One of the most comforting places in the world for me is my grandmother's kitchen. She is not a gourmand, although she will try to feed anyone who walks in the door. Her counters are stocked with Lance crackers, questionably-dated fig newtons sharing zip-lock space with muffins some friend has recently dropped at her door, and miniature marshmallows hardened into a block within their glass storage jar. She keeps mini Cokes and Sprites on the fridge door, next to home-made cinnamon pickles and, once upon a time when her husband was still alive, ever-dubious yet somehow fetching quarts of tangy, rich buttermilk.
Her kitchen table sits on a rug that sits on top of plush white carpet. When I was in middle school, I used to do calisthenics Jane Fonda-style on the kitchen carpet while her husband, the only grandfather I ever knew, fried sausage on the stove and applauded my discipline, his big belly couched in a clean white T-shirt.
This past Sunday morning, I woke up and made a bee-line for the stove to cook myself some bacon. The smell of bacon frying in a restaurant nauseates me but at home, it transports me to Christmas mornings at my grandmother's house, my grandfather frying something on the stove, my uncle in a flannel shirt drinking coffee with my father, my mother in a turtleneck and jeans, my brothers and I racing between rooms like wiry kittens, waiting for someone to swing open the sun room curtain and reveal the Christmas loot.
When Tim and I were in graduate school on the coast of North Carolina, we were a three hour drive from my parents' town, where my grandmother lives, and were able to make the trip often. When we visited, one of my favorite things to do, besides drag Tim on the same hike through hilly woods past a drizzly waterfall and coal-black cows in their pasture, was to sit on my grandmother's sun porch, my feet in the recliner, leafing through her magazines (Cooking Light, Our State, Southern Living).
Lately, when I think about how I want to feel in my life, I think how I feel when I am in my grandmother's kitchen. I think of its safety, its crackery abundance, the way oatmeal or peanut butter or sliced fresh peaches abound. The woman has nailed cabin coziness despite the fact that she lives in a ranch-style brick house, owns a Cadillac, keeps a piano in her foyer, files away mountains of antique linens in her closets, and displays an impressive collection of miniature poodles.
I hope everyone knows a place like this - somewhere with mystery and chotchke and coziness aplenty - and I especially hope everyone knows a place like this when they are growing up. I used to be entertained just rummaging through drawers in her spare bathroom: powder puffs, pods of pink soap, matches, combs, Christmas candles, a washing basin.
Okay, I still poke through the bathroom when I go there, and seek out the piles of rose-colored wash cloths, folded like neat doll clothes, in her cabinet. It's a type of genuflection, I suppose.
Lately, I've been hoping I might offer a place like that some day, a place of rest and love and total comfort. In the meantime, while I work on my collection of snack foods and antique linens, I give you A Brief History of Visits to My Grandmother's House, featuring a young Bear and I.
"Develop interest in life as you see it, in people, things, literature,
music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures,
beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself."
I once went to a fertility practitioner when my cycles became irregular. She massaged ovaries for a living, and taught women to do the same for themselves. She served tea in a basement room carpeted with oriental rugs and lined with peace-filled doohickeys. I don't know what I was expecting, but I left feeling like a giant failure. My cycles, however, snapped right in line.
The practitioner asked a question about my relationship to my body, and I responded with essays-worth of material. I tied my geographical location to various stages of esteem in this diatribe, at the end of which she took a giant breath and recommended a book called Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
For some reason, I felt humiliated. I felt like I had legitimately opened up about something and was responded to as one might address someone who simply needs to get a grip, and here's a Dr. Suess-sounding book for sad sacks like you, to speed you on your way!
Wherever You Go, There You Are is a best-seller about mindfulness and meditation, and let's be honest, I really did need to get a grip. The book is truly not bad, as I found out recently when I finally speed-read it. Isn't that what you are supposed to do with spiritual books - skim them?
I read a tip on the Harvard Business Review website about how to listen to someone vent. (Never mind that a knitting blog and the HBR are two of my favorite internet reads.) The tip said something like, help the venting person identify their frustrations. Jumping in too soon with advice could make them smash their fist into your nose (paraphrase mine).
Anyhoo, during my speed-read of the Jon Kabat-Zinn book this month, I came across the following and thought, as Paul Simon might, Hey...that's astute! (Why don't we get together and call ourselves an institute?)
From Wherever You Go, There You Are:
"Our esteem problems stem in large part from our thinking, colored by past experiences....The wounds are important, but so are our inner goodness, our caring, our kindness toward others, the wisdom of the body, our capacity to think, to know what's what. And we do know what's what, much more than we allow."
I sometimes overlook the innate kindness present in myself, and instead measure my life in unhelpful and even competitive ways. But more than any on-paper accomplishments I've earned, the simple ability to genuinely care for people brings me mountains of self-esteem. Nothing feels better than raw presence and kind attention. It's elemental, totally free, and doesn't make me feel like I need to order a book from Amazon to "get life."
I like the pathway Amelia detailed on the blog we share, Grizzly & Golden. She wrote about healing jealousy by opening her heart to another being's happiness. It is really beautiful. Click here to read, and leave a comment if you are feeling extra-credity. Even though it appears like Amelia and I just want to gab with each other, really, that space is for all of us.
For more inspiration and data on the human spirit, listen to part of Phillippe Petit's Ted Talk on NPR's Ted Radio Hour. That guy is out of his mind in the best possible way.
And, for your next dose of Animals On the Internet, check out 15 Cats Who Are Leaning In. Just look at all those feline feminists in the workplace!
That is it! Go out and be yourself - your best, caring, innate wise self that counts 100 times more than all the problems you think you have. Otherwise, I will be forced to recommend best-selling books and trust me, no one wants that.