I was 22 years old and moving from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Destin, Florida. My roommate in Baton Rouge gave me the book-on-tape of Maya Angelou’s “The Heart of a Woman” for my journey and as I set off, late at night, for my 300-mile drive east, I put the windows down, lit a cigarette and decided I would let Ms. Angelou talk to me instead listening to music. The book was entertaining enough and it made the miles go by until I got to the following line, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it” Stop. Rewind. Playback. “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it” Stop. Rewind. Playback. Life changing moment.
It really is that simple, isn’t it? I paused the tape and fact-checked this strategy by running through dozens of scenarios present, past and future and confirmed that each one could, indeed, be addressed that simply. In a bad relationship? Get out of it, or decide it isn’t bad. Hate that you smoke? Quit, or decide you don’t mind being out of breath with a stinky car (I quit that year). Miss your mom? Call her. Fat? Go on a diet.
I changed my attitude that exact moment and, hand on heart, it has been my mantra ever since. So much so that it is now an affliction. I do not allow myself time just to mope or just to be beaten. There is no hefty *sigh* and then lurch for the box of tissues. Everything can be changed, either externally or internally. This drives my husband mad. “You know sometimes, things just suck.” he says. “Sure,” I respond. “That’s why you have to either change them or change the way you think about them and decide they don’t suck.” round and round we go. It isn’t his mantra, it’s mine and it has gotten me through plenty of hard times.
The second time a phrase infected me like that one was last weekend. There was an article in The Guardian newspaper that addressed the question of whether having a baby sapped you of creativity. It was sort of an essay format with two mothers, who are also writers, giving their opinions on Cyril Connolly’s famous quote paraphrased as, “The pram in the hall is the enemy of art.” Unsurprisingly, both agreed that it is indeed a struggle to be creative and also be a mom (but that, on balance, it was worth it to make the effort…for both). The issue, they both agreed, was uninterrupted time to focus. This isn’t news to me. What is news is how they get over that hump.
Jude Rogers, a journalist, summarized her thoughts of creating post-child in simple terms, “…the time I have, I use much more wisely – and quickly. Goodbye faffing and the fear of the blank, white Word document. Writing has to happen, and it has to happen now. “
In other words the enemy of creativity isn’t a pram. The enemy of creativity is an empty white canvas. The Super Hero to creativity is a ticking clock.
OOOOH *facepalm* That’s how to do it. Okay. I can see how that works just a hair better than my existing routine which goes like this: Freak out, bitch, whine, complain that I don’t have enough time to write. Then frantically carve out two hours. Grab computer. Find a seat. Deep breath. Open computer.
Then go make tea. Go to the bathroom. Check text messages. Check Instagram. Look back at my screen again. Open a document. Type in the working title. Open another window and place a grocery order. Check the time and realize I only have 45 minutes left. Well, no point in getting started on an article now. Research travel ideas. Look at things to do in London. Maybe check real estate listings. Check Instagram.
I thought my lack of productivity was because I didn’t have enough time to work but if Ms. Rogers is correct (I’ve got a lot riding on her being so) then the truth is that this is a not-so-distant cousin to the advice Angelou gave me *mumble* years ago. I don’t like not having time — and I can’t change that, so I better change the way I think about (and manage) the time I do have.
This week I am doing things differently. I open my computer and I write. I write articles for other people, I write for Belle Annee, I write pitches, I write recipes. I write and write and write. Then, when I have snippets of time here and there I edit. It’s amazing really. I see things happening. Letters are showing up on my screen. Words are coming together. Sentences are making paragraphs and nothing external has changed….I have the same amount of time I had last week. I have the same amount of time I will have next week. But I make my time count. Which also means that when I am with my three children I am making that time count too. I am not half-writing, half-playing, half-cooking. I shut my computer, I turn to face them and I am fully in the moment.
This is going to change my life forever. (or it won’t in which case see lesson #1)
And much like there were two essays that changed my life forever, there are also foods that changed my life forever. Avocados cut in half with dressing poured into each side: Big props to my dad for that one. That is a gamechanger. The ability to perfectly grill a steak? Lifechanging. Gotta thank Tommy Hart, former General Manager of Smith & Wollensky New York City for that one. The ability to make salad for dinner that both fills you up and negates a day of eating terribly? That’s a big one. That is all me.
What changes a bowl of grass into a dinner-worthy meal is variety and meatiness. Maybe it is just me but I could eat a bucket of lettuce with cucumbers and tomatoes and it would have no impact but cut the portion size down and add something for me to sink my teeth into – literally – like mushrooms, avocado, cheese…something that feels a bit decadent thrown in among the rabbit food and I’m just as happy as with a perfectly grilled steak. At least that’s what I tell myself…
Strawberry Spinach salads were a staple in New Orleans mainly because I could keep spinach in the refrigerator for a month without it going bad and there were always strawberries available. Here in London it is a slightly more delicate salad and I added quinoa to make it fulfill its mission as a full meal. Everyone loves this salad – the strawberries thrown into the balsamic vinaigrette tie it all together and make it more enjoyable than just a bucket of grass.
If you don’t agree, then just change the way you think about it.
- 4 oz baby spinach
- 6 strawberries, sliced
- 1/2 small red onion (sliced paper thin - about 2 oz)
- 4 mushrooms (ends trimmed and mushroom sliced)
- 1 cup cooked Quinoa (I prefer multi-colored)
- 4 oz extra virgin olive oil
- 1 oz Balsamic vinegar
- 4 strawberries
- 1 teaspoon English mustard
- pinch Salt
- pinch Pepper
- Make sure everything is washed and ready to go before you start. Then make the salad dressing.
- Add vinegar, strawberries, mustard, salt and pepper to a blender. Turn blender onto low and add the extra virgin olive oil in a slow, steady stream while the blender runs. When finished taste on a spinach leaf (always taste dressing using the leaf on which you are serving) and adjust salt or pepper as necessary. Add honey if you'd like it a little sweet. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl add the spinach, strawberries, red onions and half of the sliced mushrooms. Add 60ml (1/4) cup of the salad dressing. Toss with tongs or your hands to completely cover. Taste for salt and pepper. When appropriately seasoned move spinach mixture to a serving salad bowl.
- Top the salad with the sliced mushrooms that you had already set aside and the quinoa. Drizzle with dressing.
- This serves 2 as a main course, 4 to 6 as a starter or side.