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The trick about writing a pouring out post like my last is that as soon as I write it and hear from all you, I don’t feel that way anymore. You lift my burden with your comments, your emails, your texts, your thoughts. Thank you.

Aside from my emotional state, Brad feels better this month, too. He’s taking a few new supplements for his gut and his cellular metabolism and has more energy lately than I think I’ve ever seen from him in our married life. He’s working out again! The swelling in his knees is going up and down again. We might have the beginnings of health for him and I am so so so relieved.

And with that happy frame of mind, I read Stephen Colbert’s profile in GQ this morning.

I didn’t know this, but his dad and two brothers died in a plane crash when he was 10. He suffered. But this is the astounding thing he says about it now:

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

He explains that he feels gratitude for that tragedy. It gave him a worldview. He watched his mom live broken, but not bitter:

He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity.

I’m standing at my desk reading and nodding because Stephen Colbert gets it. He gets that at the bottom of suffering is so much joy. Joy that you’re carried by people who love you. Joy that you’re held tight forever by the One who saves. Joy that this isn’t all there is. This has never been all there is.

It sounds crazy because it is crazy: I’m happy Brad and I are going through this. These ups and downs will make us and bring us, broken but not bitter, to Paradise. OR TO THE LATE SHOW because obviously Stephen Colbert and I are interchangeable at this point.

photo taken at the Denver Botanic Gardens

ocean beach

I’m not sure which is the harder pain: a doctor out of ideas saying, “Maybe lymphoma?” Searching an ultrasound screen to see if you can tell with your bare eyes if your husband’s kidney is failing. Hooking him up to an IV twice a day for months.

Or what we’re going through now.

“Now” isn’t dramatic speculative diagnoses (that thankfully turned out to be wrong), or scary tests and heavy medicine. Now is the point where another doctor says the words we’ve heard from every doctor before him. “I don’t know why this isn’t working. This always works. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”

So we sit on our couch in our living room and ask one another what’s next. He says maybe we stop everything and try a new fast. I say let’s do that since we don’t have any momentum to lose anyway. We both think, but what if that doesn’t work either?

And what if it doesn’t? I’m asking because I really don’t know. If it doesn’t work, if everything keeps not working, his elbows and ankles will get bigger and bigger. The pain that comes and goes in his hands and feet will lodge their permanently. The days he can barely get in and out of a chair will become more frequent. The times I need to help him put on his socks will become routine.

And then what?

The scariest thing in the world to me isn’t dying. The scariest thing is watching the world of the man I love shrink from the wide, wide everything to our neighborhood, to our house, to a wheelchair. The scariest thing is looking into our future and seeing pain. My faith tells me there will be grace, and love, and joy to meet that pain. But this morning my vision is foggy and the pain is the most clear.

Here is the string I’m holding onto as we dangle over the edge of this cliff:

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

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Jolly Good Helping of British Feels
All the Austen
All the Lord Peter Wimsey volumes
All the Nigel Slater
All the Harry Potters
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
The Unlikely Journey of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Books to Make you Chuckle Out Loud in Public Places
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
One More Thing by B.J. Novak (shelved also in Might Become a Legend, But Let’s Wait a Few Decades and See How He Turns Out)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Classics that Make You Go Wha–?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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Books You Read as a Child But Are Afraid to Read Again In Case They’re Not as Good Now
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
A Voice from the Border by Pamela Smith Hill
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Past and Future Vehicles for Anne Hathaway
One Day by David Nicholls
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
A story from Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

Past and Future Vehicles for Keira Knightley
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Girl in the Dark by Anna Lindsay
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Just Start Crying Now 
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Van Auken

That Book Everyone Tells You You’ll Love But You Don’t Really
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

 

 

 

 

watermelon and tomato salad

Last week I snuck into the test kitchen at work for an afternoon snack and a break from editing the largest google doc spreadsheet I’ve ever made. (Why, in a creative field, should I ever have to deal with a spreadsheet you ask? Excellent question.) Up on the counter was a tray filled with layers of watermelon, tomatoes, and corn. It was a tray of summer, and I ate that summer right up then came home and made another tray of summer to share with Brad.

This is cooking as it’s meant to be, I think. Just awesome food without any dressing up. Actually, this salad is my spirit animal, if you could call fruit and herbs an animal. (You can’t, but I am anyway.) In a summer where I’ve been learning to be fully free, to sit in grace, to not strive for any ideal except a heart constantly tuned to Jesus, I can look at this salad and honestly say I want to be more like it.

This is where I tell you this really isn’t worth making if you can’t get awesome tomatoes. If you grow them, you’re way ahead of me. If you don’t, it’s worth the trip to a farmer’s market to get a couple that were picked that morning and have glorious colors.

watermelon and tomato salad with corn and feta

I used an olive oil infused with roasted garlic to drizzle on top of this and mmmm, good choice. But if you have normal olive oil use it and skip the garlic in any form (I think fresh would be too harsh). 

watermelon (mine was unexpectedly golden yellow instead of red)
heirloom tomatoes (or otherwise fantastically flavorful tomatoes)
fresh corn (I used two ears)
fresh basil
sheep’s milk feta
olive oil
salt
pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the shucked corn for 4 minutes. Set it aside to cool while you slice the watermelon into slabs the size of your palm. Slice the tomatoes, then quarter or halve the slices. The goals is to layer these two elements on the tray so you have to cut into them with your fork to get your best bite.

Slice the slightly cooled corn off the cob and sprinkle it over the watermelon and tomatoes. Tear fresh basil over the top, then top with thin slabs of feta. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

2015 books

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: When I share with you what I’ve read and loved in the last six months. As usual, my list is all over the place, and the number one spot goes to a book I read, thought was brilliant, and only gets more brilliant in memory. If anyone wants to buy me a copy I have no specific preference about hardcover or paperback. You’re the best.

Ok, let’s do this:

5. Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo I swear this book made me breathe easier. It gives permission to be slow and plodding with your creative work and still count that time as productive. I’m on this kick lately where I’m anti-ambition. That sounds horrible, right? Here’s what I mean: We’re always told to strive for the top, and as women, we get an extra dose of “do it for the sisterhood. Blaze the trail, prove them wrong, honor those who came before you.” But who says your top is my top? What if the middle of your ambition scale is actually what fills my gut with that feeling of being alive and content and useful? So many of my large philosophical questions about life boil down to, IS IT OK TO BE DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER? Obviously, yes, but it’s more complicated than that. So this book. For me, it wasn’t just about taking your time with the process (and giving lots of practical writing advice), it also upended my high-performance striving and whispered, “you do not have to be everything right now.”

4. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan So essentially, this is fan fic. Really well done fan fic, but fan fic all the same. I would write a huge rant here about how much fan fic bothers me with its derivative characterization and indulgent plotting except my 16-year-old self reminds me I have no stones to throw at that particular glass house. AHEM. The Royal We tells about an American woman who falls in love with the Prince of England and it is hard and public and basically a reimagining of William and Kate. Speaking of. At the peak of my William and Kate fever a few weeks ago–caused by Princess Charlotte’s birth and my reading this book–I watched the BBC/Lifetime William and Kate movie. I even began to live blog it for you guys. But it is unspeakably bad. Let me offer you this bit of real dialogue ripped from the first 90 seconds to prove it:

SCENE: Prince Charles and William walk in front of what’s obviously a university.
Prince Charles:
I can’t believe you’re all grown up. I want you to know I’m very proud of you.
A surprised Prince William: Thanks, Dad.
An overly affected Prince Charles: This is the kind of thing your mother would have wanted for you.
Me, incredulous: What? Like, a college education? 

Then William makes this face:

william

To recap: movie = bad. This book = really fun. Find yourself a lounge chair in the sun and hop to it.

3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech A 13-year-old girl’s mother leaves. She’s too young to know exactly the heartache that motivates her mother, but you won’t be. So from the very start, you’ll sympathize with Sal, the girl. You’ll laugh as she tells a story about her friend Phoebe. You’ll get that she’s actually telling more about herself than anyone else. You’ll be thankful for Sal’s grandparents when they take her to Idaho to find her mom. And because you’re older and wiser and know more, when Sal says “I knew” twenty pages from the end of the book, your heart will break.

2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I hope I can say someday that this booked changed my life. I wrote about that here.

1. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill My friend Kristin read this book and wrote a succinct review: Dear god, so depressing. I’m here to tell you she is RIGHT. She usually is. I read this and loved the writing, but thought it was too much of a downer to be a favorite. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I kept wishing I owned it so I could read a few of the perfect sentences over and over again (“The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.”). It’s the kind of book that’s told in small fragments. On their own, they’re clever. Through the course of the book, the effect gathers steam and the smallest bit of writing can bring tears to your eyes or make you laugh (mostly bring tears to your eyes). I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where I’ve sunk so deeply into the context of the narrator and felt what I imagine she felt with each thought.

Honorable mentions:

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief You have to read this book about how nutso Scientology is. I read it and was all, Where is the petition I can sign to rid the world of these abusers of humans rights? FOR REAL.

Revolutionary Road Why do I like poignant, depressing books so much?

Lila Because Marilynne Robinson is perfect.

Skin Cleanse I am here to tell you I have had clear skin for three whole weeks because of this book. I’m going to write about it soon because it is to my skin and sanity what a life jacket is to a drowning person. (Maaaaybe overstating things?)

The Forsyte Saga Delicious Brit lit that spans decades, a category that will always be a success with me.

What about you?

 

cacti

(Some quotes I jotted down on my phone while listening to the On Being podcast with poet Mary Oliver.)

You must make an appointment with your creative self. Otherwise your creativity gets tired of waiting around…or just gets tired.

If you’ve said what you want, by decorating it with more words, you’re not making it more intense. You’re repeating yourself.

You need empathy. Reporting is for field guides. (On paying attention to what’s happening around you and using it in your writing.) 

When I first wrote poems, they were rotten. But I kept at it day after day after day. Finally you learn things.

I’ve become more willing to grow old. (On what she means by “I’ve grown more spiritual.”)

Poetry is ropes let down to the lost.

———-

I’m a baby in the world of podcasts. So far I’ve blown through Serial, season one of StartUp (and I’m up-to-date with season two), also listening to Mystery Show and Reply All, have rejected Call Your Girlfriend and Relevant, and am selecting a few episodes here and there from Spilled Milk and On Being. What else??? I’ve got a long commute AND I’m starting to train for a half marathon, so I’m all ears.

 

A further entry in the annals of Joanna Is Not As Cool As You Think: A few months I had to Google FOMO because all the cool kids, etc. I’ll let you in on what I learned: FOMO is Fear Of Missing Out.

I have FOMO right now. Not the fear of missing out on any certain experience or event, but a fear of missing out on producing.

Every day, I go online and see people who write about every book they read (and in a much more digestible format than my long, never quite figured out thoughts), have a specific job for their Instagram account*, those who recap each day or weekend with technicolor photos, offer a new brilliant recipe every other day, have side projects with their friends, or get their thoughts together/organized/online before I remember what day it is. I see people who have a wealth of material they can point to when someone asks, “What have you been up to lately?”

Sometimes I get caught up in the idea that nothing has really happened until I’ve shared it here, on Twitter, or on Instagram. How will you all KNOW that I had a large revelation that will (please, God, please) change and shape my life for the rest of my life if I don’t explain it all here? (I did, and I haven’t figured out how to say it here yet.) How will you KNOW I’m taking advantage of living here by going to cool places if I don’t point it out?

It reminds me of the time I read a blogger’s About Me page and felt bad for 15 seconds because she seemed so cool and so into the same things I am. Then I realized, she’s into the same things I am, she just wrote it down on stone of the Internet!

In this online-centric life, I have to remind myself the doing is the doing. The telling is not the doing. The telling is a nice thing we do when we think someone else might benefit from the telling, or when the telling makes us happy or makes us laugh. We do not do so we can tell. Or at least, I shouldn’t.

To close, a list of potential side projects for me if I ever have the spare time and energy to do them:
// A podcast wherein my friend Keri and I watch movies and talk through them because it entertains us endlessly and annoys NOBODY.
// A retail store of all the things I really really like: books, fine chocolate bars with good-for-you ingredients, wine, llama things. I even have a name for it but I’m not sharing because this is the Internet.
// A series of illustrated children’s books recounting the adventures of my niece Luci and her BFF Leila. Luci and Leila! It practically writes itself! But it does not illustrate itself, so I’m stuck.
// Mystery Project X with my friend Kristin. Don’t ask. We don’t know.

Now I’m dying to know: If you had a side project, what would it be?

*A very savvy friend recently told me he decided one night to start an Instagram account of the wine he drinks specifically so he can A) convince wineries to have him photograph their product lines (he’s a photographer, so this isn’t a pipe dream) and B) because he wants wineries to send him free wine. It’s actually brilliant and a thought I would never have.

americanah

“I didn’t feel black until I came to America.”

Out of all the true, surprising, maddening quotes in Americanah, this is the one–voiced by the Nigerian protagonist Ifemelu–that sticks with me. I’ve spent a month thinking about why. During that month, another black man died in the custody of police in Baltimore. The conversation is getting louder, but in my mind, these nine words ring louder still.

Before reading them, I think I naively assumed identity was self-determined by either intentionally taking it on or intentionally rejecting what other people try to put on you. Yes, I am a bookish disciple of Jesus who is proudly Midwestern, even when that means I’m a little too quaint. No, I’m not a selfish Millennial who doesn’t know how to, like, write without using emojis.

I thought I got to decide all that myself. And the kicker is that, more than most, I do. I’m a 29-year-old white woman raised in a middle class family, college-educated, surrounded by people who believe in me and tell me I get to call the shots in my heart, my life, and my career.

Americanah woke me up to the reality that a 29-year-old black woman raised in a middle class family, college-educated, and surrounded by people who believe in her is told in ways both overt and subtle that she doesn’t get to call the shots, not all the time.

Because identity isn’t always our choice. Identity is often a reaction to what makes You different from Them, and what You and Them think about those differences. Ifemelu wasn’t black until she came to America, where we notice it and mark it and wrap up generalizations and history and misunderstandings and shame in one word. (In an interesting paragraph, Ifemelu says class is Nigeria’s “black.”)

That sentence–and the rest of the book–made me look hard at myself. I’ve always been taught and always believed that color doesn’t matter*, that we’re all precious souls on equal footing with our Creator. But at the same time, I recognized some of the stereotypes she brings up, some malicious, some not (assuming every woman in Africa is some kind of Earth Mother, assuming they need our help and our technology, assuming our literature/fashion/music/you name it is higher quality). I dug into my mind and saw work that still needs to be done on my heart.

It’s hard to say this publicly. I practiced by telling Brad, telling my coworkers, and telling my friends. This is the power of storytelling–to put you in someone else’s skin and realize how you judged that skin before. You come out at the end a little different, if you’re honest with yourself. I’m trying to be honest with myself. It’s been a month since I read Americanah, but it’s still making me examine each thought that comes into my mind. Some are good, some are bad. Each one needs to be held up to the light that will make it shine brighter or burn away what’s not true.

_____________________

*Our church is currently going through a sermon series examining movies and the power they have to show us God and Truth. Each week there is a podcast that digs deeper into the topic. A few weeks ago, the topic was Selma and justice. In it, one of the guests made an excellent statement about how being “color blind” is a mistake because that erases a huge part of someone’s identity. Instead, recognize difference, try to understand difference, and celebrate difference. The whole podcast was challenging and encouraging. You can listen to it here. (Episode 3.)

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Update: I originally gave the date at the head of this post as “August 31, 2015.” It’s been a WEEK, y’all. xo

// “What happens when the muscles of cruelty grow too strong?” (FYI: Some strong language.)

// The author behind The Power of Quiet is starting a site and social media account meant to encourage, help, and mobilize introverts (you know, from the comfort of our homes with no one else around). I’m following it and am excited to see what it turns into.

// The winners of last year’s wine competition as chosen by the esteemed brand that employs me. You know, just in case you’re in Whole Foods and have burning wine questions.

// I just discovered a number of gorgeous artisanal magazines: Life & Thyme and The Gentlewoman among them. I love seeing people with a niche passion go out and do their thing.

// The Mill (home of $4 toast that is Totally Worth It, even to this frugal Midwesterner) uses these glasses for water and I love them and will someday get a whole set of them. (Also the site of the photo above. I could move in.)

// Ask a food expert to develop a handful of recipes that use a single ingredient and what do you get? Really adorable, really focused mini-cookbooks. I will take one of each, THANKS.

// These Broccoli Parmesan Fritters are going on our weekly rotation for awhile. So good.