A story about not doing the work
November 20, 2023
For a long time, I didn’t want to write about food. I didn’t want to write much of anything, actually, and that was okay, because I have a job that I like and it felt good to give my time and energy to that. But this morning, in the shower, a post came to me, fully-formed, and I rushed through the part where you squeegee Berlin’s hard and streaky water from the glass in a futile attempt at aesthetic preservation, to lunge myself, towel-wrapped, to my laptop to tipple-tapple my thoughts. But quickly! Because really I was supposed to be getting ready for physical therapy, where a lady twice-weekly fixes my jaw, which cracks aggressively at me in the mornings. Writing somehow always is squashed in the in-between times.
I did lie a little bit when I said it was okay, because it didn’t feel okay. It was also a sad and stressful, guilt-ridden time of not writing – especially creative writing. In New York, I used to say, I heard poetry in the pavement under my feet. It’s always been harder to find in Berlin, feels more like work. So I made it work, set myself weekly goals and monthly goals and structured it into my bullet journal, only to reach the end of the week and find I couldn’t yet check off that box. And so often what I wrote was junk. It bored me, and I hated it while I was writing it and later, while I was reading it. But you have to do the work is what they say.
In New York, I used to say, I heard poetry in the pavement under my feet.
I was talking about this with a friend, and she recommended retiring from writing. She’d done it for her slump and frustration, and said it had helped. Why not, I thought, and made the announcement – though really my mountain-moving disclosure was made only to D. over a nice Sunday dinner, and he just nodded at my newest proclamation and said, If that’s what feels good for you right now.
And it did feel good, actually, to be a person who does not write, who doesn’t set lofty goals only to fall short week after week and month after month.
I went with that friend to Stoke, in the throes of our retirement from writing, and there was something about being there that felt like a loosening. It was an early morning and the rumble of hunger and a small white plate, rimmed in ridges, upon which were five round moons of pale banana, lopes of tahini and honey, a scattering of sesame seeds. All week I had felt phrases at the corners of my mouth, tugging like the sparkling wing of a fly on a fishhook. Not quite the hook. But the shiny thing, skimming a nearby surface.
Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to make a banana bread with tahini and sesame, maybe a tahini glaze, and the sesame – black and white seeds – roasted with honey and some warm spice – coriander? And I felt the white-ridged plate not like a thing I was holding in my hand but a thing I wanted to write about later. It’s a glittery existence.
The words haven’t left me! I wanted to shout, but also I did not want to scare them away, so I kept very still and let them keep coalescing in the periphery.
Lately, I’ve been framing things in terms of seasons. Not in a weatherly way, but the season as an indefinite arc of thing, small enough to nestle in your breastbone and so vast it sinks into a monsterly realm beyond the map. Unpleasant and uncertain seasons feel less frightening when they won’t last forever; the season is scary, but there is a season after the season after the season.
Unlike the actual seasons, at least before global warming got its hands on them, these seasons can overlap. I can be in a nice and a less nice season simultaneously, i.e., I am in a season of overwhelm, when everything is the most important thing and if I don’t IRON THE PILLOWCASES right now, maybe the whole house of cards will collapse. And yet amidst this aproxesia (today’s word of the day, how fitting!), in whisks a season of words, in which life looks different because the world is made of letters. I’m grateful for that cast to everything that makes me say, And how do I capture that?
The season is scary, but there is a season after the season after the season.
Here is what I did today: I woke up too late, I drank my coffee and read my book with the timer set to thirty minutes, I checked my emails and let it devolve into shopping for hand-blown Christmas ornaments shaped like French fries, realized I had to get to physical therapy, ran into the shower, ran out of the shower to write, ran out of the door, ran onto the train, spent a quiet half hour learning how to grab myself by the neck to relax, scribbled more fragmented thoughts on the train, made myself a tuna salad sandwich, which I realize just now was missing the arugula I stopped at the store to buy, I worked on a movie about little cats (is this not the most perfect sentence: Research has shown that if a suitable alternative is provided, such as a bridge over the road, the little cats will use it), read a very boring document, scheduled a meeting, responded to some WhatsApps, wrote down a nice sentence, told the cat he is precious in every way and bit his little pink nose because he lets me, did some more work, circled back to the glass Christmas ornaments (maybe the ramen bowl is better?), received a phone call and checked it off my list, relieved that I didn’t have to initiate, IRONED THE PILLOWCASES (you thought I was joking, didn’t you?), shut down my work computer, made myself a slow dinner of stovetop meatballs and celeriac in lemon juice and broth, an Ottolenghi special, plus some mashed parsnips I’d frozen in my old apartment and moved with into our new apartment and that D. said I’d never eat and that I’m eating to spite him but were actually sweet and rich with cream and butter and maple syrup, and I had a glass of wine, and I put on an Afrobeats playlist and danced for an hour around the apartment, I mean roll down the shades so the neighbors can’t see you danced, and then I made stock, because why not, and now here I am sitting on my chair with my fat, fat cat on top of my chest and arms, and I love him, so I let him do that while I type, which I also love. Right now, right now I am loving it. It is the season for loving it.
And when this season ends, I won’t worry, won’t make these words work. It’s just me. It’s just us. And this is just for joy.