A few years ago, when I first had an idea of starting a small stationery business, I wanted to start with Valentine’s Day cards, which have always been my favorite to send (and, of course, to make).
“Who would buy these in a set?” a friend asked. “I mean, why would you need more than one, to send to your spouse/partner/special person?”
I was dumbfounded by the question. Why wouldn’t everyone need multiple sets, to send cards to everyone they love? Once upon a time, before I became a mother, I’d made and mailed 150 or so cards every Valentine’s Day. Who wouldn’t enjoy doing that?
My friend, as it turns out, was right. Almost no one wants more than a single Valentine’s Day themed card. Outside of grade-school foldables with candy inserts or mementos for one’s own children, Valentine’s Day is, for most adults, an occasion for expressing only romantic sentiments, only to one special companion (at least publicly).
Which is utter horseshit, especially now.
If the pandemic has had an upside, surely it’s the forced reckoning with how much we all need deep and meaningful relationships in our lives: love and intimacy with enough people to feel supported and connected. As evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar discovered, this magic number is around 150 people (a number I learned about years after routinely buying 150 blank cards at every holiday card-making occasion, so it matches my personal (ignorant) experience exactly).
I’m no anthropologist, but I’ve got a pretty good idea that last spring’s surge in high school reunion Zoom calls was a societal panic button move, a primal need to keep the middle circles of the Dunbar graph intact. As Dunbar himself wrote last August, the pandemic could permanently reshape our friendship circles — a support system that was already made fragile by technology and social networks. (See related: “How Covid-19 is breaking up friendships” and “The pandemic has erased entire categories of friendship“)
When times are really tough, who shows up in your life, and how? What does that connection look and feel like now, a year into this strange isolation we’re all trying to brave? Do those people know they mean something to you?
Here’s a thought, to get you in a broader frame of mind for Valentine’s Day: Take a piece of paper and write down names, free form, as they come into your mind. Don’t overthink it; just start writing down the names of people you care about in some way. And then think about who’s in your circles, from your closest people (likely your family), through the 150 intimate friends, and beyond.
If you need help getting started, try using this ink+volt worksheet (one of my favorites). It’s a fun way to think about who sparks what kind of joy in your life, and why.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even send them a Valentine’s Day card or note or text or something.
Stitch the world together where it touches you, friend by friend. You might never know what it means, even if it’s just a small gesture.
Oh, speaking of my ink+volt addiction…
Work from document, not thought.
This picture you see? That’s four years of growth and development, all in one photo, all grounded in some advice I got years ago to “work from document, not thought.”
Here, I’ll give you a tour:
Summer 2016: Ooh! A new job! New excitement! I think I’ll start bullet journals. I’ll buy Moleskin notebooks, one for each month. I’ll hand write each and every page. I’ll take notes. I’ll put everything in one book, one per month. This will be great!
Spring 2017: This is becoming a slog…
Summer 2016: I need a Panda Planner. That’s what I hear. A Panda Planner has a space for writing gratitude thoughts. I need gratitude. And to be organized. In one book. I do not have time for bullet journals. Even though I really like pens.
Fall 2017: Where the hell am I supposed to write notes in this damned thing? I need TWO notebooks??? I cannot keep up with two notebooks. I saw an ad on Instagram for a planner that looks pretty, and I am ordering it. The pages are undated. It’s like a bullet journal and a Panda Planner in one.
Winter 2017: SQUIRREL! I’ve discovered a new planner! It is big and has room to write and it has color-coded categories for different aspects of life, to integrate work-life balance!
Winter 2017, part 2: I hate this fucking planner. The lines are tiny and there’s no room to write and none of this layout makes any sense and it’s too much work to keep up with.
Spring 2018: I am going back to bullet journals.
Fall 2018: Should I give the Panda Planner a second try??
Winter 2018: I order a bright red, dated planner from the company that made the undated planner I tested in 2017. The company is called ink+volt, and the paper is thick and smooth and I like writing on it.
Spring 2019: So far, so good.
Fall 2019: I pre-order the 2020 planner, this time in a soft blue, because I need to feel calm.
Winter 2019: I download and use the annual planning sheets that go with the book. This is actually helpful work.
March 2020: OMG, what is HAPPENING?!?! How am I going to manage this chaos?!?! (Orders pad of daily task pads to go with the planner, because every day is a new damned week all in one 24 hour period.)
Summer 2020: Write it down; every day; staple all the daily sheets onto the weekly page in the book. The book is getting very fat, and the binding is cracking. But writing it down is helping.
Fall 2020: I pre-order the 2021 planner, this time in a pretty shade of pink. I mean, honestly….
Winter 2020: I print the annual planning worksheets but cannot find time to sit down and do them. Is this year over yet??
January 2021: I fail completely to start the year in an organized fashion. But I have a pretty planner.
February 2021: Just gonna start on day at a time and see how things go. It’s close to the start of the new year, and there is never a bad time to block out a couple of hours to reflect on the 12 months behind and the 12 months ahead, right? Doesn’t have to happen in January. It does not.
So, that’s where I am. And here’s the link to the annual planning sheets, if you want to play along. Am I completely, head-over-heels in love with this particular planner? I am not. I could design a better one. I know I could….
Still Cooking. (Sometimes.)
My daughter had to do a cooking project for her French class.
“Great! I can teach you how to make a soufflé!” I said.
“Uh, no. Not doing that,” she replied. “I want to make tacos au poulet.”
“French tacos, Mom. With chicken. You know, ‘tacos au poulet.’ You speak French, don’t you? So you should already know what I mean.”
So she showed me the video:
Don’t worry; you don’t need to understand French to understand the recipe. It’s super simple. And it’s delicious. Mix that mayonnaise with harissa (1:1 ratio) and it’s even better. And that “délicieuse sauce fromagère” (“delicious cheese sauce”)? Dear Lord. It’s life changing. Give it a try.
Greek Skillet Pies with Feta and Greens (NYT Cooking)
Arugula omelette: You do not need a recipe here, just trust yourself: one egg, a mixing bowl, a seasoned pan, a little butter, a pinch of salt, a handful of arugula.
Chicken enchiladas with salsa verde (NYT Cooking)
Creamy Tomato Soup (yes, in winter): Cook some onions in olive oil (season them if you like with whatever you like); add canned tomatoes (big can); cook for a bit; stir in a can of full fat coconut milk; blend in batches or with an immersion blender. That’s it. That’s the entire recipe. You can make it fancier, if you must. But why would you?
Tater Tot Egg Bake with Bitter Greens (Bon Appétit) (Can you tell I’m feeding teenagers?)
A Children’s Bible, by Lydia Millet
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald
But, back to that first thing…
If you’ve read along this far, then maybe some part of your marvelous brain is still thinking about your 148 friends and how to stay connected with them. Here’s another way to think about it, in the spirit of an ecumenical Valentine’s Day love-fest: When you vanish from the Earth, what do you want the people closest to you to say your love felt like?
If that’s too far a leap, try it first in reverse. When you think of someone you care a lot about, what does their love feel like to you?
Still too much? I’ll give you some of my own examples — some easy, low-risk ones — to get things started: My mother’s love felt like protection. My neighbor Harriet’s love felt like abundance. My late running buddy’s love felt like forgiveness.
For the people still here, people I won’t call out by name? One feels like energy. Another like serenity. I have one friend whose love feels like the thread that keeps me tethered to myself.
You have friends like this, too.
Try it; think about just one or two special friends. You don’t have to list everyone, and you don’t have to tell anyone. It can be a secret, just for you.
And then, when you’re holding those words in your heart, think about how you want your love to feel to them. Be that, for all of them.
Happy Valentine’s Day.