If you’ve been following the serial about our house, then consider this post an intermission. Several friends have sent questions asking about the series, and I thought I’d step in and answer those, while also sharing the usual monthly tidbits and recommendations before the month of July evaporates. Tomorrow we’ll return to the surprises in Jackie’s House with a story about my second favorite room. (Actually, I call it my favorite room, because I don’t consider the kitchen a room.)
[Side note: If you landed here today for the first time ever, well, welcome. I’m Jennifer, I’ve been writing here at Jenny’s Lark for eight years, and I usually post a couple of times a month, including one monthly round-up of ideas, books, articles, recipes, and whatnot. For the past 10 days I’ve been posting daily, telling the story of how we turned a 100+ year old house into our family home.]
Here’s the backstory on the house serial: Last summer, you may recall, I ran a 21-day series of daily posts in the form of letters to my husband about our 20 years in Memphis. Writing that series was fun in a number of ways, so I started drafting a similar series of posts about our house. Then I got distracted (so not surprising) and preoccupied with work and life and the world, and the drafts sat, unattended in their little folder labeled “Drafts.”
When the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2020 started showing itself, back in March (which seems a LIFETIME ago…), I was quickly overwhelmed with work, as we scrambled to turn Kindred Place into a telehealth-based counseling center, to find bridge funding, and to accept the reality that some of the couples and families we worked with were suddenly trapped in homes that weren’t safe and also trapped with no way to access counseling services. I had no time to write for pleasure, as I dug into my work-work while also being a mom to two teenage children who totally do not need me, except when they do.
(Know who’s still trying to figure out, almost every day, how to make a grilled cheese sandwich while also leading a Zoom call? Every woman you know who has both a job and children living at home, even when those children are, like mine, 16 and 18 years old. I add that detail for a specific reason: Children of all ages are scared and feeling uncertain, too. There’s a lot wrapped up in a seemingly-simple, “hey, Mom, can you make me a grilled cheese?” request.)
I was just getting a handle on it, this coronacoaster ride, when Ahmaud Aubury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were murdered. And protests erupted. And unidentified men dressed like stormtroopers showed up to “help” local law enforcement.
And then, and then, and then.
And now, CBP occupation in Portland, soon spreading to other cities. It’s a dystopian nightmare, though I choose to believe it’s also a cause for hope, because I choose to believe that the American voting public will mobilize. But the next 100-ish days are going to be rough, no matter what.
(The governess who lives inside my brain says, every day: Do not drink gin for breakfast. Do not drink gin for breakfast.)
It’s completely overwhelming, mind-bogglingly so. Even the experienced, level-headed therapists I know and work with every day are feeling the strain of the world’s heaviness. It’s just too much, and there’s very little to DO about it that feels like affirming, tangible progress.
What we must do, of course, seems simple enough: Wear masks and stay home and vote and check on friends. Keep doing the work, for those of us fortunate enough to be employed. And in the quiet, alone time, look in the mirror, find our own blind spots, commit to advocating for change. And, in the process of all this, practice enough self-care to keep going.
I looked for hope in page three stories, things that didn’t get splashy headlines. I tried escapist reading (Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren series). I tried walking more (helpful, but very hot). I tried cooking but didn’t have much on hand and didn’t want to go grocery shopping. No swimming. No tennis.
How the hell would I get through this, I wondered, when the mental load is heavy, and people at home and at work are depending on me to be fully present in heart and mind, and so many of my usual mental wellness activities are unavailable?
“Write it down,” that’s what my architect friend said, at the start of the pandemic. And she was right.
Write to express gratitude, in particular. Write to celebrate people and places that are important to me personally.
Write to clear my head and soothe my heart, so both will be available.
It occurred to me, in the process of all this writing, that some friends might similarly need something to read that felt personal and was outside of the parade of daily distress.
So I decided to dust off those house-renovation posts, fill in the blanks, and offer them as a daily serial, until the story runs its course. I’ll keep posting every day, typos and all. (And thanks to the close readers who send private messages about those; I treasure you.)
A few other things…
- “You Should Start Writing Letters”
- “Snail Mail Is Getting People Through This Time.”
- Little Eyes, a novel by Samanta Schweblin
- “My Mother’s Dreams for Her Son, And All Black Children”
- “Tell Your Kids the Truth About This Moment”
- “The Best of Summer Reading,” courtesy of the inimitable Nancy Pearl
- From Vu Le, champion of non-profit sector wellness and reform: “It’s OK to feel like crap right now.”
- Joe Nocera’s piece about Gina Raimondo sent me to my archive to re-read this one, from 2016: “Women Actually Do Govern Differently” (honestly, duh)
(And yes, I really am blazing through the entire Detective D.D. Warren series by Lisa Gardner. Relative to other books in this genre, these are readable and not nearly as gruesome as the Kay Scarpetta books.)
I’ve made multiple batches of creamy cucumber soup and only once or twice succumbed to a bowl of egg noodles bathed in cream and Boursin cheese (worth it). Fridays are pizza nights, at my children’s request, so I’ve gotten in a routine of making a batch of Mark Bittman’s pizza dough every week. It’s foolproof. Try using it to make pizza in a cast iron skillet; it might change your pizza game forever.
Tomato sandwich? Check. Every day. For a week. And still tomatoes left over.
I had a hankering for cold tomato soup that wasn’t gazpacho, but I couldn’t find a recipe and had to make one up: onions and tomatoes (ripe from a garden) cooked in olive oil, whirred into a silky liquid using an immersion blender, strained, and mixed with Greek yogurt and cream. The perfect taste of summer, even in the middle of a pandemic.
If you’re a podcast listener and haven’t yet discovered Sam Sanders’s It’s Been a Minute, then you’re in for a treat. Start with his interviewing Tracee Ellis Ross about joy.
Back in May (such a long time ago) I caught an interview with Damien Jurado about his prolific writing during the pandemic. His new music — mellow, but not depressing — has filled my pandemic playlist, accented by a few other songs that fit the mood, including John Prine’s last recording.
Especially for anyone watching/listening to Hamilton in July: Hidden Brain’s podcast, “The Founding Contradiction: Thomas Jefferson’s Stance on Slavery.”
Thanks to some fantastic neighbors, we watched Hamilton outside on a big screen, the night it premiered on Disney+. I’d never seen it or listened to the soundtrack, and neither had many of our neighbors.
I listened again and again to the soundtrack over the following week. Clever? So clever. Glossy? Well, yes; that, too. Sorting through both the cheery enthusiasm and the #CancelHamilton posts, I stumbled upon an LA Times article that sums it all up fairly well. As historian Annette Gordon-Reed has said, many times, a Broadway play is not a documentary.
As we were all packing up to walk home after the movie, one of my neighbors said: “It really is a great love story. She truly loved him, and what we know about him is because of her. It gives me hope that people who don’t look like me can love that love story as much as I do.”
(Reminder: A revolution has many lanes, and not everyone joins it from the same starting place. Just keep going.)
And, speaking of Hamilton, we finally saw Knives Out, and then watched it a second time because it’s deliciously fantastic. If you’re behind on these things, like we are, then you’ll enjoy catching up.
13th is still streaming for free on Netflix, I think. Watch it, even if you think you don’t want to.
Last, but not least: Graduation. Holy cow.