Monday, August 3, 2015

a rare day











It’s a beautiful Sunday: a rare day this time of year. The air feels freshly scrubbed. It’s sunny, but not like summer, with its bleaching, hammering blaze; rather, there's a soft, crystalline light that beautifies everything it touches, as though god’s finger slipped on the saturation dial. 

I have nothing to do, nowhere to be, so I just lie on the couch, looking out at the mountain, the garden, my toes... Letting my thoughts drift and meander, occasionally turning my attention back to my book. But mostly just staring. 

Then it happens, unbidden — a silent, soaring burst of inner joy; an eruption of euphoric freedom that begins in my chest and expands, carrying me skyward on a current of wild, vertiginous rapture. 

I stay still, choosing not to hang on to it, but just be in it… It passes.

This is how I know I’ve changed. 



These moments, these gifts (‘joy bombs’, as I like to think of them) are completely unpredictable, and as elusive as quicksilver. 

Before, I would feel compelled to act. I thought the feeling was a resource to be plundered, something I was meant to harness and put to work. I’d ruffle through all the projects banging around in my head — should I write? Cook? Blog? Make a dress? Paint the mirror in the bathroom? Sketch?

While I’m in it, anything seems possible.

But then anything would begin to feel like too much, feel overwhelming. No sooner had the feeling registered than I’d feel cement walls rise up and surround me, as though set off by some invisible hair trigger. The message was clear: There is no point. It's too hard. Too much. You can't. You're not one of those people.

Joy would turn to frustrated impotence in the space of minutes.

But not today.

Today, I simply lie there and marvel that such a feeling exists, that millions of years of evolution can culminate in this arrangement of molecules, experiencing this exquisite moment… Why look further than that? 

The bomb mushrooms and then evaporates, but instead of despair, this time I’m left with a little afterglow. Then I carry on reading my book.

This is how I know I’ve changed. 

There are other signs, too.

Life feels quieter, less frenetic.

Most of the time, I am able to identify the beginning stages of neurosis, when my thoughts begin to spiral, dancing to the tune of unidentified, unconscious fears, and I can corral them in a different direction before I turn into a gibbering wreck.

I am writing with a greater sense of purpose, too. Drinking less compulsively. Exercising more. Spending less money. Staying home. Trying new things. 

One of those new things, which I think has contributed immeasurably to the profound, tectonic shift that’s occurred in my life recently, is answering an invitation from a former colleague on Facebook to form a group to work through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

I’d previously been skeptical about the book, which seemed, to my cynical mind, to have about it an air of touchy-feely woo and feeble-mindedness. But, in the spirit of trying new things, at the last minute I decided to join.

The experience has been life-changing — on all levels, not just creatively. Being able to discuss our lives and our creative challenges (which bear a remarkable resemblense to garden variety life challenges) in an intimate group of like-minded individuals helped keep me motivated to stay the course, which was invaluable. But two practices have been completely revelatory*: morning pages, and the ‘artist’s date’. (*Yes, I know I hardly have the monopoly on this front.)

You can read about the morning pages here if you like, but briefly, it’s the practice of handwriting three foolscap pages first thing in the morning. Every morning. You can write about anything under the sun, stream of consciousness, fiction or your shopping list, just fill three pages. (Turns out, as Oliver Burkman puts it, it’s really hard to write about nothing for three pages — eventually you start writing about something.)

The practice isn’t always easy, in fact it can be bloody difficult, but once I committed (and one really does have to commit), I started to wake up: to my inner world, to destructive behaviours, to the excuses I make for not doing better, being kinder to myself, doing things that nourish me... The morning pages allow me to nail down all those half-thoughts that flit around my head, evading proper examination, because I’m too lazy, or distracted, or afraid to look closer. When you’ve got to fill those pages, catching a thread of half-thought, and yanking on it, tends to fray a lot of the illusions we’re so comfortable with, but which may be stunting us.

Then there are the artist’s dates. The title is cheesy, but I think there isn’t a single person alive who wouldn’t benefit from incorporating the basic principal into their lives: once a week, set aside time to do something (on your own) for no reason other than that it will delight you. Preferably something you don’t do regularly, or, even better, have never done at all; preferably something whimsical; preferably something that has no point beyond an experience; preferably something that has nothing to do with 'work'.

















We deny ourselves so much pleasure in the name of practicality: 'Where’s it going to get me? What's it for?' But step outside this idea, and there’s a whole other world out there: a world of child-like wonder and playful learning and creativity. For its own sake and nothing more. 

Some of my artist’s dates — and they may not sound novel to you, but they were to me — have included making time to go online and find new and interesting music; buying a cheap jigsaw puzzle at a Chinese store, and spending an afternoon completing it (okay, I got halfway); getting a Hollywood wax (that’s a blog post for another time); surfing; knitting; learning to appreciate whisky; making outlandish collages out of old magazines (move over Pinterest, ha!); doodling in a sketchpad, blindfolded, while listening to Jeff Bridges’ sleep tapes; guided meditations... Future ones I’d like to try are singing lessons, pole dancing, ice skating — just for kicks.

Today, for my artist’s date, I made a wreath out of lavender from my garden, which gave me inordinate satisfaction — it was something I’d done as a kid and completely forgotten about.

Last week, I made chocolate chip cookies.


































I know, right? How on earth is making cookies supposed to expand your mind? Well, I’d never made any before — of any description. I’m not much of a baker, see. But suddenly I seized upon the idea of making cookies (chocolate chip, no less) because there was just something so wholesome and guileless about it... It was almost certainly something I would have dismissed out of hand a year ago for not being sophisticated or interesting enough.

Chocolate chip cookies? Booooring.

So not.

I did my research, and I finally settled on this recipe from Orangette, and it did not disappoint. I ate about eight in one sitting, with a glass of milk, once they’d cooled, and they were everything I’d hoped they’d be — nutty, crunchy, studded with dark chocolate and as big as my palm. I felt preposterously chuffed with myself.

Here I share the recipe — but if you’re a dab hand at making cookies, I hope you’ll try something else instead (although these are delicious cookies). Something ‘silly’, ‘pointless’, and a touch eccentric.


Wholewheat chocolate chip cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

3 cups whole wheat flour (see note above)
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
About 220g unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes 
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
About 230g bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into ¼- and ½-inch pieces, or bittersweet chips

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 180°C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper. (If you have no baking paper, you can butter the sheets.)
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, and whisk to blend.
3. Put the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl, and blend on low speed until the flour is just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the chocolate, and mix on low speed until evenly combined. (If you have no stand mixer, you can do all of this with handheld electric beaters and/or a large, sturdy spoon.) Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and then use your hands to turn and gently massage the dough, making sure all the flour is absorbed.
4. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each cookie. (I was able to fit about 8 cookies on each sheet, staggering them in three rows.)
5. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly browned. Transfer the cookies, still on parchment, to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.







3 comments:

  1. LOVE this post so much, Robs - and I am so, so, SO grateful to this process, if only for the opportunity to meet you and the others. At the risk of sounding totally cheesy, you've all touched my life in your own, unique way and inspired me to try something new.

    (Totally had a chuckle at the memory of you recounting your bikini wax 'date'! Also - pole dancing! Great idea! Totally going to steal that idea, if you don't mind?) xx

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  2. I also love this and the other posts I've read, Robyn. Keep going. xx

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