Say how you are feeling

I bought myself a ring last weekend when I was home in Oregon. I’d been looking at this designer’s work for months, maybe years. The purchase wasn’t a big splurge at all, but when the store was in my backyard, I never felt like I had a reason to walk in the door and buy the ring. Being 30 is reason enough.

I wear this delicate piece on the middle finger of my left hand. A hammered brass band rises up into a thin ridge studded with seed beads of silver. The silver pieces are threaded through holes in the ridge, so they have the freedom to move.

As the cashier at the shop handed me my receipt, she told me that sometimes the pieces break. Some women don’t have any problems, she said, but if you shoved your hand into the pocket of your skinny jeans too fast, maybe you’d lose them. “Don’t worry, though. The designer is happy to repair rings. You can mail it in. If for some reason it keeps happening, she could even solder the pieces in place.”

So I look at this dainty ring often, tilting my hand to count the little dumbbells of silver, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I love looking at the ring. It’s not conventionally pretty. It’s interesting. It’s mine. 

And because it’s on my finger, my particular brain likes to send up a little flare of anxiety from time to time. Did I lose a piece? No, no, they’re all there. Admire the ring, go back to my day. That knee-jerk reaction reminds me that I haven’t been feeling (clinically) anxious lately. It feels good to have a baseline of calm and ease. I haven’t missed reading about heart failure on internet health forums at 11 pm.

This new habit of checking the ring is a way to safeguard against further wreckage. Oh, because I have been feeling. I’ve been angry. I’ve been grieving. This winter and spring have been flooded with a salty wave of sadness, and treading water in that sea has been exhausting. Some days, I’m only plunging my hand into a tide pool of sad, not minding the cold sting because I’m closer to the beauty under the surface. And other days, I’m choking on the salt water as waves crash over my head, my legs churning to keep myself afloat, everything inside feeling rusty and hollowed out and close to cracking.

Simple things start the sorrow rocking: A taste of Cran-Raspberry La Croix, the first stuttering notes of a Local Natives song, admiring other people’s dogs on a bright Sunday loop through the park. These things once belonged to us, all the tiny details of a love now lost.

Sometimes the pieces break. 

Here I am now, afloat, adrift. A relationship rooted in my new city has ended, and it is hard work to be submerged in that loss, to trust that my strong legs will keep kicking, that my chest will one day cease to ache. It takes energy to acknowledge that I am alone, that I am still out here. I wave hello to a friend relaxing on the beach. I ask another to join me in the bobbing waves as crusts of salt dry on my face. I’m moving closer to the shore. Soon, I’ll be able to stand on the sand bar under my feet.


Make a list of everything you’re good at

Cleaning the house.

Trusting my intuition.

Flossing every night.

Losing control when I get the giggles.



Sensing other people’s emotions.

Being slow to acknowledge the things I do well.

Letting myself tear up a little bit when I’m moved by music.

Spelling. (I have a third-place county spelling bee ribbon stashed in a box somewhere as proof.)

Writing letters and birthday cards and texts and tweets to my loved ones.

Expressing gratitude in effusive letters or emails that might cause me to cringe five years later.

Being earnest.

Turning cartwheels.

Eating my vegetables.

Sharing music and experiences with my sisters.

Being alone.


Eating ice cream.

Hanging out with toddlers.

Paying attention to my feelings. (Not so good at leaning into them, but it’s a work in progress.)

Remembering names.

Drinking enough water.

Dancing without embarrassment.

Playing ping-pong.

Serving on volunteer committees.

Embracing playfulness.

Making sangria.


Informing my friends about politics, current events, and pop culture.

Staying home on Friday nights.

Organizing. (Plays, parties, meetings, stacks of paper, kitchen cupboards, my thoughts.)

Worrying about my heart.

Growing houseplants.

Doing what I say I am going to do.

Indulging my quirks.

Remembering the lyrics of most 1990s country music songs. (Despite attempts to forget them.)

Obsessing slightly.

Speaking in public.

Making abstract connections.

Riding horses.

Having good penmanship.

Giving gifts.

Taking care of my clothes. (Dry cleaning. Ugh.)

Making lists.

Doing the work.

Taking walks.

Practicing kindness.

Writing it down.

Fulfilling civic duties. (Am I the only one who loves jury duty?!) 

Working on my handstands.

Embracing my curly hair.

Washing the dishes.


Doing pushups.

Avoiding caffeine.


Keeping a routine.

Changing my sheets.

Scaring my sisters by jumping out at them.

Planning trips.

Enduring long days in airports and on planes.

Tossing things I don’t need.

Stressing out for too long about a playlist or menu that I’ve planned.

Self-diagnosing myself with serious diseases or life-threatening conditions.

Placing endless significance on the written word. 

Observing my heroes carefully.

Being on my feet all day.


Curling my eyelashes.

Playing nice on first dates.

Talking to myself in the car when I’m feeling a little unhinged.

Editing cover letters and resumes and applications and essays.

Packing and eating my lunch even when I’m not excited about cold chicken and carrot sticks.

Returning phone calls.

Loving dill pickles.

Whining about packing a suitcase. Also, packing a suitcase.

Keeping a logbook.

Contributing my thoughts to creative projects.

Asking questions.

Making creative things with my hands, like off-centered ceramic bowls and amateur doodles. 

Devotedly watching Saturday Night Live. 

Carrying multiple dishes on my arms.

Taking little kids seriously.

Not crying.

Winning at Boggle.


Disguising my anxiety.

Reading the newspaper.

Editing photos on my iPhone.

Writing honestly.

Telling the truth.

Playing four chords on my ukulele.

Being self-aware.

Sharing work that inspires me.

Voting with my dollars.

Paying my library fines.

Showing up.

Recommending books and music.

Singing to and petting our Labrador.  

Feeling self-conscious when everyone else is worried about themselves.


Go for a walk

I am a creature of habit, a woman of ritual. After lunch, I go for a 30-minute walk in the business park where I work. There are no sidewalks for long stretches, so I crunch through the red cinder rock or walk the white line if the road is open.

The weather is changing, and while I don’t idealize the seasons, or at least I try not to, this one is my favorite. I love fall. On a lunchtime walk earlier this month, I realized there’s something about the low angle of the late afternoon sun and the crispness in the air that makes me feel like I can exhale for the first time in months.

My love for fall isn’t about scarves or boots. I’m not that excited to put squash on my stoop. I refuse to drink pumpkin spice lattes. I embrace this season because it gives me what I need. The heat eases and the sky deepens. In the past weeks, I have felt like falling to my knees with relief more than once. Maybe there’s some nostalgia in this, a twinge of rose-filtered longing for new pens and bright maple trees and sitting in classrooms. But there’s also something happening physiologically. The temperature is dropping, sliding back into the 70s and 60s, and I am achy and teary with gratitude.

In the summer, I often come in from a midday walk with my mind refreshed, but my body sluggish. I am overheated and feel soft and round and thick. I gulp water. The feeling eases, but it makes me want to lie on the cool cement floor of my basement. I am not energized.

This week, I have been coming in openhearted and loose and light. Goals feel closer. I can do more, give more, be more. I want to hug my friends and sisters. I want to hand out flowers to strangers.

I feel the cool breeze on my face and watch the sun sliding down the sky. This is coming home.

– – – 

After reading Teju Cole’s Open City a couple of years ago, I became enamored of the idea of taking long solo walks through the city. The city I live in is no New York, but it’s walkable and my neighborhood is friendly. Being habitual, I tend to stick to my neighborhood loop. On Sundays, I often hike up Mt. Tabor, a nearby volcanic cinder cone. Mt. Tabor Park is green and quiet and filled with trails.

Some days, I’ll put my earbuds in and listen to an episode of WTF with Marc Maron or Beck’s Morning Phase. On others, I am quiet, letting my mind spool out and dip into new thoughts. It’s best if I don’t have a destination. When I walk as a mode of transportation, I feel bogged down by time constraints. It takes too long to get places and I’m impatient. When I walk as a means of meditation, everything falls away and I can be brought back to myself, to the earth, to acceptance.