[Heads up, folks. This is honest. And may not cast me in the best light. You decide. I do think though, that these feelings and concerns over one’s worth and usefulness aren’t exclusive to me, if we’re all being completely honest. (Right?!) So I’m sharing. That’s why. Because I don’t think I’m the only one.]
If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a whole let less writing happening on this corner of the internet. For me, there’s been less publishing, fewer deadlines, fewer half-baked drafts. There’s been less writing.
This isn’t about writing though. It’s about what writing stands for and has stood for in my life. For the past few years, it’s been my safety blanket. When I wondered about my worth, I was reassured by a byline. When I questioned my talent, I hung on words of the generous voices who contacted me.
But then life happens, and jobs become harder, and they come home with you and wander around your nights with you. And that thing that you loved and that loved you, that comforted you, becomes increasingly more and more….quiet.
So I’m still a writer, I’m just not writing as much anymore. I still do– don’t get me wrong– but not to the degree I was. And all this begs the question: who am I without writing? [Who are you without that thing, whatever it is?] There are the obvious joy-quotient answers…Writing delights me. It’s therapeutic and healing. But it’s also a dependency.
See, I do care to know myself outside of what I can offer the world in the form of skills or talent. I want to know that I’m okay, I’m enough, I’m just right…without all the affirmation and self-congratulations of a byline.
Because I do believe that we’re enough as is. That aside from our contributions and our usefulness, we still have worth. And sometimes, it takes pushing those things aside for a moment, by choice or by necessity– inhale–and see that you’re not dead without those things. You’re actually just fine. And there’s a floppy, wiggly baby nephew in your hands and you’re life is rich and growing richer, every day.
I’m not someone who experiences something, then forgets it. Especially when it comes to whatever is entertaining, moving, or influencing me. This includes the music that I listen to, the books that I read, the concepts or ideas that inhabit my mind, anything. I think it’s partly why I’m a writer– because everything has meaning to me, or is somehow connected to a greater and larger narrative. I see these connections like threads running through all things.
So, needless to say, I have these obsessions. These thoughts or movements or artistic acts that occupy the realty of my brainspace for an embarrasing amount of time. And for the first time here on this blog I’m sharing the what and the why behind these things that captivated me in 2014. [Buckle up, this is longer than normal.]
WHY: This is country/Americana music as it is meant to be. The song writing cuts deep, rolling you over a body of emotions and experiences some of us may be too scared to visit. His album is named Southeastern and it is exactly and perfectly that: a record that feels like the Southeast– either in the midst of a storm or the calm just after it. He wrote it as he was entering sobriety and about to marry his lovely musician wife. The weight of so much is palpable through his chords. Listen to this record, talk about what it makes you feel. See him live, cry, share with loved ones how it connected you to some beautiful sacredness.
WHY: As someone who’s being more and more inspired by cooking, this movie is a gem. The cinematography is stunning (especially around the food prep), but it’s the Chef’s journey that gets me. He’s out to find his love and voice again in cooking after he’s sent adrift from leaving his restaurant. Making meaning after being lost is perhaps my favorite storyline (plus there’s food). Along the way, his relationships with his ex-wife, his son, and his sous chef are so real and dynamic and hopeful. I’ve seen this movie twice and hear it’s coming to Netflix. I’ll be watching it over and over and over and over.
WHAT: Contemplate Integrity
WHY: This year has challenged me in the sense of what I’m doing, how I’m writing, and who I’m writing for. Honestly, I didn’t think about integrity as a writer/artist much before this year, but after this year, it’s all I know. As an artist, you have to make constant choices about your craft (what will you reflect? who is your audience? how will you carry your content?). It’s easy to go along with it all, bending yourself to the demands of the voices around you. But what if…What if, we could really listen to that still small voice that leads you where you should be? What if that is in opposition to what’s comfortable and easy? Hello, integrity. This year, I (think I) made the choice to be a writer who writes for what’s inside me, not what others hope for my writing. To be honest, this is hard and lonely. It’s confusing only because it goes against our innate desires to be liked and appreciated. But it’s not confusing in the way that it clarifies your purpose and your gift.
WHY: Because I always do! But really, why am I so captivated by Wendell Berry? Good question with hardly an easy response. Here’s the best I can do: Wendell’s writing makes me feel two things. First, that I am not alone. That these things that I hope for or desire, and the things that weigh on me and I wrestle with are things that are common to every thinking human ever. And he writes about them with wisdom unparalleled. Secondly, his writing– sincere, sometimes sentimental, bucolic– has given my writing a place in this world. It’s as if he charted the path before me. No, I am not comparing myself to him. I’m only saying my greatest hope is to write about similar topics and content as him, and he has made way for these conversations. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on where to start reading Wendell Berry!)
WHAT: the Thoughtful Life
WHY: Summarized in this post here. I routinely think about how much I love my life. This doesn’t mean that life is easy or without struggle and loneliness, but it means we’ve built something good. And it’s not because we’re lucky, it’s because we’ve been very involved in choosing what this life looks like. And for this, I can feel gratitude and joy.
WHY: Because they are so gosh darn delightful. Why else? Everyone needs more delight in their lives.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my family’s life and traditions as an outsider. Meaning, do I understand and appreciate the traditions and quirks of this life that we live together? Can I recognize that which is in my own family life that is special and unique– worthy of recognition and gratitude? It’s easy to pass it all by, go through the motions, act like it’s all normal.
Then, one day last week, I asked Chris to play Beastie Boys as we cleaned the kitchen, and as we air guitared and fist pounded, I thought, perhaps, by some standards, this is strange?
See, we play music in the kitchen. My mother always played music in the kitchen…Loud. Like, drown out the noise loud, where the music is the main actor on the stage, not our conversations or the instructions to the recipe. Kitchen work becomes a dance– literally and figuratively. It’s the spatula as a drumstick and the chopping in perfect step. And it’s exactly what I love about working in the kitchen– the electric guitar of Gary Clark, the piano of Phillip Glass, the twang of Hank Williams. Each unique, each loud, each full.
There’s something I’ve learned about a kitchen full of music– it’s typically a kitchen full of joy. The mood is light, it’s swaying and laid-back. And it invites anyone in– a siren call to the family members scattered around the house or in the yard. It’s an approachable kitchen, a welcoming kitchen.
I’m currently reading Soul of a Chef, and Ruhlman describes James Beard– who I knew little to nothing about previously. Apparently, Beard was a champion for having fun in the kitchen. He’s quoted as saying, “It’s something you enjoy and have fun with, and if you don’t, to hell with it.”
Playing music in the kitchen isn’t new information, or I sure as heck hope it isn’t. But what I’m discovering is that sometimes we have to name things– call out why it’s good and right, so then we can be grateful for it. And loud music in the kitchen is a good thing. I’m thankful for a mother who showed me this, and I’m thankful to a husband who appreciates it. Because if not for this joy, to hell with it.
I’ve been a languid writer of late, everyone. I know that discipline begets inspiration, and both of these noble qualities are eluding me recently. Is it laziness? Busyness? Preoccupation? The jury is out. But I look at the page, and I’m frustrated. I push the page with the back of my pencil, then walk away. “Maybe tomorrow,” I think. My mind reels with a thousand thoughts in no direction.
Writing is a sport, a practice, a discipline. And I am out of shape.
Yet still, in this dry time, I am not wholly lacking. Writing is good for my soul and my mind, and I need it. But it is not the only thing. Recently, the rhythms taking place around my kitchen are keeping me and comforting me and inspiring me. Menu planning and setting a table, chopping vegetables and melting butter in my cast iron, deglazing a pan and sticking a skewer in a muffin. These routines of planning and cooking and cleaning and repeating are just so familiar to me. This is what I grew up around. These are the activities that comfort me, that I understand, that make me feel like my feet are on the ground again.
Because even when my well is feeling dry, I can look to the greats– rifle through my cookbooks and my mother’s salvaged copies of Cooks Illustrated — and make something worth sharing. When I can’t find my way, I can find my way through my beaten up old recipe journal. I can feel inspired, and I can feel that power of creating something good and giving it freely to those I love.
I am, as Shauna says, getting to the place, where the most important words are, “I love you, and dinner’s at 6.” And that feels plenty inspiring.
Chris and I are approaching a young year of homeownership. Such a low milemarker on this life together but worthwhile nonetheless, for us at least.
The other weekend, as we stayed inside on one particularly summery Saturday to chip away at some lingering projects, I felt this peace here in this little house– despite the not-so-distant wish that we were at the pool instead of vacuuming. The peace is just this: that when you love your homeandthe ones you share it with, not much can compete.
The older I’ve gotten, the more hard, demanding, impactful decisions I’ve had to make– like that’s any surprise. To take this job or that. To move here or there. To commit to this or that. And what I’ve realized is that you can cruise through this life. Go here, take that, sure that will work, why not, that seems like a decent fix.
But I think about this little house and this little life that Chris and I have carved out, and all that is good and joyful has not been a product of nonchalance or acquiescence. I’m learning– like hopefully many young people turning into adults– that the good life is the thoughtful life.
Chris and I belabor over decisions– sometimes to a paralyzing, anesthetic extent. But still, we think about it. We think about our motives, we pray, we wait, we listen. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this means we don’t make a decision or sometimes we say no, but at least when we do make a choice, we know why we’re doing it. This house on this street with this little porch and backyard is a result of that. The little dog collapsing at my feet was a result of that. Our physical life all around us is bursting with stories of conversations and patience and sorting and understanding.
Now, I want to pull all the other things under this umbrella of thoughtfulness. That which is routine, innate– that which comes so natural because it’s so easy– that too bows to the lens of discernment and wisdom. Because the fruit of these choices is contentment and, God bless it, gratitude. Or like how I feel in this home now, as if absolutely nothing could be better for us.