I’m writing the second draft of my next book. And editing. At over 100,000 words the first draft is too long. So instead of being in the book I’m turning my darlings into blog posts. Seems I can’t kill them after all.
It’s embarrassing to be staying as a guest in someone’s house and to be stealing their chocolate biscuits. Of course they wouldn’t see it as stealing. They were generous and hospitable, educated, erudite, warm, kind and old. One afternoon I had to escape the happy wedding preparations, if just for a few hours. The old man and I investigated river cruise timetables on the computer in his study. Every piece of wall space was hung with maps, masks and curios from time spent living and travelling overseas. Bookcases stuffed with mementoes, shelves laden with ephemera. So much stuff. His poor children.
“Why do you have so much stuff when you’re going to die soon?”
I imagined his kids having to sort though all these piles of dust. The agonising task of what to keep and what to toss. But if dad thought it was important shouldn’t we keep it? Going home laden with memories from another’s life and duty bound to keep them – for what? For someone else to have to sort through them when they themselves died? Jetsam discarded when they left this world bound for another place where these things – they’re just things for God’s sake – were meaningless.
Thankfully the question stayed inside my mouth. Only just. I had to bite my lips closed to keep it there, safe, unsaid. What business was it of mine to question a man who’d lived a good life, an exciting life, a rich life and that the proof of this life was abundant. The physical reminders were everywhere, cluttering the large office into a small and claustrophobic space. If he needed such undeniable proof of what he’d done and where he’d been who was I to judge. This man was happier than me, richer than me, and – if I kept secretly eating all the chocolate biscuits – may well live longer than me.
It’s the little things. The little things that make a day gloomy. The little things that brighten it again. The rainbow in the grey and drizzly clouds. Clean sheets to slide into after a tiring day. The dog leaning in for a pat, eyes full of love, even though you know she’s just dug up the silver beet. Again.
Many little annoying things throughout the day can make it seem as though the world is against us. One annoying incident can be ignored. Two and we might become irritable. Three and that’s it, we know that everyone and everything is out to get us. The best advice I’ve been given in these situations is not to take it personally. Because it’s not personal. It just is. Once we take something personally though, everything becomes loaded with meaning, with emotion, and with blame and resentment. Don’t you feel tired just thinking about it? Nurture your mind, reclaim your energy and your smile by not taking stuff personally. No one’s out to get you, and even if they are, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do them. So no matter what’s happened, it’s not personal.
Instead of fretting about those little things that don’t mean anything anyway, why not spend some time getting personal? If you stop taking things personally you’ll have more time to spend with yourself and with other people. Take some time out to breathe, to stretch, to skip, to smile. One of the quickest ways to get personal with yourself is with meditation. If you want to find out what you’re really thinking, try to stop thinking! But all the experts agree as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference to all kinds of health and emotional issues. Nurture your soul with a little meditation.
There are some who think that the answer to all of life’s problems is a nice cup of tea. Whether it’s the extended process of brewing up a spicy chai on a cool winter’s night, or simply boiling the kettle for a quick and simple green tea, the whole process is imbued with anticipation and delight. And the end result is a sip, a sigh, a smack of the lips. The little things that add up to an experience. A small experience that’s true, just a little thing, and the easiest way to nurture body, mind and soul.
My grandmother was an excellent cook. Thin as a rake, she lived on lettuce and sherry. Perhaps that’s why her meals were works of art. She wouldn’t eat them but she could admire them. Christmas was picture perfect, Easter was a Baroque classic and afternoon teas were pastoral scenes. Every time she lit her gas stove with a long wax taper we knew we were in for treat. Even something as simple as a self-saucing chocolate pudding turned out light on top, dense and rich below and with the special touch of being studded with walnuts.
My own cooking is much more purposeful. A blunt instrument compared to my grandmother’s finesse. In my early twenties when my best friend left town, I consoled myself by baking self-saucing chocolate puddings and eating them with tubs of ice cream. Everyday. I can still remember the recipe off by heart:
Mix 1 cup of self raising flour, 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of cocoa. Add 1 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Pour into a baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 cup of brown sugar mixed with another 2 tablespoons of cocoa and pour 2 cups of boiling water over the top. Bake for about 45 minutes, or less if you can’t wait that long. It’ll still taste the same.
No walnuts. No light touch. No oil painting. Just easy, quick, comfort food that’s meant to be eaten, not put on display. A pudding to be your best friend on these cold winter days and nights.