Mood Ring
Mood Ring

Mood Ring

American Public Media



Mood Ring is a practical guide to feelings. Every episode, host and mental health writer Anna Borges explores one new way we can cope with our feelings, our baggage, or the world around us—especially in a society where access to mental health care and the ability to practice self-care are both huge privileges. Through Anna's self-aware humor and vibrant guest interviews, the podcast shares creative self-care ideas you may not have heard before, as well as realistic takes on classic mental health tips.

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Take Care of Something
AUG 25, 2022
Take Care of Something

There are a lot of reasons to take care of something — like a plant, or a car or a house. It can be a source of purpose or passion or peace or simple satisfaction. Today we’re exploring how taking care of something can be a form of self-care. 

Host Anna Borges talks with Jené Etheridge — music producer, DJ, community organizer, and an avid cyclist — about how caring for her bike Butter feeds her mental health. 

Hey Mood Ring listeners, we want to hear what you think about Mood Ring! You can help us out by filling out a short audience survey:

Follow Mood Ring @moodringshow

Follow Anna ​​@annabroges

Mood Ring is a production of American Public Media and Pizza Shark! 

Full Transcript


Anna Borges: There’s this old book that I’m willing to bet at least some of you found formative. It’s called The Care and Keeping of You.




And I hope some of you just went OH, THAT BOOK, but you know for the uninitiated, The Care and Keeping of You is this illustrated American Girl guidebook and it was the first real introduction a lot of us got to our bodies and how to take care of them. It covered everything from how to sit when inserting a tampon to you know proper armpit shaving technique.


Legions of preteens referred to that book like a user's manual, myself included. You know, learning as much as we could about maintaining these weird changing bodies that we did not know the first thing about. Understanding what was going on with my body and like the ins and outs in taking care of it made me feel — I mean I don’t want to oversell it but it did — it made me feel like confident and grown up and empowered, or at least more capable of handling the horrors of middle school such as like changing in the locker room and wondering why my boobs looked so much different than everyone else's.


These days, I’m kind of still chasing that high if I'm honest. Like shockingly, huh-huh, taking care of myself as an adult is hardly as satisfying as The Care and Keeping of You once had me believe.




But as I grew up, I did discover that there are a lot of other things that I can take care of, other than myself, and some of them even come with the step-by-step instructions that I was craving. And it turns out, the care and keeping of something else can be as satisfying as the care and keeping of us.




Hey,  I’m Anna Borges, and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings even when you’re feeling less than capable of taking care of yourself.


I’ve probably said “care” enough times for you to get that we’re talking about care today. Care for ourselves. Care for some thing. And caring for ourselves by way of caring for that something.


If you haven’t guessed, I’m on the lookout for something new to take care of because honestly I have not been that great of a job at taking care of myself lately. And sometimes, when we lose trust in our ability to take care of ourselves, I don't know, we need to find ways to prove to ourselves that we still can.




At least, that’s where I'm at lately. There are a lot of reasons to take care of something for our mental health, whether it’s by giving ourselves a source of purpose or passion or peace or simple satisfaction.


So what are we taking care of?


There are the obvious suspects: things that rely on you for nourishment and support, like pets or plants or children. But we can also find meaning in caring for nonliving things too -  things like our homes, cars, beaches, sneakers, closets — and in the case of our guest today, bikes.




Our guest today is a woman of many talents. Jené Etheridge is a music producer, DJ, community organizer and an avid cyclist.


She tells us about her relationship with her bike, how she cares for it as she travels the world with it. And how it in turn feeds her mental health.


Anna: I would love to just hear how you got into cycling. I just never really got into it. It kind of scared me, but what's your story?


Jené: Yeah, so I was in college at The University of Washington in Seattle, and I just needed a way to get around. Also I had a friend um who rode with me like casually. We would go on casual rides and I told him I would have a new commute from U district to SoDo, which is like six miles.


And he was like, yeah, I don't think you can do it. And I was like, oh, you don't think I can do it? and basically I was like, I'm gonna do it. It was like motivation for me to, you know, prove him wrong.


Anna: My favorite type of origin story.


Jené: [laughter] Yeah. This is like a theme throughout my life. It's like, if people say I can't do it, I'm like, oh, okay…


Anna: Watch me.


Jené: [laughter] I'm Gonna do it then. Yeah. So I just started commuting to work to work, that's how I got started. I just, you know, just did it out of necessity to start and then it just grew from there.


And then when I moved to Portland, you know, it's like a really big cycling city, so it was really easy to get plugged in. And then I started learning more about Does this bike fit me? Like What kind of gearing works for the riding that I do? and, and things like that. So yeah.


Anna: When did it go from, cuz it sounded like it went from like transit to something you enjoyed pretty quickly with all the sight seeing, but when did it become your thing or one of your things?


Jené: I would say just you start craving it when you don't do it for a while.


Anna: Mmm


Jené: I also did have more community in Portland and I think that definitely helped me like realize it was my thing because it was mostly like women, trans femme, people of color in Portland who rode bikes, which is like a very small community, but they're very empowering and I would just be like, I don't know if I can do this. That sounds crazy. And they're like, yeah, you can. Why don’t, why do you think you can't do it? You know?


Anna: Absolutely. So speaking of the bike, tell me about your relationship with it.


Jené: Umm okay yeah it's cream colored. I named it Butter because um.


Anna: Ohhh


Jené: The first time I rode it, I'm like, this is so smooth. Like butter, like -


Anna: Perfect.


Anna: If you were to describe what Butter means to you, how would you describe that?


Jené: [laughter] Um I would say the feeling of like autonomy. Just being able to like leave and go whenever I want to.


Jené: I don't know, it becomes an extension of you when you only have one bike for like everything, you know, your body gets accustomed to it. [laughter]


Anna: I love the idea of like the bike is an extension of you.


Jené: Yeah I mean you really have to be aware and just like aware of your surroundings. And so I'm trusting like my body a lot


Anna: Yeah


Jené: And also my bike to get me through like just to get to the destination. [laughter]


Anna: Oh man. I relate to that in exactly one small way. Cause before this, I was talking to my producer about how, I had an opportunity to get ages ago, um, a motorcycle license and I thought it'd be like a cool thing to do.


And I almost didn't pass the test because to swerve, you have to like throw yourself to the side. Like you're gonna like throw yourself down to the ground.


And then like yank it back up. And so you can kind of like jump around whatever you're swerving around. And like I did not have that trust.


Jené: Yeah


Anna: I did not have that trust in myself to pull myself back up. I did not have trust in the bike to not just like—poooffffff


Jené: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. You have to like lean your way into it. Like you really have to like trust. Your capabilities and the capabilities of the bike too, to just like get through these situations.


But I don't know. It's like when you, um, do something kind of scary or dangerous and then you make it out and you're like, oh, okay. Like I know, um, I know that wasn't as bad as it looked or at least like I know a little more about how to, you know, handle the bike better next time. So I feel safer. That's a good feeling.


Anna: I love that. So it’s — now I'm just like Oh, you grow with your bike! I get, I get like, feels about like literally anything.


Jené:  [laughter]


Anna: So, don't mind me just sitting here, like with heart eyes. But let's talk about care then.


Like how do you care like how do you take care of your bike?


Jené: Okay. Well, I mean like there's normal bike maintenance, right? Like you take it to the shop, you just make sure like the chain is looped up and all the, you know, components are working right.


But I think  part of taking care of it is like trusting other people to take care of it.


Anna: Mmm


Jené: Like having relationships with these bike shops, so basically when they see the bike, they already know they're like, oh, that's Jene’s bike. And I think that's, like having that relationship established can help with the care process, if that makes sense.


Anna: Yeah. Totally. And I'm like metaphorical, cuz if we're talking about, you know, taking care of, um, like things to take care of ourselves, trusting other people to take care of us too.


Jené: Yeah. yeah.


Anna: Absolutely.


Anna: What does it what does it look like to travel with the bike? Does that require different maintenance?


Jené: Yeah I mean I basically have to deconstruct the bike, so I have to like take the wheels off, like un- unscrew a lot of parts so that they can break apart essentially. And then they fit all snug in my bike bag. Um, and then I'll put it back together once I get to wherever destination I'm at.


And if I can, I'll try and get like a tune up or just have a bike friend look at it just to make sure everything's running smoothly.


So , but it's like, it is crazy. Like it’s taken — it’s broken apart essentially. I put it together myself and then I'm like, all right, here we go.


And just [laughter] you have to like trust that all the screws are tightened and everything to start riding so


Anna: Totally so when you're like breaking it down and putting it back together so much, is that a ritual that you enjoy or is it more kind of just something you have to do when you're traveling?




Jené: Yeah I like it. It's like very empowering to be able to take it apart and put it back together and then just start riding immediately.


Anna: After the break, we talk more about how Butter and Jené care for one another.




Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring. I’m Anna Borges. Before the break, we were talking to cyclist Jené Etheridge about her relationship with her bike and how taking care if it helps build a sense of trust in herself. Let’s dive back in.




Jené: Yeah  feel like when I first moved to Mexico city, um, I didn't know anyone at all.


Anna: Mm.


Jené: When I got there, it was January, 2021. So we were like still in like pandemic, deep pandemic mode.


Anna: Oh and moving to a new place during a pandemic too. Ugh.


Jené: It was, it was so quiet.


Anna: Yeah


Jené: It was my second time in Mexico city, but it was, I remember I was just happy to be there because it was sunny and being from Portland in January, there’s no sun.


Anna: No. Gray skies forever.


Jené: Yeah. Yeah. And so, um, I mean, I was kind of lonely. I would just kind of ride a lot, uh, in the beginning and


Anna: Yeah like what was your relationship to your bike like at the time?


Jené: So I moved there for six months in the beginning and for some reason I didn't bring my bike.


Anna: [gasp]


Jené: I don't know why.


Anna: Oh my god


Anna: You were separated from Butter.


Jené: Yeah. And so being reunited, I was like, oh my God, this is like the best feeling. Nothing feels like your bike when you're riding, like it's just completely different.


And, so it was just nice to finally have that and like be reunited and be able to take care of it and like, make sure everything was up and running smoothly.


Anna: I love – and like something familiar when you hadn't found your people yet in a new city.


Jené: Yeah, Totally.


Anna: Oh I love that


Jené: Yeah. Yeah. It was super fun.


Anna: We were talking about how, um, just like the concentration that is required to be on a bike is probably the closest thing that I will get to meditation because then I can't be in my head, you know?


Cause I have to like think of what to do and how not to die. Maybe that's a dramatic way of thinking of it, but —


Jené: Mm-hmm yeah. I feel that for sure.


You can really be out of your head when you're riding. Like I would say a lot of the, you know, the to-do list and every day small things kind of just, you can't be thinking about it cuz you're riding. Sometimes we're riding for like hours, but then you start kind of getting into this more meditative mode that's like just reflecting on things on like a deeper way, because you have less distractions.


Like you can't be really looking at your phone, uh, once you get out of the city and you're just riding, you know, know on more secluded roads, you're really just like with your thoughts.


And then also you, you get really close to the people that you ride with because you're talking for literally hours.


Anna: I did enter, you know, with a hypothesis around taking care of things, being, you know, good for our mental health and I’m — how much do you relate to the idea that taking care of something can benefit your mental health? Like does that resonate with you?


Jené: Yeah and it's like, I put it through a lot, you know, like we'll be just going on these trips in Mexico. You know, we take charter buses and you just have to put it in the back in the back of the bus or under the bus with all those suitcases and stuff.


And so you're like kind of risking a lot or when I'm doing gravel rides, like you're just riding through this crazy terrain


Anna: Mmmm.


Jené: And maybe falling because that just happens like when it's rough terrain.


And so being able to like to bring it back to life or just like, you know, travel with it and then get back home and be like, okay, Butter. I know I just put you through a lot.


Anna: [laughter]


Jené: We're gonna go to the shop, make sure everything's good to go.


And then, you know, to be able to do that is nice. Um, and yeah, you're just like, you know, building a relationship in some way.


Anna: I love that so much. I'm like grinning like an idiot.


Anna: One thing I did want to ask, does your bike take care of you in any ways?


Jené: I mean yeah It challenges me every time I ride it.


Anna: Yeah


Jené: I'm like focusing on making myself stronger.


So yeah. At the time, yeah, Am I suffering? Yeah. Yeah. It definitely sucks.


But most of the time I feel great after the ride, you know, and I never regret going, um, unless I crash or something but [laughter] yeah.


I would say like, it takes care of me just through challenging myself and I'm having to trust this machine to get me like hundreds of miles sometimes to a destination.


So that definitely feels like care cuz I guess it's the medium to, to travel and to get to the destination, um, in a way that's like a little more intimate than taking a plane or a bus.


Anna: [laughter] Yeah. I don't think I ever wanna think of taking a bus as intimate in my life.


Jené: [laughter]


Anna: But uh, thank you so much for sharing and for having this whole conversation with me and letting me pick your brain about your bike.


Jené: Yeah of course


Anna: Thank you so much for, for chatting with me today. I almost want to get a bike, but probably won't be.


Jené: No, I think you should.


I mean, to each their own, like I said, but, um, I would recommend it definitely to anyone who just like, wants to get outta their comfort zone, explore places that you would never see by car, by train, by horse even [laughter]


Anna: Absolutely. I'm sure there are plenty of listeners who are like absolutely. Actually going to go out and do this.


Jené: But like, fuck the horse. I'm gonna get a bike.


Anna: [laughter]


Jené: [laughter]


Anna: When I think of how empowered Jené described feeling by her ability to take care of her bike, I couldn’t help but think of that like oft-repeated idea that you can't care for others until you care for yourself. And I know that’s true in some ways but in a lot of ways I know so many of us who have the opposite experience too. Like, taking care of other things teaches us to take care of ourselves. Or you know, at least inspires us to.


My cats remind me to take care of myself all the time—just last month, I remembered I was due for a visit to the doctor because little Francis needed to see the vet. And I was like oh I guess I need to see the vet too. The people vet.


Meanwhile, one friend of mine always remembers to hydrate when she's watering her plants and then another pours themself into like keeping their Jeep in pristine condition whenever they’re feeling like out of control or overwhelmed.


All of that is to say, I like wouldn’t be surprised if you already have things in your life that you take care of, even if don’t really think about it that way.


So if you’re up for it, I have a challenge for you. Actually, hey, a challenge for us—I think I could probably use this right now, too. Alright. Let’s think of something we’ve taken care of, past or present. Like pet, a friend, a plant, an inanimate object, a space, anything. Whatever it is, let’s take one small way we’ve shown that something care or love or tenderness and offer it to ourselves, too.


I’ll report back what I wind up doing on Twitter and Instagram—my handles in the credits per usual. Meet me there and tell me what you tried. I look forward to hearing all about it.


Until next time, everybody take care. Quite literally take care. Of something. Ah…




Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps if you rate, review and share this episode with your friends.  

You can even tag me if you’re really into it — I’m @AnnaBroges on Twitter – that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S … because Anna Borges was taken. We want to hear from you. You can get in touch at Moodringshow DOT ORG and click “Contact Us.” Or follow Mood Ring Show on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call and leave us a message at 833-666-3746.


Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Isis Madrid. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce this show too.


APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.


Thanks again for listening, and I hope to see you next episode!



17 MIN
Enjoy It (No Strings Attached)
AUG 18, 2022
Enjoy It (No Strings Attached)

Host Anna Borges speaks with poet Nichole Perkins about doing things without the expectation for excellence. They speak about Nichole’s new painting hobby and how her confidence in writing poetry is fueled by her creative license to be a hobbyist painter. 

Hey Mood Ring listeners, we want to hear what you think about Mood Ring! You can help us out by filling out a short audience survey:

Follow Mood Ring @moodringshow

Follow Anna ​​@annabroges

Mood Ring is a production of American Public Media and Pizza Shark! 

Full Transcript

Anna Borges: Hey everyone! Pop quiz for you. When you discover a new hobby that you’re really enjoying, do you:


A. Strive to improve so you can be really good at it.

B. Brainstorm ways to monetize it because hey, if you have to make money, you might as well have fun doing it

C. Stress about other things you should be doing instead of indulging in said hobby


D. Just..en…joy? Enjoy it? Wait, some of you can actually do that?


Hey,  I’m Anna Borges, and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings—even when you feel like you can’t relax and enjoy yourself.


Today, we’re talking about the importance of no strings attached hobbies. You know, activities that don’t have to be productive or impressive or useful and even something you’re good at. Hobbies that don’t have to be anything other than…enjoyable.


But a lot of things can get in the way of actually enjoying them, whether baking to relax turns into stressing about getting an Instagram-worthy loaf of bread or you get stressed out when you don’t discover a secret hidden talent the first time you pick up a paintbrush. You know if you’re anything like me that’s exactly what I do! Letting ourselves relax and be free to do something without the expectation of a performance or an end goal is hard. Even more so when the something we love overlaps with what we do for a living.


That's where the no strings attached hobby comes in.


Today’s guest is Nichole Perkins, a writer, poet, and the host of the podcast This is Good for You, where she helps people stop feeling bad about the things that they love to do.


I also wanted to talk with her because as a creative, I assume she got the struggle of the work-hobby balance well. We dug into the beauty of trying things that we aren’t good at and how we can still enjoy our hobbies, even if they do come with strings attached, like overlapping with what you do for a living.


Anna: Can I start by hearing something that you're bad at? Like something that you were just like awful at, but that you love?


Nichole: Oh, um, so I recently started trying to figure out, um, acrylic painting, abstract acrylic painting. I don't know what I'm doing. I really don't know what I'm doing. I cannot draw a straight line. I cannot, I have never been able to perfect, um, a winged, you know, liner look because I cannot, I don't know what I'm doing. So that's something that I know that I am bad at, and I would never like really share that work with anybody because it's so bad, but it's also been really relaxing for me.


Anna: I love that so much. so I have to ask, cause I feel like there are like two camps of people, largely there are people who can do that and enjoy that. And there are people and I'm in this camp who will do that and be like, this is gonna be like relaxing. I'm not gonna like pressure myself to be good. And then I still am like, but what if I want this to be good? Then I wind up in the boat of like Googling art lessons and oh my God, how do I get better at this blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So like, are you, are you in one of those camps, have you felt the pressure to become good now that you've started?


Nichole: Yes, absolutely. Because there was like this one tutorial on YouTube that was like, you know, easy beginner thing and it was the sunset and it's supposed to be with, uh, power lines and beautiful trees and maybe like a little shadow of a house, right. And I tried to draw the power lines and I was just like, oh yeah, this is not, I can't do this. And I mean, I ended up kind of being still pleased with the results of what I had done, because it actually still looked like a purposeful painting. But I do want to get to a point where it looks really good, but I am still very  intimidated about trying to go, you know, find actual lessons or something like that, because I feel like I'm still very childish with, with, you know, learning this thing and I don't want to be in a classroom or whatever, you know, a workshop environment where there are people who are like, oh yeah, I used to draw, but then I stopped and now I'm back and they're like, you know.


Anna: Or they're like, I'm so bad at this. And then you look over and you're like, excuse me, if you think that’s bad, don’t look.


Nichole: Yes!


Anna: But that's the thing is like you, I want the natural talents. I wanna be naturally good at things like I don't want to have to work to be good at things.


Nichole: Yes. That's exactly my problem as well. So there are a lot of things, a lot of hobbies that I will try or say, I'm gonna try. And then I get frustrated because I'm not good at the first attempt. And… I really have to sit and think to myself, there are very few people who are, you know, experts at something the first time they pick it up. Like, yes, there are prodigies and all that kind of stuff. But the people that I admire on a creative level, they all had a natural talent, but they still have to practice and practice and practice and practice, you know. Like I love Prince, you know, he had natural talent, but he had to learn everything that he did and learn how to combine all of that, all of his musical skills, all of his lyricism into creating the legacy that he has now. Um, the same with like the writers that I admire. Yes, there's some, there's some natural affinity to it, but they still have to learn.


Anna: And how do you remind yourself of that? Do you have to actually give yourself the Pep talk as you're doing it?


Nichole: I do. I have to, I have to like say okay, practice, practice, practice. It's okay. I know that this is not something that I can make a living at or that I want to make a living at. So it's okay. If it is not perfect or consumable.


Anna: Why did you pick something that you're taking classes for then or not classes, but at least like watching YouTube videos?


Nichole: But I still want to like see satisfaction in my own improvement. I just wanna be able to like sit and do it without feeling the pressure of performance or like I said, that end, that end goal.


Anna: Absolutely.


Nichole: But you know, with writing, obviously that's very different, writing is something that, um, has been a part of my life for a very long time and I've always known I wanted to make a career out of it. And I just didn't really know how, um, because there's so many different ways that you can become a writer or, or make a career out of writing. I still have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish. So that's, that's more when I freeze up and let, like, I don't think I'm a perfectionist, but that fear of someone seeing my mistakes or seeing the worst of what I can do. Um, really like puts me in a choke hold sometimes.


Anna: Absolutely. Yeah. Oh, I can't wait to dive into all the writing stuff because selfishly love writing, love, love talking, writing, and art. Can you kind of, I don't know, this is a big question, but like kind of tell me a little bit more about your like current relationship to writing? Cause I know for so many of us it's work, it's like therapeutic, it's fun, it's creative, it's personal. It's like all of these things that are like seemingly at odds for each other. And I'm curious what it is kind of right now for you.


Nichole: Right now it is 90% work and then 10% just personal creativity and that personal creativity usually is my poetry. I have published a poetry book. So that was very much a goal of mine. I still, I, and I have other poetry that I would like to publish one day, but right now what pays the bills is culture writing. You know, writing books, script writing for podcasts, um, and that kind of thing. And I hope to eventually get into, um, screenwriting for film and television. Um, and I just, I want to ultimately continue to write until my dying breath.

Anna: I can’t lie, some days, it’s harder for me to really have fun writing, thanks to how much I associate it with work. After the break, I explore poetry as a potential no-strings-attached hobby and we talk more about how to protect our favorite activities from outside pressures like work.


Anna: Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring! Before the break, I was talking with Nichole Perkins about why it’s so helpful to have hobbies that don’t overlap with what we do for a living. Next up, I may or may not have asked for an impromptu poetry lesson.

Anna: One of the reasons that I was so excited, um, to talk to you specifically is because growing up, I used to write a lot of poetry and I never had aspirations to do it professionally. It is just, poetry is what I associate with like playful writing, exploratory writing, me writing, all this kind of thing. And so when I started thinking about, Ooh, what can I dig up for this episode? Poetry did come to, come to mind. Oh. And so I'm, I'm kind of curious if I like asked if, like, if I asked you to just write a really God awful poem right now, like where would you start?


Nichole: Oh, well, for me, it, that would be, um, a rhyming poem. Um, and not just like in iambic pentameter, like I, I do try to do like, um, um, inside rhymes or, you know, that kind of thing. Try to switch up the, you know, where the rhyme falls, but rhyming poetry has always just escaped me. Um, and I am not good at it. So if I were to try to write something that I would consider bad, it would be rhyming. Um, and making sure that like I threw in the moon…


Anna: I do love me some moon imagery, sorry, poets.


Nichole: Right, all poets love the moon, right.


Anna: And so who doesn't love the moon? Love my girlfriend, the moon


Nichole: So that's where I would probably, probably start.


Anna: Why I, I think I find poetry so alluring as like an outlet like this is because I don't know what makes a good poem. Like I will read a poem and I like it, you know, or I won't like it, but that never makes me think this is a good poem or bad poem because it is like so much more subjective to me. I mean, like, I know all writing is subjective, but I'm just, don't have an ear for poetry. And so like, not knowing what good is, is like freeing to me because I can't strive for it.


Nichole: That's really interesting. Cuz for a lot of people who dislike poetry, part of that is because when we're in school and we're learning poetry, it is hard to say what is good and what is bad… and so it's hard for them to understand. Like what made, you know, like, [laughs] if I put this in a paragraph form, would it still, would it still have the same emotional hit? Would it still provide the same satisfaction as seeing it in its whatever format, whether it's a sonnet or, you know, um, really short broken lines, whatever. Um, so people get really frustrated cuz you, you, when you say, what is a poem? And you say, you know, it's, it's writing in verse. Well what's a verse? This, you know, short blocky paragraphs, like. Okay, well why can't we just put it in a paragraph? Why can't we just, you know, make it a, a story as opposed to a poem? And it's like, you can, you can. And the way that poetry just constantly changes. No one poem really looks like the other, um, it freaks people out because people like structure, people like rules. And one of the first things you learn about poetry is yes, this is what a sonnet is, but you can also play with the rules a little bit and change the format of a sonnet, but still call it a sonnet. And that gets people really frustrated, um, about, about poetry, right. Um, because you know, there, there are formats defined formats and then poets go in and just change them all the time. It's frustrating.


Anna: So when you're like specifically in the, kind of like that 10%, um, that you mentioned where it's like really just for you writing, like maybe you'll hope to publish someday, but it's your time? How much are you worried about it being good versus not good? Just like for you?


Nichole: Um, this is gonna sound really…


Anna: No…


Nichole: I feel like it's always good.


Anna: I believe it.


Nichole: It sounds really cocky but…


Anna: No, it doesn't own it. I, I, I mean, that is why you're a poet.


Nichole: I feel so much more confident in my poetry, and when I write, when I get to a final draft of that poem, I'm just like, yes, this is, this is really good. Um, and the only time that I start to doubt myself is when I start thinking, should I submit this someplace? Because that is when I feel like…


Anna: I mean, all of those trying to anticipate reactions, that’s when it starts.


Nichole: Exactly. Because it's like, when I'm submitting the poem, it's not just me, my, my poem. It is against all the other submissions that are maybe dealing with more, more political topics, more cultural, uh, culture based topics or, um, you know, things like that. And so me writing about, you know, a piece of fruit may not hold up as well against a poem where someone is talking about traumatic events, you know, or something like that. Which is not to say that that poem should not be considered better than mine. Like it can be, it might be. Um, but it's just a matter of like, well, now my poem has moved from the context of my journal, into the context of the world. Can it stand up against, you know, whatever else the editors are looking at, you know, whatever else the readers are looking at.


Anna: It has to be something.


Nichole: And so I feel when I sit down and, and write it, I feel very, yeah, just assured of myself in, that feels good. It feels good to be able to approach a creative talent with confidence. And so I try to give myself room to move from terrible painting [laugh] to really good poetry or, you know what I hope will be really good fiction.

Anna: Yeah. Do you have any advice for people who I don't know, whatever they try and keep as like their protected space, whether that's from like trying not to monetize a hobby or not trying to like worry about being good at something like, other than just really reminding yourself of that. Do you have any advice for protecting that space or like keeping that attitude?

Nichole: I think in this day and age, I would say try not to feel compelled to share, right. Because I think that is when we freeze up, when we think, okay, I'm gonna try this new thing and I'm gonna document it on my Instagram or I'm trying this new thing and I'm gonna send pictures to the group chat, like whatever. You don't have to. I mean, it's not to say you have to keep it private or secret. But if you're able just to hold onto it for yourself and I think that's an overall problem that a lot of people have is feeling like you cannot keep anything to yourself. You have to share. It is a proof of your love to your partner, to your parents, to, you know, your audience or whatever that you're like, I'm giving you all of me, I'm trying to be transparent and that kind of thing. Again, that does not mean you're keeping secrets and hiding it and like, whatever. It's just a matter of, you can hold onto something for yourself. It's okay. It's not a betrayal to your, to your relationships, whatever they may be. If you hold onto something until you're ready to share it, you know?

Anna: That's so underrated. Yeah. I feel like as someone who is pretty recognizably, a perfectionist or type A usually at like work or whatever, I find I have a really hard time explaining that sometimes keeping things to myself is for me, you know what I mean? That's not me being a perfectionist. That's me protecting myself for my perfectionist habits.

Nichole: Yeah. And, and in my, um, friendships, sometimes I don't talk about like career opportunities or whatever. And I think, you know, my friends get a little upset with me when I finally do make the announcements or like share, like, why did you tell us about this before? Or why am I finding out about this, you know, from the announcement on social media? And it's like, it's not that I am hiding it, but I'm also just trying not to jinx it, you know? And that's definitely a trauma response for me where I have talked about something too soon and it's gone away, whether it was a relationship, you know, like, oh, I'm talking to this guy, things are going great. And then, he disappears and I'm like, Ugh, now, now it's gone. And that it's a little bit like perfectionism because it's, um, there is a fear of failure. I don't, I don't wanna talk about this thing because I'm afraid I'm gonna fail at it. I don't wanna talk about this guy that I'm feeling because I'm afraid it's gonna fail. It's, it's not gonna be a success. I don't wanna talk about this career opportunity because I am afraid that it's gonna fall through. And then you know, this, it'll be a rejection of me. Um, you know, I don't wanna talk about learning how to paint because what if I abandon it because I never get good at it. And then you keep asking me about painting and I'm like, I had to stop because I was a failure.

Anna: No one ever asked Nicole about painting. If you listen to this episode, do not ruin this for her. I will be so mad at you.

Thank you so much for, for chatting. I could have continued chatting about this kind of stuff for forever, honestly.

Nichole: Thank you for having me on. 

Anna: I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what made a good no-strings-attached activity for me. I knew it had to be fun to do badly, so I wouldn’t get all perfectionist about it. And I knew I couldn’t feel pressured for it to be something, like something I’d be tempted to monetize.

But I hadn’t really noticed the theme before: We need things that are just for us. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget all the ways we’re always sharing our time and attention and…well, ourselves. We multitask or document on social media or try to kill two birds with one stone with side hustles. And that’s how we forget to create space for things like fucking up or being weird or creating without a goal in mind.

So there’s magic in keeping some things for ourselves to enjoy, no strings attached. I’d ask you to share your own no-strings-attached activities, but since I just told you to keep it for yourself, how about this: Whatever it is, why do you love it and how do you protect it?

Let me know and I’ll see you next time.


21 MIN