awe? With shock? With wonder?
What opens me?
And, most importantly, what actually matters? (Of the thousand places I could turn my attention).
Yesterday, I felt exhaustion. I woke up in a strange apartment, in fog. Chilly outside, and in. Disoriented. Destabilized.
Throughout the day, my weariness began to build – but I didn’t want to acquiesce. I had things to do, people to see.
And, as it turns out, exhaustion is a feeling I prefer to turn away from; to power through.
Yesterday’s particular flavor of exhaustion felt familiar – from COVID. And at one point, I pulled out a test, just to check.
But, I had plans last night. Evening plans. Plans to cook for a friend. Spanish food. (Since we met in Spain.)
I’d let her know I was having a hard time. “Me too”, she’d said.
And that was what became most important. Cooking for a friend. Sharing too much wine. And delicious bites of perfectly curated cheese, veggies, potatoes, olives. (As perfectly curated as I could manage from Trader Joe’s, anyway).
Why so important?
Because somehow, something in me knew that cooking in this strange apartment, and sharing with a friend, would warm me. Would allow me to open. Would bring me home.

Walking Slowly

“Your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been.”

– Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: time Management for Mortals

Walking Guy

I first saw him about 15 years ago, way up in the hills where I lived. Wispy light-blonde hair that hung between his shoulder blades. Jeans, t-shirt, a bomber jacket either worn or carried in a loose fist at his side. Converse sneakers. Skinny. In his 30s, or his 50s.

He was walking. Just walking. Not decked out for exercise. Not (as I concluded after several months of encountering him in different spots) headed anywhere. He walked. His face always neutral, looking in no particular direction, never acknowledging passersby.

I started to wonder, of course. Where did he walk? For how long? And of course … Why? I wanted to follow him. I actually entertained the thought that maybe I was the only one who saw him. That he was some kind of urban bay-area yeti.

As humans do with mysteries (and as I do with absolutely everything), I made it about me. This dude must have a message for me, I decided. Why else would I keep seeing him? Was he my white rabbit? If I trailed him would I end up somewhere mind-bending and marvelous?

There was something about his vibe, though, that made him decidedly un-trailable. He wasn’t hostile, but there was a certain impenetrability—one that told me that if I was to engage him, even at a distance, I’d be violating something sacred.

Years after I’d first seen this fellow, I started dating my now-husband and told him about my possible hallucination (he might as well have all the questionable facts up front, right?). Then one day we saw him together. Now I had a witness, someone to wonder with me. He became Walking Guy in our shared lexicon.

One time saw him talking to someone and our minds were blown. Walking Guy is a person who knows other people! OK then. Another day we saw him walk up the front steps of a house, unlock the door, go inside. It was his house, we realized. WG lives in a house. Not some rabbit hole or mysterious Brigadoon. Moreover – buckle up – the house is on the next block from ours. Walking Guy is a neighbor.  

Of course, confirming WG’s humanity and proximity did nothing but make this more of a mystery to me, and further convinced that there was something I need to learn from him.


On days that feel particularly overwhelming, the question that comes to quiet me is, “what if all I ever did was walk and write?” WG certainly certainly shimmers into the periphery of my thoughts in these moments. Sometimes he actually walks by.

I’ve always loved to walk, but it’s tended to be a don-spandex-and-march-up-the-hill endeavor, always following the same route. It’s a task, a goal, the point being to work off the calories consumed that day, or to earn (yes, earn!) a good night’s sleep. If I wasn’t walking with a friend, I’d have a podcast or audiobook shouting into my head, or getting a phone call in, or …

You know. I was being productive.

Since getting back on my feet after having surgery in June, I’ve had no choice but to stay close and walk slowly. At first it was just moseying to the end of the driveway with my elderly chihuahua, the two of us taking a full two minutes to shamble all of 30 yards. From there I began teetering cautiously around the block, not realizing just how hilly these ‘flats’ I supposedly live in still are. Nor did I realize how beautiful they are. How teeming with life and beauty and care, from the well-tended gardens to the awesome graffiti to the wild things growing up signposts and out of holes in water main covers.

Still, hanging over my gratitude for such a swift and steady recovery, for all that I’ve come to see and appreciate in my state of near-motionlessness, have been the threatening storm clouds of All I Must Get Back To once I’m fully well. Even as I amble, the steep hills loom symbolically, beckoning me to strike out for them just as soon as I can.

The project

To be clear, my life is not especially overfull. I’m not ambitious. I don’t neglect my relationships for the sake of achieving more professionally. I am naturally easygoing, and am at my best when things are simple and spacious. And against the backdrop of a world in dire need of saving and ambitious folks passionately committed to doing so, I’ve felt more than a little guilt over this.  

Hence my other priority: fixing myself. Most of my adult life has centered on self-development, which, in my current forced slowness, I have come to see as one big project to literally repair what is wrong with me. I’ve been endeavoring to transform myself into someone who leaps out of bed every morning, joyfully driven by some singular purpose, who has the stamina to juggle an impossible amount, to make everyone happy, who is lithe and strong and fierce and influential and makes a whole lot of dough.

That if I am not that, I am broken.

The project hasn’t been without its benefits. I have become inarguably more embodied, grounded, bolder. But it hasn’t really helped anyone. It’s been largely self-serving. A vanity project, really. An attempt to blend into the surround, in my case the San Francisco bay area, where everyone with the privilege and resources to do so is up to something huge and impressive.

I wonder how I might have come to this place more genuinely, joyfully, and whether I ever needed to crack a whip over my own back to become who I am today.

As with all such shifts in perspective, this one was fomented by a major event that has forced me to stop everything and simply watch as the false narrative crumbles like an apocalyptic cityscape. It’s been overwhelming, confusing, peppered with doubt. It is ongoing. The rebuild will take the time it takes. It’s also, I must keep reminding myself, happening smack in the middle of a life of astounding privilege. Nothing in this world is working against me… except me.

The next slow step

For now, I’m experimenting now with putting down the whip, seeing what growth can be if left to nature, wandering in the direction from which I hear life call. As I take my slow walks, I recall the question that has asked itself to me, persistently, for years: “what if all I ever did was walk and write?” I conjure Walking Guy and, when I do, I instantly feel the alignment that comes with being right where I’m supposed to be. Maybe that’s why WG’s space feels so impermeable. Integrity will do that. When we’re not fractured or seeking or hiding—when we are genuinely lined up with ourselves—it becomes very difficult for anything we don’t want in our space to barge in.

I’ll start adding things back in as it feels right to do so. For now, I write, I do writey things (like hang out with you fine people), I work, I eat, I sleep for a devilishly unearned 8 hours, and … I walk. Quite literally just put one foot in front of the other. I let my body tell me how fast, how far, and when it’s time to stop. I acknowledge the inner voices who still scream, may never stop screaming, “It’s not enough!” I give thanks for the privilege that allows me to live this way, and for the genuine joy and kindness with which I feel able to greet all who do approach—which feels far more healing for the world than throwing myself hard at life. I endeavor, simply, to do no harm.

And that feels like plenty for now.


What question, or person, or apparition, or symbol, has persisted for you? When you get really quiet, what is consistently there, pointing you back to yourself?

Set a timer for ten minutes and keep your pen moving in response to the prompt: “It was always right there.”

Postcard from a pixelated self

Here’s 10-minute free write I did a few days after a recent surgery, when I was still drug-hazy, largely inert, incisions still hidden under gauze. It’s a messy, staccato, close-in memory of the day: itself a fleeting moment compared to the span of time that has ensued. Kind of a postcard from where I’d been, written and sent to myself to retain the essence of what happened. I don’t know if I would remember any of this by now had I not scribbled it from within the fog.

Complications during the procedure left me with five incisions—which I’ve been gigglingly referring to as ‘stab wounds’—and a bladder injury. It’s all healing well and pain has been minimal. Still. Life these past weeks has been … surreal.

We usually don’t know what the biggest moments in our lives are til we’re long past them. We adapt and we forget. Which is why it can be important to write from inside those moments, to get down some notes, just in case. No matter how pixelated you are. No matter how much your body is hurting, or your heart. Write just for a couple of minutes. Just sentence fragments. It doesn’t have to be for anyone but you.

I wrote in response to a prompt from a deck of cards authored by Natalie Goldberg. I had no idea where I’d go with it. We never do when we write this way. That’s the point. That’s the beauty. 

“What did you bring—in your purse, on a trip, to a party, in your suitcase, in your book bag, in your car?”

ID, Kaiser card, form of payment. All in a little purse the size of a pants pocket. Phone just in case—lifeline. Nothing else. Wear no makeup, lotion, scents, they said. Not even chapstick (that may not have been a directive but I took the advice to rather an extreme).

PJ pants, green t-shirt, hoodie. The last time I’d walk swiftly and upright for weeks. Unencumbered, bouncy, nervous. “May I use the restroom?” A last nervous pee. The last – no, the penultimate – one that would go from my body directly into the toilet until the next calendar month. I brought a full bladder instead of a full purse. Travel light, pee heavy.

I brought my friends in spirit, my family’s love, my nerves. High blood pressure when they first took it.

“Are you stressing?” the nurse asked. She reminded me of my friend Christy. Put me at ease.

“I am a little nervous.” (A little?)

“We’ll let you settle. Check it later.”

In the meantime getting piled on by people bearing equipment, all kind, all meant to heal, to care. Those circular pieces of white tape slapped on my chest to monitor heart rate and who knows what else.  An IV, first to draw blood (she spilled some—is that normal?) then to push whatever was needed. Fluid, drugs, anesthesia.

“First you’ll get a drug that feels like a cocktail. It’ll make you feel good, relaxed.” The anesthetist was Ray. I remember it made me feel a little dizzy. My body felt no fear anymore but my mind still had questions. They were answered by darkness. A few hours of it felt like a few minutes to me.

Rising back to half consciousness with all the accessories gone – the shower cap, the monitors, the compression socks. My glasses were back on my face. Sea sick. Helped back into my clothes, the drawstring plastic bag that had held them now full of medical supplies we didn’t know we’d need. Alcohol wipes, extra tubes.

I was bringing home a catheter attached to a urine bag attached to my leg. I was bringing home a battery of meds to help me not feel anything. “Whoa,” said the recovery nurse when she saw the the pile of bottles.

I brought my uterus. I left without it.

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