I am rusty at non-required writing. Every day I get it done for work but when it comes to the optional kind, I am tentative and wary of beginning again.
That phrase in the title – sugar in her tea – I transcribed it today from interview notes for something I’m writing. A freelance gig at an agricultural nonprofit, it has to do with farmers in the developing world and how their lives improve when their income grows. To have sugar in one’s tea after years of drinking it black? That’s a small sign that farmer livelihood is improving. (There are more significant measures too, like nutritious food and peace of mind.)
It’s just Grace and I here tonight. We are talking a little but we’re quiet. Oh, Winston’s here too. Are we lonely? I’ll ask Grace. We are sitting in her room together.
“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think that maybe if it was like some Saturdays in the past when it’s just been the two of us all weekend, and we only leave the house to do errands, that can be lonely.”
She adds, “Sometimes when I’m lonely it doesn’t have to do with us. It might be because of being upset with a friend.” Knowingly, she looks at me and continues: “It’s not the household dynamic.”
In my own moments of loneliness, I try to tell myself it’s just a feeling and it may have no immediate origin. You just have to abide with it. It may not need to be fixed.
Meanwhile, I’m reading a book, Scary Close by Donald Miller. It’s about intimacy in general – being real and being close to friends, family, a partner. Its subtitle contains the phrase “dropping the act.” This is the kind of thing a person reads when she wonders if she knows anything, after years of adulthood, about what it means to connect, and how to do it well. Though there is something about the writer’s voice that is a little too proud of all the insights, there are some illuminating bits, and I am enjoying them, like this one:
One night they are sitting around a fire in the yard. His future father-in-law, who is reportedly good at relationships, “said if we took the logs from the fire and separated them out in the field, they’d go out within an hour. They’d just lie there cold. He said for some reason the logs needed each other to burn, to stay warm” (203).
I am drawn to that image — poetic and romantic — even though the objective part of my mind is wondering what are the thermodynamics that make this so.
There’s also a long part in the book about having a meaningful life, and Miller summarizes principles from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. There are three recommendations if you want to have what Frankl claimed humans wanted even more than Freudian pleasure: “a sense of gratitude for the experience they were having, a sense of purpose and mission and belonging” (182):
Have a project to work on, some reason to get out of bed in the morning and preferably something that serves other people.
Have a redemptive perspective on life’s challenges.
Share your life with a person or people who love you unconditionally. (183)
I have a good portion of all of these — project, perspective, people — though the winds have buffeted us and feelings of purpose, resilience, and love are still on the mend. That’s an up arrow, for sure, though sometimes the tender spots ache when we palpate them.
I’ve been thinking about having a project to work on, one that is mine all mine. Not for income. Not for housekeeping. Not for athleticism.
Rising in me again, in part because of my summer freelance writing project, is a belief in writing itself as worthy and desirable. Even though I’m a writing / speaking teacher, most of the writing I do in education is feedback on the work of others. Oh, and emails, but that’s every job. I had lost heart with my own writing in the last year or so, and the activity of writing, in addition to the conversations about writing, has done a lot to boost my writing ego.
Nature section, Brookline Booksmith
I live near a bookstore now, and they invite patrons to bring their dogs along. Winston and I sometimes stop in to look at a shelf or two on our evening walk. Yesterday a book on mushrooms caught my attention, and then we scanned the Nature shelves. I fantasized about resuscitating my project on Elizabeth White, amateur botanist, and the cultivated blueberry
A friend of Jimmy’s called me tonight, before sundown. He half jokingly said he was atoning for not having been in touch for a long time. I said I didn’t think that way at all. In fact, people live inside my head, not in a crazy way, but in a populated way. I think of them; they think of me. I know that.
Somehow all the parts of this meandering post fit together, though there is no beginning, no end. Having a good life, a meaningful one. Loneliness. Writing desire. People, near and far.