October 11, 2012

Leaning into the Light

Here are some truths:

I sniffled and sneezed my way through Brooklyn and midtown last week before changing into my pajamas each night before dark and pulling the bed covers over my lap, hours before an acceptable bedtime. During that same bout of head cold suffering, I somehow tweaked my back so that a wincing tender spot ran from my right mid-back, up the inside of my shoulder blade along my spine and marched achingly up my neck to my ear. I groaned like an old woman turning over in bed.

When I climb the subway stairs in the evening and arrive above ground, the world is closing in on full darkness, and it’s not yet 6:30.

We ate ramen noodles for dinner on Tuesday.

And yet.

I smelled the first fire of the season on Monday, woodsy smoke lingering in the air as I rounded a corner near the library.

At the farmer’s market on Sunday, when the dahlias looked frowsy and trampled, I bought an armful of untamed eucalyptus branches. Also four honeycrisp apples, an acorn squash and a pumpkin. Carrying the tall branches down 5th Avenue, Sebastian remarked I looked like a koala bear. At home, I pulled out a tall mason jar, a footed orange planter, and a slim vase of milk glass for arrangements on the dining table, atop a bureau, and in our bedroom. Each time I rise from bed for a glass of water or to fetch a book, the leaves brush my arm and fill the room with their medicinal fragrance. I can never quite decide if I like the smell or not.

I roasted the squash in the oven side by side until their ribbed walls collapsed, then cut them open and scooped out their seeds. I cubed the acorn squash and cooked it with tender red lentils and turmeric in a stew, but the pumpkin fell apart and could be scooped out of its skin, as soft and formless as a puree. I warmed it last night in a pan with butter, olive oil, and soft translucent onions, before adding crushed tomatoes and thyme. We ate it with hot spaghetti and a scoop of goat’s milk ricotta. I felt like a farmsteader.

I am talking about small things, of course. More so than usual, I find myself lately holding up each day’s tiny, quiet moments as if they were nuggets of gold I’ve panned for in a river. In a way they are. Earlier this fall I read a book that felt like a wise, intimate companion, The Journal Keeper. Phyllis Theroux writes that she uses her journal to “lean into the light.” It’s a phrase that’s stayed with me. Does it take more effort to lean into the light than into darkness? I don’t know, but as someone who has at times been subsumed by darkness so cloaking there seems no light at the end of its narrow tunnel, leaning is the endeavor I care most about these days. It’s what I’m scribbling about in my little red notebook and right here. Leaning, panning for gold, finding it in a bowl of ramen soup and the insides of a pumpkin.

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  • Amy: This is beautiful. So beautiful.

    Last year, at a blog conference (Camp Mighty) one of the speakers reminded us to lean into the good side of ourselves, because as you get older, there are so many who lean into the negative and that ability to see and be good is so precious.5 years ago

  • Melissa @ Hilltop Hausfrau: Farmsteading…nice one!

    So this is what I should have responded to your post a few months ago…the one where we were reviewing whether we should be fretting over staged photos, was wordsmithing an absolute requirement for a blog or not…I think there is something to be said to make the attempt to lean into the light (or, fixing the shot so that the dirty dish isn’t necessarily in the front). Is it not just a choice to see the better things about our day; days which are inevitably an even mix of yucky and gorgeous?

    (I’m with you eucalyptus…it’s kinda like jagermeister for me…won’t say no, but always second guess as it’s going down…)5 years ago

  • Julia (Color Me Green): i have been trying to do something like this. i think of it as cultivating moments of joy or moments of calm. i try to forget about being annoyed with my job by deliberately reminding myself to just enjoy that i’m strolling in the beautiful fall weather or eating a piece of chocolate or taking a hot shower, etc.5 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: I love this idea (and will have to check out that book). I, too, am making an effort to lean into the light, to treasure these small things. (And oh, those dinners sound yummy.)5 years ago

  • Jen: This is excellent. Thank you, and enjoy the light.5 years ago

  • Kristina: Can we..sigh…can we just be best friends? Me in Detroit and you in Brooklyn?

    I feel like I also have a tendency to lean into the darkness, until I wake up and find myself with both feet fully planted on that side. Then I think, how did this happen?

    I’m really hard on myself with the “supposed to’s” and the “this is how’s” (which you’ve written really wonderfully about in terms of the changing blogging community), and so I have to remind myself about appreciating the little things in my own life constantly.

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder.5 years ago

  • amanda {the habit of being}: isn’t it amazing that a pretty sturdy gourd can be turned into a sweet puree with just a little heat? we eat a lot of squash and pumpkins and i never fail to find them utterly amazing both in taste and in color.

    hope you’re on the mend, feeling better 🙂5 years ago

  • Alyssa: Beautifully written. I think there is much here to be proud of. I think at times when things are dark and painful, it is most difficult to “lean into the light.” And I think when we’re able to do that, to pull ourselves back from the brink, even with something as small as a pumkin and some branches, we should be as proud as if we’d run a marathon.
    I find these little spots of joy and delight are both the necessary and sufficient conditions for me to live a happy and appreciated life.
    Your post has given me yet another reminder of all there is to be appreciative of in life.
    Thank you for that, Sarah.
    And good luck and a speedy recovery with your back and cold.5 years ago

  • BethP: You can roast a squash by just sticking it in the oven and cutting it up later?? Brilliant! (Leave it to me to fixate on the food . . .)5 years ago

  • Amy C: I’m going to have to check out Journal Keeper. You always recommend such great books!
    In return, I’m going to recommend a book that I just finished, and I thought of you while reading it: The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks. Her writing is just breathtaking, and the story is so beautiful and thoughtful.

    Anyway, that being said, Autumn is the best!!! If I could just live in a pile of pumpkins and cozy sweaters, I would.5 years ago

  • Tricia A: your words speak to me right now, right here in this moment as I lean into your light. your words are precious gems…..they way you put them all together here, for me, for you, for all of us……..it is all I need.5 years ago

  • I am having so much fun writing these posts lately, so I’m glad you ladies are enjoying them. They give me a reason to look for the little good things in each day. And I am totally and completely over that awful cold!

    Thank you for the book recommendation, Amy!

    And Beth: be sure to poke some holes in the top of your gourds near the stem. I guess otherwise they might explode?5 years ago

  • Emily: Sarah, this post is magnificent precisely because it is about the small things. I have been feeling down lately – midterms are upon me, and I also live on the East Coast where sunsets are early.
    I have recently discovered Anne of Green Gables (at 19!) and am enjoying the books so much because of the simplicity of the times, Anne’s good heart and the simple joys she gets out of the natural world.

    Basically, your post plus my discovery of the Anne books has resulted in a lovely synchroneity that makes me believe that my desire to be a better person is approved by the universe! I am also a journal keeper, and will look into Theroux’s book – you always have such interesting book recommendations!

    Thank you.5 years ago

  • lean into the light | Piwo z Lody: […] Sarah makes a point in her recent post (so insightful, a much better writer than myself) that it may take less energy to “lean into the […]5 years ago

  • Krista: Sarah, I haven’t posted a comment in a long, long time – but I’ve been reading for years. This post is wonderful, and as another commenter said, so insightful – in the most subtle of ways. Please tell me you’re working on a book deal by now??!! You’re such a talent. I could read your words, soaking them up, for hours at a time.5 years ago

  • geek+nerd: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I think this is precisely why I blog. To hold onto those little moments. I love this post, Sarah, and I am so glad that you are finding those nuggets!5 years ago

  • KD: Hi Sarah,

    Thinking about you and hoping things are okay in Brooklyn. Take care.

    KD5 years ago

  • gkgirl: oh.
    i love your writing.

    truly.5 years ago

  • October books, part 4 « cakes, tea and dreams: […] Journal Keeper, Phyllis Theroux Sarah recommended this book, drawn from the author’s journals over six years. It is at once […]5 years ago

  • Michelle N: Hi Sarah! Wonderful post as usual. Your question ” Does it take more effort to lean into the light than the darkness?” has stuck with me for days. I believe it does require more effort, as it’s super easy to just fall back into dark, crappy despair….thank you for your emphasis that it is the actual leaning into the light that is the important part, and not the extra work – cos wherever or whatever our light may be, it will lead us through our dark season.5 years ago

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