By Maud Kersnowski Sachs
I hit the wall yesterday. More accurately, a carton of eggs hit me in the middle of a supermarket. All I could do was stand there crying with raw eggs and shells dripping down the front of my coat. (It turns out you really should open the egg carton and check for breakage.) “Don’t worry, hon. A lot of people are crying these days,” the checkout lady told me as she passed me wads of paper towels.
She’s right. It’s not just me. Everyone I know is drained and on edge. Things that under normal conditions might be a little stressful or just a pain in the ass – doctors’ appointments, changed deadlines, dropped cell phones, our kid’s math homework, eggs – are reducing us to tears, sending us to the cookie aisle, or in my case both.
Maybe the administration’s plan is to wear us down to the point that we’ll collectively collapse under the weight of our letters and protest signs. But we know that’s not an option. We’re in this for the long haul. It’s no secret that if we manage to impeach DJT; we’ll still have to deal with Pence. The best thing anyone can say about him is that while he’s a nightmare, he’s not insane.
So the question becomes how do we keep fighting without loosing our sanity, packing on pounds, or developing a drinking problem?
There are the obvious options: go to the gym, meditate, move to New Zealand. But I’ve been looking for a quicker, less time-consuming fix, which explains my trips to the cookie aisle in recent weeks. Sadly, until Fig Newtons are recategorized as a fruit, I realized I needed an alternative, which led me to my dusty shelf of self-help books. These books are like cookbooks for me. I own a lot of them, but there’s only a couple I open with any regularity.
My copies of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way both have deeply creased spines. Since The Way to Cook has a whole chapter on cookies, I thought I’d give The Artist’s Way shot. One of Cameron’s basic principles is “filling the well, stocking the pond.” To her creativity is a well or a fishpond that we constantly draw on. If it’s not maintained, it grows stagnant or dry. After the a few weeks of protesting, meetings, calls, letters, petitions, constant news updates, and obsessive social media, my well is pretty fucking dry.
“In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do – spiritual sit-ups like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you; think mystery, not mastery.”—Julia Cameron
Here’s my list of 10 ways to refill that well and keep me – and maybe you – going for the next four years. The idea is to do one thing a week or a day or dip into the list during rough moments. There’s no guilt. No should-ing on yourself allowed. Not everything on the list is directly from Cameron’s book. It’s more my riff on her ideas applied to my current resistant fatigue.
1) Make something: Cook something, anything yummy. Build a shelf. Get a coloring book. Take a photo. Paint a chair. Hang a bulletin board and cover it with old postcards. Design new business cards. Put together some Legos. Make play-dough. Knit a pussy hat. Start a blog. Video you dog dreaming. The only requirement is that when you’re done something exists that wasn’t there before. And yes, I admit it. I baked a batch of my Amazing Loaded Oatmeal Cookies. I did give most of them away, though. You’ll find the recipe at the bottom of this post.
2) Small luxuries: What do you feel like you don’t deserve? Flowers for the breakfast table. Fancy tea. New socks. Your favorite brand of pen. It’s not a trip to Tiffany’s. It’s what gives you that special zing. In fact, many luxuries don’t cost anything. We all tuck away objects that are “too good to use” candles, scarves, duct tape with ruby ducks on it. Take one of those out of the drawer and put it to good use.
3) Hug somebody: Pretty simple, right? Well, do it. Hug your kid or your spouse or your friend or your neighbor or your dog or your neighbor’s dog. In our digital world, it’s surprisingly easy to go through an entire day without physical contact. “In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health,” Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley reported in Psychology Today. The solution: Find somebody to hug.
4) Clean: I’m told some people clean when they’re stressed. I am not one of those people. My house is a mess. And I’m certainly not committing to a massive clean-out, while the country is falling apart. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up will be staying on the dusty self-help shelf for now. But I did clean out the medicine cabinet. And it felt great. One solid accomplishment that makes life just a little easier is something all of us can use, at the moment. Next on the list are the nightstand, the spice cabinet, and the mystery pile of papers on my desk.
5) Happy Tunes: It’s not really surprising that studies show music improves your mood, increases brain function, and even makes you sleep better. If your audio diet mainly consists of NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and CSPAN try a playlist of your personal feel-good music. Mine starts with: The Ramones, B-52s, Michelle Shocked, Mavis Staples, Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, The Rolling Stones (particularly Let It Bleed), Madeleine Peyroux, Gary Clark Jr., any version of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, I Will Survive, or Respect Yourself.
6) The Gift of Time: One of the cheapest (and hardest) things to give yourself is time. “I don’t have time for that” usually means I’m not willing to give myself five minutes. “I don’t have time for breakfast. I’ll eat a protein bar at my desk.” For me a bath is one of the ultimate luxury and yet, I never take the time. Twenty minutes soaking in a hot tub is actually a bargain, since I come out better able handle whatever horrible thing DJT has done in those 20 minutes. What do you not have time to do?
7) Happy People: Everybody has at least one friend that just makes them happy. We smile more when we’re with them and we feel good afterwards. Figure out who these people are for you. If they make you happy, the feeling is probably mutual. Meet them for coffee or dinner. If they’re out of state pick up the phone. For truly advanced “well-filling” don’t talk about politics.
8) Take a Walk: Yes, it’s winter. Yes, it’s cold. But get out there anyway. Leave the phone at home and go breathe some fresh, non-digital air. Every year, millions of people are diagnosed with low vitamin D, one of the “feel-good vitamins.” Getting a little extra sunshine will also get you a little more D. As much as it hurts, your mother was right. Get out of the damn house and go outside to play.
9) Thank You Notes: Hopefully, there is at least one politician that you believe is doing a good job these days. It might be your representative, senator, governor, and mayor, anyone whose work you appreciate. It might be Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Cory Booker. Send them a thank you note or call their office to let them know; be as specific as you can. I recently sent Mayor Bill de Blasio a note thanking him for releasing attendance numbers for the Women’s March in NYC the day after the event. The fact that 400,000 was the official number of marchers in New York put pressure on cities not to low-ball the figures. Remember politicians are on the front lines. As much as they need to hear our outrage, they also need to know that we support them.
10) Your list: Figure out what fills the well for you. What makes you feel nurtured and well-watered when you’re dry and depleted? What’s your happy thing? I needed to put my list in writing, just so I won’t forget that there are things I can do to feel better. “Filling the well” gives me the strength to stand and fight, rather than hide under my desk and contemplate my bad cord management.
For more information on Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way visit juliacameronlive.com
MAUD’S AMAZING LOADED OATMEAL COOKIES
Preheat oven to 350
Grease baking sheets
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Morton’s Kosher Salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c salted butter (Yes, salted. My pal Tom Scott claims it’s a Southern thing.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
¾ cup crystalized ginger, chopped
¾ cup walnuts, chopped
1) Mix dry ingredients in large bowl
2) Cream butter and sugars in mixer until smooth
3) Add eggs and vanilla, beat at medium high until light and fluffy
4) At low beat in flour mixture until just blended
5) Stir in remaining ingredients
Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place 2” apart on baking sheet.
Bake for 11-13 minutes, depending if you like soft or crispy cookies.
Give away as needed.