on failure

when I was in ninth grade, I took the obligatory art class, where I tediously drew silver spoons and butterflies. I created a wood cut of a cow’s portrait that won a small area prize, which felt insignificant to me. I created a rendition of american gothic where I replaced the man and woman with napoleon dynamite and his llama, tina, that I spent many weeks meticulously shading and correcting. however, in the process, I lugged that piece around, letting it become creased and smudged. my art teacher, an older woman with silver-grey hair and a disapproving face, told me that I had skill but needed to take better care of my work. I felt both encouraged and ashamed. it was the last art class I ever took but I won’t forget the look in her eyes. it said, you have a gift. don’t waste it. 

my mom encouraged me to pursue writing. she must have told me I was good at it but I don’t remember her specifically saying those words. I just remember knowing that it was what she expected me to do. she told me I could be a lawyer or “even a speech writer for the president!” I remember thinking that was a totally normal suggestion at the time, which was maybe late elementary school.

when I went to college, I wanted to change the world. but I had so many interests, and I felt bewildered by all of my options, while also feeling suffocated by the debt that would follow, and my parents expectations. I majored in journalism (my mom’s suggestion) but was most energized by the liberal arts aspect of my education. I left my Social Psychology of Justice class wanting to be a lawyer, and my Crimes Against Humanity class wanting to work at the Hague. but I would fall asleep in my dorm room each night paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong choice, and so I made no new choice at all.

I am 26 now, and bought a house this year with my husband. I have hardly decorated, which embarrasses me when we have guests. I tell them we’re going to paint soon, even though I’ve been saying that for four months. this morning, I realized I don’t decorate because, in our first apartment, attempting to hang up art always produced tension between us. I would rather have a sparse, unfinished house than have conflict, even though I feel frustrated, like I am a bad wife.

I feel young, but worn, and fearful.

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resilience of the heart

right now I’m working on a writing test for my students. the key aspect of this test is focused on resilience, and the resilience of rural communities. today I realized the irony of wrestling through this topic, at this time. I have not felt very resilient lately. I have been discovering dark parts of me that, when revealed, started to tear apart at the people around me, the people who love me, and some structures I have helped build. as I’m considering resilience of a place, I wonder what resilience means for a person.

most of the hardship in my life has not been physical. I grew up in a middle class home, in a quiet, boring, midwest town. I would ride my bike or rollerblade nearly every night during the warm months, or, in the cold, dark months, would read in my bedroom until my mom yelled that dinner was ready. but my parents fought, a lot. I wanted to please my parents, to not cause any trouble, but I always felt like I fell short.

in one of the articles for this test, it discusses how, in rural places, the notion of belonging within a community, and the community itself, is crucial for resilience (McManus et. al, 2011). for years, I have felt like a fraud in my religious community, in my marriage, and, less lately, at the place where I work. I have perpetuated this idea by isolating myself, not speaking honestly, and burying how I feel–and by not often asking for help.

for years, I’ve sought belonging and worth, and avoided rejection. but lately, I’ve felt my heart and my desires leaking, escaping, burning up, fleeing. I’ve felt chipped away, revealed, unable to hide any more. and I’ve spoken up. I’ve been honest. and I’ve even questioned my own desires–all of them. I’ve hurt those I love, who, I feel, are my protection.

I wonder if, all this time, I was resilient, or if I was simply surviving.

the persistence of nature

when we got the keys to our house, I found dead honeybees strewn beneath a window in our bedroom. I thought it was curious but I couldn’t find an opening and none were alive. I tucked it away for later.

last week, I saw hornets and honeybees swirling around the upstairs office window. I looked towards the adjacent tree, covered in vines, and noticed dozens of bees, pollinating flowers. I found one dead bee in the bathroom, one dead bee in the kitchen. I left them there, maybe hoping they would revive, and never stepped on them in the dark.

today, my husband texted me after he walked to work, telling me he had gotten a bee sting. I remembered the feeling of being pinched on my back this morning, underneath my sweatshirt while I was gardening. I wondered if maybe I, too, had been stung.

I imagined there are likely entrances to our house, ones we had not consented to but had developed over time and persistence of nature. I thought about climbing the roof, filling them with unidentifiable goo. it would be dangerous, getting on the roof, with swarms of bees. I wondered if maybe they would die with the frost, or maybe enter our house in droves, seeking a warm place to stay.

for now, they are only somewhat of a nuisance, even a small astonishment.

I sat down to finish my breakfast, sourdough bread with peanut butter, cinnamon, and honey.

I tucked it away, for later.

the joy of life

I have always loved eating. my parents still sometimes brag about my favorite food as a kid (artichokes). my childhood friend cried once because she thought I was eating weeds in our yard (they were chives). I have vivid memories of pressing christmas molds into sugar cookie dough, chopping zucchini and onions for a summer supper, eating cereal with my grandparents in their florida apartment.

as I got older, this extended into an interest in agriculture, local food, soil, and eventually, led to my own kitchen, where I experimented with vegan pot pie, blueberry muffins, thai curries.

when I got married, I had a consistent audience, and so I wanted to impress: greek mac and cheese, roasted whole chickens, pizza (from scratch!). it was a new, enjoyable world.

my dad always told me it would get old, that you have to put dinner on the table every night, and I didn’t want to believe him, but he was a little bit right. this still makes me sad, though, because cooking is the work I love to do: a practical but artful endeavor.

thus, an inspiration list: for lazy afternoons, unanticipated hunger, a gathered table, the joy of life.

heidi’s golden potstickers.

hot fudge sauce.

roasted peppers, white beans, pesto.

classic miso soup.

chicken meatballs.

herbed, golden rice.

the perfect apple pie.

lemon curd.

stuffed cabbage with spicy sausage.

xo.

cleveland summer

the air was thick with summer but the sun had already relented. I sat on the swing set, pumping my legs back and forth, protected by the old brick house and wooden fence hugging our yard. my dad, home from work, burst through the back door, smile on his face, tousled hair, muscle tank replacing his daytime tie and button down. pushing my legs, I went up, up, into a space of joy and security.