The snow has come and the biting cold. After the boys left for school this morning, I climbed back into folds of soft flannel, grey as the day, and opened M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating to a random chapter which is the way I have taken to reading this substantial book of beautiful stories, beautiful language, its heft too much to tackle from front to back.
Sea Change, 1926.
Wait just a minute while I warm my coffee.
We were in the mountains last week. I was so anxious to leave town, to be out of our house and the routine of February's days. We went back to soak our tired muscles and aching bones in hot spring water. We went to the top of the mountain and turned our faces sideways to come the long way down again and again. On the first day of riding, I tired enough so that I parted ways with my company, weary and yet grateful to be high up and alone in the natural world. I chose to get down by way of a long road, loose with turns, tight with trees. At first I mistrusted myself, alone on the path, not even a bird; so smug in the righteous state of domesticity I have become.
Having recently seen the movie Wild and rereading Cheryl's book after seeing the movie, a line of hers came to me in the moment -but I didn't want to be that hiker. I wanted to be the hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I took a deep breath and pointed my snowboard downhill, stopping here and there on my way down to make sure I was still on my path. In the quiet solace of snow forest, and still, not a bird.
We walked into our house after four nights and five days in the mountains to a piercing howling. I thought my eyes and ears were fooling me. I watched as Eric picked Woody up from her side, her eyes wild with shock, her body freezing cold. This isn't happening. This cannot be happening.
not woody, not woody, not woody. screaming those words to myself as i drove. mom, is woody going to die? mom, is woody going to die? it's okay mom. so i see you're crying. mom, i've never seen you cry like this. i'm scared. bring her back here i'll stay with the boys. mama, come back here, she's going, i'll stay with the kids.
She purred twice, I know. Oxygen mask over her face. Gone. We wrapped her in a blanket and took her to the boys. I broke.
Just shy of seventeen years, my A+ snuggling and reading companion. She came to me from a pile of wood, cold mornings, and golden Montana sun. She was the most luminous soul I've ever known.
We are shattered. We were not here.
And once again the now, grey as the day, reading and writing in the quiet. The void is palpable and full of pain. But what I know is this. In the haze of sadness, guilt, and questions unanswered, we breathe. And then we breathe again.
I was entering. I was leaving. California streamed behind me like a long silk veil. I didn't feel like a big fat idiot anymore. And I didn't feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.
February, you will not swallow me whole.
A couple of years ago, I was at a local social event I had been invited to as a woman writer and blogger in the community. I went solo and hesitant, not knowing another soul there. I went with curiosity - who were these other women in my community doing big things? How were they doing them? What were their secrets to success? There was also the lingering impetus I couldn't quite shake since I'd received the invite: I had been dying to go to that restaurant. I went.
At one point during the evening, I was sipping a delicious cocktail while talking with a woman who's passion was food styling. At the time, I was still mama first in every way. Even though I love looking at styled food photographs, I couldn't imagine then taking the time to photograph food in any way other than the finished product on the table, seconds before pretty turned ugly with little one's cries of pain because everything looks and smells disgusting, and do we have to eat that? In a regrettable moment, I said something to this woman along the lines of, I just can't imagine having the time for that [styling food at home for fun]. She was younger than me, her pregnant belly mid-way round with her first child. In that moment, when I said those words, I caused her pain. I saw it in her eyes. I embarrassed us both. Borrowing Anne Lamott's word, I was such an asshat.
I think about that beautiful woman often these days. I think about her when I'm clearing our cluttered dining room table and laying out a beautiful runner, linens, cobbled wood boards and smooth cold marble. I think about her in the slant of sunlight and the angle of my camera. In the quiet of the weekday daytime, windows cracked open, bacon, shallots, maple syrup and bourbon bubbling slow and low on the stovetop. I wonder if she's still styling her food and writing beautiful blog posts with a little one in tow. I hope so.
These days, while photo shoots and editing projects and writing assignments are on the down low, I have been savoring these extra hours with everyone out of the house to tap into a quiet kitchen. I leave the house mid-morning for the store and take my time. I usually stay for a small lunch and then walk around the block to a favorite coffee shop for a cappuccino. Then I come home and crack the kitchen window and get to work. I shush my mind's thoughts that I should be doing something more productive like trying to get more work to pay for these free-range market/coffee shop trips. Then I shush myself even more and get to dicing and sautéing. I get to this work because it keeps me calm. ish. I get to this work because it makes me happy. And if it's a really good day, I get the camera out.
Bourbon Bacon Jam - I followed this recipe.
To note: I used 3/4 of a package of bacon. I used cooking sherry instead of sherry vinegar. I did not blitz the jam in a food processor - I prefer a more rustic texture. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.
Some serving suggestions: I took a jar of the jam to a dinner party on a tray with warm, crusty baguette, a sharp raw sheep' s milk cheese (like manchego),and fresh blackberries. And until it was all gone, we had it on grilled sourdough with sharp cheddar and avocado.
In my head, I place words on linen thread. I push them down and change them around. When the language takes shape and I can recognize my own story, I clasp the ends of the thread together and I wear these beautiful pieces around my neck every day. My stories.
Two months or so ago I was fretting about this almost daily. Coming to the computer to type out my words has been my way. Whether I hit "Publish" or not, I have held myself accountable as a writer by having something, well, tangible. Something to print and tuck neatly into a pretty file folder stored in my bedside dresser, where I house my favorite collections of poetry and prose.
Back in November a dear friend of mine invited me to an evening out - Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) would be at a stunning local venue. And because my friend Jane is pretty awesome and does most things in an epic way, it was of no real surprise to follow her to the fourth row, front and center. We listened in delight as Ina shared herself in such a real way. I loved hearing her tell her own story of how Barefoot Contessa came to be; how she took a risk driven by passion and worked hard to bring it into her own. During this time in my own life as I explore the depths of what it means to me, intimately, to be coming into my own world of entrepreneurism, this particular evening with Ina, in such lovely company, left me feeling inspired in the best possible way.
A few weeks after seeing Ina, I was once again out for a lovely evening. This time I had my husband on my arm and the words ohmygodi'mabouttoseebobdylan in my head, on repeat. Bob Dylan. He is always, always who I put on when I sit down to write something from deep within. Like Nina Simone, Bob Dylan is holy to me. Muses. Decades long. I was so excited to finally see Bob Dylan in person but what I did not expect was what happened to me when he took the stage. To hear his deep, gravelly voice so close and sweet, and to see him - actually see him - turned me inside out. Seeing him in person, hearing him sing, play guitar and piano, solidified this: do not stifle your creativity. Do not. And write. Write your heart out.
This is all to say that I have had to adjust to this new way that I have been "writing" mostly. And I have adjusted. My words have been coming to me mostly in the living. In the moment where all is soft no matter what is lingering just on the other side.
Since January 1st, I have been quiet in e-courses. I've been centering on the mat. I've been cooking and baking while the boys are at school with music loud and windows cracked. I have been reading this, this, this, and more stuff like this. And listening to this. Always listening.
And I am on board with this life of mine that is taking new shape daily, excited for the adventure and curious to see where it goes, spinning these story necklaces around my neck, around life, whole.
"Freedom to me is a luxury of being able to follow the path of the heart, to keep the magic in your life. Freedom is necessary for me in order to create, and if I cannot create I don't feel alive."