Sylvia Plath once extolled the virtues of a hot bath.
There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.
The hot baths don’t do it for me, but cooking does. This weekend kicked off my spring break, a week I’ve been looking forward to with more than a little bit of excitement. I started off the semester strong, making sure to guard my time, to stay ahead of the curve, and I managed it really well. Surprisingly well. I thought, wow, I’m finally onto something. I figured it out.
And then, around week five, things changed. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly, as papers piled up and planning got neglected, I found myself losing all that time I carved out for myself. And so I forged ahead and told myself that Spring Break would be the cure. It was just around the corner, and once that time hit, I’d be in better shape.
And I am. Papers are graded, I know (more or less) what my classes are doing next, and I can relax.
Except I don’t quite know how. My girlfriend pointed out the other day that even though we crave slowing down, we’d probably go nuts if we didn’t maintain the oh-so-busy lifestyle we have now. And she’s probably right. I sort of thrive on having way too many things to do at once. It’s not healthy. It’s probably the reason I suffer from stomach burn. Naturally, my suspicion is that with this many projects going at once, I’m bound to screw up on one of them. Logic tells us that it’s better to be really outstanding at one thing than halfway decent at a bunch. I didn’t necessarily seek out the bunch of things I do; that would be insane. But I followed up on opportunities, and before I knew it, I was in charge of this program or managing this particular department or taking on more classes or working on this project or that. And I thrive on it. It’s a rush, leaving myself voice memos in the style of Miranda from The Devil Wears Prada for all the things I need to do, people to email, places to go. (I think my brain resembles this scene sometimes.)
But sometimes I wonder if, hypothetically, I ever ended up with more time, if I weeded out projects and winnowed my life down to essentials, what would I do with that time? Because I can’t stand to be idle. What would I do?
And the answer, I think, is what I’m left with, the essential thing, the thing I want to do most. Or things, I should say: I want to cook, and I want to write.
I did a little word vomit on my friend Andrea the other day. She came home, and almost apropos of nothing, I told her my newest outline of my life plan: I want to write a book, publish it, and start teaching creative writing, preferrably in abbreviated visiting writer stints. I want to do summer workshops. I want to write more books, and publish them. I want to learn to cook better. I want to understand how to grow garlic and onions and berries. I want to learn how to make berry preserves and can them without giving myself or others botulism. I want to write books in which those berry preserves can make an appearance. I want to travel. I want to write more books. I want to publish them.
I’ve been making changes to my blog – which is now my website. I was poking fun at myself this week because I’m on Twitter now (follow me @danastaves) even though I don’t really understand how Twitter works. I’m whoring my blog all over town so people will read it and follow it and perhaps read my writing. And the thing is, I don’t have a career to promote. Not really. Not yet.
I’m fairly sure one of my bosses at the law firm I work for has told me at one point or another to dress for the job I want, not the job I have. Many have tried to make me dress like a responsible adult; many have failed. I will probably continue to think of skinny jeans and blazers as a perfectly acceptable form of business casual attire. (It’s all in the boots you pair them with anyway, right?) But I took that advice metaphorically. I’m blogging for the career I want, not the career I have. And that blogging makes me write regularly, which is really hard to sustain. Even if it’s not outstanding (and it’s usually not), it’s something. It’s chair time. And it creates a space for me to get my thoughts in order and practice and develop my voice. And that seems worth it.
I’m cooking more too. (Perhaps cooking for the writing career I want? Whatever it takes to justify the baked goods I churn out.) This weekend has been rainy and cold outside, and my girlfriend got her first KitchenAid mixer. This is a thing of beauty, emerald red, and I confessed to her that I’ve coveted that mixer since I was sixteen years old. I used to plot how to get rich friends who could get me a KitchenAid mixer in the event that I ever got married. I stroke this mixer lovingly. And I broke it in for her yesterday by making banana bread.
Banana bread has long been my comfort recipe. I love banana bread. It’s easy, it’s quick, and if you taost it up and put butter on it, it’s delicious. If you eat it plain, it’s delicious. It smells amazing, it looks pretty, and it makes me feel less guilty about forgetting to eat bananas and letting them go bad.
My banana bread recipe came from allrecipes.com, and I’ve added to it and modified it. Since I don’t like foreign objects in my banana bread, I leave out nuts or raisins. I’m a purist; only banana for me.
I get moody when I think about writing and life and what to do next. Last night, I was moody. I stared out the window and sighed a lot, feeling a little jammed up inside. I had a glass of wine, and I pulled out my collection of recipes. My mom and stepdad gave me and my sister each one of these for Christmas one year. We can add recipes we love to it, and they started it off with some of our favorites: my mom’s pancakes, my stepdad’s pine bark, recipes for sausage balls and salsa and chicken casserole. Recipes that spell out comfort for me. I added the banana bread recipe a long time ago.
Amanda came into the room as I was mixing the ingredients together. At the last minute, I realized I forgot the vanilla extract, and I poured it in, guessing at what was about a teaspoon, not bothering to use a measuring spoon. I thought about it afterwards; that recipe is so familiar to me, I barely need to look at the recipe anymore. I know it almost by heart, and that is part of the comfort. It’s fullproof, for me. And because I don’t have to think too much about it, I can busy my hands and free up my mind. My future doesn’t look as cloudy when I’m whisking eggs or measuring out flour. And those essential things I told Andrea I want – the writing and the cooking – seem more possible when I’m creaming butter and sugar together. It’s banana bread therapy, the reassurance that mixing these ingredients will yield my comfort food.
So I’ll keep on. I’ll toast my bread and slather it with butter. I’ll drink a glass of wine and try not to get too moody. I’ll make sure I carve out the space for myself and leave school work at school. I’ll write. I’ll blog for the career I want and not the career I have. And somehow, I’ll figure out Twitter. I’ll bank on the hope that the combination of those ingredients will yield the future I want.