Epiphany

Photo by Sam Brockway, and used with his kind permission. Taken on a starry night in the Caribou Wilderness of Northern California. Can you find the shooting star?

I actually looked up the word in a dictionary, though I won’t bore you with the pedantic-sounding results. In real life, I think of it as being a sort of sudden flash of insight deriving from nothing and everything, all at the same time. From the sum total of one’s experiences and thoughts right up to the very moment when one is struck, not necessarily the result of a linear thought process.

I’ve been away from Medium for a while. I changed jobs. It was a massive life change, and as I decompressed from the deranged intensity of my former job, I went through a period of quietude. Of settling.

I didn’t realize how essential that time was until I began to feel my thoughts slow down. Literally slow down. Cease rocketing around in my head, impossible to seize long enough to think even one to any sort of conclusion. I experienced moments when a realization, a clarity, hit me with such force that I was literally stopped in my tracks, my jaw dropped open.

Here are some of fruits of the past six months’ thoughts.


I need to migrate my blog, The Solitary Cook, to Medium

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it. I’d long since grown dissatisfied with Wordpress as a hosting site. As a neophyte blogger in January of 2012, I was euphoric over its ease of use. As I became more adept at using it, it began to feel clunky. Then it lost a post I’d spent an entire day writing. How to Store Vegetables When You Bring Them Home From the Market. I know, scintillating, a real cliffhanger, and did I mention an entire day? In truth, it’s a subject people bring up often to me.

Yes, I need to get out more.

But the point is, an entire post simply vanished, and no one at Wordpress could tell me why. Or retrieve it. When it happened a second time, I was done with Wordpress.

When I initially discovered Medium and fell in love with it as a source of good reading for long, rainy Sundays in my favorite coffee shop, I never imagined that I would even consider participating, let alone decide to do so. And then do it. Will Medium in its present, blog-friendly state and supportive environment exist in that same state over time? I have no idea. I know that I loved Wordpress in the beginning, hated it at the end, and here we all are. For now, I am content with the decision. You not only have to start somewhere, you have to maintain momentum. Medium is my momentum.

I need to follow the sage, seasoned, vetted advice I see daily on Facebook and Pinterest

“You can’t force people to stay in your life”

Yeah, in one eye, out the other

But the other day, I had a holy shit moment when I realized that I was doing precisely that with one particular friend. We used to work together, and found over glasses of wine after work that we had much in common: childhood issues, professional issues, professional support issues, books, the narcissistic chef for whom I worked who neither of us nor anyone else with a pulse trusted, and who she was on the verge of firing. We bonded.

Then I left for a new job. I stayed in touch. I’d invite her to meet for a glass of wine after work, and occasionally it would actually happen. We continued to give supportive advice to each other, to share dream ideas, share books.

Then the 2016 election cycle pulled the plug on life as all of us knew it. I tend to avoid politics and religion as the potential minefields they are unless I know someone very, very, very well. Especially the former this past year.

The last time we got together, she introduced the subject of the election by describing a huge argument she and her husband had recently had. She mentioned to him that she was simply unable to vote for Donald Trump.

Well, there’s a no-brainer, I thought.

She announced she intended to write in Carly Fiorina’s name, and described reading Fiorina’s book about leadership (“I read a lot of books on leadership,” she noted). Her husband was livid that his wife would even consider not voting the party ticket, and wouldn’t listen as she tried to explain herself. I was thinking thoughts of supporting her decision to vote for whomever she wished, regardless of what anyone thought of it. Including myself.

If the progress of the conversation had stopped there, we might still be friends.

Instead, my supportive thoughts died unsaid. Without pausing for breath, she began a defensive roll-call of recent Republican presidents, beginning with Ronald Regan. Her lips set in a grim line, she shook her finger (shook her finger!) in my face (in my face!), declaring, “Ronald Regan was a Very Good president!” I leaned back and went momentarily cross-eyed focusing on that finger and that thought. I tilted my head, looked at her quizzically, while wondering why on earth people just look at me and assume I’m a wild-eyed, flaming liberal. I mean I sort of am, but what about me gives that away?

Oh. Maybe it’s that I’ve spent the last eight years doing other things than loudly and proudly hating Barack Obama.

Sheesh, you’d think I’d carved an H into my forehead in support for Her.

Meanwhile, it was on to the Bushes. I don’t remember what was said about them (she did not call either a Very Good president), largely because I barely remember them at all. Well, save for W. Thanks to whom generations of schoolchildren now know exactly where Iraq and Afghanistan are, even if they’re not entirely sure why.

She finally ran out of steam, gathered her coat and bag, and announced that her husband wanted to take her out to dinner that night. Evidently they’d reconciled.

After she left, I sat very still wondering what the hell happened.

I’d just been told, “You’re fired!”

Which I didn’t quite want to believe. How could an educated, compassionate woman, one who reads books, callously cast someone from her life? For such a shallow reason. I’m a nice person, or am rumored to be.

Early on, before the conversation turned into a lecture, we’d talked about Christmas plans. I was going to be here, alone, and she’d kindly said we should get together and do something celebratory. I thought about that as Christmas drew close.

I found myself extremely grateful for those who chose to spend Christmas in front of a warm fireplace with me. Poppy and Esmé, the border collies who openly poach the cats’ carelessly uneaten food, but no matter how much or how late I work, are consistently deliriously happy to see me when I get home. Fern and Basil, the cats. Fern curls up under the covers with me on cold nights, and we’ve had those in spades. Basil snugs up next to the warm bump that is she. Buttercup and Soleil, the parakeets who chitter at me if I’m not up when the sun crests the horizon. Panda, the black and white bunny who loves whole carrots and buries her pellets squirrel-like in shallow holes in her hay. In reality, I chose all of them. And since I continue to feed them every morning and every evening, they stay, trusting I’ll continue to do so.

No matter what.

Were my feelings hurt by being so soundly and abruptly rejected? Of course. At the same time, it hurt nearly as much to realize that I was the one invested in the friendship. I always issued the invitation; sometimes time could be made for me.

Well, that was the end of that shit. In his beautiful collection of autobiographical essays, Autumn Leaves, André Gide writes,

“It is better to be hated for who one is, than loved for who one is not.”

I know that. I do. I just forget it now and then, or let it slip aside. I decided it was an auspicious omen for the pending New Year.

I need to write my former friend a Happy New Year note to go along with a couple of books she loaned me (not about leadership), which I very much enjoyed. I’ll drop them at the front desk. Someone will deliver them to her. It would only make me sad and her uncomfortable to meet in person. I wouldn’t do that to either of us.

Oh, that chef? Yeah, he’s still there.

I need to make a commitment

Gerard Mclean made one. He said he was going to write 100 letters to Senator Hillary Clinton. And he did it.

Now, I’m no Gerard Mclean, but clearly the task can be accomplished. Write 100 somethings, that is. Right. As if it were that simple.

I struggle with discipline. Still, I’ve got stories rambling around in my head, and many have made their way into drafts stored up like cordwood on Medium. Stories that segue into food and recipes, because food and how we feed ourselves folds into the narrative of our lives. Along the way, I hope to open a dialogue about food security, and the many forms it takes. I aspire to inform, not preach. To illuminate, not judge. Hopefully, in small ways, to inspire.

So, in a couple of posts a week, I hererby commit to writing 100 food-related stories. Who knows? Maybe at the end, I’ll have something to send to Hillary Clinton.

Maybe not.

Speaking of stories,

At some point in the past, a young woman wrote a post about wanting to change the focus of her writing. I scrolled through months of my responses trying to find the thread. Now and then, when you find yourself thinking you’re all that, look back through some of your past shit. It’s a very humbling experience. Well, for me anyway.

At any rate, I believe she worked in a tech position. It wasn’t lighting her candles, and she wanted to take a more journalistic track with her writing. She was wondering how to find people to interview.

I never found either her post or my comment, but I remember suggesting she start small. Everyone has a story. Look for local people who do interesting things in interesting ways. Her writing will grow, and as will her ability to find future contacts.

I need to take my own advice.

My first story in the Close to Home series will be about The Woman Who Walked Forty Thousand Miles to Work.

Where will all this writing lead? I have no idea. But it’s a path I’ve wanted to pursue for some time. Now is the time.

I need to get out more.

If I do say so myself, it has been a bitch of a winter. And we’re not even a month past the Winter Solstice, following which I’m typically thrilled to know that days are becoming small minutes longer at each end. But who gives a shit when below-zero days and nights accumulate in greater abundance than those minutes because it’s too fucking cold to care about being outside for any reason other than to hurry from one warm place to the next.

Bracing for every venture out any door feels like King Henry exhorting me to “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”

But you see, the dogs get ice balls on their feet, the treads on my mightiest boots clog up with icy shit. It’s nigh impossible to throw a tennis ball more than a few measly feet wearing mittens that resemble boxing gloves. Poppy seriously gives me a look of: is that the best you can do? My resolve to begin walking to and from work rather than driving? Out the window. If I could open one. I live a half mile from work. An easy drive.

I digress.

Nature is my church. And that’s as religious as I’m going to get here. The point is, being outside anywhere with the dogs has always so enriched my life. To pause on a trail, glance, for no reason, over my shoulder and see a red fox looking at us curiously is pretty unforgettable. Spotting the first western meadowlark of spring reassures me that the snow we’re trudging through really will melt. And I’m making springtime plans to travel to the western part of my corner of the Northern Rockies to investigate rumors of a sandhill crane nesting site.

Still, outdoor activities will resume when the temperature can be trusted to remain above zero for a reasonable amount of time. Like forever.


I know you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seats ever since I mentioned it, so I promise to explain to you how to store vegetables when you bring them home from the store. I just won’t hit you with all of them all at once. I’ll break them down into small parts you can consume in a sitting. Portions easy for Medium to hold onto.


You can follow my nephew, Sam Brockway, on Instagram at brockwayout. He lives, recreates, and photographs in the next state to the west, about 24 hours ahead of us weather-wise. It has been infinitely comforting to me that he has not found this winter any more embraceable than I have.