I suffer from the relatively common ailment of mean brain. Not mean to other people, but mean to myself. It’s something I’ve worked on for a long time, but I still have flare-ups. Maybe it’s like an allergic reaction? My hyperactive immune system thinks that half the common substances on the planet are dire threats and stimulates misery in response. When my mean brain gets triggered, it stimulates misery, too. Maybe it’s some kind of protective mechanism, but it’s not a very good one.

Sunday morning, it started whispering. I’ll spare myself writing out the details — it’s not like it’s going to be good for me to spend more time in those thoughts — but the words “homeless” and “failure” were pretty loud. Fortunately, I was in a really good place to see those thoughts for what they were, just words. Just labels.

Earlier I had been sitting in my chair, watching the water and the trees and a chirpy little sparrow. The sparrow was adorable, totally charming in that tiny bird way. It kept a fearless eye on the dogs, but it was much more interested in whatever it was finding in the dirt. It flew away and I thought, “What a miracle birds are.” Flight is so amazing. It’s incredible that they can just lift off and soar through the air. It’s not a new thought, I’ve had it many times before, often when seeing birds take off around the pond where I used to walk the dogs. And then one of the nasty biting bugs landed on my leg and I thought, “Hmm, I don’t think I ever think about bugs being a miracle. But they can fly, too.”

I waved the bug off and moved on, heading inside to figure out what I could eat for breakfast. The campground I was in was a first-come, first-served campground, and I was reluctant to pack up to make another grocery store run while weekend people were coming in. My spot was lovely, a mix of sun and shade, looking right out on the water, with a pretty view of an open field on the other side. It was also nice and flat with no major ruts or big muddy spots, easy to get to, and reasonably simple to access. In other words, I was afraid to leave it for fear I’d lose it. But food supplies were running low. Still, I made myself breakfast from the dregs of the fridge. And when it was ready, I took a picture of it, because it was very pretty.

salad photo

As I sat down to eat, I was thinking about reality and how we shape it with our words. Here’s a reality: my nectarine was bruised. I had to cut out the bruised bits. My cucumber was a tasteless grocery store purchase, no flavor at all. The radishes, from the farmer’s market two weekends ago, never tasted very good and were getting squishy. I threw the rest of them away when I was done with my salad. The carrots are the kind that seemed old the instant I opened the bag, slightly bitter and drying out. The salad greens are still remarkably nice given that they’re a week old, but they’re heavy on some grassy thing which I’m not nuts about. One of my three remaining eggs was cracked, so I had to throw it away. As a result, I only had one egg on my salad, so I could save the second one for later when I would be hungry again.

Here’s another reality: the egg was perfectly cooked and delicious. Still warm, it peeled easily and the yolk was exactly right. (Go, insta-pot!) I made a dressing to go on the salad that was fantastic — mayo that is gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, and dairy-free (aka, miracle mayo), plus olive oil, lemon juice and powdered ginger. It made the cucumbers delicious, the carrots tolerable, couldn’t help the radishes, was interesting on the nectarine, and was amazing on the egg and the greens. I didn’t quite lick the plate, but I ate every last bite of the whole salad, even the grassy stuff.

And maybe those thoughts about reality and how we shape it were the trigger for me being mean to myself, but before I could do more than take two or three nasty swipes at my choices and my character, I caught sight of the image at the top of this post. Such a bright color, almost like a California poppy. And the curves of the stalks are like petals on a flower.

But it’s a fungus. A fungus growing out of the picnic table where I was eating. Ick. Gross. And yet… it really was beautiful in the sunlight.

When my mean brain triggers, my eyes stop seeing the beauty around me. And in me, too. They start labeling: bugs, fungus, homeless.

It is a reality that I have moments when I feel homeless, not adventurous. Three weeks ago, I had a perfect last day in my house, and the memory is bittersweet right now. I miss my pool. I miss my shower. I desperately miss my high-speed, always-on Internet connection! And it’s painful to be homesick for a home that you never get to go back to.

But my mean brain is not running this show. It’s also a reality that I feel incredibly lucky. My salad was no different, no better than any salad I could have had a month ago at any time… but I appreciated it more. A shift of the kaleidoscope wheel and the pieces are the same but the picture is changed.