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A very short hiatus

Dear readers, 

Erin and Simona will be back in a few days, fresh, inspired and on schedule. We are currently recovering – Simona from traveling, Erin from hosting. 

We are cooking up some lovely things in our kitchens, grading student essays, doing yoga, planning, dreaming. 

Here’s tiny peek of this past weekend, where we stole a few moments of conversation and beauty together. 

Spent a lovely couple of hours on the beach catching up. The sunburn was worth it
Spent a lovely couple of hours on the beach catching up. The sunburn was worth it

 

Figure Eight Island in the distance, Wrightsville Beach
Figure Eight Island in the distance, Wrightsville Beach

See you soon, dear friends! 

On Rest

This weekend was a dark horse in our rather chaotic, over committed life. It was a weekend of rest. Yes, there was the hosting of my parents, passing through town on their way to a mini vacation, but that was a happy little affair of roasted chicken and golden potatoes, spinach salad with strawberries, pecans, and gorgonzola, ice-cream from a local shop. Laughing with my parents into the late hours of the evening, sharing spoonfuls of lavender, chocolate, and espresso ice cream. A detective show. Then, blissful, dreamless sleep. 

Saturday morning brunch came and went, and we said good-bye to my parents after eggs Benedict, too many cups of coffee, and a wait staff who had to mitigate the creation of a seventeen ingredient salad to satisfy my Dad’s need for crudités, to balance his 5 am incursion in my fridge for the leftover chicken and potatoes, topped off with a glass of buttermilk, which I was saving for pana cotta. No harm, no foul. Just like Churchill, my father keeps strange eating hours.

Later, we spend the afternoon lazily by the Chattahoochee River, taking pictures of tulip poplars and camellia bushes, drinking raw fruit and veggie juices, then undoing all their good by eating macaroons, mint chocolate for Darren, pomegranate for me. I gorge on a book for hours, while the husband sketches, then reads bits to me about how the food industry is conspiring to make us addicted to sugar, fat, and salt. Too late for that realization. 

We sit quietly for long periods of time, watching the river, ducks gliding noiselessly against the current. A boisterous group of kayakers come later, bright sickle moons against the dark water. At times, the silence is almost spiritual. In other moments, some ruckus startles us out of our companionable reverie. I feel the stress of the last few months drain from me. Breeze and sun and descending dark. Dry grasses and new grasses. Trees budding, bare branches. Spring is still one foot out. 

I realize how rarely I rest. How what I would normally call rest is nothing more than distraction. TV shows, emails, online shopping, the endless playing on my phone. Incessant texting, because I’ve developed this need to be in touch with everyone, simultaneously, all the time. I’m always thinking about work, essays to grade, new curriculum to try out, conferences, meetings, why some students talk too much, why others don’t speak at all. Why I feel vulnerable in the classroom, and then numb in the classroom, then alive, then numb again. 

I suppose the problem is in the topography of the mind. New thoughts, replayed thoughts, the cataloguing of every experience, word, sensation, micro-expression. This engine of analysis. Most days I am powerless to stop the onslaught, so I dive into something that makes me close the door for a few hours.  Cooking shows. Podcasts. More books.

Don’t mistake me, I am not arguing against any of these. The occasional distraction is what the mind needs once in a while, but what if our rest has become solely about distraction instead of presence?

I go to yoga a couple of times during the week. My favorite instructor, Anne, begins each class with Ujjayi breathing which is a form of pranayama. Breathing where you even out the inhales and exhales, where you slightly constrict the throat so that sound washes over you. We are hard shells, ocean held between our ribs. This type of breathing is intended to bring us into the present moment, to invite us into pure awareness. The opposite of distraction, the opposite of fragmenting and scattering the self. I’ve discovered through years of practice that there is pain in the present moment. That in gaining awareness, I inhabit my body, my soul, my spirit in ways that all my other distractions are intended to prevent. I resent the aches in body when I go into certain poses, I resent the fears that ascend quickly to the surface. Sometimes I am that goof who cries during yoga, because I am never this present to my own being. Because all that the mind and heart holds in a day pushes through the layers of the unconscious like a geyser, sometimes violent and unexpected.

And yet, I feel reborn at the end of each class. I feel like I’ve woken up from a deep, satisfying sleep. This present-ness to life, and self, and other, gives me such a sense of rest. I dedicate my practice to God, to the fact that He has given me this gift of life, and self, and consciousness. That on the other side of the pain of presence, there is love.

I had planned to go to yoga this Sunday, but instead stayed home and ate rice pudding with Darren on the back porch. I soaked in sun and wind. And my mind quieted for one moment. I put my phone away, the TV was off, the book was set down. I practiced silence. And listening. And an intuitive kind of prayer, where gratitude welled up without contrivance for this beautiful world.

I hope, reader, that you rest today. And hear your thoughts, and let them go. And let your soul fill with all it can hold, nostalgia, laughter, fear. I hope you find joy on the other side of this. 

For rice pudding, Smitten Kitchen with whom I am clearly smitten has a darling recipe here. I add 1-2 tablespoons of orange blossom water in the recipe, and pecans for topping. 

Mythos and Wanderlust

wan·der·lust [won-der-luhst]: noun a strong, innate desire to rovetravel about, or explore the world

I am a nomad by nature. Though I like to think that once I find a place that suits my temperament, I will attach myself with the quiet persistence of a root’s first tendril, dig deep, resist removal, I am still afraid. Afraid that in the end, something in me will stir, an echo of something, a longing, which can only be quieted by relocation. And I will follow it.

I’ve inherited this from my father, who cannot settle in one place for too long. It’s like some internal music shifts, and he is ready to go as if in search of some impossible harmony. Father charging ahead, mother and sisters, cats and suitcases in tow. I understand the impulse, and try to resist it. I’ve already lived in seven cities in the last seventeen years, which has to be some kind of a track record. Of course, intertwined with the adventure, the kind of enchantment that a new place holds, there is always the loss. I now have friends in so many states that I have stopped counting, California to DC, Michigan to Florida. I’ve said good-bye enough that the words are rendered completely meaningless. And I am not one to untangle myself with grace and finality from people and relationships. To me, they are all so necessary, in their unique joys and complications. I am not good at letting go, though I am ever so good at letting go.

 

It’s paradoxical really, that I should long for relocation (for a constant shift in place, because who I am, my creativity, my joy is linked to my location), when my life anchors itself with such determination in friendships.  I feel quite envious when people refer to “my best friend, we’ve known each other since we were four.” I cannot imagine how it must feel – all that shared history, shared space, change, the intertwining of formative experiences. How weighty and wonderful.

 

I think of what C.S. Lewis referred to as mythos, that thread of kindred spirit-ness that runs through all the books, and landscapes, music, pastimes that one loves, and the times when one discovers another who loves the very same things, not for different reasons, but for that same unarticulated reason that we do! How rare and beautiful to find such people. Who understand. Whom you can understand. I used to think that because I’ve moved so many times that this experience would elude me. That my two and three year stints in different cities would make this shared mythos an impossibility.

 

And yet, my life overflows with friendship, though some of my dearest people continue to live far, far away. But perhaps, here lies the secret. To nurture a relationship where proximity is not the daily fare, where popping in for a press of coffee and advice is impossible – that takes desire. And whatever is fueled by desire instead of obligation, whatever we choose freely is the most life-giving, grounding, joyful thing in the world. So I embrace the distance, I embrace the possibility of new locations and new people.

For my friends and dear ones who read this, who have stuck with me through my years of wandering, I love you evermore. And to Darren, my husband of less than two years, my built-in best friend – I am relieved that if we move, we move together, and if we stay, we stay because we want to. I have grown to love the quiet simplicity of a Sunday, where we go to the farmer’s market and try artisanal cheeses and breads and prosciutto, where you teach me photography, where we can read quietly for hours, side by side. The wanderer in me grows happy and quiet in this routine.

Today was such a day. We made brunch together – gluten free pancakes with dark chocolate, bananas and pecans. We topped them with ghee, raw honey, and blackberries; and as an accompaniment, a very robust Bolivian coffee with coconut cream. We opened the French doors, let sun and wind and dust come in, let our curtains flutter, let our home be infused by new scents and sounds, stories of far away places. And I am content to imagine. For now.

The basic recipe for the pancakes can be found here. I added a tablespoon of cacao and chunks of dark chocolate for a bit of thrill. 

Mythos: Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?” C.S. Lewis