There’s sunlight out the window of this cold room as I type. In December, on Vashon, that’s worthy of noting. It has rained so hard, so long that the grass squishes whenever we walk on it. One evening last week, when Lu was having a hard time sleeping, I sat by her on the bed, rubbing her back. The rain attacked the windows and the skylight so loudly that we both sat up. “Mama, are the windows going to break?” she asked me. I assured her we were fine, not knowing myself. It seems that is sometimes what it means to be a parent.
And as I type this, as happy as I am to have my fingers flying on the keyboard, the editor part of my brain is shouting, “Really, Shauna? You’re going to start with the weather? Way to go.”
I have learned to quiet that editor’s voice over the years. The always-brilliant Anne Lamott whispers in my ear instead, a little chant that stays with me and calms my nerves. “Write a shitty first draft,” she says. Today, this will be one of those. Rapid. Not guarded. Not meant to be published, certainly not want the editor wants. I’m publishing it anyway.
The voice I’m having a harder time quieting these days is the one that says, “Do more. Put it on Pinterest. Answer every email. Address every question. Be bigger and brighter and have more readers. Earn more money. Do it on time. Go.”
* * *
When I was a high school teacher, I adored being in the classroom. I loved sitting on a tall stool, a marked-up paperback copy of The Great Gatsby in my hand, starting conversations with students. Some of them wanted to be there. Some of them had vodka in their coffee cups. Some of them were probably sleep-deprived after a night of fighting with their parents. Some of them were so angry at their lives that they would never open to literature —- too much vulnerability. A few of them resented me. But, after my first few years of teaching, when I drove myself into the ground trying to please everyone and write excellent tests late at night, I let go. And I just started enjoying it. I stopped thinking I could please everyone. Or even most of those 16-year-olds. I just offered up my enthusiasms and insights and asked for theirs. I was just there, as much as I could be, in the moment.
A few days ago, when we were swimming in the pool with Lucy, the father of one of my former students swam up to me. His wife is now the music teacher at Lucy’s preschool, so I’ve seen my life from higher up the spiral staircase. He smiled when his wife introduced me, all of us in our bathing suits. He said, “Oh we still hear about how important your classes were to our son.” His son is 35 now. I had a feeling when I taught him that something I did caught him but I didn’t know for sure, since he was quiet.
It takes years upon years of living to have some sense of how we have affected each other.
Something has been brewing in me lately, a bigger shift than the one from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
It started when I read this piece by Jessica Valenti, She Who Dies with the Most Likes Wins. It’s really quite brilliant. I think it’s worth your time. She talks about the craziness of these times, the desire and determination to document everything we do and eat and think. I’m just as guilty as the next person.
“Asking women to do away with being liked may seem like a small sacrifice, but it’s not an easy sell. We’re brought up to believe that our worth is tied to what others think of us. This is especially true for younger women today, whose every thought and action is made public on social media—literally waiting to be “liked,” commented on, reblogged and affirmed by the world. Telling women to push all that aside—even if it is for long-term success and happiness—is no small thing.
The truth is that we don’t need everyone to like us, we need a few people to love us. Because what’s better than being roundly liked is being fully known—an impossibility both professionally and personally if you’re so busy being likable that you forget to be yourself.”
My second year of teaching, something happened at the end of the year that devastated me. One of the students in my advanced world literature class, a small group of bright and dedicated readers and writers, turned on me. She was angry at me for something and she started spreading rumors about me. I got nasty looks whenever I walked down the hall. There is no fury like a pack of 17-year-old girls. My days were miserable. I wasn’t sure what to do, how to address it. How do you deal with something whispered, something not quite there?
It never did resolve itself. School came to an end in June and everyone went home for the summer. A few days of mouldering and sleeping in later, I suddenly knew what to do. I put up a big sign on my refrigerator: BE DISLIKED.
This felt like a radical act.
I was a lifelong perfectionist who couldn’t enjoy most moments because I was so worried they weren’t good enough. I wanted to please, to be the best, to be the funniest. (I knew I wasn’t going to get best dressed.) When I was a high school kid myself, I had fretted and beat myself up because I got a B+ on my first quiz in Advanced Anatomy and Physiology. I studied harder than anyone, got As after that, ended up as the TA my senior year, which meant I was the one to do the dissections on the cadaver. (We were the only high school in the country to have one.) There were moments of true absorption, when I was ecstatic, looking at tendons underneath my scalpel, understanding the way the body worked. But mostly, I was driven by fear and the need to please. I was so miserable then.
That summer I realized I was giving my power to a kid that age, someone also driven by fear and the need to please. Someone hurting and very young. And teaching high school had brought all those feelings back. I gave and gave to those kids. I baked for them most mornings. I baked for my classes! I stayed up late marking their papers. I didn’t have a life. I needed their approbation too much. I wrote BE DISKLIKED and I started to live it. I have never been the same since.
And now, that young woman who was so hard on me is grown up. Her son is one of Lucy’s best friends at the preschool she attends.
“Life is a journey up a spiral staircase; as we grow older we cover the ground we have covered before, only higher up.”
I’m sure I’ve lost some of you. That scalpel on the tendon reference probably made most of those reading click away.
Good. Those of you who are here? You’re the ones I’m talking to now.
When I began writing this site, I had no idea anyone was listening. I typed and wrote until my fingers hurt and I felt alive. I chased light. I sat down to write as a discipline and stories poured out. I couldn’t believe my luck: finally well enough to write. That’s all I ever wanted, those years I was a high school teacher. The chance to write, to practice this craft, to give myself entirely to this blank white page and come out different on the other side of the sentence. That it involved food and meals with friends and gluten-free grains came from the fact that I was diagnosed with celiac. But I never set out to write a food blog. I just wanted to write.
What drove me out of teaching, eventually, was all the stuff that happened outside the classroom. The faculty meetings. The political in-fighting. The passive aggression. The endless decisions made for expediency. The teaching to the norm. The tests. Honestly, I never even cared about the tests, since I think true connections happen in conversation between open people, not on a piece of paper with a #2 pencil. And yet, my life became an apartment with stacks of papers lined up along all the walls, waiting to be graded.
(I’ll tell you a secret. Lucy makes 10 or 15 drawings a day. We throw most of them away. It’s the doing that matters. The ones that particularly strike us, the ones she loves the best? We hang them up on a wire we have on her bedroom wall or the one in the living room. We love those. They’ll go in the trash eventually too. It’s the connection of oil pastel on page that matters to me, not how long it lasts.)
These days, when I think about my work, I keep seeing those stacks of papers that need to be graded.
I never set out to write a food blog and yet, somehow, I am writing one. I think about how accessible recipes should be, when I should post them on Twitter, how many comments a post has received, whether or not we are pleasing people and giving them what they want. Somehow I have forgotten about what I want.
I want to accept the warm rays of the sun.
“I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.”
Danny and I have been coming up with schedules of when to post. Or lists of our favorite cookbooks, because we have toppling stacks of them on our dining room table, waiting to be categorized. So many friends have written great books that we came up with multiple posts to share them, because we thought we should.
But really, what I want to write about is watching the kids in Lucy’s preschool sit at their communal table and share a tall stack of roasted seaweed snacks. I want to write about the moment I sat in the car, a few hours ago, thinking about what I needed to write, instead of what I should, as Danny pumped gas in the car. And I heard classical music blaring out of the gas station. I want to make Japanese fried chicken and not think about how to take a photograph that makes it worthy of Pinterest. I just want to eat that Japanese fried chicken. I want to pick up the camera and take photos of roasted tomatoes because the colors strike me so fully that I stop thinking for a moment. I want to share the foods we make for lunch, when we’re not trying to work up a recipe for another post but because we’re hungry. I want to write about Lucy’s swimming and the almond-date bars I’m making to feed her fully. I want to stop working on a scone recipe because it could be just a little prettier but it’s already warm and flaky, falling apart with the butter and golden raisins.
I want to write when it feels right, when the words tumble in my head and won’t leave until I put my fingers to the keyboard. I want to write about the sun, which has now gone behind the clouds since I’ve started writing, but I know it will be back.
I want to stop being Gluten-Free Girl. Danny wants to stop being the Chef. We just want to be here, really be here, as much as we can, in these moments.
If you want an answer to your questions about gluten-free baking, there are plenty of places to ask them. There are so many great websites out there. We’re in the middle of redesigning the website, so we’ll be addressing this. Maybe we’ll have a question and answer page for the more practical questions. I don’t know yet. But for now, I’m turning off comments. I’m not going to be posting on a schedule. I want to stop thinking about being better or becoming more. I want to be.
I want to be here.
The food I’ve been enjoying most these days is the simple stuff. Like this dish. We had some broccoli in the refrigerator we needed to eat before it went bad. So we cranked up the oven to 500°, tossed the broccoli florets with olive oil and gomasio, and roasted it until the tips were starting to crisp. Meanwhile, I made a dip of 1 mashed-up avocado, 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, and some big splashes of fish sauce. I stirred it all up, put it on the table, and we three dove in.
It was such a lovely lunch.