Be Good

tidal pools

This is the beginning of my “be good to myself and inspire others” summer. As I’ve said, I’ve been feeling lost. My novel has felt far away. My friends have felt far away. Inspiration eludes me. Self-confidence has eluded me. Instead of hating this feeling of being lost, I am going to explore this world and try to embrace it and learn some lessons. And I am going to be good to myself while doing it–because I still have choices. I have the choice to eliminate the toxic.

In short, I’m in a period of self-imposed rejuvenation.

I know a little about what is toxic to me; when I was at a writing colony, a Famous Writer came to dinner each night and announced her word count. That alone paralyzed me. It made me feel AWFUL, and it smacked of competitiveness. And Facebook is replete with news like that from my network; word counts, publishing data, industry data. Because Springtime is the time when writers receive literary acceptances to such things as litmag publications, fellowships, conferences, scholarships, etc., it’s been toxic to my writing process and to me. So I logged off of Facebook. (Okay, I will confess here: not entirely, because I’m still addicted to Farm Town–! That in and of itself is kind of a problem, but to my credit, I do skip my newsfeed and go straight to Farm Town). Silence is good.

One thing that struck me was Elizabeth Stark’s video, which made the simple yet brilliant statement that support is key to finishing a book. I didn’t have enough support. And I had plenty of road blocks. So I’m removing those roadblocks. I’m off Facebook, but I’m also spending some time with myself and doing things that make me happy.

I know that the teaching semester isn’t over yet (tomorrow, my students turn in their final papers and we have a potluck in class to celebrate our achievements!) and I have plenty of grading to do, but I’ve made a conscious decision to begin winding down now. This semester has EXHAUSTED me. I’m sleeping in. I’m sleeping a lot. I’m sleeping tons, like I did when I first arrived at Hedgebrook. And instead of feeling guilty like I did then, I’m understanding that it is a part of what I need to do as a writer.

I’m going to all my favorite places, especially those that inspire me. I’m stunned I haven’t visited one of my very favorite places in the Bay Area, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, in nearly 15 years. I used to frequent those tidal pools on a weekly basis during one of the blackest periods of my life, and I used to stare at all the life teeming in the crevices of rocks and in tidal pools, in awe of life’s tenacity.

reef point

A tidal pool habitat is one of the most extreme in the world; the waves constantly pound life and for a few hours each day, the water completely leaves the inhabitants exposed to the air. And yet they survive, and survive well. They have all adapted to this harsh environment. It was totally inspiring to me, and I would sit there on the beach and contemplate this for hours, and derive strength from everything before me. This time around, we sat down and held hands and celebrated our 11th marriage anniversary, feeling more blessed than ever.

anemone and turban snails and hermit crabs

Those waters and that habitat helped me, again. The tidal pools are not the same as they were 15 years ago–instead of many starfish, I spotted one, and no brittle stars and only one tiny sculpin–but still, the myriad anemones and turban snails and hermit crabs were still there, weathering the elements (one of the elements included a family that was actually EATING them straight off the rocks), and persevering/living their lives.

Oh, and the best way to watch a tidal pool? Be still. Be very still and wait.

I am cooking delicious meals again. Over the weekend, cod en papillote atop peashoots with a light mirin sauce). Crawfish boil a couple weekends ago, and then crawfish etouffee. This weekend, I made stock from all the crawfish heads from the boil (I stuck all the shelled heads and tails in the freezer after the boil). I also made chicken stock from a carcass in the freezer. Is it weird when I say that making stock makes me happy? The slow slow simmer rendering the flavor from meat and bones into a clear broth gives me such satisfaction. I like that the discards become the foundation for something new.

beginning the crawfish stock

I’m going to make gumbo tonight. I’m baking cookies for my students grand finale potluck tomorrow; I’m baking all their requests: the New York Times chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin, and toffee chip cookies. My kitchen may look a bit like Sylvia Plath’s kitchen on one of her baking sprees (was she also trying to rejuvenate?)

chicken sausage and shrimp gumbo

Last night, I made a rigantoncini with morel mushrooms + asparagus + shallots in a cream sauce (using Samin’s rigantonicini from the Pop Up General Store, and adapting their suggested recipe).

rigantoncini w morels, asparagus, shallots & prosciutto in a cream sauce

I totally forgot to add chives and a chive flower from the vegetable garden. But seeing that (single) chive flower in the garden made me happy this morning. Speaking of chive flowers–I’ve never gotten any of my chives to flower before (hence the single flower). So that’s sweet.

flowering chive

I bought mangosteens, thanks to my friend (whose blog is a ghosttown) who gave me the heads up about their appearance in a not-so-distant grocery store. And while there, I spotted them: fragrant pears. I filled a bag. (I have to go back for more). Deliciousness. Deliciousness is important to my happiness, and it is important to my psychic health. Deliciousness inspires my tastebuds and in turn, deliciousness inspires me.

I spent some time sitting outdoors on our patio, reading, writing in my journal, and eating homemade salsa. It was nice to spend time outside, in the shade on a temperate day, with a breeze tickling the hair on my forearms. Whatever pollen is flying through the air isn’t bothering me; my allergy season is over.

The resentment and envy has left me and my person, thank goodness. I hate feeling envious–and I see it as an alarm warning saying, “There is something awry in your world, Christine.” There is a quote by Craig Ferguson who said, “Someone once told me resentment is like drinking poison, and expecting someone else to die.” Hence, my immediate decision to detox. I had drunk some kind of poison, and I need to take care of myself. And refill with inspiration and love and support and kindness and energy and joy.

I know, I’m not the kind of person who likes chanting in a yoga class, because I feel it’s too “hippie” but there you go.

I’m decompressing, being still, being with myself. When I was emerging from that Black Period nearly two decades ago, one of the many things I had difficulty with was being by myself, and being still (hence, why I’d go to the tidal pools–knowing that in some way, all the creatures were keeping me company). But in the end, that very ability was the thing that saved me.

There is still heartbreak happening in the world. For starters, the oil slick in the Gulf is now viewable from a NASA satellite…from OUTER SPACE. And there seems to be no end in sight, despite assurances from BP. But–I’m going to start with being good to myself. Or else there will be no goodness coming from me.

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17 Comments

Filed under Helpful, Life, Writing

17 responses to “Be Good

  1. Oooooooh neat. I’m going to have to go check out those tidal pools.

    And nom nom, looks like good eating. Good eating is good for the soul.

    I know how awful it feels to be all angsty about one’s place in the world. Disconnecting is good sometimes. I’ve had to have long periods of not submitting anything to keep myself sane. You can burn out horribly on all that rejection.

    Animals are good too. They will always love you/boss you around just the same no matter what.

    • the tidal pools are awesome–i think you would like them! def try to go at a low tide, otherwise, there isn’t much to see. and thank goodness for our cats and dogs, no? :)

  2. chaesq

    Thanks for this . . .

  3. Nate

    Of course, making stock makes you happy! It’s free, it fills the air with a savory, calming steam, and it’s super easy, but you must commit to hanging around and checking on it. Sounds like the perfect restorative to me.

    It is easier than ever to get into a competition for a trophy life. It’s become our national sport. I’m willing to bet very few of those people you were resentful of have anything anywhere near what you have. You have a great life, the kind of life any rational person really wants (hell, morels, mangosteens, and wiener dogs –what else is there?) Turn off the noise, focus on the work, and things will get better.

    P.S. I know you were talking about baking, but your mention of Sylvia Plath’s kitchen conjured up a very disturbing image over here. Yikes!!!

    • @chaesq: i’m glad to share and inspire if i can. :)

      @Nate: oh snap! i didn’t mean to conjure up images of Sylvia Plath and ovens! (But she did go on baking sprees as a writer–I wonder if she too was trying to decompress–or maybe she was distracting herself). Thank you for the insight–you’re better than a therapist. :)

      • Nate

        Well, I’ll save you the $125/hr anyway! ;-)

        Your pic reminded me of how we used to pick bread sacks full of fist-sized morels. We’d cut them in half length-wise and fry them in butter. We’d just sit and eat a huge pile of them. Damn, that was awesome!

  4. YouKnowWho

    I should not have read this post while hungry.

  5. Jennifer

    This makes me miss you so much, wishing that I could be in the east bay again watching you flit about magically in your kitchen and nourishing myself with what you graciously extend. Also, you know the best places.

    I’m happy for you. This is healthy. This is your time. This is love. Inspiring.

    • @YouKnowWho: whoops sorry. ;)

      @Jennifer: I miss you, too! I wish I could cook you a wonderful meal. I made chicken and seafood gumbo tonight–perfect for a drizzly cold evening. I guess I’m nourishing myself both physically and psychically, by cooking. And I am sending you TONS of positive thoughts these days.

      • Jennifer

        That must’ve been DELICIOUS–the drizzly cold evening, too. (We don’t get those ’round these parts anymore. I want Bay area weather!) Cooking is the best way to nourish yourself on two important levels, so cook (and feast!) on. :) And…THANK YOU for the positive thoughts. They’ve nourished *me* lately.

  6. Krys

    You’re taking care of your life right now, which will eventually take care of the art. Word count…When I wonder if I will ever, ever finish a book in my lifetime, and begin sinking into self-loathing (which happens too frequently), I remind myself that the best books do not operate on a clock or by word count–Junot Diaz’s book, for one, was well worth the wait (and he threw 2 novels out even before the 10 year period, so let’s call it 20 years in writing?), and I can think of plenty of timely literary writers who do operate by word count whose books I do not respect or admire (whose names I won’t mention since that’s unkind). The most important thing is that you love what you’re doing–whether it’s writing/cooking/camping/etc, and that you see yourself grow as a writer. All the things that you have and are doing. I’m excited for you!

  7. anne

    Thanks for posting this. I am going through something similar. I was participating in all these writing groups, wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t write. I was beating myself up for not sending in stuff to the group to critique, because “real” writers do that, etc. What I realized is that most of the people in that particular group were more interested in promoting their own idea of what good writing is and how it should be done. So I gave myself permission to let go of that and withdraw into the internal world I need to go to to write.

    Anyway, you seem to be good at self-care, and I admire that. I have a hard time doing stuff that makes me feel good and inspired!

    • Only you know what you need as an artist. I am glad you gave your permission to let go; I too, cannot workshop regularly anymore. Let’s do something nurturing together soon? Maybe with our dear friend CW?

  8. Pingback: Noise « 80,000 words

  9. Love this–“Deliciousness is important to my happiness.” I confess I’m guilty of those delicious-meal tweets/FB status updates, but I think it’s why I write about those–it’s about deliciousness and happiness, a way to set down what’s making me happy at the moment, especially when other things are swirling around.

    A great idea to detox from whatever is poisoning you!

  10. Pingback: Guest Post: What Inspires Christine Lee Zilka « distraction no. 99

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