I don’t know, sometimes. Actually, let me re-phrase that sentence.
Often, I don’t know.
Keeping this website is one of the joys of my life. There are others:
— waking up in the Chef’s arms, and snuggling into that warmth
— that first cup of coffee, much later in the morning than it was last year
— walking around Greenlake when the rain has just ended, the sun bright on grey
— sitting in silence with myself
—the sound of Elliott’s bright voice in my ear, the first phone conversation in weeks
— rounding the corner and seeing the front of the restaurant, my love jumping out the door and bounding toward me, his arms open wide
And of course, a thousand other moments, besides.
But I love coming here, sitting down with a blank white page on the screen, wondering where the words will lead me.
Writing beats within me, my fingertips drumming on the keyboard, words whirling around in my head, sentences singing out, the story just beginning and suddenly I know where it will end. In the three huge bookshelves in our bedroom, my years’ worth of journals takes three full shelves. And after all that time, I’m not entirely sure how to articulate why I have this strange habit.
Mostly, words flail and flounder, like a fish just caught, its gills a splash of rainbow color on the worn wooden pier.
I don’t know are the three most powerful words in the world. Think of the courage it takes to really say that, and mean it.
I don’t know why I write, but I know that I must write. (I can’t go on, I go on — this used to be my favorite quote of all time, in a land much darker than this one.)
“We write to live twice.” — Virginia Woolf
That’s part of it. Sometimes, a moment is resplendent in the living, and then it is gone. Only memory, irrevocably changed by it. The first time he said I love you (my favorite three words), never to happen again. By writing it, I close my eyes and enter into that strange state, almost channeling, where I will myself to experience it as fully as I can. And then I plunge my hands under those waters and type in a sleepy swimming dream of a hope that those words will come close. When I read them, mostly I remember that state, rather than the moment itself. But sometimes, those words come close.
Returning. That’s part of why I write.
And letting go. That’s part of the process. Once I have written something, I will never re-live it the same way I did before. Instead, a story I have written becomes not only the experience, but also the story I tapped out into words. In some funny way, I can feel the urgency of that memory slipping away from me, like hot food sliding down my throat.
Bear with me — I’m not sure what I’m saying yet.
I’m not going to try to chop it into tiny pieces.
I breathe. I love. I write.
But why do I write this site?
When I was first diagnosed with celiac, in late April of 2005, I started this blog out of enormous joy, an energy I had never experienced before. And mostly, a wish to share — all my stories and food discoveries and questions being answered — so that other people might find a way through this too. The day I started this site, I signed up for this name, spontaneously. When I had been so horribly, dreadfully ill for months, a friend of mine who came over frequently to take care of me said. “We’re just going to have to call you the Sick Girl.” When I was finally diagnosed, and I explained what it was, she immediately said, “Well, now you’re the Gluten-Free Girl.” With Dorothy’s lilting teasing voice in my mind, I chose a domain name.
How could I know that I would see that phrase on the cover of my first book?
I guess Gluten-Free Woman doesn’t have the same ring.
Where was I in May of 2005, when I wrote the first entry here? New to everything gluten-free. Eager to return to the kitchen after years of making as little as possible. Weak as a kitten, but growing. Almost desperate to learn. Near messianic in my fervent wish to teach everyone around me about my new diet. A high school teacher. Single.
This week, I saw my name in a book (Heidi’s) for the first time, saw my name in a magazine for the first time (the March issue of Natural Health), received the cover of my first book (I can’t share it yet, but it’s beautiful and unexpected; I cried. My god, I have a book coming out.), found the second half of my advance in the mail, and started work on another major writing project. (I can’t tell you. Yet.)
I am stronger than I have ever been in my life, both in body and mind. I have cooked so many meals that I cannot keep track of them all, even with a food blog. The sun wakes me up, instead of the alarm clock.
And in almost four months, I will be marrying the man who makes me happier than I ever dreamed possible.
Much has changed.
I have changed.
The life I led before I met the Chef has started to feel not my own, like a vivid dream I wake from, and only stray images remain through the day. The self I was before I stopped eating gluten? I am not her.
And so, it seems to me, the reasons I write this site have changed as well.
Of the dozens of emails I receive every day, some contain querulous cries. Why can’t you make your recipes dairy free, since I can’t eat that either? Where should I go to eat gluten-free in Seattle? Why don’t you write about gluten-free packaged food? Why do you go days without even mentioning gluten — isn’t that what you are supposed to be writing about? Aren’t you giving out recipes anymore?
I answer them, as fast as I can. Sometimes, they sit for days, because I cannot keep up. Sometimes, they sit there, because I don’t know what to say. I love the comments, the letters, the feedback. But this website cannot be all things to all people. The thought of pleasing everyone leaves me trembling.
However, without knowing it, slowly, I started writing here as the Gluten-Free Girl, instead of Shauna.
Hi. My name is Shauna. Right now, it’s Ms. Shauna Marie James. Within a few months, it’s going to be Mrs. Shauna Ahern. And on the cover of my book, and in any publications, it’s going to be Shauna James Ahern, just so you’ll recognize me. And me? Who will I be then?
I don’t know.
Every day, I think of a story from a Korean Zen master’s book. He wrote about the Buddha, sitting under the bodhi tree, before he became THE BUDDHA. And as he sat, he asked himself, continually, “Who are you?” And always, the answer came back. “I don’t know.”
When I write as the Gluten-Free Girl, there’s a pattern, a comfortable place, like the dent in Archie Bunker’s chair. My words sit there, and those of you reading might recognize them. Hopefully, you recognize something in yourself. But when I write to that pattern, when I write as the Gluten-Free Girl, I lose myself. Whoever that is.
It’s a funny gig, having a food blog. We’re all aware of each other, keep track of what is being discussed. And admit it, those of you who have blogs — don’t you always look to see how many comments or how many visitors that other food blog is receiving? It creeps in. That competition. The constant looking-over-the-shoulder, the wondering if we are writing often enough or well enough or in an easy-to-digest form. That food blog self-consciousness — it’s as gawky as a seventh-grade girl. And as stultifying as that girl’s insecurities.
Sometimes, I want to write about something other than food. Like the moment last night when Merida and I were watching Stranger Than Fiction in my bedroom, and we both grew quiet, and I started crying at the end, unexpectedly. It felt like our little discovery, all our own, the two of us together again. Or this afternoon, when Francoise and I sat across the table from each other, our water glasses empty, talking about Willa Cather, and how much her grounded-in-the-earth, fundamentally alive prose made us both want to sing from the rooftops. Or the sound of my phone ringing, that cheesy version of “When I’m 64,” and I just know it’s the Chef, and I leap into the kitchen to talk with him.
None of that really fits in a food blog.
Then, why write about food?
Well, I love food. I love the singular moment, when I take a bite of something so tremendous that I lose myself. I cease to be shauna whatever-her-last-name-is. I certainly cease to be gluten-free girl. I am just breathing and biting and alive.
It’s so easy to be complicated about food. What is the best restaurant in town, at the moment? Where do we find the best olive oils? Which grocery store has the best produce? These are, sometimes, interesting questions to me. But in the end, I don’t really care. I care about this moment.
I can still taste the tart, faint sweetness of grapefruit pulp between my teeth.
For me, food is about joy, about connection with people, about dropping pretense and just being. That I am gluten-free is essential to my health. Every single photograph and word on this site is gluten-free. But for me, it is clear now: going gluten-free was just a way to find food, in its real state.
I am not a journalist. I am not a food writer. I am not a book author. I am simply here, and I am writing.
The longer I write, the simpler my sentences. The more I cook, the more I am focusing on the most basic techniques. The longer I love my dear Chef, the fewer words we use.
What am I saying?
A couple of weeks ago, I decided (without knowing it) to write this site for myself again. I have been taking photographs of food, close-up, just ingredients, mostly. Partly because I am learning, more deeply, that a passion and respect for the basic ingredients matters more than any recipes or techniques. But also because, when I am looking through the lens at cracked black pepper, I am merely someone who notices. That feels like the most awake writing I can do. And also the most urgent.
Before a few weeks ago, I planned posts in advance. I wrote several drafts before I posted them. I thought I should keep to a schedule. I started to think of this site as a way to market my book. I was writing as Gluten-Free Girl.
Whoever you think that Gluten-Free Girl is, you’re probably wrong. Yes, I am joyful and alive and loving and grateful and always come back to the yes. But I also, sometimes, look in people’s grocery carts and make judgments. I use the f-word and make fart jokes and love talking rudely with my love, in the privacy of our home and in the car with the windows rolled up. I still burn the garlic, sometimes, when I’m not paying attention.
I’m not the Gluten-Free Girl. I don’t know who she is.
This is the most honest piece I have written here.
When I was a teacher, I always began the first day of class with the same word: ineffable. “Incapable of being expressed in language.” How much of life is ineffable? I’d ask the students. They’d give their own answers. Mine? About 98%. Most of life is utterly beyond the reach of words.
But I still try.
The only way this website can continue to be a joy for me? (And frankly, therefore, for you.)
This is not a food blog. (Ceci n’est pas une pipe.) This is not a personal diary. This is not the site that has won awards or spawned a book or the one you visit every few days.
This is what it is. And that? As I try to keep saying, I don’t know.
All I do know is this. I want to keep noticing. I want to always be amazed. I want to slow down, so I can see everything. I want to keep loving. I want to keep changing.
This is the site where I will try.
See what a handful of golden raisins, scattered across a plate, can start in the mind?