I was going to write a little something for Marilyn’s birthday today (she would’ve been 85), maybe embed a clip from one of her movies. But you can’t really get better than Kim Morgan’s yearly tribute to her on Sunset Gun. So if you’re feeling a little lost today and you’re not sure why, it’s most likely because of Marilyn. And if you’d like to read about her, because it feels fitting, then read this.
I enjoy giving money for charity. When I’m having a crappy day, donating money to a worthy cause makes me feel like my insides are all nice and shiny- at least for a fleeting moment, all is right with the world. I feel like a good person deserving of love and maybe a banquet in my honor where the hosts play a montage in black and white, not that I’ve pictured this or anything, and the charity gets a few bucks- EVERYBODY WINS.
I have, however, a love-meh-ugh relationship with the Person Who Is Constantly Asking You to Donate Money. On the one hand, I’m glad there’s an advocate out there who is reminding people on Twitter and Facebook and via personal emails that they should donate to such and such cause. On the other hand, I don’t know. Donating always feels so personal to me. I like to give for my own reasons and it feels, I don’t know, awkward to try and wheedle money out of YOU for something that means so much to ME. Also, people give back in so many silent, unseen ways. ALSO, what if they don’t have $5 to spare right now? And now I’ve made this weird because they didn’t donate and I don’t know the reason and I can’t ask but I don’t really ignore it either and BLECH. And yet how else do things like breast cancer research get money without someone asking you to donate money to their 5k? Hence the mixed feelings.
This is clearly my issue to deal with. I am that person who will politely ignore your pregnant belly until you’re crowning unless you deliberately tell me you’re pregnant just to avoid the potential disaster of “this is actually a cookie baby” conversation where we both want to be swallowed into a hole and die. (And we’ll get to all that later.)
Anyway- I’m putting my personal squigginesh (it’s a word) aside to tell you a few facts and give you some INFORMATION about a cause that is currently taking donations. And then we will all turn around and ignore each other and forget this ever happened (unless you donate, in which case, I’m going to write you a very nice thank you note unless you don’t want one in which case, I’ll just be thanking you silently with a swelling, blooming heart).
Five years ago in March, my sister gave birth to a baby girl named Caterina Mary. She was born with a genetic disorder called Trisomy 13. 80% of babies born with Trisomy 13 die within the first month. Caterina lived to almost two months. Every day was her birthday. We loved her. These are all facts.
We celebrate her life every year because She Lived. We never really talked about the reasons why but I think we all have our different reasons for doing this – my sister’s reasons are her own, as are my brother-in-law’s, and my mother and father and his mother and father and my brother and sister and, well, I clearly can’t speak for them. I don’t want to speak for them. But my reasons don’t have much to do with grief or grieving, I don’t think. Because for me, it’s just nice to have a set amount of time every year to think about her and how she felt in my arms and the kind of little, tiny person she was. Because loving her for two months, such an awfully short span of time, makes me so deeply appreciative of my nieces and nephew who are alive and present and there for me to hold. Because she informs my work when I feel the need, the urge, to write about loss. Because she makes me respectfully quiet when I need to be. Because she makes me more.
A weekend is the least I can do to repay her for that.
This year, my sister decided to participate in a 5K where the proceeds benefit The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. She said we could participate or not, there was no Great Mandate on high or anything. Our siblings are running, my niece, my parents too. I’m donating money but I’m not running. I’ve offered to hold my newborn niece while they all run. I know Caterina won’t mind. In fact, I think she’d find it quite fitting under the circumstances.
If you’d like to donate to my brother’s run, here is the information. Those kids in the camp would be grateful. So would I.
If you can’t spare a few bucks, then please take this with you instead:
– If someone you know has lost a baby, whether it’s first trimester, last or beyond, say you’re sorry. But don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for.
– When you see a parent with a child in the supermarket or the movie theater or an airplane and the kid is yelling and raising hell, don’t roll your eyes or make a remark. Be kind. Give them a break. You don’t know the whole story.
– When you see a pregnant woman you don’t know, and even someone you DO know, stay quiet. If she expresses excitement, express it with her, sure. Otherwise, be kind. You don’t know the whole story.
In short, be cool. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume there’s more, way more, to the story.
Thanks to my downstairs neighbors who think it’s absolutely no big deal whatsover to leave their nasty trash out on the back porch for five endless days (every. time.), a duo of idiot squirrels have taken up residence on MY back porch for what I am sure they’ve dubbed “Operation: Delicious Trash.” And they are not afraid of me. Nor are they afraid of my giant dog. They’re so close when I open my back door that I actually shiver, imagining what it would be like if one of them, I don’t know, crawled up my pant leg or something. I don’t know why a squirrel would think that’s the ideal form of attack like “Chip, I think the smartest way to get to her delicious flesh is through her flared pantleg” but there is no LOGIC when you’re a foot away from a rodent, ok? These are the things you immediately think about.
Also, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but Chicago’s neighborhoods are filled with rabbits. I’ve lived in other cities and I had never found roaming gangs of Peter Rabbit before I moved to Chicago. In DC, we had black squirrels but that’s as exotic as it got. Here, we’ll be walking along and suddenly Charlie Bagel will get tense beside me. He has no interest in squirrels but, for some reason, is determined to murder these rabbits. I think it might be a remnant of his Kentucky upbringing. And suddenly, a little bunny will hop out of a garden and onto a sidewalk. Charlie will try to kill it. I will reenact key scenes from Watership Down. And so on and so on.
Except. The other night, I was taking the dog out for our evening constitutional. He was on his leash. I had the hiccups and was annoyed that I had the hiccups. We were walking through the backyard, heading for the gate. Suddenly, the closed gate in view, Charlie froze. In between us and the gate was a rabbit. On our left, the wall of the garage. On the right, a fence.
The three of us stood there, at an impasse and then suddenly, everything happened really fast. Charlie lunged, the rabbit, THE RABBIT LEAPT UP INTO THE AIR AND INTO MY CHEST BOUNCED OFF MY CHEST MY CHEST YOU GUYS IT JUMPED UP AND HIT ME IN THE CHEST and took off running through the backyard.
To say that I screamed… no. There was no scream. It probably sounded like I was drowning in milk and suddenly just realized “Holy shit, I’m drowning in milk, someone HELP ME HOW DID I GET SUBMERGED IN MILK.” There was a kind of desperate, mangled gurgling that emerged from the depth of my body, that’s the best way to describe it. Charlie, meanwhile, looked completely unfazed but that was probably because, from his view, the giant rabbit beast suddenly took flight up and up and over his head and was never seen or heard from again so let’s go walk and then get treats, ok? Unlike some people in the backyard, he did not go to second base with Thumper and was thus unperturbed by the incident.
Meanwhile, can I just say? Immediately after the horror, I hiccupped. So much for that theory of getting scared and losing your hiccups. I’m standing there, checking my pants to see if I had wet myself and then I hiccup- like that small 1% of my body was completely unaffected by the trauma, thank you very much. It felt like my own body had betrayed me. What bullshit. At least cure me of the hiccups, Death Rabbit GOD.
Some writers suffer from writer’s block. I suffer from motivation block.
Motivation, more than inspiration, is a slippery business for me. I’m never really lacking in inspiration (I think being fairly easy to please has something to do with that. That and a crappy memory which means I can watch something I love over and over and still experience the same tremors of surprise and joy that I did the first time, or at least shades of them. Bruce Willis has been dead this whole time? You guys, this is CRAZY). I enjoy the work of others more than a lot of people and so it’s fairly easy to be inspired. I find motivation far more difficult to grasp with two hands.
The grand, overarching motivation of “This is what I want to do” sometimes just isn’t enough. The carrot of “If I succeed in this, I can quit my other jobs and just focus on this” isn’t TANGIBLE enough to be effective. It could take years for this to come true. It might not ever happen- I might always have other jobs that I enjoy less, that frustrate me, to pay the bills and keep me independent. I’ve come to terms with that. I have to or I will go insane.
The “I need to escape my real life with creative work” motivation worked in high school and a bit in college but, truthfully, my adult life is pretty great- I make all the rules here. I have full control over where I live and who I spend my time with. I eat great food, I have an awesome dog, I’m close to my family, I have awesome friends, I get to travel, Parks and Recreation was not canceled- not really a lot to escape right now. Which is GOOD. I don’t think it should be necessary to move into a dungeon and flagellate myself just so I have a reason to write. Some writers may disagree (which is why we all drink whiskey and moan a lot, in case you were wondering) but I’m not going to miserable, not even for “art.” I refuse.
I bring this up now because motivation for finishing Book 2 had escaped me completely. I’ve been swallowed up by my real life- deadlines, personal stuff, friend stuff, other projects– and I let it slip away. For a month. A MONTH. When I saw the date of my last batch of notes, I swallowed hard. Not good. Really not good. I pledged to get back to work because I found that last date so disheartening. And in the course of going back to work, I made a little discovery:
Monday- I woke up early and got back to work. And I felt good. Really good. Better than I had in weeks. But I didn’t realize how good until Tuesday.
Tuesday- my least favorite day of the week, I found myself unable to get out of bed. And I went to day job without having written at all- I was a surly mess all day, a tangled mess of anxiety and ick.
This morning, I slapped the alarm when it went off at 5:20am and I had the same old internal debate I always have: Should I? I should. But what if? And then I could? But no. That won’t work. But? No. But if? No. I have to? I have to. If I don’t do it this morning, I won’t get it done. So I got up. It never feels like a small victory, not ever. It feels like I just won a marathon, winning that debate. This morning, I won. I worked. It felt good. I feel good now, as I type this.
And then it struck me- my motivation. I found it and it’s so simple, I feel like I just got smacked in the face with a frying pan. It’s the same one you use to eat well, to go to the gym, to call your mother first, to pay your bills on time. When I do this, I feel good. When I don’t, I feel bad. That’s it.
Suddenly, my motivation isn’t intangible at all- it’s the simplest answer to the most basic of questions: Do you want to feel good or bad? And I have always, always been good at answering that question.
When I don’t work in the morning, you can see it on my face the rest of the day. You hear it in my voice. I am heavier on those days, weightier, and I look it. What’s worse is that I feel that heaviness everywhere but especially on my heart. It’s bigger than guilt or shame, more complex and uneven and more… awful. I am failing myself on those days- pure and simple. And there is a cost, an actual, physical cost.
And there is just simply no excuse good enough, or big enough, for feeling that way. None. Not when I can help it. Not when the solution is staring me in the face at 5:20 in the morning, thin red lights blinking against blue.
Kate is graduating from med school today. We’ve been friends for 15 years and she’s spent almost all of those 15 years in the pursuit of this one goal. College. Grad school. Med school. Next is her residency and then a fellowship and then we’re home free. I say we because it’s been 15 years, you guys. If you think I’m facing her big moment and not feeling an insane amount of pride and a rush of love that is threatening to swallow the states of Illinois AND Louisiana, you crazy.
Congrats, Kate girl. May I suggest this as your new ringtone?
Liz and Adam got married. I went to New Orleans. Work is nuts (in a good way? But not really. And yet I am still that unemployed girl from 2008 who feels grateful to just have a job so there we are- stress intertwined with guilt). Book No. 2 has stalled and it’s making me grind my teeth. The problem with being accountable for yourself is that when things start to go off the rails, there is only one person to blame. Hi, hello.
Last night I went to the gym and ran at full speed (my full speed is the average runner’s jog by the way. Me: I’m flying. Machine: You’re really not.) because I needed it. It felt really, really good which is unusual because unlike 3/4ths of my family, I find almost no pleasure in exercise. I find it dull and the only way for it to not be dull, it seems, is for you to physically push yourself to places of extreme exhaustion and mental hardship and then be proud that you survived? I can’t even write that sentence with any conviction. I much prefer a 5 mile walk in a beautiful place to a 2 mile run during which my heart feels like it’s about to burst out of my chest. A 5 mile walk where there is a promise of cheese at the end. And yet last night I wanted to run so I ran.
The wedding was a lot of fun, with so many people I love in one place that I was constantly overwhelmed, and emotional on a number of levels- it’s never not going to be emotional when someone you love like a sister takes a step like that. It might even be more emotional because this is a person you have chosen (in a long friendship, you choose multiple times too) to love like a sister, which means your presence at that moment in time feels even more like a weird, random gift. I wasn’t expecting the fall out after the wedding but, in typical fashion, my mother was. She called me on Tuesday afterwards and asked me if I was all right. I oddly wasn’t, though the melancholy wasn’t something I could put my finger on. She said, “Sometimes you feel sad after something like this is over. Let down but you don’t really know why.”
If ever you wondered why my new book is about a family of highly intuitive females…
New Orleans was… perfect. Kate is unlike my other friends in that she and I are exactly alike in ways that I do not share with my other pals. I am much quieter with her than I am with others and, god, it’s so nice. Some people just make you feel so peaceful. The whole weekend was chock full of things I wanted to do, in a place where I wanted to be and with someone whose company I had deeply missed over the last two years since I’d seen her. I came home and instead of feeling tired, I felt very still inside. If anyone is thinking of taking a spa vacation, they should go visit a quiet, lovely friend instead. And they should go to a place where the food is so good, they’ll make themselves sick trying to eat it all. Not that I did that or anything.
The new blog is humming, with a few minor hiccups. Tastespotting keeps rejecting our submissions for some reason and I still can’t determine if my Food/Fiction idea was a smart one or one of those ideas that sound really good but in practice just doesn’t work. We’ll see. The posts are super fun to write, which is an excellent start. Also, Nicole and I made this dessert yesterday during lunch? Sweet Jesus on a cracker it was delicious. Dorie knows what she’s doing, you guys.
I have no good ending to this post.
This is a new project I’ve been working on with my buddy/co-worker Nicole. She’s an amazing photographer and designer (see: header of this blog) and has been sweet enough to provide me with some of her work in the past- first as art for my kitchen and then photos of recipes I used in the cookbook I made for my mom and a few friends last Christmas.
She’s always looking for new food subjects to photograph and since she lives so close to the office, we came up with an idea:
– Meet at her apartment once or twice a week.
– Cook something delicious.
– She takes the pictures.
– I write something up and post them.
I knew immediately that I didn’t want to go the traditional route of food blogging- mostly because there are so many people out there who already do it far better than I ever could (just check out our Sources/Inspiration list on the new blog to find them). I wanted to do something fun- something that played more to my strengths just like Nicole did with hers. Her boyfriend Mike, an amazing illustrator, was generous enough to do the header and the background for us. Nicole and Mike have been working on the design for a while but it’s ready! It’s finally ready!
Each post is written as an excerpt of a story. It’s kind of like flipping through a novel and reading a scene. The recipe is slipped into the scene somewhere- sometimes it’ll be the focus, other times it will just be in the background.
And… I’m super excited about this- there will be one recurring storyline. Every once in a while, we’ll check back in on “Smitty & The Girl” to find out what’s the latest in a small (fictional) Cliffwood diner named Smitty’s. Missed a few episodes? Just click on “Smitty & The Girl” in the main nav to get caught up!
If we got the recipe from a blog, we’ll cite the blog and talk a little bit about why you should read that blog (because love begets love) as well as our own.
We hope you like it! Visit http://somekitchenstories.com/.