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That's me on the left.  I told you I was on the BeastMaster diet.

That’s me on the left. I told you I was on the BeastMaster diet.

For a long time now, I’ve been a kind of scavenger eater. I’ve never enjoyed cooking and tend to go for the easiest thing to prepare, especially on days when I wait too long to eat lunch and my hunger takes over. I end up cramming Goldfish crackers, blocks of cheese, mini-carrots, cookies, whatever is closest, goes in gigantic handfuls right into my gaping maw. It’s not pretty.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized how little this approach to eating (and cooking) serves me. My rejection of cooking came early. When I was about 10 years old, my dad said something along the lines of “You have to learn how to cook . .  . because you’re a girl.” And my response was a mighty FUCK IT. If society tells me I have to do something (wear make-up, wear uncomfortable shoes, cry at romantic movies, act “crazy” because I’m on the rag) then I’m going to do everything in my power to run the other way. Since I associated cooking with unfeminist behaviors, I took no interest in learning how to cook and turned up the Bikini Kill until my ears bled fire.

And when I moved out of my parent’s house at the age of 17, I lived on Triscuits and cheese for a year.

But don’t worry. As soon as I turned 21, I added whiskey sours (Vitamin C), 22 ouncers of Rolling Rock (fermentation, baby!) and burritos as big as my head from whatever San Diego Mexican food joint was close enough not to push my inevitable hangover over the edge and into cranial destruction (protein for the bones!).

I like to call it the Beastmaster diet.

About a decade into this nutritional chaos, I got smart (er) and started eliminating some of the carbs re: stopped eating donuts. I upped my exercise game and got fairly religious about getting on the elliptical trainer at the YMCA, plus regular yoga and Pilates classes. I got skinny, for whatever that’s worth.  But I still refused to really learn how to cook. And I was still a scavenger. Waiting to eat until super late. Grasping at whatever processed foods were closest out of hunger. Swinging between diets, going vegan and then whooping it up in hamburger heaven.

But turning 40 has forced me to take a long, hard look at my eating habits and how they might be connected to my foggy brain functioning, headaches, and inflamed joints. Last week, I was talking with my friend Kara about how I’ve lost all the weight from baby-having , pretty much from nursing and taking lots of walks, but how I just feel crappy most of the time. Tired, grumpy, depressed, confused, unable to focus. Kara told me about a FB page and website an old friend of hers runs called Do Not Die Young.

So much spinach

So much spinach

I went home and looked it up. Immediately, I thought, this guy is teaching what I want to learn. Chris happened to be offering a Clean Eating Kick-Start, and without giving it too much thought, I emailed him and signed up. I started on Monday, June 23, and today marks my third day in, out of 11 total days. I was terrified at first, but let me tell you, so far it’s pretty fucking rad. I’m already feeling the brain fog lift. I’ve been drinking these green smoothie concoctions every morning and they actually taste good.

For me, it kind of feels like a miracle, so I’m excited to see where I end up in the next few days!

 

 

 

 

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Pretzel Logic

Pretzel Logic

Yoga still has a lingering association with privilege and entitlement for some people. What do you picture when you think of a yoga enthusiast? A skinny lady in $80 Lululemon yoga pants hitting the mat between trips to the spa and organic facials? Every resident of Sebastopol? White people? Indian gurus? Yourself?

It’s taken me years to stop associating yoga with people who are rich and can afford to buy those super expensive raw green smoothie supplements at Whole Foods and an all-Patagonia and Marc Jacobs all-the-time wardrobe – even though I’ve dabbled in yoga myself, on and off, throughout the years and it’s always made me feel more grounded when I make the time to set down my mat and get to work.

I think my attitude about yoga started to change when I saw my dad, the avowed working-class communist surfing house painter, take up a yoga practice. Everyday, he lays out his green mat on the living room floor and does his stretches. He started with videos, but now he just sort of has a routine that’s all his own.  It helps him with his back and I’m pretty sure it helps him get centered for the day too.

And recently, my friend and ultimate life idol TQ  (I’ve basically trying to steeze her style since we first became friends almost twenty years ago) told me about a yoga practice she’s taken up recently. Called MySore yoga, it’s all about learning the poses inside and out, with a home practice and a once a week visit to a studio.

It’s funny that I’m having to grapple with my own projected notions of this ancient tradition. I mean, who the hell am I to say that yoga is for the privileged when it’s obviously not.

According to the American Yoga Association,

The classical techniques of Yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise which has since spread throughout the world. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience.

Yesterday, I got into it with someone (a stranger) about something that is seriously negligible, not even worth recounting here. I stomped away super riled up, angry, wanting to throw large items at the wall (or at the guy), feeling that slow burn rising up inside. But I think all of this work around anxiety and mindfulness is actually starting to take, because instead of getting crazy about the incident and dwelling on it for hours – imagining subtle forms of revenge – I found some calming music on Spotify, laid out my blue yoga mat in front of the living room window, and did a bastardized form of sun salutations for about 20 minutes.

My mind cleared. I got a bit of perspective. I relaxed a bit and stretched out my muscles. And I was able to let go of my anger instead of holding it in. I don’t think I can get across how monumental that is for me, someone who normally lets fly with anger and resentment like candies out of a busted open pinata.

And it was free. I didn’t have to go to an expensive studio. I didn’t need to leave my house. I didn’t even have to put on “real” yoga pants. That easy.

What are your thoughts on the yoga practice? Is it something that you’ve found to be helpful or does the cost/time/training aspect seem prohibitive? Have you found ways around that?

 

 

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My wise self looks a bit like Joan Didion

My wise self looks a bit like Joan Didion

 

I started this blog with full intention of blogging twice a week, but that’s just not happening. At this point, I just want to keep it going, even if that means posting sporadically. As mentioned in my original post, I have a hard time following through on creative projects that don’t involve making a living. Can’t  someone just hire me to be a visionary? That position exists in the world, right? Or have I been watching too much Silicon Valley? 

Anyway, in my Intro to Anxiety class this week, we talked a bit about the concept of Wise Self (I totally almost typed Wise Elf right there, but that’s a story for another day). It was part of a lesson on rational response, which comes at the end of a long process (called a CARAT form) that essentially involves identifying an anxiety-causing situation, analyzing the emotions and automatic thoughts that arise from the situation, identifying the thinking errors  or cognitive distortions in those automatic thoughts, and then moving from a series of questions into a more rational response to the situation.

I filled out  CARAT forms around a couple of situations. Not surprisingly, the one that was most effective for me had to do with money. I haven’t written about money or debt yet on the blog, but those are some of my biggest anxiety triggers.

My WE also looks suspiciously similar to bell hooks.

bell hooks could totally play my Wise Self in a movie version of my life

Back to Wise Self or WE for short.

From the Introduction to Anxiety Workbook:

Think of your rational response as a rebuttal that comes your wisest self. It offers the broadest perspective on what is really going on. Your rational response is meant to help you undo the harmful effects of unrealistic or exaggerated interpretations.

I dig this idea. As someone who still struggles with looking too much outside myself for approval, I like the idea that I have wisdom within myself to solve most of my problems, at least those that aren’t tied to a wider socio-economic reality or issue (and even that, I can change my thinking around so at least I don’t drag it around with me and dwell in the gloom most hours of the day).

What does your Wise Self look like? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from your WE?

 

 

 

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I once worked in a little cafe down in San Diego . . .

I once worked in a little cafe down in San Diego . . .

Yesterday I went to the second session of the anxiety group at Kaiser. As I was doing the homework this morning, I started thinking about the ways in which my anxiety has gotten the better of me in the past. I started thinking back to about ten years ago, when I worked in the kitchen at a cafe in San Diego in a gap between teaching jobs. Actually, I took the job at the cafe because chopping strawberries, making fruit salads and building sandwiches was just the respite I needed after the anxiety and stress of teaching high school on the Navajo reservation for two years.

I lived in a punk house with a bunch of other people – artists, creators, musicians and students.  I was writing, mainly short, undeveloped pieces that I would self-publish in zines, but I spent much of my time, when I wasn’t working, fretting about whether I should go back to teaching, worrying about money, worrying about men who didn’t want me as much as I wanted them, and thinking about writing without actually writing. In short, I let my social anxiety get the best of me.

A story that best illustrates this is The Day Mike Davis Came Into the Cafe To Buy a Piece of Chocolate Cake. 

 

Mike Davis and the Case of the Post-Run Cake

Mike Davis and the Case of the Post-Run Cake

Mike Davis is one of my writing icons. He writes about politics, class, ecology, history, California, and labor with grace and wit. Well, one day, Mike Davis stepped up to the counter at the cafe where I worked and ordered a coffee drink and a piece of chocolate cake. I was flabbergasted. I served him the cake, dying to say something, but I froze.

He showed up again a few days later. It turned out he lived in the neighborhood; he’d stop in after a morning or afternoon run. Finally, one day, I got up the courage to talk to him. I was embarrassed as all get out, but I ended up chatting with him, working up the courage to ask him for writing advice (he told me to get a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style) before mentioning an essay that I’d just started working on. The essay, which ended up being published in a City Works Press anthology, was ostensibly about the gentrification of Golden Hill and Sherman Heights, the working-class neighborhoods around the cafe that were swiftly becoming hipster playgrounds, thanks in part to the very place that I worked.

Towards the end of our conversation, Mr. Davis gave me his email address along with an encouragement to send him a draft of the essay.

Did I send it to him? No. I chickened out, convincing myself that I had nothing to offer, and no real skills as a writer or an intellectual. Epic Fail. What I’m trying to say is, looking back, I wish that I’d spent that precious period of freedom writing like a madwoman, reading, studying, devoting myself to learning the craft of writing- instead of worrying about whether I was good enough, or had the right to take a seat at the table, before leaping into the next teaching job that was dangled in front of me because of my overwhelming money worries and fear of looking like a loser for working in food service. Lame.

Which is to say, anxiety in its many ugly forms sucks, and there’s no time like the present to defeat it.

Was there a time when anxiety got the better of you? Did you learn from it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Borage Lyfe

When staring at Borage for hours doesn’t do the trick, try Diaphragmatic breathing for a kick. #boragelyfe

It’s been a busy week. Aside from my parents being in town until Saturday, I started two classes. On Mondays, I’m taking a 6-week Mind-Body Medicine for Stress workshop (with my husband, because he is great). I’m also taking a four week basic anxiety group, which started on Tuesday.

One session down and I’m already seeing benefits. The crossover from both of the workshops is a focus on the breath as a tool for grounding and relaxation. We did breathing exercises in both classes. Breathing is so completely basic, so automatic that it almost seems like it doesn’t exist ; Yet, there is such power in the breath (I mean, aside from the fact that it keeps us alive).

The exercise that I’ve found the most effective thus far is called Diaphragmatic breathing. What is it? Well, breathing in through the diaphragm, instead of taking shallow chest breaths (which can lead to increased feelings of panic).  The workshop leader had us hold our hands to our diaphragm – the belly – and breathe in for five counts and then out for five counts. The hand should move up with the in breath and down with the out breath. You want to make sure to sit up straight with feet planted on the floor. We did that for five minutes, breathing in and out, and then the doctor ran us through a couple of visualizations. The first had us walking down a stair with each breath in, stairs that transported us away from anxiety and into calm. I  liked the second exercise the best. He had us imagine a white, shining light  shooting out of the sky and through the tops of our heads, coursing through our bodies and washing away the anxiety. Like taking drugs, but without the money or the hangover.

The breathing has come in really handy. While a visit from my parents is pure joy, for the most part, at some point I always end up regressing to my awkward, angry, brace-faced twelve-year-old self faster than you can say ‘Duran Duran’. This usually leads to me reacting  in regrettable ways. But today, my mom told me, “You’ve been so calm and patient this whole time,” with a sense of wonder, because that is not my normal M.O. Thank you breath, for making me a better person, and for being significantly cheaper than fancy therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking with TQ through Crane Canyon Regional Park. And more poppies.

Walking with TQ through Crane Canyon Regional Park. And more poppies.

There’s not much that I like more than a really good walk.  I cancelled my gym membership  not just to save money, but because, these days, walking outdoors is my preferred form of exercise. It’s simple, it’s easy and I can load the baby into her stroller and take her along with me without much fuss. I walk every day, almost without fail, sometimes just around the block, sometimes a few miles.

It’s rare that I don’t have a destination in mind – usually landing in spot where treats can be had – but  yesterday G and I headed out to the stationary store downtown and ended up halfway across town at Luther Burbank Gardens, where we got to see poppies upon poppies in full bloom followed by a chat with the gift shop volunteer about Santa Rosa plums and how Burbank married a woman 40 years his junior (!) A great afternoon came out of the impulse to walk left instead of right, which would have taken us directly home.

I got to thinking about walking after my friend Autumn (one of the best writers and thinkers I know) posted a link to this piece on  BBC News, The slow death of purposeless walking.  William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf – all were daily walkers who walked aimlessly, thinking and observing along the way, according to the piece. Woolf’s Street Haunting: A London Adventure captures the meandering, creative sparks inhabited during a really good walk.

How's this for a walking outfit?

How’s this for a walking outfit?

It’s often assumed that there’s a a luxury or a privilege in having the time to walk. I just don’t have the time to walk there. I have to work and earn money and make a living and survive! Sure, we’re all busy. But our minds need that time of movement without stress, of stimuli without the pressure to consume, of passing by the same spots in the neighborhood over and over to see how things have changed. What does the creek look like today? How much has the neighbor’s garden grown since last week? What motley crew is hanging at the local park at two in the afternoon?

I’ll be writing more about walking in the coming months. Obviously, it’s one of my obsessions. For now, I’ll leave you with some tips from the BBC piece:

Boil down the books on walking and you’re left with some key tips:

  • Walk further and with no fixed route

  • Stop texting and mapping

  • Don’t soundtrack your walks

  • Go alone

  • Find walkable places

  • Walk mindfully

Oh, and here’s  link to one of my favorite books on walking, Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit.

Do you like to walk? With or without a destination? Do you live somewhere that is walkable, or does it feel dangerous or distasteful to walk much? Do you have the time to do it? The energy? The desire? Let me know.

 

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Photo credit: L.A. Arboretum

Photo credit: L.A. Arboretum

My grandma, who was born in 1919, grew up in Los Angeles. East Los Angeles, to be precise. Back then, the city was booming and busy, but still held pockets of rural flavor in places like Maravilla, the unincorporated part of town where my grandma lived with her family. One of my favorite tales centers on grandma at the tender age of nine, lounging in a field of wildflowers with her best friend, sneaking Sensations (these pastel-colored cigarettes they’d gotten an older man to buy for them) and staring up at a blue sky without a care in the world.

“We thought we were so so-phis-ti-cated,” Grandma always says with a laugh.

What I’ve always loved most about this image, aside from the rebellious camaraderie, was the idea of this bygone city that had existed not so long before I was born. A city where there were more flowers than pavement, where the sky was still blue, and where green things still thrived.

It was hard to imagine in 1980′s Los Angeles. The sky was gray more often than it was blue and freeways outnumbered flowers by a significant percentage. And as a kid, all I craved was wildflowers. Get me out in nature (luckily my mom knew the value of a good hike) and I’d pick wildflowers like crazy, coming home with droopy little bouquets that made my heart sing. Looking back, it probably had to do with the hole left from our abrupt departure from Kauai for a busy, smoggy city.

Because of my wildflower obsession, I was stoked to come across ‘How an Artist Blanketed Los Angeles in Wildflowers’ on Gizmodo. I always wished I could live in the East Los Angeles of my grandma’s youth. I love the idea of the slow return of a place to its natural ecological state. A field of wildflowers is infinitely more soothing to the soul than an empty lot or a lawn.

Love me some California poppies.

Love me some California poppies.

On the growing tip, I wrote last week about anxiety. This past month, my number one solution to feeling anxious has been to go outside and stick my hands in some dirt. I always thought gardening was for people with a lot of time on their hands (privilege) but am now shifting to viewing interactions with plants as essential to my well-being. It’s leaning further and further towards being a non-negotiable aspect of my day-to-day life.  If I have time to dick around on Facebook, then I have time to stick some (drought-resistant) plants in a container and watch them grow. It feels damn good to get out there in the little container garden;  the satisfaction of sitting amongst the lavender and oregano and sage, watching fat Carpenter bees work away at the flowers, is simple but effective.

Any gardening tips for a newbie like me? How does your garden grow? Or has anyone seen the Wildflowering L.A. project in real life? I’d love to hear about it!

 

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Spending time with a rad dog can also ease anxiety. Just ask Ari Up.

Spending time with a rad dog can also ease anxiety. Just ask Ari Up.

I’ve struggled with anxiety since high school. It got really bad in my early twenties, when I began to have major panic attacks – the kind that left me feeling like my outer layer of skin had been removed and I was left to face the world raw, red and bare. It got so bad that I once spent two days laying in my mom’s room, unable to get up or go out into the world for fear that I would die or be killed. I got through that, and by my thirties, with the help of anti-depressants and a (relatively) healthier lifestyle, the panic attacks subsided.

But the anxiety has remained. Healers that I trust have mentioned the connection between all the time spent in my head – because I’m a writer and that’s what we do – and the anxiety. It’s like all the energy just gets trapped up there and has no where to go. This week, instead of just dwelling in the anxiousness, I made a couple of different choices.

On Tuesday, I attended an introduction to anxiety class through my medical provider. I went in thinking, I’m not anxious! I dealt with that shit along time ago. I came out realizing that, yes, I haven’t quite kicked anxiety to the curb like I thought. At the beginning of May, I begin a four-week session that uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address anxiety and its root causes, so writing about that experience is definitely forthcoming.

That same day, my roommate generously offered to take the baby out for the afternoon. Normally, I would have spent that precious two hours reading depressing news on the internet, doing (another) load of dishes, sweeping the (always dirty) floor or knocking out work emails and other random freelance tasks. But that day, I spent twenty minutes with long-haired yoga master Rodney Yee.  It felt great. Then I boiled some water and spent the next half hour in the heaven of a Ayurvedic steam inhalation.

Mmmm, lavender and lemon balm smell so damn good

Mmmm, lavender and lemon balm smell so damn good

I’ve been lucky because one of my oldest friends  is studying to be an Ayurvedic practitioner; she’s taken me on has one of her clients as she completes her studies. Admittedly, I’ve spent the last few weeks meaning to do the things she’s recommended, while remaining firmly entrenched in my regular habits. But not this week.

First, I went out to the garden and picked a few stems of lavender and lemon balm. Then I placed the herbs into the hot water and watched the fragrant steam rise.  Then, I placed a clean towel over my head and  the pot of hot water. The point is to to create a kind of “tent” around your head and to let the herby steam rise up onto your face for as long as you can stand it. I challenged myself to sit there for longer and longer periods of time.

The feeling afterwards is nothing short of wonderful. It’s like going to a spa, without the drive or the cost.  With each steam inhalation, my head felt clearer, less heavy, like the energy was moving around instead of just sitting there trapped, a feeling akin to sitting in a cave filled with old dirt.

Post steam inhalation bliss

Post steam inhalation stoke

I did this for about half an hour. Then I took a hot shower, followed by a walk with Acorn around the neighborhood. Amazingly, the anxiety had lifted. I felt refreshed, grounded and centered.  All from a hot pot of water and a few fresh herbs.

What DIY methods help you stave off anxiety and get grounded again?

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Me and Gabby at the Larner Seeds demonstration garden in Bolinas

I don’t know if it’s turning forty, or if it’s having baby who’s swiftly transformed into a toddler, but my energy level and health have taken a nosedive lately – it’s  time to make a change. By that, I mean, if I want to be a healthy, mindful mother, and one that ages relatively gracefully (I’ll be 60 when my daughter is just 20), I’m having to take a hard, honest look at my emotional and physical bad habits. What doesn’t serve me anymore? What does?

In the interest of not losing interest in this project (I have a tendency to chase after whatever fly-by-night idea hits me for about five minutes before moving on to the next GREAT IDEA), I’m going to be documenting this shift towards better emotional and physical health here on my blog.

Unlike Walden, I don’t have the luxury of going into the woods to find myself, but I do have the luxury of community and time, not to mention boundless inspiration courtesy of the public library.

Fair forewarning: I’m looking at the next six months  as one big experiment. I heard computer scientist and tech- philosopher Jaron Lanier on Forum recently, and he said something about how he encourages his students to experiment with their own behaviors, so as not to be at the mercy of ingrained habits. For example, what does it feel like to go off Facebook for a few months? I couldn’t tell you because I still head to FB way too often for my five-hit-a-day dopamine habit. But Lanier is right. You don’t know the effect of an action until you give it an honest try.

My parents did this when I was young. They left behind family and friends to live in a house on stilts, on the beach, in Kauai when I was only three and my sister eight-weeks-old.  Thanks to my surf bum parents, I spent my early childhood in paradise , eating foraged avocados, papayas and fish, living in nature, swimming and playing all day, studying the stars with my Papa at night.  What if my parents had been afraid to leave Los Angeles, to leave what they knew, all of their family and friends? It was an experiment, and parts of it  sucked, but other parts were glorious (I have the blurred memories to prove it).

The house on stilts in Pila'a, Kauai

The house on stilts in Kauai

Please join me for this experiment. I’ll be posting short essays, photos, successes and failures about three times a week. Leave me comments. Encourage me to stick with it. Help me come up with ideas for how to live healthfully without spending tons of cash on Crossfit and yoga classes (and if you catch me buying those see-through Lululemon yoga pants, just take me out into the woods to die or send me a vision quest to retrieve my soul). Bear with the paleo  phase and cliched complaints about life without sugar (but with honey – I could never totally give up the sweet).  Read books with me. Engage in dialogue about whether having time to garden, bicycle and  is only for the privileged and not for the working-class.

See if it’s possible for a lazy-ass, city-raised, (we moved back to Los Angeles from Kauai when I was 6) working-class lady like myself to make real change; can I put my ideals about simplicity, consumption, sustainability, community-building, kindness and mental health into action? I think I can . . I think I can . . . I think I can . . .

 

 

 

 

 

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In My Bag

inmybagI’m super fascinated with this series by Jason Travis that documents the contents of different style makers bags. It appeals to my enjoyment of the mundane, the everyday things that make up a life (probably the same reason why I love Haruki Murakami and his descriptions of coffee-drinking and spaghetti-making in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle).

In the same spirit, I decided to take a photo of the contents of my own bag. Well, it’s one of about three different bags that I switch between, but this is my “work” bag and the only one that doesn’t contain a random (unused!) diaper and hoarded tiny pieces of paper from who knows where.

My writing group met last night and my friend Jess returned a borrowed copy of No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. As she returned it, Kara and I talked about the story we always remember the most, “The Swim Team,”  where the narrator gives swim lessons in her kitchen floor, teaching her students how to breathe underwater by having them blow bubbles into bowls of water.  The copy of The Best American Essays (edited by Cheryl Strayed) is part of my grand plan to educate myself on the art of essay writing without paying for a class (I’ve yet to actually crack the book, but I will, dammit!) Then we’ve got an old Bohemian that I’m holding onto strictly out of narcissism since I wrote about Write On Mamas for this particular issue. And here is a copy of Mind Your Manners, which is ostensibly for my daughter to “read” while we’re out and about, but should be at the top of my own reading list, if we’re going to be totally honest.

What else? A pen that probably doesn’t work, a random, pretty bracelet that I never wear, an ugly wallet that I keep meaning to replace with something more svelte, notes on an essay called Climate Change, Baby that I submitted to my writing group yesterday, a baby sweater, and earbuds that (also) probably don’t work.

There ya go. What’s in your bag?

 

 

 

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