When The Coffee Gets Cold
Looking for value in the unromantic
Recently, I’ve realized that I expect far too much of myself. I want to wake up to the sun, to make myself a nice breakfast, have all my readings done, and relax on the bus, contribute well in class. When something disrupts this ideal, it feels like playing a game of Jenga, pulling on the one block that holds up the entire tower and watching it come tumbling down. I feel frustrated and guilty, as if I’m wasting my life because I’m spending part of it being annoyed at things out of my control. I wish I could always be kind, to look at the world with rose-colored glasses, to have every day unfold in front of me like a path lined with flowers. But the reality is, sometimes I’ll have to plant the flowers myself. Sometimes the soil will reject them. It’s always worth a try, anyway. Anyway is the key word.
Maria Popova wrote in this article from The Marginalian [formerly Brain Pickings]:
Of course, even the best-intentioned of us are not capable of perpetual kindness, not capable of being our most elevated selves all day with everybody. If you have not watched yourself, helpless and horrified, transform into an ill-tempered child with a loved one or the unsuspecting man blocking the produce aisle with his basket of bok choy, you have not lived. Discontinuous and self-contradictory even under the safest and sanest of circumstances, human beings are not wired for constancy of feeling, of conduct, of selfhood. When the world grows unsafe, when life charges at us with its stresses and its sorrows, our devotion to kindness can short-circuit with alarming ease. And yet, paradoxically, it is often in the laboratory of loss and uncertainty that we calibrate and supercharge our capacity for kindness.
In 2019 I was on a train from Columbia Road Flower Market, with two bouquets that didn’t fit in the bag I was carrying, feeling irritated and tired. There was a group of boys who came from sports practice, being loud and laughing and kicking a ball around the train. I spent the whole ride cursing them out in my head, just wishing for quiet, wanting to feel at peace with my flowers. I got up to leave when it was my stop, and one of the boys tapped me on the shoulder before I left and said the flowers smell really nice. He smiled, genuine. I thanked him and felt incredibly guilty on my walk home. As much as I try to see the good in the world, and as much as I wish it was unconditional, I think the true secret to tolerance and ultimate kindness is acceptance. It was okay that I felt irritated, and ending up in a loud train car after a long day wasn’t the world trying to ruin the beauty of it. It just happened. We have to move on. I got home and spent the evening arranging my flowers and making soup.
There’s a weird trend happening on social media where people try to be “that girl”: someone who sits and reads the newspaper at a café at 8 am and does yoga and sees the good in everyone and everything. Truth is, even “that girl” has to deal with soggy cereal, or forgotten laundry, or a coffee that’s gone cold. And I just think we need to be more accepting of the truly mundane, the kind you can’t make pretty. You don’t have to romanticize it to accept it. I visited Paris a few years ago, and I remember sitting at Jardin de Tuileries, wishing my grandma was there to see it, to sunbathe on those green chairs beside my aunt and my mom and me. It hurt, but my thoughts went like this: This is beautiful. I miss you, I wish you were here. This is still beautiful. I miss home, my friends, my family. I grieve my grandparents, time lost. I am trying to navigate these feelings, to balance them with the beautiful moments, and acknowledge both without letting one negate the other.
I am a big advocate for romanticizing your life. It helps me get through my day-to-day, helped me even more throughout the pandemic. We should all go for our little self-reflection walks, make the most out of daily chores. Play music when you’re doing dishes, or sing in the shower. But sometimes it will rain as you’re sitting on a park bench, or your phone will die mid-song, and you just have to say “okay, that sucks, but I’ll try again another time.” Life can be awkward and ugly. We can be awkward and ugly. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s forgiveness, it’s relief. And to have the courage to believe in the good, to surpass the bad days and the really really bad days, to give yourself the gift of restarting… what a blessing, that is.
Here is a poem by Ellen Bass:
The Thing Is
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
What I Enjoyed This Week
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. I actually read this for one of my classes, but it’s been on my list for a long time, so I consider it a pleasure read anyway. And I did enjoy it, but primarily because it (like Bluets) was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It’s a non-fiction queer memoir, blended with literary theory and criticism. I feel like it changed my brain, making it ache a little in the process. Maggie Nelson has an incredibly honest and sharp writing style: much of it felt self-confrontational and confessional, which I appreciated. My favorite parts were about motherhood and parenting, which are relatively new literary themes to me, but beautifully luminous in this text. 4.5/5
“November for Beginners” by Rita Dove. Cue the November poetry!! I love this one. This has always been a month of warmth for me, of deeply colored sunsets and Thanksgiving. I’m adjusting to a different one now (they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.K.), one that feels cold and dark and sometimes lonely. So, in a way, I feel like a beginner too. We sit down / in the smell of the past / and rise in a light / that is already leaving.
Other Wonderful Things
I went to Brighton on Thursday! It’s a quirky seaside city, with lots of vintage stores and street art. I bought a mug with a smiley face on it and ate vegan pizza and spent the day with a good friend I haven’t seen in a while (hi Julia)! I loved seeing the ocean too, though it was cloudy. I feel like this last summer implanted a battery in me, and just looking out on the water for a moment recharged it. An injection of serenity, perhaps.
I made pickled red onions! I put them on everything. They brighten up my fridge.
Anicka Yi’s “In Love With The World” exhibit at the Tate Modern. Mesmerizing. I think we stared at it for 10 minutes.
Thank you for reading, as always.