I’m a piler. I like to pile things; it’s how I put things in order. Currently on my desk, I have: two piles of books, three piles of papers (separated based on topic), and a pile of yarn that I’m making something with. It’s not pretty to look at, but I do, in fact, know where everything is. When the piles get a little harried, I re-make the piles and continue on my merry way. In my mind, it’s organized.
A sense of order is necessary for getting things done. It’s difficult to think creatively when things are in disarray – and I’m not just talking about the state of my desk. Chaos on a bigger, more collective scale – like scarcity, poverty, deprivation – creates tunnel vision, in which we become fixated on the things we don’t have, instead of appreciating and making do with what we do have.
Right now in the midst of a global pandemic, in which the totally valid but ludicrous question of, “When will this end?” is the theme du jour, it feels completely reasonable to feel uncreative. This type of creativity I am referring to is not limited to the Arts, in the sense that we should all be painting masterpieces and learning a Romance language; I mean creativity in the way we are living, like how to stretch out the contents of your fridge to minimize visits to the grocery store, or how to navigate through late-stage capitalism.
Then again, struggle begets creativity. I am a big believer in this, and there have been some pretty incredible examples of it in the past few weeks: restaurants pivoting to supply groceries, a government offering grants to university students who volunteer to help slow the pandemic, lots of homemade face masks (with questionable efficacy, but, nonetheless).
And so, it oscillates: between feeling lost in a black void of nothingness, and swimming through a wave of glowing bioluminescent algae-ideas.
In the desire for inspiration, sometimes I hop onto social media and see what others are up to.
(Are you trying to grab me through the screen to stop me? Yeah, I would too. Thanks for looking out for me.)
Is social media teeming with ideas? Somewhat, that is if you want to learn how to prettily arrange a flat-lay of food, or a butt workout that loops over and over again for 15 seconds.
Is scrolling through Instagram an activity fraught with the high potential of losing my sense of self-worth? You bet.
But it’s hard to stay away. Social media feeds the very human desire for connectivity, but somehow, it gets twisted into commodification. Needing to belong and feel relevant are normal, but then how it plays out ends up feeling tokenistic and trite. How is it that sincere acts of generosity and kindness start to come off as ploys for upping social currency, while at the same time one can feel jealous about these inspired moments of goodness, because you wish you thought of the idea first? (I’m asking for a friend.)
Looking externally for inspiration can quickly fall into a game of comparison, especially if one is not inwardly aligned, has not meditated, done yoga, drunk a green juice, taken a cold shower, oiled their face with organic fair-trade botanicals, and smiled genuinely at the mail courier.
Shakespeare, via Iago, said it best, that jealousy is the “green-eyed monster that makes fun of the victims it devours.” Preach, Shakespeare. Othello needed to take a self-care day, reflect on his choices, and get real.
Then again, comparing oneself to others is a normal human activity. Jealousy is a normal human emotion. Annoying, but normal. It goes back to needing to belong to the group, because belonging means survival, and if all the drastic measures that are taking place during this pandemic proves anything, we all seem to want to survive.
And survive we will. Until we don’t. There is an end to everything, an end to each situation, to each one of us, however you define “me” and “us” and “you” and “situation.” It is something we must squarely face at some point, and it might feel better to do it on your own terms.
If Othello had taken a moment to check in with himself (hands on heart, please), perhaps he would’ve realized how his emotional brain was taking over his rational brain, and that he needed to realign his direction in life to avoid a seriously messy situation. If he had realized that jealousy wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just an indication of his desires and values, then maybe things would’ve turned out differently.
Jealousy doesn’t have to be ugly monster. It doesn’t even have to be annoying, either. In fact, I propose that we lean into jealousy, that we get more jealous.
Well if you’re going to be jealous of someone’s positive traits, accomplishments, ability to pose effortlessly in front of a camera lens – then you ought to be jealous of THE WHOLE PERSON.
Getting jealous over someone’s accomplishments? Then get jealous about their pain of needing to be validated by said accomplishments. Jealous of their creativity? Be jealous of their struggling, which resulted in the creativity. Be jealous of their “perfect” photos, by also being jealous of the very distinct possibility that it is due to insecurity around their looks, so that’s why they are so careful about how they present themselves. Be jealous of their kindness, while also being jealous of their deep wounds that created in empathy.
Be jealous of all of it.
Nothing arises out of a vacuum. Pain creates compassion, grit, and resilience. There’s always more to the story of someone. And it’s not necessarily so personal to you; it’s personal to them. They are just a mirror showing you what’s going on with you.
So where does that leave you?
With yourself. With your own story.
“Getting real with yourself” about how/what you’re doing is, I suppose, the slang-y way of saying “be mindful” – and honestly, I prefer the street vernacular. You do have to get down into the muck if you want to excavate some nuggets of creativity. “Being mindful” doesn’t feel all that committed, like how I feel about vacuuming behind the couch (will do it next time, or the time after that). “Getting real with yourself” feels like you’re going to pull the furniture away from the wall to get at the baseboard and remove the sofa cushions to vacuum into the crevices and fluff/rotate them before you put them back in place.
I’m fluffing. I’m rotating. I’m pulling things out and putting them back. I’m piling, tidily. I’m looking into my crevices and trying to hold space for whatever creatures (green-eyed and otherwise) jump out. I’m trying to create feelings of safety. Struggle inspires innovation, but if there isn’t some baseline of safety, there’ll only be paralysis.
Safety comes in many forms, and certainly one of the most basic versions is a well-fed tummy. We are fortunate that in the midst of the pandemic maelstrom, our food supply is still strong and abundant.
So here’s a stew from our kitchen to yours: it asks for a lot of pantry ingredients, and you can swap in any fresh vegetables you happen to have. You can also include the wilting, limp vegetables that you bought three weeks ago, and they will perk up in this peanut-tomato-coconut elixir. It is followed by a peanut butter cookie recipe, which also asks for pantry staples, and there are few things in life more comforting than the smell of freshly baked cookies.
May you be safe, and feel safe.
Peanut tomato coconut stew
This recipe is derived from one in the excellent cookbook, The Kitchen Shelf, by Eve O’Sullivan and Rose Reynolds, which celebrates the ease and intelligence of cooking with pantry staples.
1 small onion
2 stalks celery
3 small carrots
1 small eggplant
1 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander, ginger
1 generous pinch of red chilli flakes
1-796 ml can whole tomatoes
1/3 cup peanut butter
1-398 ml can coconut milk
Salt, to taste
Squeeze of lemon juice
Start off with prepping the vegetables: finely dice the onion, and cut the other vegetables into chunks. Feel free to swap in whatever vegetables you prefer; little trees of cauliflower are lovely, or if you want something really hearty, diced sweet potato.
In a large soup pot, add a teaspoon or so of your cooking oil/fat of choice. Over medium-high heat, toss in all the vegetables. Let them start to soften and steam for a few minutes. Add all your spices, and a generous pinch of salt – the salt will help draw the moisture out of the vegetables.
Next, a fun moment: you are going to hand squeeze the canned tomatoes. This is a true embodiment of living fully. I suggest you do it like this: first, use your hand to hold back the globules of tomato while draining the liquid into the pot. Then reach your hand inside the can to squeeze the tomatoes, letting bits fall out. It is ideal to be doing your squeezing when your hand remains inside the can, otherwise you might squirt tomato all over the place. I speak from experience.
After adding all the tomatoey goodness to the pot, turn the heat up and bring it to a boil. At this point the liquid should just barely cover the vegetables, and this is fine because the vegetables will exude their liquid as they cook. Cover the pot, and turn the heat down so that it simmers for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender but still have bite – the time will depend on the type of vegetable and how big the chunks are.
When the vegetables are cooked, stir in the peanut butter and coconut milk. If you have it, you might stir in some cooked chickpeas. Another nice touch is to add some handfuls of spinach or other leafy greens to wilt in at this last moment. Adjust the taste with salt and lemon juice. Serve, maybe with some brown jasmine rice, or a good hunk of bread.
Gluten-free peanut butter cookies
This recipe comes by way of Longer Hollow Legs’ mom, and I have taken the liberty of adjusting the ingredients to suit what I happened to have on hand. It turned out to be a very forgiving recipe, which is a quality I think we could all use more of.
3/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup peanut butter (natural or not, you do you)
1-1/3 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1-3/4 cups brown rice flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Beat together the coconut oil, peanut butter, and sugar until it is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth and cohesive. Form into 1-tbsp size balls and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 2” apart. Put it all in the fridge to cool for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take the dough balls out of the oven, and using the tines of a fork, press them down and make a cross-hatch pattern. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until they are lightly golden.
I crammed too many cookies onto the baking sheet and they grew into eachother, but I kind of like how they cozy up to eachother like this.
I also have this peanut butter cookie recipe which asks for more ingredients and isn’t gluten-free, but is still delightful! 2017 may have been the last time I made peanut butter cookies before this recent edition…