I am picking up my first CSA delivery tomorrow. I got an email yesterday, saying that the boxes would be labeled with our names and that we would need to check off our names on a clipboard. The delivery is to a house, so there didn’t seem to be a guarantee that there would be anyone around to assist me. (the delivery hours are 2 to 9, so that’s a pretty big unknown window.)
I emailed back to see if there was any accommodation we could make with my box so I could find it. They got back to me right away, cheerfully said they would put a ribbon on the box, set it at the front of the stack, and could let me know when the driver dropped off the delivery so I could come meet him and get my box directly from him. As for the checking my name off, don’t worry about it.
No freaking out. No flailing. No “we don’t know how to deal with this.” No “you should have let us know sooner.”
In case anyone was wondering, this is how it should always, always be done. Treat people with mindfulness, dignity, and be willing to change your procedures and perspective. Change is good.
I know this is such a little thing, but I’ve been smiling about it for an hour. Think how happy I’d be if this were my life every day!

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One of my biggest struggles is with loneliness. Lacking a traditional job or traditional responsibilities, I don’t have that automatic, built-in structure that moves much of society along day by day. Stereotypically, “creative” types rail against structure, but I am finding, after months of unemployment and a very independent study grad program, that I crave it. Which means that any structure I want in my life must come from me. I must create it. Looked at one way, it’s extremely freeing to have so much seeming control over how structured you want your life to be. And, if I wasn’t constantly worrying about having enough money to live, I might enjoy it more. On the other side, providing structure is exhausting. It means I have to be constantly vigilant about making sure I have enough to do in my days so that I don’t melt into a teary puddle because I haven’t truly interacted with another human for a week. It means to maintain active friendships, I have to schedule hang-out time because people with a lot more going on have a tendency to forget about time with friends, in lieu of work, relationships, kids, etc. It means I spend a lot of time worrying I am being pushy or needy or annoying.

This preamble is all to say: welcome to the blog post where I try to excuse how completely I’ve dropped the ball on writing food posts this year.

Remember when I said this year was going to be my big kitchen year? I was going to get organized, to write about food, to post pics about food, to tell food stories. It was, in a way, my distraction strategy for the current landscape of political turmoil and social inequity. I was going to make tons of jam and pickles, maybe get a good sourdough bread recipe under my belt, tackle the chaos of my spice drawer, and share it all with you. I swear I was.

As you can tell, I’ve barely written about food at all since that post. Suddenly, in the last few months, my cooking has slowed and simplified. I’ve traveled to Seattle twice, visited my parents, and spent some time living with my friend Kyla in her community house. All chances to cook in others’ kitchens. I’ve started the tentative build of a once-a-month cookbook potluck. I’ve invited friends to dinner and breakfast and I’ve been fed in my friends’ cozy homes. What was about food is now about gathering. Food is the excuse: to connect, to ask for and receive care, to invite in and care for another.

The last few months, I’ve collaborated on less-than-stellar soup; eaten frozen pierogis and pickle chips on a friend’s couch with her cat hungry-hovering at my elbow; made and botched two batches of ice cream while listening to old school Mannheim Steamroller with a friend with whom I’ve recently reconnected. It hasn’t been pretty or glamorous or picture worthy. But it has begun chipping away at the sadness in my soul, and it has given me another structural element to build my days upon.

Thank you, to my friends, for feeding me. In all the ways that count. And know my kitchen is always open, any time.

A little context about this poem: In 2014, I began doing pole dancing as a form of physical self-expression and exercise. I poled for about a year, then lapsed when I moved to Seattle. I’ve recently been able to pick it up again in the past month, and have had an incredible time reacquainting myself with it. This poem celebrates that.

Poem for my Body

Oh hello, there you are
we haven’t talked in a few years, and it’s my fault, I know.
Finances, pain, lack of motivation, exhaustion
all reasons I said I couldn’t get in touch with you then
until, finally, I had to.
Because I knew I wouldn’t be ok
until I felt
the strain of all your engaging muscles
the curve of your sturdy spine, pressing, leaning in
the thrust and clutch of your bent knees, giving me so much
holding me up.
I can’t believe you still love me, for all I put you through.
The days of endless sitting,
the way I ate chocolate and cheese to stop myself from feeling,
how I neglected your desperate need for sleep.
I can’t believe
you still welcome me back
shoulders steady, pointed toes, hands reaching towards the sky.
You spin, you slide,
you bend to my will
and break my stubborn mind.
Thank you for being strong
thank you for being mine.
You’ve shown me clarity again.
And when I’m climbing and the music beats within me
scaling towards the top of the world,
pumping blood and electric nerves
I feel a shaking, tremulous high
like a kite set free for the sun.

Cold feet in May, double-socked, toes still stiff
warm cheeks because of something you said to me,
blood still flowing
somewhere, at least
I smell cut grass, taste the chill of night descending
What season am I in?
What life is this?
I want someone to comfort me, to tell me I’m doing right
or just to tell me to do something, and what that something should be.
I can’t take this change alone, this hurtling towards some wild what.
The world isn’t stopping so I’m holding as best I can,
holding my very best
Earlier today I sat in a dim-lit room and listened to nothing but everyone breathe
and that was everything, everything!

Hard Truths

A few weeks ago, I had the ridiculously privileged opportunity to attend a workshop with writers Ana Maria Spagna, (one of my former grad school instructors), and Laura Pritchett. The workshop took place in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island.  There were periods of rain and lashes of sun, and the birds woke me up early-early in the morning for the honor of lying half-asleep and listening.  I didn’t check my e-mail or Facebook for two and a half days and it was glorious.  I want to do that more often.

 

The theme for the workshop was Writing for Change. It felt like self-help and self-discovery, in the best ways.  One of the exercises we did in the early part of the weekend was to list 10 “hard truths” about ourselves, truths that maybe we are embarrassed about or that don’t flatter us.  I only got to 8 truths in the time allotted, and I thought I would share 5 with you today.

 

I am very good at self-criticism, but my self-critique is rather unoriginal. I tell myself I am worthless because I don’t have a job.  Or that I’m a burden to my family.  Or that I’m slow and not smart and not creative and all my ideas have been done before.  Etc, etc, blahblahblah, very unoriginal self-sabotage.  What I tried to do with this exercise, though, was to be more objective and more probing.  I write nonfiction, which means I’m in the business of telling truths, even and especially hard truths.  So here are my hardest truths, ones that do not paint me well and that I wish I did better.  Ones that I am trying to deliver with keen self-assessment but not overwhelmingly harsh judgment, because I am trying to be gentler with myself.  Gentler in the hopes that by admitting and acknowledging them, I can turn them into truths of the past and do better with my future.

  1. I am jealous of what other people have.
  2. I feel hurt by perceived slights against me that probably never happened, and I lash out at people who don’t deserve my lashing.
  3. I am racist.
  4. I lack compassion for straight, white, able-bodied people, especially men, and don’t want to listen to their problems.
  5. I fear being alone forever.

 

What are your hard truths? What would you admit in order to and in hopes of do better with your future?

For My Grandpa

It was an electric night, early summer, hazy heat in the sky already. My grandparents were in town for my first all-solo piano recital and my birthday, (and probably some things that had nothing to do with me, too, things that were far from my very me-centric mind.) I was eight, almost nine.  My parents took us all to a Sioux City Explorers game.

 

The Explorers were a minor league team and this was only their second season and probably, they were not very good. I don’t remember.  What I do remember is that my grandpa Marvin sat next to me, inning by inning, and described the intricacies of the game.  How many balls make a walk.  What an RBI is.  Fastballs, curveballs, sliders, how they were different and why it mattered.  Things I never knew I cared about until he told them to me as the beer-and-hot-dog haze hung around us and the organ drawled from the PA system overhead, sounding to me like a circus.

 

Around the fifth inning, the skies lit up, dazzling us with lightning and thunder rolled us from our seats. We scattered to our cars.  The game was over in a literal flash, but that night began a decade’s long love of baseball for me.  I followed the Explorers through years of losing seasons, breaking my heart over and over, though I still came back each year.  Then I added the Cubs, for more suffering.  Grandpa was a Cardinals fan, and we sustained a friendly rivalry.  I learned the rules of keeping score, and made myself score cards.  I became obsessed with Ila Borders, a pitcher who played for a different team in the same league as the Explorers.  I wanted desperately to meet her.  Her! In the “novels” I wrote on summer afternoons, my teenage-girl protagonists, more often than not, threw wicked sliders while scraping their long shiny hair from their eyes as all the boy ballplayers looked on in awe.

 

For those who know me, you know I am probably the most un-sportsy person ever, but I still feel excited about baseball. I don’t follow it much any more, but it does remind me of my grandpa, always.  He died last week; I last saw him in January.  I miss him.

 

I relate the baseball story because my Grandpa was a teacher and a good one. And I think that what made him such a good teacher was his curiosity.  He was always learning and open to knowledge, and was then able to pass that on as he acquired more.  Throughout my life, I’ve seen him diving and delving into all things: languages, music, theater, travel, genealogy, ham radio, computers, fixing things, hot air balloons, bird watching, on and on.  Every time he and my grandma traveled, he would be full of stories of everything they saw and all they learned.  I like to think, to hope, that my questioning and curiosity comes from him.

 

I’ve been writing a bit about my Grandpa’ his life and death, hoping to fashion something that captures our love for him and the lives he touched. What do we say at the end of a life so vigorous, the life of a person so stubborn, so full of stories and a laugh I will never forget, sometimes gruff on the surface and tender underneath? Until I think of something better, “I love you” is all I have.  “Thank you” and “I love you”, always.

 

My Grandpa had music in his soul, and I want to end with a song for him from the Wailin’ Jennys. He and my grandma introduced me to A Prairie Home Companion when I was young, and although I don’t listen any more, I happened to learn of the Wailin’ Jennys from their appearance on the show about a decade ago.  I love their harmonies and the stark hopefulness in this song.  Safe travels, Grandpa, and a very peaceful rest.

It’s not even early morning, but I still want it. The minute my butt hits the thin-padded, plasticy airport seat, I’m itching to pop back up again and start prowling. The temptation that began as a wisp of an itch while I struggled out of my boots in the security line has bloomed into a siren call screeching through the most primitive fold of my brain: need coffee. Go get coffee.

Easier said than done, because I had just been deposited in this seat by an airline employee who had intercepted me while I was waiting for my boarding pass.

“You need help,” he said, close enough that I could feel the warmth of his arm against my shoulder. Too close. “I saw you, and I could tell.”

This is why I need coffee.

And this, also, after another employee had offered assistance before I boarded the tram, and when I accepted: “thank you”, he said, “I’ll give you my uninjured arm. Ha ha, I don’t know about this, I have an injury and you’re …” Here he trailed off, and I declined to fill the silence. Let him keep inserting his foot, we were stuck with each other. “… blind,” he finally said, then rushed ahead, “I’m not sure we can make it to the ticket counter.” Chortle chortle.

“I think we can,” I said dryly. “I have confidence in us.”

We did make it, but still, that is why I need coffee.

I should mention that the guy who could tell how much I needed his help tried what I can only assume was empathy. “I know what it’s like,” he said. I should also mention he spoke with a stutter. Blindness and stuttering aren’t the same, but I took his point.

After escorting me to my gate, he stood behind me, too close, again, breathing on the small hairs at the back of my neck. So, like, how long does he plan on staying? I wondered, as my itchy coffee-deprived brain started working through the possibilities. Could I ask him to go with me to a Starbucks? Could I endure more “empathy”, even for caffeine? No, there are some things I just can’t endure, even for my most beloved elixir.

“So, thanks a lot!” I said finally, too loud, too cheerful. “I think I’m good!”

“You’re in seat 24 F,” he reminded me, again, for the 17th time.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’ll come back in an hour to help you preboard.”

“Really that’s not necessary. The airline folks usually do that.”

“I’ll save them the hassle.”

I decided to say nothing, least of all how annoyed I was to hear the word “hassle” from his mouth, a word I have long wrestled with and worried over. That, and “burden.” “Hassle” and “burden” are two words I know well and worry over like a fingernail bitten to the quick.

As soon as he finally, finally, shuffles away, I slam the door definitively on “burden” and once again open the hopeful floodgates of “coffee.” Can I do it alone? Can I, by wanting it badly enough, make my way to an americano?

As usually happens, once I stand up and begin to move, my timidity and uncertainty become exhilaration. A cup of coffee, a perfectly routine task in the itinerary of a sighted person, is a quest for me if I have no idea where to procure one. And while that can be daunting, it’s also a little adventure, if only I choose to accept it as one.

Kiva and I hit the concourse, the traffic of people and carts and suitcases sweeping us along like a current. I prick my nose and ears into the dense, noisy air, just like Kiva on the first warm day of spring, hoping for a roasty hit from a nearby cafe or the sound of a steamer wand in hot milk. I pass bathrooms, (thank you, loud flushing toilets), a water fountain grumbling with fatigue, gates full of the agitated energy of boarding. No food court. No coffee.

I reverse direction, scootching into the other lane to flow with my foot traffic river. It amazes me how, in an airport, everyone is always moving. No stopping to check a text message or take pictures or chat obliviously in the middle of the concourse. Air travel forces us to give up a semblance of control over getting to our destination. Possibly, like me, others who could (or should) take the opportunity to relax and let go instead must keep moving, so we can pretend we have some say in getting from here to there.

Kiva weaves me through a maze of chairs, up a carpeted ramp, away from the narrow coffeeless aisle we’ve been cruising. I’m in a constant state of mentally marking our trajectory: here’s where the tile becomes carpet, here’s where the wall opens up to the right, remember this for the way back, Lauren. I hear the hopeful sound of someone stacking plates, the rush of water from a sink. I smell grease and a tickling waft of rewarmed pastry. Pastries, even lackluster ones, are a good sign.

As if linked by our barely-contained need, a woman materializes at my side like I’ve conjured her. “Are you looking for Starbucks?” she asks. Her voice is soft, probably in reverence.

“Yes!” By contrast, my excitement explodes out of me and echoes off the food court ceiling. I don’t bother asking how she knows, we are clearly kindred spirits.

“If you walk forward a few more steps and turn left, you’ll be in line.”

I thank her and follow her directions, emerging 5 minutes later with a paper cup of bitter holiness with just the right lash of cream. I begin making my way back to the concourse, checking off my landmarks: open to the left, carpet leading to tile. I’m grateful for my independence, and also for my recognition that I can’t do it all on my own.
That interdependence is where we truly begin to achieve our goals.