Kindness. Compromise. Empathy.
In 2011, I started a blog as a sort of writing practice. How hard could it be? Choose a word. Write some stuff. Post.
A friend in my writing group generously offered to create the banner with my title for the blog and splashed bright, colorful, bold letters across the top of the page: W.O.R.D.S. Have color. Have vision. Have power. I gave it a subtitle: Stories about life and sometimes food. I forged ahead.
Photographs of my father and grandmother were awful, but I didn’t think they’d be offended. Both had long since passed on. A story about making pizza at home with my nieces netted me a lucrative writing contract.
It’s been said that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
In November 2012, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I quit my music performance group and, in 2013, as a result of complications, spent six months in hospitals and rehab. For a short time, I was completely incapacitated without use of my arms or hands. I could not walk and was confined to a wheelchair. But I had my laptop and dictation software. I kept posting.
As much as I tried to avoid the excrement of politics ─ the racism, classism, sexism, and religious nationalism ─ there were days when the poop landed square on my pages. Circumstances, of course, will compel me to step into the mess again. Still, honor, generosity, and love — genuine goodness and human kindness — are real. Inner conflicts are powerful. But here’s the reality. When I focus on the good, I write from joy.
Focus on living a food inspired life.
I clung to this like a mantra, a talisman, a life raft. Sometimes I wrote about what I ate or what I cooked.
I promised myself to write about contemporary Black chefs and their approaches to food. Feeling overwhelmed with my body mass index, I joined Weight Watchers. I explored new recipes, and I started feeling at ease. I realized that mine was already a food inspired life.
“Doggone it! There’s always something,” my mother used to say.
In March 2020, as the lockdown began, my monthly intravenous immune suppressing infusions were put on hold for the first time in nine years.
“It’s unsafe,” said the nurse coming to my apartment, “to continue to administer in your home.” She worked in a hospital flooded with COVID. My neurologist said, “Let’s see how you get on. If necessary, you can go to the hospital.”
“Um. Aren’t people in hospitals dying of COVID? No thanks.”
On the bright side, it seemed that the whole world was returning to the joy of cooking and eating at home. The stillness of roads without tires slapping cement and the silence of streets without human chatter filled me with pleasure. Across the street on the college grounds and nature walk, I saw a fox. Deer, unmolested by our human presence, returned to nibble plants. Scores of butterflies and moths fluttered in the trees across the road and in the trees outside my window.
The Canal Grande, in Venice, Italy, became so clear that you could see dolphins, octopus, and crabs in the waters. This had me whooping for joy.
“Keep the visitors away,” I said. “Keep the big cruisers out of the canals!” For me, the lockdown presented an image of paradise. I relaxed in the fluctuating winds, rain, snow, and sunny days. Contemplating food prep, I watched cooking shows, read food memoirs, and researched food writers. It was a sloooow-down time, making way for delights like the writings of Gullah culinary anthropologist Verta Mae Grosvenor and the food adventures of Peter Mayle.
I put aside concerns about the pandemic as my food inspired life consumed me.
If I may say so myself ─ and I do ─ my tiny kitchen is a chef-worthy kitchen. Two heavy duty juicers cram against each other and line up near the microwave where spiralizer and electric kettle are squished near the edge of the counter. A large food processor nestles near a high-powered blender (one that converts grains to flour) and an air fryer. The pressure cooker/instant pot, rice cooker, and bread machine are jammed into remaining space. And still, I desire more…a standing mixer perhaps?
My wonderful friend Rae, an amazing artist, writer, and food enthusiast, sent me a gift: a hydroponic planter. Now, I thought, I can fancy myself a “farm to table” cook. There was no space for the 6″ x 14″ planter in the kitchen, so I tucked it on a side table between the sofa and the living room wall.
For starters, I put basil, Bibb lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and spinach into the germination sponges.
In just a short time, I had two very large lettuce plants, enough for salad.
Magical! I pinched a leaf and placed it on my tongue. It was tender, delicate in flavor and almost weightless. The basil grew like a wild thing, while the spinach took its sweet time. The tomatoes? This was something really special. In almost no time, I had to re-pot the basil and the tomatoes.
Farm to table? Perhaps not. But it’s settled. Mine is already a food inspired life.
A poster of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, hangs in my living room. She looks relaxed, at ease, overlooking the worldly chaos that we endure daily. “Relax,” she seems to radiate. Okay. I think I will.
The new year is always a pretty high time for me. This year, it all began with a Christmas tree. For the first time in, oh, say 30 years, I bought a small tree a few days before Christmas. It came with lights and, I have to say, was pretty cute. I decorated the artificial leaves with paper ornaments downloaded from the Internet and added a few more lights to brighten the room. It brought me great joy. Each morning, I plodded around in my red flannel nightgown feeling, well, relaxed.
Nice. No urgency, no panic. Could it be that making that last payment on my living room furniture could bring such calm? No. It was deeper than that. I had begun to take charge of my life in this strange world of recovery from CIDP in a more confident way.
Like the calming voice of a hypnotist, everything seemed to be repeating that word, and the word itself seemed to be swathed in a soft blue light. “Okay,” I thought.
One morning, I plugged in the tree and (using my new Roku television app!) found a virtual fireplace with Christmas music. Standing back and looking at the fireplace and the tree, I was once again struck by how relaxed I felt. I’ve had such rare moments of this kind of peace that I had to take it all in one moment at a time. I felt warm, cozy, and ready for 2016. How would I begin this year?
I emptied a pack of raw cranberries into a saucepan, added some sugar, and stood stirring and watching as the red berries began to bubble. There were three things that came to mind that would make this a year of relaxation: cooking, writing, and— crocheting. Crocheting? More about that later.
Cooking puts me in my happy place. It’s one of the few areas in my life where I am totally at ease, content. This explains why, when I lost my ability to feel with my hands or lift things, I panicked. The kitchen is my sacred space. And this is something I got from my parents and extended family, both men and women. In the kitchen, secrets were shared, hearts were healed, and great food was made. Perhaps this is why, when I think of the peaceful times in my family, it has to do with food.
The cranberries had boiled into a thick, sugary sauce. Yes, cooking would definitely contribute to a peaceful year. Then, I thought about writing. Ahh. Writing. It is no exaggeration to say that writing has saved my life. But my resolution is not about discipline; I can always use more discipline. It’s about staying in touch with that fire that kept me going in my journals when I thought everything was lost. It’s about using it to connect my personal history, my ancestry, and food.
Yum. I knew that I was gonna have a glorious holiday breakfast. The virtual fireplace was roaring, the choir was singing “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and the tree sparkled against the dawn.
I sliced a hunk of cranberry speckled cornbread and put it in the toaster oven to heat. Now, about this crochet madness. Really, Sala? Really?
When I was child living with six other people in a two bedroom apartment, my mother (very much a southern woman) ensured that my sister and I learn needlework, crochet, and a little sewing. While my sister seemed to take to sewing like a duck in water, I rebelled (my middle name). In my young adult years, however, I came back to crocheting. It seemed that even several straight rows, unrecognizable as anything usable, appeared to erase the passage of time. An added benefit was that sitting at a party with yarn and a crochet needle drew the guys to my corner like bees to honey. They considered me “deep.”
The cornbread was hot and I slathered it with my newly made cranberry sauce and butter. Nope. Watching my weight was not even in the list for the new year. Next were fried apples, heavily seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and dates for sweetener. Of course I cooked them in butter; I’m not stupid!
Standing over the stove and plating the food filled me with an inner sweetness matched only by the odors filling my apartment. Like a ghost, the smells slipped under the door and out into the building hallway. I’m sure that everyone on my floor knew I had cinnamon for breakfast.
This morning, post-New Year’s celebrations and all, I have the urge to crochet a wall hanging and frame it. I’ll let y’all know how that goes. Joy is the greatest gift we have, and for some outlandish reason, I feel that relaxed joy is the most important part of my resolution for 2016. Not weight loss; not changing my style; not a spreadsheet with tips about exercise. All this is important, but the most important is joy.
Relaxation and joy. That’s what I want for the new year. And that’s what I wish for you.
Posted in African American, Creative Non-Fiction, Essay, Family memories, Food, Life Stories, Memoir, values and spirituality, Writing from the heart
Tagged Commentary, Feelings, life and food, Life Stories, memoir, Reflections, story telling, values and spirituality, world view, writing from the heart