Alicia is making cookies, and the house is filled with the warm smells of butter creamed with brown sugar, of melting chocolate, of love and laughter. Aaron is our designated stirrer and whipper. When the cookie batter (made in the wok since we have no appropriately sized mixing bowl) started to get stiff from the addition of flour, Aaron remarked on this, and Alicia teased, “What, aren’t you a man or something?” It’s only fair, I suppose, since only moments earlier we were teasing her about being almost barefoot in the kitchen. (She was wearing socks–Aaron pointed out that she couldn’t run away very well in socks, either, so it counted as being barefoot in the kitchen.)
I just snagged my own chocolate chip cookie, warm off the cookie sheet, and munched it happily with a half cup of milk. The sugars on the outside of the cookie had the crusty warm flavor of carmelization. As I passed the wok of remaining cookie dough, my inner child (id?) squealed
“SQUEEEE!!!! MORE COOKIE DOUGH!!! EAT IT!!!!!”
“No,” I told her firmly but kindly. “You have a cookie in your hand waiting to be eaten, and you’ve already had the one spoonful of cookie dough that we agreed was a reasonable amount to eat for today.” To my surprise, she accepted that in stride and no more was heard about eating the cookie dough.
I have been doing quite a bit of that kind of self-talk since moving to Scotland. Mostly it takes the form of encouragement, the kind of soothing things you’d tell a child.
“Just 15 more pushups. There’s a good girl. Good, good girl.”
“Just one mile more, and you’ll be there. You can do it. One foot in front of the other.”
“It’s okay, you can do it. You know this stuff. Just keep going. You can make it.”
Sometimes it is more stern.
“Do you really need to skip the workout today, or are you just being whiny? Try it for a few minutes, and if it’s bad, you can quit.”
“Close the internet and do your work, honey, or you will be awake all night.”
“Put on sunscreen now, or you will regret it later. Do it. I know it’s annoying and sticky, but put it on.”
It’s possible that I have adopted these things recently, since moving here and away from my normal support systems. However, I think I have always done it to some extent, and have just become more aware of it in the last year. Since listening to all of Eat, Pray, Love, the habit has been highlighted even further. Elizabeth Gilbert also talks to herself a lot. At one point, she tells herself, “I love you, I will never leave, I will always take care of you.”
This is the kind of thing that I have always wanted to hear from someone else. However, as I have also always believed that it is patently ridiculous to expect that from someone, it is a beautiful idea to say it to myself.
But it begs the question: how do you take care of yourself?
When I take care of others, I make food for them. I hold them when they cry, massage their muscles when they ache, help them weigh decisions. I encourage them to work less and play more, to follow their dreams and not settle for less than what fulfills them. I buy them presents and talk to them. I encourage them to get enough sleep, celebrate and mourn with them, encourage them to grow and stretch in ways that are perhaps at first uncomfortable but will in the end be so rewarding, and remind them of their value and beauty.
All of these things are things I can (and to some extent, do) do for myself, but I think I need to make the practice more deliberate. Even this year I have spent far away from the people I was closest to, I have still found people to orbit. In some ways I think I cannot help it–I am a nurturer by nature. But I think it is time for me to pull myself back down to being the center of my universe. It is time for me to be, perhaps for the first time ever, my own sun.
Granted, I’m not precisely sure how to do this. I came to Scotland on a desparate whim, on a wing and a prayer, to shake up my life, to figure myself out, to take a break from my universe. It did not turn out like I planned (things never do), but it turned out in many ways better. However, I feel that I am somehow unfinished. Like a butterfly with crumpled, wet wings: I think whatever processes I have started here are not yet realized in full.
However, I am a month and three days away from returning to the red dirt, to the blue sky, to the gold grain. Three days ago that time couldn’t pass fast enoug–the hours between me and Oklahoma dragged by, the sand refusing to fall through the narrowing in the hourglass, like gravity ceased to work for it or something. Now, I am staring down that same return with almost (but not quite) as much apprehension as I feel about my more immenient trip to Berlin. Both of these places are cities I have called home, but I feel somewhat untethered from them now. I fear that my return will be rocky, that whatever progress I have made towards balance and happiness will not stand up in the face of familiar places, familiar faces, and old loves.
The fear of the future is something familiar to me. It is when I find myself worrying about what will happen that I say to myself, soothing,
“What will be, will be. You will be fine. The universe will provide, as the universe has always provided.”
I do not live in the future. I can only control my actions in the moment. And so, intent on being my own sun, I ask,
“What do you want today, Shadoan? What are you needing right now? How can I make you happy?”