I haven’t blogged for a really long time. It would be overwhelming to ever blog again if I thought I needed to recap everything that’s happened in the intervening time. I can barely recap what’s happened today, or in the last month, much less understand it. But when things stop making sense, they still make beauty. That’s why I’m writing. I can’t draw worth a damn, or paint, or dance. My window on art is words, and maybe food and dirt. But I have no one to feed but myself tonight, and gardening in the dark is…dark. So here go the words:
I moved to Madison a few months ago. It was a huge step for me. It was one of the few shining, courageous, heady times in my life that I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do, resisting the urge to play backup singer to someone else who takes the real risks. I left my comfort zone and jumped into school, learning introductory chemistry from an amazingly competent and human prof…who was 6 years younger than me. I delighted in finding my way around the city on my bike, connecting one half-remembered street to another, letting a three-dimensional, five-sensical city map spread out within me. I wandered down Bascom Hill on my way home from the library, smitten by the well-worn buildings and the thousands of students’ stories they held. I let myself stop to read a few restaurant menus each day, searching for vegan or veganizable foods.
I was drinking in the experience of being in this old-and-new-again place, and yet somehow also holding it at arm’s length. I was meeting the city yet making friends more slowly than I wanted. I had let go of training for specific triathlons, but I found myself unsure of whether I was training enough. Enough for what? What was my goal? What if I didn’t have one? It felt like failure, or at the very least pusillanimity. (That’s a twenty-five cent word I learned while studying for the GRE. I’m going to make you look it up.)
I was trying like hell to gain traction, to put my biking, yoga-ing, healthy-eating, hard-working self in this place, but my proverbial wheels seemed to be spinning. I was doing fine in my class, meeting people gradually…but I was finding myself a ball of nerves more than I wanted. And finding myself dramatically skinny. Disconcertingly pointy. Like I was retracting into old versions of myself for fear of opening into this new place. Wrapping up tightly in my insecurity blankets.
And then, thank God, someone had the courage to have an uncomfortable conversation. One person expressed their concern about my physical and mental health, and all of a sudden the blankets fell away. I felt completely exposed. I was wearing my nerves and stuck-in-the-pastness and fear of the future in every protruding bone and brow furrow. I wasn’t fooling anyone, and after a weekend’s worth of tears and tough conversations, I finally I stopped trying to fool myself.
Food is an incredibly powerful thing. It offers sustenance and decadence, visceral connection to the past, and a tangible connection to our living community – whether through dirt on garlic from the garden or knowledge that Twinkies were packaged by someone, somewhere. I’ve always loved the flavors and colors and nuances of food, and I’ve loved the relationships nourished over food. I’ve also used food as a mechanism for control when life seemed uncontrollable; I’ve used it as comfort when life seemed uncomfortable. We all do this to some extent. Food is not optional, so each of us has to have a relationship with it. The health of this relationship ebbs and flows as we change, and mine had reached a true ebb.
So I got help. There are people very good at helping others navigating these ebbs and flows, and finally, finally, after my whole adult life and some of my teen years, I admitted that I didn’t have this thing figured out. It was an amazing relief.
And then the unfiguring started! My nutritionist suggested I add back some food groups. We started with grains and a few desserts, which I had basically eliminated this winter in an effort to “eat clean” and reduce purportedly inflammatory foods. I had not realized how readily my perfectionistic brain latched onto these new good-and-bad food categories, adding grains (especially those with gluten) and sugar to the “bad” list.
Anyhow, my body loved, loved, loved the beautiful whole grain bread and rice I gave it, and it even did fine with the white baguette slices with real butter I found at restaurants. Amazing. I started enjoying some more desserts: Guinness chocolate cake with my family at an open-air restaurant, hazelnut gelato with my very own self on State Street. Hot damn, this eating thing was feeling fantastic.
And then I decided to really branch out. I haven’t really identified as vegan in quite a while, as I went “off the wagon” occasionally. But this time I unhitched the wagon. Over the past three weeks, I’ve enjoyed eggs in many forms, a delicious variety of cheeses, pulled pork, chunks of bacon, chicken of widely varied quality, and luscious, flaky salmon. And a big fat hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square in Chicago with my dad.
It’s been alternately delicious and disorienting. But I’m putting on some much-needed weight, becoming less pointy, and gradually finding myself at home in a more substantial body. One that is OK with being right here, even though things are uncomfortable and scary sometimes, and even though the future is bigger than I can see.
But this is about wanting a big future. It’s about stepping into school not knowing what will meet me at the end – or honestly, at the end of next week. It’s about intentionally living close to my family – in location and emotion – even though loving hard means hurting hard sometimes. It’s about opening to people for the simple reason that staying closed is a waste of time.
It’s about having the courage to eat from life’s whole buffet – from beautiful broccolini to caramel bread pudding – rather than from a cramped subset of foods chosen more by fear than reason.
It’s about loving the process of becoming, with all its mess. It’s about knowing that pain is not failure, that it’s a necessary corollary to joy.
It’s about being fed, and rooting down, and letting things make beauty rather than sense.