This morning, I came downstairs to find a swirl of pink skirts on the television and Lu in her pink leotard, spinning too. Every morning now, she asks for Shipoopi, the lovely wonderful silly dance number from The Music Man that has taken over her brain. This week, she has the first dance performance in what I imagine will be years of rooms crowded with girls in pink skirts and boys in black pants and ballet shoes for this girl of ours. She loves to dance. She twirls, arms out, her body a blur in the sunlit room.
And so she dances to this song I thought was hilarious when I was a teenager, in a movie I loved so well, but much more so now. Lucy studies. She watches and listens and sits still long enough to hold her eyes on the screen for the entire song. And after asking “Again!” 4 or 5 times, she stands up and matches the choreography exactly. Her feet seem to memorize through her eyes. And she dances, arms out, skirt twirling, grin wide.
This morning, she asked for Danny to dance with her. He did, again and again, knowing he wouldn’t see her until tomorrow morning, missing her already. They twirled and stomped. They stopped in places — Lu has her rules each time about which dancer she is following — and then flung themselves into the air again.
I sat on the couch, curling my hand around a hot cup of coffee, laughing and laughing.
Last night, I answered the phone to hear a woman from the Eugene police department say, “Ms. Ahern? We’ve found your car.” Startled, I jumped up to yell to Danny outside. He turned off the riding lawnmower after riding circles in the vast expanse of overgrown green and ran to me. “They found our car!”
We just stared at each other. Both of us had let go of the possibility of ever seeing it again. The only real frustration and fear of the past 10 days has been in trying to find a car to replace it before our rental car had to go back. It’s a 1994 Honda, dented and worn. But it’s a great car, which we’ve maintained with a mechanic we trust. It has another 4 or 5 years in it. But trying to find a car that reliable? It was going to cost us three times the amount the car insurance company was going to give us for our car. We’ve been worried. Being freelancers always means that money is going to rise up in our mind, mostly in the middle of the night. The fact that they found our car is like someone handing us money, unexpectedly.
There have been so many graces lately.
The camera and computer and my Kindle are gone, of course. But the car? It’s fine. Nothing changed. The policeman on the scene talked to me as he looked into it and the trunk. The cooler and the bag full of library books and even the stereo are all still there. The hand-knit blue blanket in which we bundled up 2-week-old Lu and carried her home from the hospital. The blanket we’re hoping someday will carry kid #2 as well? In the back seat. Even the ferry passes are there.
The car was parked two blocks from where it had been stolen. “Sometimes people steal cars like this to commit another crime and then they just dump the car. They swipe anything valuable and then they walk away,” the policeman told me. (Also, early 90s Hondas are the most-stolen car in the US. “Any Honda key works in them,” the two truck told me. I never thought I’d do this, but we’re getting a club for the car now.)
I’ve been thinking, for days, about a piece I read on one of my favorite websites, Zen Habits. It’s specifically about dealing with the stresses of parenting but it’s also about anything that happens in life. Here’s the part that has been repeating in my head:
“Imagine you’re rowing a boat on a foggy lake, and out of the fog comes another boat that crashes into you! At first you’re angry at the fool who crashed into you — what was he thinking! You just painted the boat. But then you notice the boat is empty, and the anger leaves … you’ll have to repaint the boat, that’s all, and you just row around the empty boat. But if there were a person steering the boat, we’d be angry!
Here’s the thing: the boat is always empty. Whenever we interact with other people who might “do something to us” (be rude, ignore us, be too demanding, break our favorite coffee cup, etc.), we’re bumping into an empty boat. We just think there’s some fool in that boat who should have known better, but really it’s just a boat bumping into us, no harm intended by the boat.
That’s a hard lesson to learn, because we tend to imbue the actions of others with a story of their intentions, and how they should have acted instead. We think they’re out to get us, or they should base their lives around being considerate to us and not offending us. But really they’re just doing their thing, without bad intent, and the boat just happens to bump into us.”
Danny and I are both happy that we stayed so calm for Lu the day our car was stolen. Other than the money worries of having to buy a new car and all our belongings again before insurance kicks in, we’ve stayed pretty calm. And now, I just think: that was an empty boat.
So you think I’d be having a great day today. A morning that started with sunlight and a small child dancing. A car returned. A husband wonderful enough to drive 5 hours to return the truck, pick up the car, and drive it home in one day. A house to myself to work. 70 degrees. Work I love. Life, this amazing life we have. A cookbook coming out next week.
Ah, but that’s where you’d be wrong.
As soon as Danny drove away, I put up this post on all the necessary social media sites to promote it. And my head started whirling and my heart started hurting. In spite of my best intentions, I was anxious.
What if people don’t participate? what if the book doesn’t sell well? Aren’t all the gluten-free people going to buy Gwenyth Paltrow’s book instead? That’s the best seller. What if we don’t sell enough copies? What is enough copies? Have I done enough? Oh god, I hate promotion.
You see, I adore the work of creating and writing recipes. I love writing pieces here, including this rambly monologue. But the jazz hands that are expected with the work of selling books? It’s a very different work.
Danny and I are both so excited about coming out to meet you soon. We have events in Seattle, Portland, and New York in the next few weeks. We have another big campaign we’re launching next week that might bring us to see more of you. And we truly love this cookbook. It is the best work I’ve ever done, this work.
But to be honest, there’s a part of me that would truly love to crawl into a hole and come out three months from now.
There’s the work. And then there’s the expectation of that work. Expectations are premature disappointments.
There’s a story that my parents told me about myself many times when I was growing up. When I was three, my dad came into the room and saw me holding my head. Startled, he asked what was wrong. I looked up and said, “Does it ever stop? Does my brain ever stop?”
I still wonder that sometimes. Having to be so public — since when did writers have to worry about their wardrobes and how they look in every photo for Instagram? — and on for the next few months? It’s a little overwhelming. I was a little overwhelmed this morning.
And then, procrastinating, I started reading my friends’ stories on Facebook. That’s when I remembered: two years ago today, our friend Kim Ricketts died. Kim, that enormous force of life who moved so many of us into laughter and embracing our own imperfect lives, who slipped poems into her children’s lunchboxes every day and threw away plans to have spontaneous picnics at the first sight of sun. Dear, wonderful Kim. Many of us who knew her still ask ourselves: What Would Kim Ricketts Do?
(Oh, please go read my friend Tara’s gorgeous piece about Kim and planting sunflowers in her honor. I don’t even know why I’m writing. She said it so much better.)
We were working on this book when she died and now it’s out on Monday. I just so wish I could put a copy in her hands.
I read again a note that Kim sent me before she died: “I need to worry less about the next horrible thing that may happen and instead, be happy on a Friday night and go to the movie with my daughter and just be with her while I can.…I have to find a way to remind myself that it is in the sitting down together at dinner and the walking the neighbor’s dog with her, etc that life is lived–not in the plans and worrying and trying so hard–it won’t save you anyway.”
I started crying. And then I started laughing, because Kim would throw her arms in the air and say, “Get up! Go for a walk! Stop sitting there fretting, nattering away. Get that head of yours into the sunshine!”
So I did. Thank you, Kim.
I listened to Pema Chodron as I walked, my legs feeling stronger, my thoughts growing calmer. Sunlight helps. And then I heard this and stopped:
“I’m glad to be alive. I’m glad to be alive to agreeable, I’m glad to be alive to disagreeable. And I’m glad to be alive to sour and sweet and tingly and itchy, and refreshing and cold and hot and the whole thing. And it doesn’t matter that there is this voice that says I don’t like this, or I do like this, that’s fine, you know, that’s also fine, but somehow open and at home, with your body, your mind, and your world, and meditation is actually the means or, the tools that we need… It actually is that the present moment is the doorway to liberation, vastness, unobstructed quality of our mind. And we could experience the world that way.”
I feel much better now.
Look, I’m lousy at selling books. Standard wisdom says I should be writing pithy posts right now (I can’t write brief to save my life, not when I’m writing something that matters to me). I should be showing you photos of the book and trying to make you hungry. I should be poised and calm and not blathering away about my own anxieties.
But here’s the deal. I love the gathering that comes around food. I love the conversation that happens here. I love the chance to write these words and calm my heart with the clattering of the keys. I’ve never done anything in the typical way of my life. But what I want is life.
We hope that some of you buy our cookbook. We hope that some of you like it. Some of you won’t like the book and you’ll state so clearly on Amazon and other places. Okay. (Empty boat.) But really, this cookbook is our offering. It’s the culmination of many gatherings with friends, time with Lucy at the stove, conversations between me and Danny, late nights of writing and much, much laughter. Our greatest hope is not a bunch of sales. Our greatest hope for this book is something we won’t know for months: we hope that this cookbook inspires you to cook and to spend time at the table with people you love.
Thanks for reading. I’m ready to start dancing now.