On Worry, Creativity, And Being/Having Enough

Balls. From Storm King. Balanced, unlike myself.

I am a born worrier.

I haven’t met a problem I can’t make exponentially worse by thinking too much, too hard about it.

As I start this blog, it’s November 7th, and given the way I work at my mercenary writing (how long it takes and how I budget my time), I could be done completely for the month by November 15th.

But I am WORRIED.

I worry it won’t be done, even though I have never missed a deadline.

I worry it won’t be any good, even though my clients are 100% satisfied and, at this point, obtained strictly from word of mouth for a steady income.

I worry I won’t make enough money every month, even though my total fixed expenses every month are less than some people’s car payments, and I was able to save enough money to send my child to France for a year (and pay off two credit cards) in six months last year. I can’t retire anytime soon, and I won’t be buying a Maserati, but since I don’t care about either of those things, it doesn’t really matter.

I worry.

It should be the first thing listed on the “About Me” section of this website, my skills on my CV, and my LinkedIn profile. I am, after all, a professional.

But what an incredible burden, the fact that I must, for everyone else’s sake, hold all of the worry and woe of the universe on my puny shoulders. That sounds histrionic, yes, but as Celie says in The Color Purple, sometimes it bees that way.

Sometimes I carry the burden of other people’s woe instead of tending to my own. It’s both a selfless act and a crutch. If I worry about other’s people shit, I won’t ever really have to address my own.

I won’t have to open up.

I won’t have to risk failure.

I won’t have to see the shadow.

The problem here is that eventually everything catches up with me, and I find myself in a situation that I have woven out of my own desire to not only care for other people but perhaps to not really care for myself.

It seems to me that female artists are destined to fail at either relationships or the pursuit of their art; they cannot have both (unless you are Frida Kahlo who was married to a serial cheater and a narcissistic fuck of a man who also happened to be grievously talented).

If you make art as a woman, must everything else fall by the wayside?

If you are in a happy relationship as a woman, must art then be put away as if a childish thing now that you are taking care of others?

I am not good at balance. I don’t know where the middle is.

I don’t know how to balance meeting my own needs with meeting the needs of others in my life.

I don’t know how to make mental and emotional space for the creative part of my life when I become engulfed by planning, scheduling, and otherwise coordinating the running of a household.

And then, of course, no one’s needs are met because who wants anything from a person who is visibly miserable, cranky, and generally hard to live with?

And that burden, too, becomes placed on my shoulders.

The challenges of a blended household are not to be trifled with, especially when there is so much history behind the two adults trying to do the blending. A dead spouse is no small matter, but a still-living spouse staring down the barrel of a dead 25-year relationship is no small potatoes either. What happens when children are added from both sides of that unlucky wooden nickel is nothing short of nuclear.

I often say that parenting is the worst best job, but really, if we are being honest with ourselves, which we should always try to be, parenting is pretty much just the worst job. The hours are long and arduous, the task itself thankless and neverending, and the end result completely up in the air – you can do the best you know how and it still not be enough.

Add to this, the age of 17.

I thought 15 was a bitch, but I had not yet met 17. In the rosy blush that comes with an ocean between us and a year abroad for The Child, I assumed she and I had moved past what 15 had wrought upon us (actually, 15 1/2 to around 16 1/2).

I assumed incorrectly. And that, too, feels like my fault. Heartbreak.

What wine pairs well with a dearth of creativity? The demons of relationships past? A child who is struggling?

Here is where I would segue into a recipe, but it’s hard to think of food in times like these, especially when the story that comes before the recipe isn’t lovely and filled with exclamation points.

I have said often (including here in this blog) that food is the way that I show my love for people, that if I am cooking for you, I must be caring for you. But food is also a comfort to me in a less usual way. It’s the place where I find solace, and the place where I have always been able to nurture some form of creative practice, even when the words dry up or are too painful to put on paper.

When I was in the first days of setting up my own household as an 18-year-old, I started the ritual of completely stocking my pantry and my bar on December 31st. I have been poor for most of my life, but when the last day of the year rolls around, I still take what I have and stock up to give myself the feeling of enough.

Because really what is lacking in this entire conversation about worry and balance and heartbreak is the feeling that I am, all on my own, enough.

I can fabricate that feeling in myself with a stocked freezer, pantry, and bar cart. It’s visible proof of enough. External proof, to be sure, but proof in its own way.

For this purpose, one of the things I like to make is crackers. I eat them warm straight from the oven.

They won’t make the road we are on smooth, with straight, even lines and clearly marked directions. They won’t make my relationship with my child go back to what it was before 15 1/2.

But they are easy to make and eat when the world inside and outside of the house is overwhelming and too much. And sometimes that is enough.

Everyday Crackers

Ingredients
3 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (you can also use store-bought GF flour, or regular AP)
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 T. olive oil
4 T. butter, frozen and grated
1 cup water
Add-ins: 2 tsp. fennel, 2 tsp. sesame seeds, ¼ t. cracked black pepper, toasted and cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 400⁰. In the bowl of a food processor, combine dry ingredients (including add-ins). Pulse to mix. Add olive oil and butter, then pulse to mix (the mixture will resemble cornmeal). Add water and mix until dough comes together. The dough will be sticky.

Pick your cracker shape.

Shape 1 (huge time saver): Turn out half the dough onto a floured surface. Roll to approximately 1/16” thin. Cut into squares with a bench scraper or pizza cutter. Proceed as below.

Shape 2 (rustic crackers): Working the dough as little as possible, pinch a bit of dough out of the food processor (approximately 1/4” balls). Place on the cookie sheet. Pinches of dough should be an inch apart. When you have filled the cookie sheet, lightly flour the flat bottom of a glass (or a measuring cup, or anything flat), and press each pinch of dough to 1/16” thick. The thickness is not as important as evenly pressing the dough is; uneven crackers will brown on one edge and not the other.

Poke each crackers three times with a toothpick (this is important!).

Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through for even browning. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack. These crackers will stay fresh in an airtight container for three days, but you can pop them in a hot oven for a couple minutes to re-crisp if necessary.

Recipe notes

  • Oven temperatures vary and can greatly affect your outcome. Keep a close eye on your crackers, especially towards the end, to see if modifications to the bake need to be made.
  • These crackers can also be rolled out and cut into rectangles or squares with a pizza cutter. Toppings should be pressed into the rolled out dough so they don’t all end up on the counter (or the floor). Try to work quickly and not handle the dough too much.
  • Between batches, place the dough in the refrigerator.
  • Use all olive oil instead of butter to make these vegan. They may be slightly tougher.
  • Topping options are nearly unlimited, and you can also add fresh herbs into the dough when you add the water.
  • For a most delicious variation, add the zest of two lemons, ½ cup of dried blueberries (no sugar added), and 1 T of chopped thyme. Makes a beautiful, subtle, purple cracker. Serve with soft cheese.
  • These crackers can be made in a large bowl without a food processor. Work the dough as quickly as you can, and make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • For easier clean up, these can also be baked on parchment paper.
  • Store crackers in an airtight container. I have had them for as long as a week with no loss of texture, but I ate them all before I could experiment further.

 

 

The Peace of Wild Things

Aren't we all a little crackers?
Aren’t we all a little crackers?

My particular friend sent me a love poem the other day.

I had seen it before; this poem has made the rounds of self-help books and memes for many several years, usually as a call to nature.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry –

I don’t know why, but on this rainy day this poem, sent by my particular friend, takes me to a place of deep, abiding stillness.

That place where nothing really matters, not in a melancholy way but in the way of knowing what it means to be truly content with what simply is.

That place that has no boundaries except the sides of the universe that stretch infinitely.

That place where nothing is unforgiven, no fault is laid, there is no rush, pressure, or blame.

That place that might be called Grace in its most passive form: free and unmerited favor. Bestowal of blessings.

Obvi not a place that exists in the real world, except maybe on those rare occasions when you truly have nothing to do, all  day to do it, and a particular friend of your own with whom to do it. Then time slides through and around you like water slipping over a mossy rock.

The peace of wild things lives here, in this place.

There are other ways I can get to this place of grace…in the peaceful company of wild things.

Yoga, sometimes, when I am not beating myself up. Trikonasana, heart to the sky. Ardha chandrasana, open and balanced.

Sex, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), particularly the satisfying kind, tangled in the bedsheets afterwards, on the sleepy precipice, cells bathed in their own lovely wash of delight.

And cooking. Food.

Cooking takes me there, to grace. Even as my mind is racing through possibilities or running down a list of ingredients there is a meditative calm and stillness at the center of this work that isn’t work.

To describe myself in such terms – calm, meditative, still – is a rare and precious thing.

And yet.

When I come to the kitchen, there it is. And if it’s not there I can surely find it at the bottom of the bowl.

That place that is so quiet and still that I can hear my own voice, strong and steady in my throat and heart.

That undemanding timespace that somehow knits back together the very best parts of myself.

It doesn’t quite matter what I make.

It’s the act. The art.

Everyday Crackers

Crackers may seem an odd choice, but if it’s good enough for Jesus (grace and all), it’s good enough for me. Plus, these are easy and delicious and very nearly impossible to screw up. Very forgiving. #Grace

Ingredients
3 cups gluten free all-purpose flour blend
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 T. olive oil
4 T. butter, frozen and grated
1 cup water
Add-ins: 1 ½ tsp. fennel, 1 ½ tsp. sesame seeds, ½ t. salt, ¼ t. cracked black pepper, combined, toasted, and cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 400⁰. In the bowl of a food processor, combine dry ingredients (including add-ins). Pulse to mix. Add olive oil and butter, then pulse to mix (the mixture will resemble cornmeal). Add water and mix until dough comes together. The dough will be sticky.

Lightly flour two cookie sheets. Working the dough as little as possible, pinch a bit of dough out of the food processor (approximately 1” balls). Place on the cookie sheet. Pinches of dough should be an inch apart. When you have filled the cookie sheet, lightly flour the flat bottom of a glass (or a measuring cup, or anything flat), and press each pinch of dough to 1/8” thick. The thickness is not as important as evenly pressing the dough is; uneven crackers will brown on one edge and not the other. Poke each crackers three times with a toothpick (this is important!).

Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the crackers halfway through for even browning. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack. These crackers will stay fresh in an airtight container for three days, but you can pop them in a hot oven for a couple minutes to re-crisp if necessary.

Recipe notes

  • Oven temperatures vary and can greatly affect your outcome. Keep a close eye on your crackers, especially towards the end, to see if modifications to the bake need to be made.
  • These crackers can also be rolled out and cut into rectangles or squares with a pizza cutter.
  • Between batches, place the dough in the refrigerator.
  • Use all olive oil instead of butter to make these vegan. They may be slightly tougher.
  • Topping options are nearly unlimited, and you can also add fresh herbs into the dough when you add the water.
  • For a most delicious variation, add the zest of two lemons, ½ cup of dried blueberries (no sugar added), and 1 T of chopped thyme. Makes a beautiful, subtle, purple cracker. Serve with soft cheese.
  • These crackers can be made in a large bowl without a food processor. Work the dough as quickly as you can, and make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • For easier clean up, these can also be baked on parchment paper.
  • Store crackers in an airtight container. I have had them for as long as a week with no loss of texture, but I ate them all before I could experiment further.