In-between time/what's in a pause
February feels: bubbly, Dolly Parton and bath time
What’s on the menu?
Thank you for subscribing to my monthly newsletter! I send this out the week before a new episode of my podcast Material Feels drops. Enjoy a buffet of rabbit holes not included in the usual MF programming, now accompanied by a Spotify playlist inspired by the tangents I’m about to go on. The playlist incorporates keywords, concepts and references from the writing as well as the recommended podcast episodes I mention towards the end. It’s a fun extra that helps me think about the topics I cover in new ways! Listen here (press play) or go directly to Spotify here.
On the menu:
Word of the month
Question for you
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Word of the month
In December, exploring radical acceptance helped me deal with some professional struggles, particularly decision fatigue and perfectionism. I’m making my way through Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach; reading about it more, I’m fascinated by the concept of purposeful pausing: stopping for a moment before moving on to do the next thing.
When we shift from task to task, space to space, conversation to conversation, slowness is not typically rewarded. Pausing in between activities to reflect, breathe and even check in with your emotions is a powerful way to remain grounded when it feels like the current of the day is sweeping you away. The idea is to become more aware of what is happening. Awareness allows us to eventually make choices based on information we are usually not pacing ourselves to notice.
When I pause throughout the day to check in, it’s an opportunity to map my mental state. I practice detaching from a present moment, a process that reminds me of guided meditation and the instruction to simply watch thoughts pass by.
Pausing throughout the day reminds me of how folks train themselves to lucid dream (something I would love to do!). In order to train your brain to notice when you’re dreaming, you ask yourself throughout the day, “Is this a dream? Is this real?” By priming yourself to question your reality in waking moments, you’re more likely to ask yourself this in sleep… and once Dream You realizes it’s a dream, you may be able to stay in the dream state while making the switch to a lucid experience.
I wonder about purposeful pausing, and how over time it might disrupt a dream we move through while awake.
I like to think about the word of the month the way I think about a material. Where does it show up in different contexts? How does scale change my perception of it? What are the different ways I can interact with it?
Starting by thinking about small pauses throughout the day, I zoom out to larger pauses in my life. Gaps in communication with or time spent away from friends and family. Nearly a year away from the 9-5 structure. Rest days in between runs. The silences within a conversation. And zooming farther out to experiences beyond mine, pauses occur in nature all the time: hibernation, migration, seasonal shifts, circadian rhythms.
Is a pause a break? Which leads me to wonder at the story behind the word “break.” We take a break; yet when we break something, it’s painful, it’s surprising, it’s embarrassing. How did “taking a break” evolve into something positive, like taking a rest from a job, stressful relationship or arduous task? Sometimes breaking something up makes it easier to work with, hold or arrange. I think I am overly sensitive to the verb “break” because it hits on some tender spots: friendship break ups, relationships ending, busted appliances, flat tires, stubborn knots, sore joints.
Back to the word pause: there is assumption that you will pick back up “at the same point,” but this idea feels flawed to me. While we pause, or break, other things continue to expand and contract, evolve and devolve, grow and fall apart.
And a pause is not just empty space. In fact, it’s negative space - which is a crucial part of any composition, something that balances the visual field but also helps our brains figure out what we are looking at. In music, pauses create rhythm. There are thoughts, feelings and sensations embedded in a pause; a pause can take on a texture and life of its own.
Negative space is the “background” that surrounds the subject of a photograph, painting or drawing; positive space is the subject. In this photo, the negative space is the shards of sky and bits of water that reflect the glow of the sunset. The photographer is playing with the illusion of negative space here, because the driftwood and the land are all silhouetted. But our brains perceive the pieces of driftwood as the subject; even though the land in the background is the same hue, we can draw a conclusion from the content that it’s farther away… Hmm. The picture I chose to demonstrate this concept is sort of complicated, but then again, pausing is complicated.
The line between negative and positive space is not always clear.
When does a pause take on a life of its own? Hundreds of moments checking in with yourself. A season of hibernation with its own narrative.
What does pausing feel like for you? Is it scary or freeing? Does it stir up guilt or grief? Is it more peaceful, or more stressful?
My question for you this month:
If you’ve given a toast at a ceremony or an event, what did you talk about and how did it feel?
If someone has toasted you at a ceremony or event, what did they say and how did it feel?
My birthday was a few weeks ago, and I hosted a park party with my favorite humans. I asked people to give toasts, any kind of toasts, because I love the theater of it all. Toasts can be sweet, salty or a combination of the two.
My friend Mimi took it literally and wrote something pun-TASTIC; my friend Amos said a few words about me that were very sweet and made me feel “aw shucks.”
Listen to their toasts here!
Dish about your experiences of toasts via Speak Pipe or email me if voice recordings aren’t your jam.
**Oh hey! Enjoying my writing (Rabbit Hole Buffet), performance (Material Feels) or art ((Waveform Ceramics)? Please contribute to the work I do and become a Patreon. Sharing this newsletter also helps. Your support means the world and I’m so grateful!**
Mad Libs. Going off on a tangent trying to plan an Omicron-safe gathering for my birthday, I thought it would be fun to create a fill-in-the-blank style story about everyone I know and love in the area that we could do together to learn more about one another and bond and stuff. Then I thought, it would be hilarious to have them fill out a story Mad Lib style and then have to discover what the correct words were by chatting with one another. Then I thought, wait, remember MAD LIBS!? Naturally (this is a Rabbit Hole, isn’t it?) I researched the history of Mad Libs and discover that they were born from Leonard Stern and Roger Price, two writers and comedians brainstorming the perfect word choice in a script Stern was working on in New York City in the 50s. I had completely forgotten about them until this moment. Mad Libs were little fill-in-the-blank stories where you asked your friend for a noun, a place, a person, an adjective, whatever was missing.
You craft a story that, depending on your style, ended up being ridiculous, raunchy or weird. Mad Libs played a huge role in my childhood; they were a way to pass time in the car, when we had people over, at sleepovers and whenever we were bored for more than one millisecond. Now that I think about it, Mad Libs may be responsible for my fundamental understanding of grammar and my success as a Latin student. I am now remembering that a childhood friend and I took Mad Libs to the extreme and used every dirty word we knew… it was hilarious, until our horrified mothers conferred and decided we were little perverts. Whoops.
Bodywork. In January’s episode of Material Feels, I talk about the relationship between my body and my emotions. I began to really feel this connection through physical therapy, therapy therapy and running (which is my flavor of meditation). I also had acupuncture from a friend last month for the first time in a decade, and it was an amazing experience. I have a lot of respect for the bodyworkers I’ve known (I actually interviewed my massage therapist for Material Feels!). I’d say I’m 70% physically present with the experience and 30% chatty in any given session, which means I know a little bit about the people who work on me. Our healthcare system is cold, unfeeling and bureaucratic for so many people; bodywork is a loophole in the matrix where I’ve found caring, sensitive people whose life purpose is to reduce pain and bring peace into people’s bodies.
Here’s a poem I wrote, inspired by my physical therapist. Jotting down this poem actually generated much of last month’s narration for the show.
Letter steps My physical therapist digs beneath my stone walls of unsent letters, breaking loose frozen dirt. Hot water rushes to the base of my skull, where muscles meet spine; pooling in my fingers, nervous tea... She excavates a dream, And versions of myself kept on ice She loosens the soil, But unless I keep unstacking, her labor is thankless work. "Re-educating the knot" means... Reading the trail with my feet Earthy braille, where words and flesh meet Sending my letters Cultivating the soil, Writing out loud.
Only Murders in the Building. I devoured this show with my housemate in one week! It’s got a fabulous cast, fun writing and a premise that hits close to home: three neighbors in a New York City apartment building decide to make a podcast together, tracking their progress trying to solve a murder in their building. I am not a fan of True Crime, but I LOVE goodnatured pokes at the podcast world (like this scene from Portlandia). It’s also fun to watch Martin Short’s character blow his budget on gear I recognize. The intergenerational humor is on point, with banter that is so relatable I wonder if parts of the script have been pulled from transcripts of my calls home.
Dolly Parton. There are so many reasons I love Dolly. I thought I was one of many, but after my Spotify Wrapped dropped over the holidays, I was shocked to discover that I am in the top .01% of Dolly listeners on that platform! WHAT! Clearly I am obsessed, and thus need to include her in this section of the newsletter. There is a lot to love about Dolly. She is a prolific songwriter and a powerful storyteller. She’s a dynamic performer and a loving person.
Her music. There are the early songs that reference her childhood with 12 siblings in the Smokey Mountains, songs like Applejack and My Tennessee Mountain Home. Then, the badass feminist songs like Backwoods Barbie, Dumb Blonde and Because I Am A Woman. Then there are the brilliant, relatable, heartbroken love songs: The Bargain Store, The Grass is Blue. Learn more about Dolly through listening to her music, watching the Netflix documentary or listen to Dolly Parton’s America, a 9-part series produced by Jad Adumrad and Shima Oliaee from WNYC studios.
Her image. I admire entertainers who take control of their identity and run with it (I’m thinking Meghan Thee Stallion, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj). Dolly took what people were saying about her early in her career (blonde bimbo with big boobs) and magnified it all in a glorious, fabulous, one-of-a-kind f*** you with flashy outfits, wigs and a big personality. I love how she married a regular degular dude. She’s set up her life so that she can slip off her effects and live life, unrecognizable, going out to eat incognito in plain sight.
Her personality. Dolly is all about love and entertainment. Her fans are all over the political spectrum, and she manages to do things like drop mad money on vaccine research and support BLM while remaining beloved by nearly all. I love Dolly now, always and forever.
2 kindred spirits
Shelter in Place. Created during lockdown by host Laura Joyce Davis, Shelter in Place invites us to “escape into life.” She created the show as a creative way to build community, explore big questions and connect with the world outside. Laura addresses mental health and emotions a lot, which of course I love, and talks to really interesting people! The sound design on the show is also *chef’s kiss* - if you dig MF vibes, Shelter in Place is for you. Try this episode, Stuck on a Staircase. A fellow wordsmith, Laura dives into 2021’s buzzword, languishing, and unpacks it through an intimate personal essay lush with sound and emotion.
The 11th. Another rabbit hole-y pod by Pineapple Street Studios. I’ve listened to two episodes and I can’t decide which to recommend because I love them so much! The concept is audio storytelling that drops on the 11th of the month; a home for “in between ideas” with no structure, no rules and no theme. December’s episode, Exhausting a Place, featured three people spending three hours in a particular place (possibly familiar, possibly not). It was the perfect show to go on a contemplative walk to. January’s episode, I’m Here to Pep You Up, was a compilation of pep talks, from comedians to train drivers to a grandmother’s endearing voice mails. It made me laugh out loud twice, and cry, during a heartfelt, slow burn of a pep talk between three close friends, one of whom experienced a traumatic loss.
Check out this interview I did about finding clay and falling in love with ceramics with Liz Sumner, host of I’ve Always Wanted To!
And if you’re local (Bay Area) and okay with being in bars (masked and vaxxed of course), come see me this week on Thursday, 2/10 at Low Bar, 3-9pm, where I’ll be participating in a Valentine’s Day craft fair alongside other Merritt Ceramics members! I’ll have my audio-themed artwork from Waveform Ceramics and I’d love to see you there.
Love stories this month:
Babies. I have a new nibling, Vivian Sage. She’s PRECIOUS. Best of all, she lives down the street.
Baths. I’ve taken to soaking with epsom salts to try and re-up my magnesium post work-out (am I…. sporty!?) and I get bored in the bath. I’m terrible at choosing bath movies, probably because I hate being a captive audience, unable to wander off mid-scene and start several projects, or make a snack during the boring chase scene. Turns out having a stack of four books and a towel to keep my pruney hands from ruining everything is the secret to a two hour bath. You know, my muscles are still sore the next day, but I slept like an elderly cat in a patch of sunlight: unbothered and fabulous.
Birthday. Hey, it’s still Aquarius season and I a thousand percent love my birthday, which for future reference was on the 24th. ;)
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I hope this coming month you find some time to pause,