Refresh

Living with a chronic illness means that you have to be able to change plans based on how you’re feeling. If you don’t want people to see you as an unreliable flake (especially if your illness is invisible, like mine), you have to plan ahead and be ready to get things done on your good days so that you can take care of yourself on your bad days.

Sometimes, all that planning and preparing starts to feel like drudgery. So, when I wake up on a beautiful early spring day feeling like a human being, it’s hard for me to stay inside. So, I don’t.

Yesterday, I threw out all my plans to work on freelance work and do the grocery shopping. I took the dogs out and worked in my garden.

It doesn’t actually feel like my garden yet. I’m starting the second year in this house, but I purposefully didn’t make any alterations to it last year because I had no idea what would come up. Now, though, I’ve seen the garden through an entire growing season, and I know what to expect.

Whoever planted this garden did not read the helpful little tags that come with the plants. Short plants are growing in the back of the beds, and tall ones in the front. Bushes that are going to become absolutely huge (they are still little for the moment) were placed smack dab in the center of both front beds.

And holy crap, there are crocuses everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love crocuses. But they are placed in random spots, and often behind things that will grow taller than them (crocuses are short little dudes) by the time they bloom.

So yesterday, in my migraine-free state, I dug almost every single clump of crocuses up. It took me a good three hours of digging. Some, I’ll give away. The rest I plan to resettle at the front of my garden beds, where I’ll be able to actually see them and enjoy them. (The few clumps I didn’t dig up were the ones already at the front of the beds.)

It felt good to work my body, to get my hands dirty. I hardly ever wear gloves, unless I’m working with plants that have thorns. I like the tactile sensations of gardening, the feel of roots and leaves. And the smell of rich earth is like the smell of books to me—I could inhale it all day.

And so that’s what I did.

A gift from the New Zealand sky

“The Milky Way” by andyspictures

The first time I touched the universe, I stood outside the Paparoa Marae near the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, surrounded by dozens of people I barely knew. I was thirteen and almost ten thousand miles from home on a three-week trip with People to People Student Ambassadors. After our traditional Maori dinner of meats and vegetables slow-cooked by heated river rocks in the ground, I looked up at the sky.

The milky way, clear as the sun during the day, spread out in gentle waves above me, and I am sure that every single star visible to the naked human eye from the Southern Hemisphere burned its mark on my soul. I felt like I must be looking at a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope, because I couldn’t believe something so beautiful, so expansive, so true, surrounded me.

My world stood on the edge of change. In a few days, I would experience my first kiss under those same stars. In three weeks, I would return to the United States and start high school. In two months, the World Trade Center would fall and my country would launch a war that would, in many ways, define my adolescence.

Left alone, I would have been happy to sit outside in the cool winter air, staring up at those points of light. The longer I looked, the more individual stars became clear, each one a gift from the night. In return, I gave something to the night that I still cannot put into words, something beyond words.

I didn’t understand the significance of that exchange right then, but from that moment on I tried to get back to that feeling of complete connection with the universe. I wanted to feel like I was a part of something, like I mattered, like my words mattered.

I mostly failed for the next seven years. Things seemed to disconnect all around me: in domestic politics, environmental degradation, an ongoing war that echoed Vietnam, the angst and endless existential crises of teenagehood, a failing belief in the religion I’d grown up with. It took another trip across an ocean for me to find that feeling again in its purest state.

On that second trip I finally understood the gift, the wisdom the stars meant to give me: You do not need to travel across an ocean to touch the universe. You simply have to be open, and it is easier to be open when you have crossed an ocean, don’t know anyone, and are worn down and ragged from travel and jet lag. But if you know your walls are there, you can choose to take them down, and the stars will reveal themselves to you wherever you stand.

 

#FridayReads: “Salt Sugar Fat” by Michael Moss

saltsugarfatI love food, and I love reading about food. I also believe that purchasing and cooking food is a political statement, whether you want it to be or think it is or not.

Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us explores the three big ingredients that give us cravings, make us fat, and dictate how we think food should taste—even though a lot of processed foods can hardly be called food (in my opinion).

This book has been on my to-read list since Moss came to Pittsburgh a few years ago. I wasn’t able to attend his lecture, but it put his book on my radar.

(Authors take note: The publicity from your book tour has the potential to lead readers to your book even if they don’t come to your reading.)

Salt Sugar Fat is broken into three sections, one for each of the ingredients. I’m still in the first third of the book, but already Moss has covered corporate mergers, competition between brands and corporations, the “bliss point”—which is the optimum sugar level for an individual—how companies “optimize” drinks like Dr. Pepper, and more.

Moss’s reporting is sharp and on point. This is no conspiracy theory type book about how the food industry is trying to make everyone fat. It’s another terrifying addition to the growing body of literature documenting corporate neglect of our planet and our health in the interest of driving profits and the negative effects of eating processed food (see also anything by Michael Pollan and the awesome documentary Food, Inc. Also Forks Over Knives, King Corn, Genetic Chile… there are so many good ones).

This is my favorite kind of food book, because it’s accessible and interesting. Moss interviews many food scientists and former food corporation employees and tells their stories without demonizing them or casting them in an unfair light. He shows us that really, what food scientists have done is pretty amazing from the scientific point of view, if not the nutritional point of view.

I’m listening to the audio book version, which is read by Scott Brick. Sometimes he gets into a pattern of reading every sentence with the same inflection, which goes right up to the edge of being annoying without quite crossing over. But the material he’s reading is fascinating, so I hardly notice.