This weekend started off with me reading feedback on a piece I'd written that I really didn't agree with. And then reading an email from someone who had tossed out something else I'd written and replaced it with her own version. And then yet a third email along the same lines. And at the end of a week when the whole family had had the flu, it had been raining for days, and I had been struggling just to produce anything - let alone anything of value - during my precious working hours, those three things were enough to crush my fragile little writer's ego and make me want to quit.
On Saturday morning while I snuggled in bed with my little nursling I considered my options. I could quit. I could take this as a sign that I really have no talent and no business trying to make a living putting words together. I could stop writing, stop trying to build my skill and get my words out into the public. Or I could walk away for a bit. Do something else. See if I felt better in a little while. In order to make time to write I have been making some tradeoffs that are not all that comfortable. I gave some things up entirely and let some other things slide. I have tried to make peace with doing many things badly. My life was already pretty trim this fall when I started making those changes and some of the things I let go of were actually things that were important to me. Having a clean and organized house. Cooking food from scratch for my family.
I decided I wanted to spend my weekend doing something I missed having enough time to do well: Cleaning my nest and cooking. Cleaning - especially clearing clutter - calms me and makes me feel lighter. The act of letting things go gives me more emotional space. And cooking, especially when I am cooking for other people, makes me feel really good. The process of chopping, measuring, stirring and simmering slows me down and gives me enough distraction that I can process stuff in the back of my head. Thoughts simmer on my internal back burner. And having a fridge full of fresh and delicious food just feels good. Taking care of my family this way makes me feel good. Watching them enjoy food I have prepared for them makes me feel good. And I needed very much to do something that was going to make me feel good.
So I pulled out my tattered little notebook of favorite recipes, consulted the cupboards and made a menu and a shopping list. After Bean's afternoon nap we headed out to the store and stocked up. On Saturday evening I tidied up the main living areas and cleaned the kitchen. On Sunday morning, after lazy breakfast and showers, I enlisted the LHM to help me entertain the girl, got my comfy Dankos on and got to work. This is what rolled out of the kitchen, onto the the table and into the neatly-labeled containers now lining my fridge:
- roasted chicken with lemon and thyme
- pan-roasted brussels sprouts with the addition of my special secret ingredient
- custardy popovers from the Moosewood Cookbook
- a loaf of bread from a recipe labeled "Martha's Oat and Honey Bread" but otherwise uncredited
- a pan of quinoa, half of which I used to make...
- a batch of my mother's quinoa dulce cereal
- adzuki beans and rice, a Japanese comfort food I found on Tea's blog
- a jar and a half of meyer lemon marmalade (another uncredited recipe cribbed from someone's blog)
- a fresh quart of whole milk yogurt
As I stood at the sink washing the last of the cooking pots and looking through the steamy window at the twilight I had an epiphany. I call these "kitchen sink epiphanies," though it is unusual that they actually happen at the kitchen sink. They are those moments when you are in the midst of doing something mundane and you realize something that you didn't know you knew before. That moment when have a thought that you know immediately is deeply true and you say to yourself, "Of course!" The moment when something that was tangled suddenly smooths out and begins again to flow. My kitchen sink epiphany on Sunday evening was this: I have to keep writing. Not that I can't or don't sometimes want to quit, but in order to keep my courage and my resilience up, I have to keep showing up at the page. At the end of February I set myself a goal of writing 750 words each weekday. The first week I did pretty well. The second week a little better. Those words are the roughest of drafts and not nearly publishable yet, sometimes little more than a list of ideas that I mean to come back to later. Sometimes the words just flush out the crap from my head so I can focus on the next task at hand. But when I write those words regularly, my confidence grows. My ideas flow faster, the pieces start to come together more easily. When I am away from the page I find myself yearning to get back to it, thinking about what I want to write about next, forming fragments and structures in my head. I am a better writer when I write regularly, and because the words are plentiful I feel less precious about them. I can see that even in this example of only half a month. Last week I only wrote my 75o words on one day of the week. Without the habit of my practice, my resilience was gone and the criticism (or perceived criticism) hit me hard.
So Sunday evening, knowing my family's bellies were nicely filled and feeling my creative well filled as well, I resolved to get back to work on Monday morning. I also read the feedback again that had sat so wrong on Friday. I still didn't agree with all of it but I was able to find useful parts. And then I was able to let go of the rest.
And on Monday at my first opportunity, during a nap and instead of the laundry, I came back to the page.