A Writerly Obsession

At my first for-real job, I was a bookkeeper. “For-real job” means the first job I took with the intention of doing the job for more than a minute, the first job that wasn’t simply a way to finance my next vacation – though I didn’t stay there over-long, and it did finance some vacations.

I kept the financial records of a small professional organization. Real work, not the paper pushing I’d done in my previous job. I can’t imagine anything I could have said in my interview that would have inspired anyone to offer me that position. I didn’t know the first thing about being a bookkeeper … and I wouldn’t have tried to gloss over that fact, as it never occurred to me that possessing the necessary job skills was … you know … necessary.

I was trained by the woman who’d been the works-when-she-feels-like-coming-in part time bookkeeper. Let’s call her Edith. She was a bored lady of leisure, childhood girlfriends with the director of the organization. She had stepped in to help out a couple of days a week. Then the organization had grown, and part time was no longer enough time, but she had no interest in working every day. She was in her mid-forties, and casually glamorous. I remember loving her wedding ring — it was a broad gold band, a crowd of people standing hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm.

The organization’s records were kept in the kind of old-fashioned ledgers I’d only seen in movies. They were awkwardly big. I remember them as enormous, but they were most likely legal size. Thick, hard, cloth covers with leather-wrapped corners, bound on the short end with metal peg-and-clamp fasteners. Edith handled them carefully, as if the slightest jostling might shake the ink loose.

The desk was like any desk, but instead of a chair, there was a tall stool, a backless barstool. And when it was time to teach me how to keep the records, Edith opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a fountain pen.

The pen was an old one, a Parker. The pen may still exist, but I couldn’t find it when I searched. The Parker Vector is similar in cost, so it may be the modern version of my ledger pen. My pen had a silver cap and a dark-but-transparent blue barrel, and it took cartridges.

I’d never used a fountain pen, so Edith gave me a crash course in pen use and maintenance. She gave me the location of the one store she knew of that sold the ink cartridges, showed me what I now know to describe as the nib’s flexibility. And she showed me how to “erase” any errors: lick the corner of your Pink Pearl eraser and rub gently until you’ve worn away enough of the paper that you can write over your mistake. Natch!

And then we got into the books. Edith was patient, never once her losing her mind with anger at my inability to learn even one thing about keeping those books. Because really, I didn’t learn a damn thing. My training ended, and Edith was gone, and I was on my own. I sat on my high stool and leaned way down over my ledger and played at bookkeeping.

And I followed Edith’s rule and used the Parker only for the ledger. And, when that pen died, I didn’t do the perfectly reasonable thing and pick up a ballpoint and get back to work. No. I went out and bought a new Parker. It never occurred to me to use any other pen.

At the turn of the quarter, the accountant came. I handed over my ledgers with pride. I was a little cocky, thought I was doing the job. The accountant took my books into the conference room and sat behind closed doors for a couple of hours. Then he called me in to review.

The accountant, David, was a lovely man – older, stocky, Jewish, with a gentle voice, kind eyes and beautiful wavy silver hair. We chatted for a while. It was our first time meeting, and he wanted us to get to know each other. As our chat wound down, he asked what I’d studied in college. I gave what had already become my standard airy, dismissive wave and smile and said, “French and photography. I know! It’s the perfect training for my job!”

We laughed, and he repeated my answer. “French and photography. I knew it couldn’t have been accounting.”

I won’t lie: I was more than a little surprised. Something was wrong with my books? My precious ledgers weren’t perfect?

David, because he actually was a lovely, kind man, spent the better part of the afternoon giving me a crash course in accounting. Most important and most mind-blowing takeaway? The grand totals of my rows and columns had to match! No, seriously, that was the whole concept of balancing the books.

French and photography. Right.

With David’s patient help, I got to be as good at my job as cocky-first-quarter-me had imagined she was. I stayed in touch with David. We exchanged Hannukah and Christmas cards for several years after I left that organization. Whenever I got a new job, he was sure to ask how my French and photography were helping me out.

Most of that is not my point. I just couldn’t resist telling that story.

The first of my two actual points was about Edith’s set-up for this job: the old-school ledgers, the high stool, the fountain pen. It was as if she thought her job was an audition to play Bob Cratchett.

I liked it, that’s true enough, but it was hardly normal, and it certainly wasn’t necessary. Ledgers had moved into the modern era years before. Everyone in the organization had a desk chair. She could have kept the books with a regular pen. Her insistence on using the fountain pen for the ledger when she used a workaday Bic for everything else was just odd – except in the context of her playing the part of bookkeeper in a period play.

Edith’s random oddities are responsible for my second and more important point: my introduction to fountain pens! She planted the seed. My bookkeeping job made me familiar and comfortable with fountain pens. And today, I own many too many, so many that I probably need an intervention.

After my stint with the books, I didn’t find my way back to fountain pens for three or four years. I was in Kate’s Paperie and found myself at the pen counter, practically drooling over the loveliness under the glass. I went back to the same pen again and again. The saleswoman, clearly sensing that I needed only the gentlest of nudges to turn me from a looker to a buyer, inked the display pen and let me write a few lines to see how it felt. Well, of course, it felt wonderful. Smooth across the notepad she’d placed in front of me. Clean, thick line – not bold but assertive. I walked out with that pen, a black-with-gold-trim Pelikan M250 – piston-filled, thick but lightweight, logo at the end of the cap.

Pelikan M250

I was reading Natalie Goldberg then, my first go-round with Writing Down the Bones. So I was doing a lot of writing, filling pages, filling notebooks. And the Pelikan was an excellent companion on that journey, so fluid my words spilled out effortlessly across all those pages.

A year later, I was back in Kate’s buying a ridiculously over-priced birthday gift for my new love (the start of my saga with The Morphine Man) — a gorgeous hand-bound notebook with a birch bark cover and thick, ultra-smooth, creamy paper. A notebook like that deserved a fine writing implement, so I moved slowly down the gleaming pen case until I found a deep green Waterman – slender but heavy, it’s green a dark, marbled resin. I bought it for The Morphine Man … but I knew before I got home that it was really for me. And so it was. (He loved the notebook. Was none the wiser about the pen.)

I used to think pens were necessary, disposable, interchangeable tools. If you lost one, you picked up a new one and moved on. I had favorites – the Pilot Precise rollerball was a particular love – but I wasn’t attached to any pen. The Pelikan changed that. I have only lost one pen in the 30 years since I bought that Pelikan. One. And I agonized over that loss, still occasionally kick myself over my carelessness and hope the person who found my gorgeous Levenger True Writer Kyoto took good care of it and wrote well with it.

And my handwriting has changed. It was never truly terrible — despite the bad penmanship marks I got in grade school — but it is definitely nicer now. This seemed a strange fact at first, but then, the last year that I was teaching, my students helped me solve the mystery. One of the goals that bubbled up at the start of the year was that a lot of the younger students wanted to improve their handwriting. No one had ever asked about good handwriting before. I started researching … and writing with a fountain pen was one of the top recommendations. It was all about ease of ink flow eliminating the need to exert force with the pen, allowing the writer to loosen their grip and write more comfortably.

I bought a set of student pens and gave a little tutorial on how to hold it, how to write with it. No one had every used a fountain pen, and most hadn’t noticed that I always wrote with one. We had a lot of discussion about that. Sadly, I’d been writing with a fountain pen for so long at that point, I had no “before” examples, no pre-fountain writing to show the difference.

My students thought the pens were funny, and the novelty made encouraged practice. Not everyone stuck with it, but the ones who did saw that their writing changed. And they noticed, as I had after switching to fountain pens, that they could write for longer periods of time without their hands hurting. I wonder if they stuck with fountains long enough to see their hands change, too. The tip of the middle finger on my right hand used to have an ugly, rough, half-callused indentation. It doesn’t anymore.

That year of Bob Cratchett playacting had quite the long-term effect. I don’t actually know how many fountain pens I own – I’ll make a conservative guess and say four dozen. Sailors, Esterbrooks, Pilots, Platinums, Pelikans, and any number of other brands, big names and unknowns, fancy and expensive, and three-dollar beauties. It’s fair to say I have a pen problem, but there are far worse vices, so I give myself a pass.

I wonder what made Edith choose that Parker, why she didn’t keep the ledgers with whatever pen was on hand. Was it really about the choice to turn her work into a game – setting herself up like a Dickensian clerk on her high stool with her tiny numbers noted down on those wide green “eye-ease” sheets? Whatever her game, I’m grateful to her. I’d surely have been introduced to fountain pens eventually, but maybe by that future time, I’d have been so entrenched in my writing habits, complete with a favorite pen, that fountains would have been just an interesting curiosity. Edith and her Parker came along at the exact right moment!


(The pen in my GriotGrind image is my perfect little Sailor pocket pen. I have a crazy number of pocket pens, mostly Platinums and Pilot Elites, but my Sailor with it’s excellent blue-black ink is a go-to fave!)

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Human Touch

In physical therapy, as I’ve written about a few times in the past, you have people handling your body, rubbing, patting, stroking your body. It’s a constantly strange truth.

I imagine that, for some people, it isn’t strange at all. For people who have been allowed to grow up without any unwanted, uninvited touch, without any body shaming, without any violence, the intense, intimate touching of PT must just feel … harmless? Helpful? It must feel like what it is: therapy to help you recover from an injury. I have no idea what that could feel like, to be able to let someone touch you so freely, so thoroughly, without flinching away or drawing into yourself. I still fight against my therapists’ hands, still fight my startle response and my inclination to jerk back, harden myself against that touch.

*

In Jamaica, in the town where I like to stay, there is an American massage therapist. I had my first massage with him in the summer of 2005. It was much more intimate than what happens in PT. I was covered with a sheet, but under that … nothing but panties. Before I got undressed that first time, we had about three minutes of conversation about what kind of body work he would be doing, about any particular aches or irregularities I might be feeling, about any health concerns he should know about. Then he left me alone to disrobe and secret myself under the sheet. And then we got started.

And it was entirely fine. Somehow, it was entirely fine. It’s a truth that makes no sense. I didn’t fight him, didn’t flinch away, didn’t stiffen my body in protective protest.

Why not? Why on earth was that possible? And possible each of the additional five times I’ve had a massage with him? How? What does my mind see as the difference between massage touch and PT touch?

And how is massage touch received by people who don’t struggle with PT touch? Does it really just dissolve them into a goopy mass of pleasure sensation? What must that be like?

*

One morning in PT, Jeremy took hold of my arm. I’d been telling him about the pain I’m having in my bicep and along the back upper ridge of my shoulder. I’d been doing some stretches before heading over to his table. I was feeling pretty good, relaxed, happy to see improvement in some of the tougher exercises, pleased to have graduated to muscle-building work.

Jeremy took hold of my arm and tried to stretch it out. My resistance was instant and intense. “It’s me,” he said, patting my bicep gently. “Me, your old friend. Relax. Relax.”

I’m all one step forward, a dozen and a half back. So tense, I could feel my bicep flexing against him. And for the rest of the session, I felt my body resisting him, refusing to go limp again and again and again.

Jeremy – aside from the fact that he’s a little too big and loud, a little too — as I’ve said — BMOC jock dude-bro – could easily be a massage therapist. When he has massaged my shoulder, it’s felt as good as my Jamaican massages. And yet I stay wound tight. And the same is true with all of my therapists – Yu-Lan still exclaims in wonder on those rare occasions when she feels my arm go limp.

I want to say that it’s my body steeling itself against pain. Moving in the ways the therapists try to move me usually means pain. PT these days usually means pain. Isn’t it only natural that I’d flinch away from that? But I know better. I don’t love pain, but fear of it isn’t chief among the reasons for my response to PT touch.

So what do I do with any of this? It’s interesting to realize that I perceive different types of intimate touch so very differently. And it’s interesting to realize that, because no everyone has a history like my history, there are people in the world who don’t have a problem with intimate touch at all. And … what? What’s next? Where do I go with this?

Yes, obviously, to a therapist’s office, but I want something more, something this minute. Yes, a magic bullet that will allow me to relax in PT … but also just a clear conclusion to this mental meandering.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe just recognizing this different perception is enough for now. Maybe I need to sit with it a while before I can start to process it. Maybe.

I am coming to the end of what I hope is just my first set of PT visits for my shoulder. My arm is starting to feel better. I have some of my range of motion back. I am no longer sleeping sitting up. I have moved from the tiny one-pound weight to the less-tiny two-pounder. Progress! But I’m not ready to be finished yet. My arm has a long way to go, and so does my thought process. The things I’ve learned about myself in PT have begun to get deeper. Not sure this is the argument to use with my insurance to get a second round of PT approved!

I’m glad to feel my body getting stronger, working back toward health. I have a very long way to go, but it feels good. For the first time in years, I am out and about without a cane, and I’ no longer wearing my arm in a sling. I’d forgotten how it felt to be so free. It’s scary but also excellent. Just like all the things Yu-Lan and Jeremy are teaching me about my response to touch and my ability to trust. A VERY long way to go. Glad to be on the way.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Pour me a cold one?

Maybe I’ve been indulging in Thirst Aid Kit more than I should? I don’t know, but …

For weeks now, my PT routine has been Tuesdays with Jared and Fridays with Jeremy. Occasionally Yu-Lan has been slotted in on Fridays if Jeremy wasn’t able to see me, but mostly I’ve been Jared and Jeremy, Jared and Jeremy. (It’s been interesting working with different therapists. They have different styles, different things they do with my arm, different ways of talking about what’s going on with my arm. I feel as if I’m getting more from my sessions by having more than one therapist.)

On Tuesdays when I get to the PT gym, Jeremy is there, getting in a workout before his shift starts. He smiles and waves, sometimes salutes, as I head for the changing room, then gets back to work.

When I first wrote about Jeremy, I mentioned that, while I can see that people would find him attractive, he’s not the kind of attractive that does it for me. My favorite of the PT boys — because they are all ridiculously young — was Daniel, who turned my head by looking like Takeshi Kaneshiro. Jeremy is a little too BMOC jock dude-bro. Not a type I go for. He has a big, overtly-muscular body, also not a type I go for.

In these last weeks I’ve discovered that I am, in fact, a liar. That it’s my burning pants setting off the smoke detectors in here.

Seeing Jeremy working out has been a revelation. Seeing sweaty Jeremy post-workout on his way to shower … well … yes.

(Yes, I do feel 100 percent inappropriate!)

This morning, I discovered that I am not alone. I was sitting under a giant ice pack as one does after a session. Jeremy came down for his shower, and the woman beside me expressed disappointment that she’d have to wait for her own shower. Yu-Lan told her not to worry, that Jeremy would be quick. She looked at Jeremy for confirmation, and he nodded.

“I just need a few minutes,” he said. “I have no hair.”

And the woman — surely involuntarily, surely without thinking about how it would look to the rest of us — ran her eyes down his body. Slowly. Yu-Lan, Jeremy, and I burst out laughing.

“On my head!” Jeremy said, still laughing. “On my head! Everyone: get your minds out of the gutter!”

Yeah.

The woman was younger than I am, maybe in her mid-forties? After Jeremy ducked into the shower room, she shrugged. “What’s the point of filtering?” she asked. “I’ve lived long enough to see that censoring myself hasn’t gotten me  anywhere. Men  certainly don’t worry about filters!”

I nodded. Yu-Lan laughed and gave a thumbs up.

This doesn’t mean I’ll be showing up at Friday PT sessions with my nose wide open. As if. It did make for an an amusing start to my Tuesday, however. And it’s interesting to see that — given the proper circumstances — a type of guy I didn’t find attractive can suddenly look like a tasty treat!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

The Most Important Thing

I decided to try another erasure poem taken from a news article, see if this is really a thing I’m going to spend a month doing. After listening to stories from several angles on my morning news, I chose as my source text a Times interview with Mr. Facebook.

The Most Important Thing
(An erasure of a Mark Zuckerberg interview in response to the Cambridge Analytica data breach.)

Facebook embroiled, prone to abuse.
Privacy issues, important responsibilities.
At their most basic level,
everything that happened
was more important, the most important.
There were certainly other things.
Going forward, are there others out there?
A full investigation,
a large amount of information,
policies, suspicious activity
capacity to make sure.
It’s really important.
You may have forgotten you’ve connected.
We’re going to tell,
we’re going to be conservative,
we’ll build.
We’re going to have to grow.
The important thing –
it’s a high-touch process.
The specific point, I guess technically
would be the point, a situation
a real person-to-person relationship,
sensitive, sexual, clear.
The first thing is community.
There’s no wrongdoing here.
That’s the basic driver –
access, responsibility, community.
It’s not good.
It’s a clear signal.
This is a major trust issue.
This is an incredibly important point –
we feel a responsibility.
You’re the first I’m telling.
I feel a lot better now.
This is a massive focus, really important.
We want to unify.
This is a really important question, really important.
Our mission
is to build community in the world.
Really important.
We’re doing something unprecedented,
building community all over the world,
connect across boundaries, new challenges.
We have a real responsibility, seriously.
I’ve made all kinds of mistakes.

This was an interesting exercise. When I started reading the interview, I thought I’d make a fairly short poem because every clip I’d heard from the interview seemed fairly empty and devoid of poem fodder. But as I kept reading, I realized that was kind of the point: Zuckerberg talks and talks, his responses performative rather than substantive. Yes, of course that’s an “of course,” but it surprised me how little he tried to paint something pretty over that.

And then there’s how not accepting of blame or responsibility his answers are, how he spends so much time making sure to tell us how revolutionary and innovative and community-centered his work is, blah, blah, blah.

This is surely another “of course!” I’ve never read so carefully through anything Zuckerberg has said, so I find myself surprised. This poetic form forces me to read the words differently as I search for the phrases that need pulling out.

There was a lot here. The repetitions, the self-promotions, the clear effort to distance himself from anything that could look like guilt. Made for a much longer poem. And I’m sure MZ wouldn’t be happy with the choices I’ve made here, with my final line maybe especially.

I may have to try this a time or two again before April rolls around.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Elaborating on the Dating

Yesterday I posted about having a virtual writing date Thursday night, and Ashley asked for more info about writing dates, so …

I suppose a writing date can be whatever you’d like it to be, whatever is going to work best to get you writing. Mine tend to have similar formats:

  • Get together and hang out for a little while checking in and hearing what’s up with each other.
  • Talk about what’s going on with our writing — what are we working on, what do we hope to get into that day, are we applying for anything, have we sent any pieces out, do we have any deadlines looming?
  • WRITE

Variations on this format can include doing some writing prompts together, getting something to eat during the check-in or while we’re writing, moving from coffee shop to bar as the day wears on, finishing for the day and going out to dinner, whatever.

On Thursday, the check in and writing talk time was super short, and we got down to work. My groceries were delivered mid-session, but other than that, there were no interruptions. We had a few minutes of chat mixed in with the writing, but mostly what we did was write.

What I love about these dates is the creative company. Being able to look up and see a writer hard at work keeps me working. It’s as if writing with others changes the air quality, so I’m breathing in creativity and productivity. It inspires me to push myself for another line, another paragraph, another page.

(And there are extended versions of this date business. In January, two friends and I took off for a beautiful house upstate to spend a long weekend writing. We stocked the kitchen, hung out on arrival night, and then we got to work. We each had our own room and writing space. We saw each other when we happened to be in the kitchen or living room at the same time. We shared a few meals. Otherwise, we were writing on our own … but together. I couldn’t look up and see either friend working, but knowing they were each plugging away in their studios kept me plugging away in mine. The whole house felt as if it was humming with writing energy, and it was intoxicating. I wrote two essays that weekend and began work on a third.)

There is a strong, popular stereotype of being A WRITER, which involves working alone, usually while starving to death in a drafty garret somewhere. I’ve never lived in a drafty garret but it’s absolutely true that most of my writing is done when I’m alone. I could never make enough dates for all the time I spend writing. But the dates are necessary. I am half hermit, half social butterfly, and I need to honor both sides of myself.

I’m curious to know what other people’s writing dates look like. I’d love it if you’d share in the comments!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Listen, children, to a story …

(Hmm … realizing just how many of my post titles come from songs. I don’t suppose this is surprising, given how central a role music plays in my life, but it’s funny that I haven’t really noticed or called it out before.)

I’m in a book club. I think it’s fair to say that I’m the laziest member of this club. Sometimes I read the books. Sometimes I even read them all the way to the end. I wouldn’t say I do either of these things even fifty percent of the time. I enjoy the group, and I always intend to do better, but … well, the world is always and always getting in the way of me and my reading goals.

The group has been meeting a long time, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that I began listening to some of our book selections instead of reading them. I realized I could download audiobooks from the library onto my phone and listen during my commute or while doing housework, and it was suddenly far more likely that I’d see my way through to the end of book picks I wasn’t passionate about.

That was my secret: listen to the books I didn’t think I’d like so I could do something else at the same time and feel productive. (Yes, this is obnoxious. I know. I know.)

For the most part, this has worked pretty well. There have been some notable exceptions. I managed to suffer through the recording of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens despite an awful, awful reader who drove me nuts through the whole book. And then there was the total fail of The Plot Against America. Something about Ron Silver’s voice and the utter creepiness of the book in relationship to our current political climate made listening impossible, almost nightmare-inducing. I shut that down right away.

The success of audiobooks really lies in the reader’s voice and reading style choices. A bad voice and I can’t concentrate. Wacky decisions about how to pronounce things or changing the voice for different characters, and you’ve lost me. I hate all those made up voices. Just read. Let me fill in the character distinctions. That was the problem with the Good Omens reader. He made really irksome voices for the characters when he should have just told me the story.

It has turned out that I’ve actually loved many of the books I thought I wouldn’t. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction is depressing and enraging, but amazing and interesting and well-written. I enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath so much it set me to listening to all of his books. And it’s interesting that the Gladwell audiobooks work for me. I don’t like Gladwell’s voice. But he reads his work so perfectly, that he’s the only person I’d want to hear reading, and he makes the books that much more interesting.

The book we’ll be discussing next weekend is Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat. I really can’t articulate how much I loved this book … except to say that I’m about the start my third listen. Seriously. I loved it that much. In part because the book is great, but also because I love Edward Herrmann as the reader. I wish he had recorded all books I might ever want to listen to. He was a fine, fine reader.

But also, Brown has written a wonderful book. He does some things as a writer that I find comical and eventually annoying, but mostly, the book is gold. The story is compelling, the people are likable, he got me interested in a subject — crew racing — that I have given just about no thought to. I’m sure reading this book is also enjoyable, but I’d actually recommend listening because of Herrmann’s excellent recording.

I know I’m not only a lazy book-clubber but also super late to the table when it comes to audiobooks. I should have known that I would like listening to books. I love to be read to. Love, love, love it. So naturally, a good audiobook would please me.

And thank goodness I’ve made this happy discovery. My new commute is always very crowded. The train doors open, and there’s barely enough room to squeeze myself into the throng, definitely no room for pulling out a book. Being able to disappear through my headphones makes that sardine-can ride so much easier to manage.

Do you listen to audiobooks? What do you like or not like about them? Do you have particular kinds of books you prefer to listen to rather than read, or particular readers you’ve come to love?


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Baking with What You Have

I am still struggling with internet connectivity in my home, which is making all things difficult, and really getting on my nerves. Verizon is due to visit me again tomorrow, so I’m going to pretend at optimism that the problem will be resolved. In the mean time, I’m going to take advantage of this rare moment of weekend net connection and post one of the essays I wrote in January.


This morning I made cornbread. Cornbread is one of my staple comfort foods. It’s quick and easy to make, it reminds me of my childhood, and it connects me to my mother and grandmothers.

And that’s part of why I made it. The other reason is that I wanted to bake something in my new kitchen, wanted to fill my new apartment with the warm scent of something in the oven.

I am months and months — and surely more months still — away from settling into this apartment. I’ve begun the slow process of unpacking, have grown familiar with my new commute, have been reminded of some of the awkward truths of living in an apartment building. One o the things that helps make this space full of boxes and disarray feel more like home, however, is using the kitchen, cooking for myself instead of buying take-out or getting by on cashews and cheese. I haven’t found my grocery store yet, but a handful of ingredients made the move with me, and so … cornbread.

 

Moving house forces me to look at all the things I own — as they’re going into boxes or as they come out. It forces me to see the things I’ve chosen to hold onto … and pushes me to ask why. I haven’t read more than a couple of pages of Marie Kondo’s book, but looking at my things as I begin unpacking has made me think I need to read that, that it will resonate with me and might help me find (finally) the way to pare down my possessions. This close look at my things has been eye-opening.

It’s no surprise for me to see how sentimental I am — the bits and pieces of ephemera I’ve carried with me for years that I just can’t seem to say goodbye to — but it’s a little maddening to see what my sentimentality costs me in time and energy and storage space.

Unsurprisingly, this sentimental keeping of things doesn’t only apply to the tangible objects in my rooms. Two days ago, it was The Morphine Man’s birthday. And of course I was aware of it, of course I spent time thinking about him. How much storage space in y head and heart is he taking up? And for why? Even if there is some future version of the world in which he and I are somehow back together, it won’t win me back all the time and tears I’ve spent on him in these intervening months, decades …

How do I declutter on all fronts? I want to own less stuff and hold onto less baggage. This move is a good time to start on the one. How do I start on the other?

 

The cornbread was good. I mean, of course it was. Cornbread is pretty much always good. But it was also clearly the first step on a curve. It’s the first thing I’ve made in this new oven, so there are still things to learn. With my last oven, it took me a while to learn the exact difference between the temperature in the oven and the setting on the dial: +50°. Things began to run smoothly after I bought an over thermometer. This new oven has its own secrets to reveal. One batch of cornbread isn’t going to tell me everything I need to know.

Patience. In all things. Sure. Easy to say.

Next up is maybe mac and cheese. Or maybe my molasses spice cookies. I’ve only ever made them successfully in my mother’s oven. My old oven was always and always just too hot for that dough. It will be interesting to see how this new oven does.

Patience. I rarely have much for myself, even as I am notorious for having oceans of it for others. Definitely need to draw some of that inward and give myself a break.

I’ll clear out some of my things as I empty these boxes. I’ll make room on my shelves and in my closets. Slowly. And I’ll clear out thoughts of AC, The Morphine Man, other people and things from the past that aren’t serving me today. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly.

And, as I make room, as I clear away, there will be space for new things. Maybe I’ll finally learn to make tuiles and florentines, use my beautiful new counter tops to properly roll out biscuit or cooking dough. Maybe I’ll finally open my heart, air it out, be ready.


GriotGrind Next Wave logoIn 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.