hope and a habit
Spring is finally unfolding here in Holland. Remembering the thrill of noticing nature’s first green-gold from a great big window on the sixth floor of the seminary library last spring, I have checked every day for one tiny green burst on some tree.
Thirteen days into April, nothing. Fourteen, this:
In those rupturing buds, so much possibility! hope! promise!
So tied am I to seasons that the arrival of spring and the approach of summer always herald an opening in my spirit. My dreams grow. Days that seemed intolerable become delicious. And this year, knowing that we’ll be at Hope come fall, I can receive these seasons fully and freely. Oh, the books on my list! The mornings to be given over to writing! The prospect of someone I love dearly moving to Holland!
And after a long winter of not-writing, now writing.
Not much, yet.
Fifteen minutes a day, up from ten.
But I’m writing. And for the most part, it’s feeling better. Like I’ve moved from huff-puffing around the block to jogging a mile. Some days I still don’t want to write, but the momentum’s there. I can say with integrity that I’m writing.
To keep us all from faltering, my friends Colin and Anna and I are meeting to write together and to hear each other’s writing. To encourage, mostly. Colin’s encouragement was this, wisdom from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life:
As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”
Everyone has their way of screwing up the courage to write. In our college writing workshop, Heather was always reminding us that we are made up of two parts, a half that wants to write and a half that doesn’t, and our work is to trick the half that doesn’t into writing. (If you’re wondering who she’s scolding in that most recent post, it’s us.) My friend Adam’s strategy is to picture writing like a jet ski, which, once you’ve fallen off, is much easier to climb onto if the jet ski is moving. Momentum breeds stability.
I’m picturing the lion, wild and fierce, and determining not to let it overcome me. For two weeks, it hasn’t. One night, on my way to bed without having confronted the lion for the day, I checked my e-mail and found a note from Colin saying I had to write before I slept. He says I can’t skip a day for at least a month. Maybe two.
My methods of tricking the not-wanting-to-write part are varied: a timer, a notebook and sublimely silky pen, friends, metaphors, books on creativity, a writing group, and, most recently, Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing. A whole three days of spreading my arms wide and receiving whatever wisdom, spurring, and osmotic aptitude these writers had to offer. Twenty pages of notes trying to capture that wisdom, spurring, and aptitude. (Next time, I’m going to try sketchnoting.) A heart bursting with hope.
I want to tell you all about it! I wish I could recreate the conference and its effects on me. I feel wiser, spurred on, and more capable. I’ve decided to not be afraid of language, to use luscious words the way Amy Leach does, to explore metaphor, to write what I don’t know about what I know, to write a lot because there’s no end to the creative abundance in this world.
That whole weekend, I mulled, I simmered, I gushed and gobbled more. I buzzed from session to session, flitting over book tables here and there, finding quiet spaces to eat and sort everything out.
Meanwhile, the apples I had brought to snack on froze in the hotel fridge. And once removed, thawed to mush. Totally unappetizing. Fortunately, Molly came to the rescue with a roasted applesauce recipe that might’ve been the only way to salvage these sloppy, spongy apples. I only had five, but cored and quartered, they fit perfectly into an 8×8 pan and took just under an hour, giving me ample time to write. I need those clear wedges of time; writing is simultaneously delightful and difficult. It doesn’t always come naturally.
I need structure, discipline. I need to be forced sometimes. Even forsythia will bloom when it’s cold out. Give it a mug of water and a window, and here it comes!
with thanks to Molly Wizenberg and Judy Rodgers
Spring is on its way! Apples are on their way out. This is the perfect way to send winter off with love.
as many apples as you want (at least a pound or two)
1/2 tsp. sugar per pound of apples
1/2 tsp. salt per pound of apples
1 Tbsp. butter per pound of apples
Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Quarter and core your apples. I forgot to peel mine, which made them harder to mash into applesauce but added a delicious dimension. Do what you will.
In a baking pan—8×8 or 9×13, depending on the number of apples—toss them with the sugar and salt. Snuggle them against each other and scatter little bits of butter across the top. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’ve begun to soften.
Crank up the heat to 500ºF, remove the foil, and return the pan to the oven for another 10 or 20 minutes. (I had lots of bubbling juice in the bottom, which I poured into a cup before putting the apples back in to allow them to get dark rather than damp. I added this back in at the end.) When the edges have caramelized and the apples are browning, pull out the pan.
Use a fork or pastry cutter to smash the apples, or, for a silkier consistency, use a blender.