By the second week of January, most of my resolutions for the Year of No seemed to have fallen by the proverbial wayside, which I envision as a grimy urban curb strewn with cigarette butts, used condoms, and good intentions, like the road to hell. I had kept exactly two of the many, and they happened to be the easiest: I had said no to blurbing books, and I hadn’t spent any unnecessary money. Also, I reminded myself, I had kept up my daily fast hard 4-mile walk, thanks to Dingo, who demands it; that hadn’t been a resolution, but it was something, at least. I reminded myself of this to keep from feeling like an abject slug. It helped, but only a little.
I’d embarked on my plan for 2014 with the sense that if I were going to give so much money to environmental causes, sign so many petitions, write so many letters, I should take care of myself as if I were the planet. Corny, I know, but “change begins at home” always sounded good to me, if only because “at home” is where I live, and I have no control over anywhere else.
The other self-care resolutions I promised myself I’d keep this year included brushing and flossing my teeth with stringent discipline, drinking less red wine and more green and nettle tea and water, eating less food, less meat, less often, doing Pilates again, starting my novel, and spending less time on the computer and more time reading, ideally great novels.
As of mid-January, these were all failures.
Oh well, I thought. Then I went to the dentist with dread and loathing borne of many prior traumatic dental experiences; this past semester of teaching took all my concentration, apparently, so I had none left over for flossing. I braced myself for a root canal, or a stern lecture at best. But the hygienist and dentist gave me heartening news: things weren’t so bad in there. I left with spanking-fresh teeth, tartar-free, no cavities. A fresh start is inspiring and symbolic. Good news can spur change better than bad sometimes, or maybe I just buy into the deal-with-the-devil cliché. Whatever the reason, I’ve brushed and flossed every day since, just about. Close enough for me.
A few days later, on a surge of inspiration perhaps borne of my dental triumph, I started my new novel. Wow, I thought, a novel again, how exciting, I have no idea what I’m doing, let’s go. I remember this. It’s the best feeling in the world. The novel is my true home, and it’s always good to be back, even though I always have to force myself to go there, stay there, face it.
I have always loved to make a pot of tea before I begin my writing day, usually at 3:00 in the afternoon, after my correspondence, errands, 4-mile walk. I reinstated this ritual, and then, maybe as a result, I found myself eating less food and drinking less wine as a matter of course, without trying. When I’m writing, I don’t want to cloud my brain with excess and indulgence.
Then February came around with its midwinter doldrums and cabin fever, but I didn’t lose heart: my head was clear, my novel was underway. In the first week of the month, I found myself hungry for books and bored by the Internet. A hot bath is my favorite place to read in the wintertime anyway, and this is a very cold winter. When my writing was done for the day, I ran a hot bath, got in, and picked something from my stack of unread books. And thus, I spent hours away from my computer every day, not missing it at all.
Now it’s almost mid-February, and I have one more resolution to keep.
Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, I heard from my Pilates teacher yesterday. She asked where I’ve been. I told her I’m in and out of town and working and distracted. I told her, also, how woefully depleted my core strength is these days. She wrote back to tell me about an online 31-day challenge she’s going to run, starting March 1st.
And then it hit me, with the simple beauty of an algorithm or a koan: not everything has to happen all at once.
Typing this, I have to laugh at the obviousness, but it’s nothing I’ve ever learned in any deep way. Does everyone else know this already except me? I’ve always been so impatient. Once I decide something, it’s got to be done NOW. If it takes longer, I’m a failure. If I skip one thing, it’s all worthless. For as long as I can remember, I’ve gone into frenzies of reform, attacking my decisions with the rabidity of a zealot. Gradual, thoughtful change is nothing I understand.
This extends to my tooth-gnashing, wee-hour fretting about climate change and the planet: we have to stop using oil NOW, stop fracking NOW, right NOW, everything has to come to a screeching halt and CHANGE, presto, otherwise we’re lost. I know I sound like a five-year-old, but in many ways, I am a five-year-old. I don’t care how it sounds, if I can start doing Pilates on March 1st without being a failure, then maybe there’s hope.
Chinese-ish Japanese-ish Soup
The other night, after a good afternoon of writing and reading, I simmered two 6-inch sheets of kombu, dried seaweed, for 20 minutes in about 2 quarts of water, then removed them and cut them into strips and put them back into the water along with a sweet potato and 2 carrots cut up into tiny cubes, a big handful of chopped shiitake mushrooms, a chopped jalapeno, plenty of minced ginger and garlic, 4 star anise, a hefty shot of Bragg’s liquid amino acids (use soy sauce instead if you like) and another of hot chili sesame oil. After 7 minutes, I added one cubed chicken breast and a chopped bunch or two of scallions.
Separately, I made half a package of Maifun, those delicate little rice noodles, according to the package directions.
When it was all done, I put a handful of noodles into 2 bowls and ladled scoops of soup on top plus extra broth. I served it with hot chili sauce. We devoured this supper, finished it with mint tea, and slept deeply and well.
There was enough soup, with noodles, left over for the next night’s evening meal, as well.