Wild roses are fairest, and nature a better gardener than art.
~Louisa May Alcott
And a link to an image showing my last visit to Louisa.
Virginia was right.
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…
After a few years of Stijn and I trying to co-habit in a shared office space, I realized a few weeks ago that it wasn’t working for me, that I needed my own space to write, one that had my own books, office supplies, piles of papers, houseplants, etcetera.
I was nervous to tell him that I wanted to keep a separate space. I felt like, somehow, it was a signal that there was something amiss with our relationship. I waffled for a while about broaching the subject. And when I finally did, I was nervous that he would resist or feel betrayed. He didn’t. He was nonchalant, asked a few clarifying questions about shared resources, and wished me well.
For many years I have worked and written from wherever I could plug-in my laptop, and I have done just fine. I wrote papers, authored blogposts, crafted technical documentation, and replied to emails all from wherever and whenever. It has worked and I have made do. But now it feels like such a luxury to be able to claim a room and to make it my own. And already I can feel the difference. Writing is easier than it has been in a very long time.
Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. that is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.
While boarding a plane in Dallas last week a man stopped me and asked if I was an amputee. This question, asked by a stranger, often makes me wary. My reflex is to cut off contact with the stranger as soon as possible because it’s my experience that I will then be stuck listening to that person tell me about every amputee that they know and about every news story that they’ve seen about amputee Olympians.
This time, though, went a bit different. Rather than explaining his question, he pulled up his pantleg and showed me his hardware. We were two of a kind. We spoke in our own lingo, confirmed that we were both RAKs and started talking technology. He has the latest and greatest knee, one that I will never qualify for because they are only available to ex-military. I had to stifle the urge to run my hand along his calf as I admired the sleek look of his knee and ankle joints.
We walked on to the plane and found we were seated a few rows apart. We kept talking, standing in our seats and speaking across the seats that divided us.
Two minutes in and we were talking sweat. He lives in Texas and I in SoCal. We agreed that there was no technology that could help as walk better as long as there was sweat–it causes our prostheses to slip and twist and slowly slide off of our bodies.
“I pour out cupfuls every day,” he said.
“Me too, and no prosthetist really listens to that issue, they keep telling me that if I was wearing my leg correctly, I shouldn’t be sweating so much,” I shared.
As the plane filled I shared with him my best advice, these spendy sweat blocker towlettes that I order online and that made walking in Rome and Pompeii possible. I also use them when we have a heatwave, which allows me to survive the workday without having to pour sweat out of my socket every few hours. He hadn’t tried them, but he said he would.
We exchanged business cards and promised to keep in touch.
I turned around and sat down. As I fastened the belt and adjusted the position of my fake foot underneath the seat in front of me, I marveled at how satisfying it is to be seen by someone who lives life like me. I don’t even remember his name now, but we shared more in that brief conversation than I have with many people close to me. And somehow it’s a comfort to know that my problems with sweat aren’t just mine, but that he shares them.
“We all have a hungry heart, and one of the things we hunger for is happiness. So as much as I possibly could, I stayed where I was happy.”
This reminds me of something that my ex said to me as we were splitting up. He said that he wasn’t too worried about me, because I was happy no matter what happened. While there’s some truth to that, and I think it comes from having a lot of really awful things that have happened over the years (so awful, so out of my control), that I generally choose not to wallow in misery but to make the best of my circumstances. But that’s somewhat different than being happy–that’s just survival.
Being happy, in my mind, is a daily act of choosing joy:
It’s the parking-lot-Chewbacca-mask Mom who can laugh at herself and at the simple joys of her life (without worrying about how she looks to millions of strangers).
It’s jumping into Walden Pond and taking a long swim even though that’ll mean that your hair is a mess for the rest of the day.
It’s pulling over to take a photo of a field of poppies even when you’re running late for your train.
It’s drinking straight out of the milk bottle because every other cup in the kitchen is dirty.
It’s getting sand in your shoes because of a spontaneous ramble at the beach.
It’s getting up at 2am to stare at the full moon.
It’s building wooden things with simple tools.
It’s a cozy chair and a novel.
It’s supporting the people you love as they embark on their own journeys.
It’s a text message with silly emojis.
It’s starting the day with a walk in the garden, noting how things have changed since yesterday and imagining how they will be different tomorrow.
It strikes me, as I read this list, that many of the ‘happinesses’ that come to my mind right now are solitary ones. In years past there were so many more that came from caregiving for my children and from time with my community. While those are still important to me, I spend most of my work-work time with people everyday, that the small acts of happy-solitude feel like a necessary counterweight to teaching/leading/collaborating.
(poppies, taken by me in Italy five years ago)
The past few weeks I’ve been fairly contemplative about where I am in my life. I passed a milestone birthday and I marked the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis (or rather, I didn’t mark it at all this year, which felt alright). Also, I visited with a few old friends recently where we discussed all that’s happened in the past few decades.
And after all that, I suspect that I just might jinx myself if I say that things are pretty positive right now. But it also seems worth noting that while there are still some hard days and some things that I hope to change about my circumstances, for the most part it’s just really good: my days are filled with interesting activities that are mostly of my own choosing, I enjoy my work colleagues very much, there is little friction in my family life, I have few health complaints, my home/garden are well-worth returning to each evening, and I average about 7.5 hours of sleep at night (and every once in awhile, I even take a nap).
(photo taken in my garden this weekend)
Although the past few weeks of traveling have had more than their fair share of glamour, if you’d seen me schlepping around the city today, you probably would’ve wondered if I was homeless–carrying too many travel bags and crutches and an umbrella, wearing clothes that hadn’t been washed in 2 weeks that included mismatched socks, scratching at my many mosquito bites, looking for somewhere cozy to sit while I people-watched. It was fun, but it was not glamorous…I was a bit cranky and achy and trying to find a fun way to pass the hours until we could get the key to our temporary apartment. We ended up finding a fun little street fair to wander, but after so many of ‘those’ looks from bystanders, we realized that luggage-carrying odiferous and slightly grubby (although happy and well-intentioned) tourists were not really welcome there…
The good news is that my clothes are now I the laundry (yay and please keep your fingers crossed that this odd Finnish washing machine does the job) and tomorrow I will once again be fresh and maybe even just a wee bit glamorous. But tonite, I’m settling for a cozy and domestic and not-so-fancy evening in my gym clothes, writing and making lists of things that need to get done before we launch again….
One thing about shopping in a country where you don’t know the language is that shopping for groceries can be a bit of an “adventure.” Which is why we accidentally bought lemon-lime soda (euw) instead of bottled water, why we ate pork tenderloin (instead of veal) two days ago, and why we spent more than 10minutes trying to figure out what yogurt to buy for breakfast (and ended up buying two of them, just in case one was yucky).
One happy find has been rabarbar vanilj tea, which is a great drink for the long white nights, and a good substitute for the vanilla sleepy time tea that I like to drink before bed at home.
One of the aspects of eating out while traveling that never ceases to delight me is the variety of bread that’s served with our meal. Probably I enjoy it so much because I’m already dreaming about the day that my kitchen aid mixer out of storage and start making my own bread once again…
Here are a few pictures of bread from our recent meals:
Today got started a bit late and it seemed that so many things were going wrong. That was confirmed when I accidentally ended up on a bus heading to the wrong city with only 40 cents in my pocket–not enough for any kind of bus fare to get to where I needed to be. And of course I was in a country where I don’t speak the language, not even a few basic words…
I wasn’t feeling very adventurous at that moment. In fact, I was near tears. I was looking around, wondering who I might beg to help me. (It didn’t help that I had another freak out dream last night, once where I was in the middle of a shooting incident at a college campus, waking up as the shots were ringing all around me at the same time that some passersby we’re screaming outside my bedroom window). I was tired and rather desperate for something familiar…
So, the bus driver helped me figure out what to do to get where I wanted to go, and due to his kindness the next bus driver let me ride for free. And then I got to where I wanted to be, which turned out to be magical. I took a long stroll into the woods, letting myself get lost and not caring, knowing that the road was not far and that I needed some time to clear my head and recover from the fears of earlier.
That that walk ended up in a picturesque ramble through a patch of knee-high stinging nettle should hardly surprise me given the many things that already went wrong.
But then again, so much more went right than went wrong, and I know that someday I’ll such a great story to tell as a result….
P.S. The internet gremlins aren’t allowing me to upload any photos today, so that will have to wait for another time….
I’ve always suspected that I would
enjoy love sleeping on a train. Last night I tried it for the first time, and guess what? I was right! Now, I am wishing that all modes of travel were so cozy and relaxing (the sleeper car is wayyyyy better than the crowdedness of my last few flights).
One lesson that I won’t forget in the future: each sleeper compartment only has a small allotment of water for the sink/shower. One does not want to run out of water just after one has soaped up in the shower and is ready for a rinse. (Just sayin’)
Today was the first official day of my summer sabbatical. My goals for this time period are legion and include many plans for writing, reading, relaxing, reconnecting, and letting some of the stresses of this past year roll off of my shoulders.
But my largest goal is to stretch, everyday.
My shoulders and hips and legs are so tight that I’ve been in nearly-constant pain for the past 4 months. I’ve had too many hours at my desk, too many hours commuting by car. And when I have been exercising, it’s generally been a power activity like canoeing or rock climbing, and not an activity that increases my limberness.
So today: yoga.
Gentle restorative stretches to ease the tightness in my lower back. It’s humbling to realize how far I’ve drifted from my previous, flexible self. And things weren’t going so well with the yoga stretching (ouch) until I realized that I’d forgotten to breathe. My jaw was still clenched tight, my mind remained focused on some stressors that I can’t control. My hands were tight fists.
So I stoked the coals in my belly and started to send the heat out to my aching muscles.
Inhaling and exhaling from deep inside.
And it worked. I got looser (a bit). I stretched for an hour and then I spent my 10 minutes of shavasana focusing solely on breathing. When I sat up afterwards, the pain was definitely decreased, and I felt more alert, more hopeful, and more ready for what lies ahead.
I don’t remember the first time that I made bread dough, but I must have been fairly young–by the age of eight I’d already won a ribbon at the Fair for my sweet rolls (and yes, they are still amazing). I’m sure the knowledge I had at such a young age came from watching my Mom bake–as I remember it, her loaves were usually whole wheat, sweetened with honey (or at least that is the flavor of bread that always reminds me of those young years). Her dinner rolls remain, in my mind, the stuff of legend.
Although I have remained a maker of bread nearly all of my life, for the past ten years or so, I’ve primarily defaulted to doing so in a bread machine. That way I can set a timer and not have to worry about any of the details of the process. Out pops a tasty loaf in about two hours, or when I walk in the door from work if I’ve set the time earlier that morning. Breadmaker bread is good, and is certainly better than most store-bought bread, but….it also has a uniform texture to it that’s not airy and the crust is not crispy and, most importantly, it robs one of all the pleasure of kneading and smelling and shaping the dough…
So I’ve begun making and baking my own bread again, by hand.* It’s such a time-consuming and mercurial process: the very same recipe rarely yields the same result. And there is so much intuition involved that I have to just “feel” the bread to know what it needs (more flour? a bit of oil? extra time for raising?). Being a part of that process and experimenting with different recipes and doughs is pure pleasure. I’m developing a kind of bread knowledge that allows me to compose recipes in my head and to refine my process with every loaf (though I did also pore over these two books for much of my bread-knowledge, too: The Bread Bible and Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.)
I’m not sure why I am so keen on making my own bread right now. I suspect that it’s filling a space of domesticity that’s a bit empty because I no longer have many duties in caring for my children. Or perhaps it’s a craving for comfort and the memories of times past. Or perhaps it’s a need to touch and smell something altogether different than the slick manufactured surfaces of keyboards and touchscreens and elevator buttons and chrome.
But whatever the reason, I am again making bread. And it is good.
*I still do the initial bread mixing in either my Sunbeam or my KitchenAid. In that I’m following the pattern of most bread “experts.” I am also using this awesome Baguette Pan that was given to me by a friend.