It’s the bleak dark winter. Starting the year in January, when the light is weak and the cold air sharp, has always seemed so wrong to me. This is the winding-down time, the slowest time of the year.
And yet, every magazine article and blog post right now is about Improvement! New Start! Green smoothies, kale salads, and a clear denunciation of who we have been in the past year. Organize yourself now! Most magazine’s covers this month read: lose weight, clear yourself of clutter, improve your memory, get your financial life in order, and be happy now! How is that last one possible when we’re so busy bustling, doing all the things needed to become a new person?
I don’t want to become a new person. I just want to be here.
That’s why I’m not going to be here for awhile.
Our cookbook is due in 8 weeks. Actually, a day shy of 8 weeks, since it’s due on March 1st.
Danny and I are both pleased with what we have made. This cookbook will be much more accessible than our last cookbook, a reflection of who we are and how we eat right now. We’re sharing food with our friends and neighbors and they’re happy. The wonderful people testing recipes for us approve.
However, we’re not done. Nowhere close.
Last week, I had a bit of a panic. It didn’t help that the preschools and daycares were closed for a week and thus I spent eight straight days with Lu without 15 minutes to myself. I love that kid with all my heart but a constant one-on-one with a 3-year-old is like a marathon, with no one handing you water on the way. I caught some awful stomach flu my immune system weakened after not being able to eat real food for three weeks, I’m sure the day after Christmas. Taking care of a 3-year-old on your own with the flu stinks. It grows worse when she catches it too. It wasn’t our best week.
Danny tried to do what he could. But you see, he’s hardly home right now. A few weeks ago, he took over as head chef at The Hardware Store, the restaurant where he has been working for the past two years. Deliberately, he chose to be a line cook for that time. Our lives are full with cookbookery and blog-making, touring and creating. That’s what made this past year of travel possible. However, he couldn’t really do it anymore. He was ready for more, ready to make changes. He’s cooking for the community where he lives. He is jazzed, alive, firing with ideas all the time. And gone from 9:30 in the morning to nearly 11 at night most days.
I remember again what it’s like to be married to a chef. A walk with him on the beach is a rare, fine thing.
This means that finishing the cookbook is (mostly) all on me now.
I’ve known that for six weeks. I’ve been working, cooking, thinking, and writing down recipes. I cook several dishes a day, feed Danny when he comes home, and ask him what he thinks. He laps it up, grateful to be fed after such a long day. In the morning, we talk about what we ate, tweak a few things, and call it good. Then I go back to work again.
I’m sure that our cookbook will actually benefit from Danny not being able to work on it right now. He’s so talented. His food is so good. However, he thinks like a chef. He cooks with a team of people, with set-up stations, dishwashers, and a joy of being on his feet all day. His recipes start with marination, include 18 ingredients, and end with reduction. I’m a home cook, confident in the kitchen. I’ve learned well from him. But if I create the recipes, and he edits them, you are far more likely to feel you can make them.
That’s what we want for this book. We want it food-stained, flat open on your counter. We want it to be of use.
So I’ve been feeling okay with this. Until the week of double flu, no childcare, and little sleep. Panic.
Then, after a calming talk with Danny at nearly midnight, I woke up with a new resolve.
This is 8 weeks of creating. A deeply satisfying time. The work I love the most.
I’ve been thinking about the feeling of being fully absorbed in work I love. There are moments when I am writing, or making a photograph, or standing in front of the stove when I feel fully alive. No other thoughts. Just here.
However, that’s more and more rare these days.
I took this photograph on my phone early afternoon Christmas Eve. I had to take it. That sky, those birds, the quiet. It called to me. I stepped out of the car into the cold and waited for the right moment. I sighed at that light.
A few moments later, however, I got back into the car, showed it to Danny and Lucy, processed it, and put it on Twitter.
I’ve been thinking about this for months, this constant communication and documenting of my life. I don’t really like it. It’s not how I want to live.
If you haven’t read this essay by Pico Iyer on The Joy of Quiet in the New York Times, I invite you to read it now. But this stayed with me:
“We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because were so busy communicating. And as he might also have said were rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.”
Last week, Christina Choi died. We knew her through food, from buying mushrooms from her at the farmers’ market, then happily eating at her wild-foods restaurant, Nettletown, as often as we could. Christina was vibrant, alive, and living her dream. She was doing what every single self-help book says we should do to live a life that matters. Three days after Christmas, she died of complications of a brain aneurysm. She was 34 years old.
I’ve been trying to process this for days. There’s no way to make sense of it. I feel enormous sadness for her family, more than words can convey. But more, I’m struck by what a sham all those Urgent Messages for a Better You really are. You could be fiscally solvent, eating all the right food, organized, and the perfect weight.
You still die.
With all this, swirling in all this, came a clear decision.
I’m going to be quiet for awhile.
I’m taking a break from this space for the month of January. Partly it’s survival. When I’m creating and writing 2 to 3 recipes a day for the next 8 weeks, I just don’t have any others to give here. But it’s more than that. I need the break. I need the quiet.
I’m also taking a hiatus from Twitter and the Facebook page for a month as well. The rhythm of my days is tapped out in typing and clicking. The other day, Lucy looked at me and said, “Put down your phone, Mama.”
Yes, my love. I am.
To quote Iyer again: “None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; its just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better calmer, clearer and happier than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. Its actually something deeper than mere happiness: its joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as ‘that kind of happiness that doesnt depend on what happens.’
I want to feel who am these days without the constant connection and sharing it publicly.
I’m craving time to have tea with the friends who live near me instead of bantering with the hundreds of people I follow online. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to keep track of the lives of 300 people a day, or more. But I’ve been trying and I’m exhausted. I don’t want the end of my life to be marked with: “She was really good at Twitter.”
Please don’t worry about me. There’s nothing wrong. Instead, it feels as though everything is right. Right now.
I’ll be working all day, every day.
But there will be more life, undocumented and quiet.
I want to live these moments in stillness for a time.