about bliss

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

daily bliss: simple summer lunch: chickpea and kale tacos

I love preparing lunch during the summer. When hunger calls, I survey the farm-fresh vegetables in the crisper drawer,  leftovers in little glass bowls, Wisconsin cheeses in the fridge door. I stare into the pantry at grains and oils and vinegars. A meal takes shape in my head, and my hands spring to action.

Today's offering represents my new favorite quick leftover lunch: corn tortillas crisped in an oiled pan, topped with a skiff of some flavorful cheese (in this case, Gruyere). I spoon on a sauteed melange of garlic, onion, kale stems and leaves, chickpeas, and red pepper flakes, dressed with lemon juice, salt and pepper. A few slices of avocado completes the deliciously simple meal.

I read a story or two from the Sunday New York Times; I listen to Billy Collins delivering the day's literary history on The Writer's Almanac. I sip tea, iced or hot, and eat. Fortified, I carve out my afternoon: teaching, reading, dabbling, dreaming.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

on oatmeal, calendars, goals, and general existential ponderings

My life, for better or worse, is organized around the academic calendar.

My moments are measured out in assignments, meetings, week of the semester.

a recent to-do list

And then comes summer, with more freely structured days (but no income), and projects begging for attention: poems and stories seeking depth and revision; courses demanding redesign; important books in search of a reader.

Last summer, I truly abandoned any pretense of work, instead focusing on the details of our vintage-DIY-homespun-beach wedding. It was a summer unlike any other, and I find myself mourning those happy, project-filled days, working toward a "goal."

baking wedding cupcakes

This summer, I have finally managed to arrange my academic work so most is compensated, from traveling meetings, to teaching, to reading student placement files. Gone are the structureless days, with an online class needing attention for the next eight weeks.

This structure helps me find my bearings, but I find myself searching for the next big personal or professional goal to devote time and energy towards. I've accomplished two major goals in the past year: marriage and tenure. It sounds odd and cold, and feels wrong to call marriage a goal, but on some level it always was a goal of mine since I was a teenager: find someone I love and marry him. Meeting G and falling in love and building a life together is much more organic and evolving than a goal that can be checked off a life-list, and yet sometimes I find myself thinking of our relationship in terms of goals. Next goal: adopt and raise a puppy (mini-goldendoodle, due to arrive in Fall or Winter). But what do these goals tell you about the particular qualities of our specific relationship on any given day? About the jokes we share, what that sly wink means, how a properly punctuated sentence feels? (nothing). What love and commitment mean for us? (nothing). How our relationship has deepened over four years? (still nothing).

For an academic, tenure is one of the primary goals, a signal of achievement. As I await the final approval from our Board of Regents (meeting on Friday), I feel a similar kind of let-down I did ten years ago when I completed my PhD. Both took six years. Both included self-doubt, reflection, joys, and frustrations. Both are meaningful in the world I inhabit, the one measured by assignments, meetings, presentations, weeks of the semester. And yet, what do they mean beyond the academic world? What do they tell you about me? That I am diligent (sometimes). That I follow-through (most times). That I know how to navigate the complex world of academia (yes). Do they tell you my sheer joy in losing myself in a richly textured novel, of entering a fictional character's heart, mind, skin? (no). Do they communicate my desire to scribble ever more poems? (no). Do they tell you the utter humbling that takes place when teaching diverse students? (no). Do they communicate the sheer joy as students report their successes? (no).
tenure dossier check-list

They're all, in some ways, external markers of goals achieved.

I find myself struggling with goals.

On some level, I desire goals—those motivational mileposts to help me measure my life, to continue to grow and explore, to develop personally and professionally. Specific goals that I share with others, and commit to with resources (time, money, energy)...

...On the other hand, I crave pure, unfettered life, in which I enjoy strolling along Lake Michigan, listening to the crash of waves and the crunch of my feet on zebra mussel shells. A day of reading, puttering around the house, following each passing whim, and being distracted by a warm shaft of light hitting my favorite reading chair...

Wind's Nest Beach

...I daydream of a meandering vacation with G, with few plans other than to eat and sleep well, to laugh, and focus on only each other, no distractions of TV or cellphones or bills or doctors. We would drive on curvy roads, exploring out-of-the way shops and cafes, settling in on some welcoming porch with a bottle of wine or a six-pack of microbrew, and be: in the moment...

Lake Crescent Lodge, with a magical porch for sitting, reading, talking, and drinking
...A blank page or screen that fills not with a compact post on loaded, healthy, whole-foods oatmeal (the intended topic of this post), but rambles about deeper existential questions: how to find meaning, organically, not succumbing to scripts of external goals, but lighting on moments, on quality, on depth...

loaded oatmeal

Complex simplicity, like my bowl of morning oatmeal: rolled oats (because I forgot to make steel cut oats last night), last summer's peaches (thawed and heated), walnuts, brown sugar, flax seed oil, cinnamon blend, and milk (organic). Nutty nutrient dense warm comforting healthy: delicious nourishment.


I'll be 40 in March.

I want to be fit and fabulous, my best flawed self. I want to stop wasting time I don't have on worries, on inauthentic projects. I want to learn, to grow, to laugh, to stretch. I want to explore the path, pushing through brambles and taking in stunning vistas, surprised but equipped to meet the uphill climbs, dark valleys, flower-filled meadows, and refreshing streams, rather than counting off mile-markers and destinations.

taking in the view

I want to organize my life around an organic calendar of my own making.

Starting: Now.