Words rattle around in my head all the time.
Sometimes my brain repeats words that sound good: prestidigitation, mellifluous, voluminous. Other times, my mind worries over names that snake in there: Christianne Amanpour, Shmuley Boteach, Prunella Scales.
Once in awhile, when I’m stressed, I catch my brain repeating b i c y c l e over and over again. I lost the 4th-grade spelling bee on the word bicycle. It’s as though I’m still trying to win it sometimes. (I won in the 5th grade on somersault. However, my brain never has that one on a tape loop.)
There are the phrases that intrude with loud, unruly voices: get to work! you haven’t finished that yet? ah shit, I forgot that email. pay the bills. I’ll never finish in time. Those are the words that jab with sharp points, the ones that make me feel like I’m never going to be caught up, never going to conquer my inbox, never go to sleep at night feeling I have finished my day’s work.
I’m learning to step away from those jabby words, instead of hunching into them. What kind of life is it if you go to bed every night feeling disappointed in yourself?
These days, I’ve been repeating one word in my head, repeating it as often as Lu likes to hear her favorite books these days. (Translation: a lot.)
Say that word, kindly. Not in the way you cut off someone who is saying something odious, like a quick swipe of a knife. But gently. As a reminder. Right now, this moment. It’s enough.
What a relief.
* * *
I’ve been thinking about the word enough since I received an email from a reader of this site the other day. She was struck by a line I wrote in last week’s post, when I wrote about my confusion as to why we have so many brands of shampoo at the store. With her permission, I want to share what she wrote to me:
“I heard an interview with a gentleman… who had been released from prison after 52 years. He was 17 when he went in for a robbery gone very bad. But the interview was about how he was adjusting to life on the outside after so very long. He quietly talked about a few things, then said that he’d rather be back in prison than to go to the grocery store. Where, where did all these choices come from, he asked. And why? Why were there so many choices of everything? When he was a boy and had to go get toothpaste, there were maybe, 2 kinds. I am suspecting that he meant 2 brands, not styles and flavors. He said that he would stand in the aisles for hours and just stare. And it upset him in a way he could not express.
I am not sure what happened in the last 50 years of my life, but I suspect it has a lot to do with tv and marketing. We had enough. Enough of a little patch of dirt or a pot or two to grow one or two tomato plants. Enough to get by on. Eggs and pancakes were enough once a week for dinner. A folding card table with puzzle pieces scattered and forming were enough to keep us chatting and engaged for hours. My mother made fudge every winter ( not every week) and cooled it on the porch and there was enough. Well, except for the time the paperboy came to collect and stepped in the pot. There was enough iced tea to offer a glass to a friend. We were not poor, nor rich. But on the street that I grew up, there were both. Somehow, we all had enough. And we shared. There was even enough time to read the newspaper in the morning. We became a nation of not enough.
Maybe that’s it. We stopped sharing, started taking, needing more stuff. We are so much more than that.”
As you can imagine, I’ve been thinking about this letter for days. The past six months, I’ve been believing that I didn’t have enough time to read the newspaper in the morning.
Too much work to do. I have to get going.
This piece by Pete Wells in The New York Times resonated with me, as it does with many others. He writes about the irony of his writing a column called “Cooking for Dexter,” when he was so busy working that his wife did most of the cooking. Read it. It’s so smart. But this paragraph shook me. It sounds so familiar:
“These days, those of us with jobs count ourselves lucky, and if we like our jobs and the money we make too, we know we’re even luckier. But that can be hard to keep in mind when riding home after dark, returning one last call or jabbing out the answers to a few more e-mails, hoping there is nobody reading on the other end who will lob the exchange back at you. There will be more of this before you fall into bed, more in the dark if you are the restless type, and just before breakfast it will begin again.”
This restless, running style of life is familiar to so many of us. We’re trying to juggle emails, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, photographs to process, comments to comment on, writing more emails, and checking the email again to see the 826 emails yet unanswered in the inbox. And that’s just the work on the computer.
No wonder so many of us — and here I mean me — go to bed exhausted and yet feeling like we should have done more.
After running for six straight months, I’m slowing down. I don’t want to work so hard to create the life I want to lead that I end up not living it.
I’ve been thinking about enough for the last month since I read And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road by Margaret Roach. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, since Margaret and I have become friends through our blogs.
(And here I should tell you right now that, even though Margaret’s exquisitely helpful blog, A Way to Garden, is almost exclusively about gardening, this book has nothing to do with the garden. Well, the garden is the setting for some of the scenes, the backdrop for Margaret’s thoughts. The garden is a vibrant, alive force in this woman’s life, nature unleashed and somewhat tamed, then falling apart again. However, if you buy the book thinking it will be filled with vivid photographs of her vegetable beds, think again. Buy another book.)
Danny, Lu, and I were lucky enough to stay with Margaret in upstate New York in September, when we were in the area for our book tour. Margaret had never met us, other than conversations on Twitter and email. She took us into her home gladly. She made her “cottage” available so we could have a place to ourselves. (That beautiful space with soaring architecture and statues of the Buddha in every room was no “cottage.” Margaret is modest.) She drove us to the home of her friend, Paige Orloff, where we all gathered to make homemade guacamole, carnitas, tortillas, and a whole bunch of salsas. We sat on the porch in the gloaming light, looking at the sight you see in the photograph above. In one moment, Danny and I looked at each other, then looked out at what we shared: the laughter of new friends, Lu running along the long porch with small children who shepherded her, good simple food, the light in that sky, warm air, music wafting in from the living room. Peace. Danny and I reached for each other’s hands and sighed. We were there.
Earlier, we had walked through Margaret’s garden, taking in the lush green grass, the slow buzzing of bees, the stand of trees sloping up the lawn. Lu stood in awe next to a giant barrel and watched as Margaret poked the water to nudge the green frogs to the surface. They showed us their eyes and leapt through the air to another place in their pond. Whenever Lu sees a frog in a book now, she says, “Margaret!”
So, when I read Margaret’s book, I could picture its settings, having stood in Margaret’s kitchen drinking lemonade.
I don’t think that makes the book more personal to me than it will be to you.
You see, Margaret has done something extraordinary in this book. She tells the story of leaving corporate New York, after having helped to run Martha Stewart’s empire for decades, and moving to a small house in the middle of fields, on the edge of a national forest, with no other plans than to live. Unlike another book that might have been written as fiction, waiting to be made into a movie, there is no conquering hero here. There’s no straight path of funny scenes, tragic moments, enlightenment, and redemption. The writing is sometimes circuitous, repeating phrases and memories the way our minds work when we are trying to understand. This is a spare, beautiful book, an intimate book. Deeply intimate.
Margaret allowed us into her aloneness with this book.
“Between the depth of the ruminations, and all those damn snakes beyond the walls, I feel stuck inside the house, unable to cross the threshold without a ritual of carefully checking to see who is waiting for me, and often even that doesn’t guarantee my passage anywhere.…To be clear, by ‘depth’ of ruminations I do not mean darkness in fact, there is so much light in here, at my wonderful seat — light and happiness, even, just not exactly the jump-for-joy kind you go out to party about. I am not bubbling over, but I do awaken every morning with a vague feeling that it is a childhood-era Christmas, a day when I will open gifts, and though I may not get to play with everything today or even know what all the presents I’ve been given really do, exactly, and will need to grow into some of the goodies among them, I still feel happy for the haul.”
This is a book about finding enough.
* * *
Inspired by Margaret, and Pete Wells, and Winnie’s wonderful email, as well as all the other small tremors I have been feeling beneath my feet, I’ve been making some changes.
I’m taking Saturday and Sunday off from Twitter and Facebook and email and this site. We’re still cooking food and baking bread and taking photographs and coming up with ideas.. But I find that I need more down time than I have given myself before this.
I don’t want to be reading books to Lu before bed and have in the back of my head, “I hope she goes to sleep soon. I really have to write that blog post.”
If you need me on the weekend, you’ll hear from me on Monday. And not until 10 am now. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to sit and read the newspaper with Danny, Lu next to us reading her book, before I climb on the computer once again.
Perhaps we’ll stop to make some blueberry clafoutis first.
What does enough mean to you? Where do you find your peace? What piece of music or spot in nature or moment with your child or husband or best friend gives you enough rest to really be here? I’d love to hear.
BLUEBERRY CLAFOUTIS, adapted from Julia Child
Here is another story about being satisfied with enough.
When Margaret told me she had not been able to figure out a gluten-free clafoutis yet, I remembered the Italian plum clafoutis I baked in 2008. It was the first baked good I had made after Lu was born, and I was thrilled to find it was so simple to make and utterly delicious. (Think spoonfuls of warm custard with a golden-brown crust, dimpled with honeyed fruit.) I know how to make gluten-free clafoutis. I wanted to make one for Margaret.
However, what did I do? I looked up other clafoutis recipes besides the one from Julia Child I had found so pleasing three years before. I dallied through cookbooks, picked out one that seemed fancier than mine, and dreamed of beautiful photographs. Yesterday, I made this new clafoutis for a houseful of friends and family, over for brunch.
The adults were kind enough to eat everything on their plates. The kids left little piles of purple stunted custard. This thing was just wrong.
Later, after Lu was in bed, I made the original clafoutis, with frozen blueberries in honor of Lu’s besmirched face. I converted the cup measurements into grams and changed out the amaranth for millet flour. (I like millet flour’s light nuttiness) It was perfect.
Sometimes I should stop trying to invent something new and just make something I know makes us happy.
p.s. Technically, I shouldn’t be using the word clafoutis here. It is meant to be reserved for this lovely dessert made with unpitted, fresh cherries. However, since the purists seem to have lost this battle, with recipes for every kind of “clafoutis” on the internet, I’m going to keep this simple too.
2 cups frozen blueberries
½ teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cup soy milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
40 grams sweet rice flour
30 grams millet flour
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Toss the frozen blueberries with the cinnamon and honey and let them marinate for a bit. Set aside.
Throw the soy milk, 1/3 cup of the sugar, eggs, vanilla, almond extract, salt, and sweet rice flour and millet flour into a blender and puree them up until the batter resembles a slightly thick pancake batter.
Pour a thin layer of batter onto the bottom of deep-dish pie pan. Put it in the oven and let it bake until the layer does not jiggle when you shake the pie pan, about 5 minutes.
Spoon in the honeyed fruit, evenly, over the bottom layer. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar. Pour in the remaining batter.
Bake until the top is golden brown and set, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The clafoutis will be puffed up when you pull it from the oven and will deflate as it sits on the stove. Don’t worry. It happens.
Serve warm or room temperature.