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Raison D'être Made from Scratch

Some things are best made from scratch, like birthday cakes and cards designed by a first grader. Or Halloween costumes. Or historical novels. Or raison d'être.

This is the cake my daughter helped me bake and then designed and decorated by herself, for her uncle's birthday. (Later, it had sparkler candles on it.)

She also made him a card with a joke in it: "What did the pumpkin say to the person?"

There was no answer.

Pumpkins don't talk.


You know what's not hilarious? I've gotten so accustomed to having a friend near the site of a terrorist attack that I am not even shocked anymore when I log onto Facebook and see my feed start with "marked safe" posts about "the recent violent incident." 

I've taken a cue from my daughter, as I often do in times of bleak current events, to turn away from the horrors outside my direct sphere of control and ask myself, "What is the easiest thing I could do right now to create joy?" Because no one wants to see America's souls sucked out by the dementors.

Except for maybe a few select dictators. Or heads of fanatical militias. Or tantrum-throwing losers who collect arsenals of mass murder weapons just because it's the national pastime.

What do they all have in common? Their main goal is sadness, anger, and fear. They are fueled by our salty tears and our mean comments to each other. It is their raison d'être. They are motivated by hate.

We won't let them win. We will starve them. We will not let them stop us from sharing our made-from-scratch cake.

At the nonprofit where I work this week, on top of all the thoughts-and-prayers, members are organizing vigils and nonviolence trainings and talks and legislative campaigns and fundraisers and other direct responses to the various tragedies that come up in the news on a daily basis.

But we are also continuing to create little bubbles of joy. Yesterday, volunteers hung a big exhibit of works of nature photography from our local community. Some of these works will be donated to a sale to fund improvements to our building's eco-friendliness and capacity to continue offering space for wonderful programs like free English classes and sewing circles for our neighborhood's refugee populations. The main purpose of the exhibit, though, is simply to offer a moment of beauty, awe, and wonder to those who come in and see it. The subjects of the photos range from the expected beautiful landscapes, flowers, and waterscapes to celestial bodies shot through telescopes and microscopic organisms shot through microscopes. Some of the images are pretty, some melancholy, and some downright eerie and surprising.

This pair reminded some of us of the movie It and made us laugh. Then it made us look again, because these are truly artful photographs. (You'll have to come to the exhibit to see them properly.) This artist appears to have a whole series of photos of man-made detritus interacting with natural surroundings in a way that blurs the line between disturbing and beautiful.

I don't know about you, but stopping my anxious thought processes to experience art on a subcortical level completely resets all my vibes. Sometimes I just really need an amazing gallery walk, an all-consuming craft project, or a marathon of The Mindy Project with a friend who laughs at it as hard as I do. And then all of a sudden, I have the resources inside of me to create joy for myself and other people.

It helps that it's October. Despite the weirdness of the hot weather (or maybe because of it--dramatic storms and the scent of sun-baked fallen leaves are kinda inspiring), I'm rocking my writing and book research this week. I've surpassed 34,000 words in my document, even though I've struck a hoard of Viking treasure with my latest library research find: From Goths to Varangians: Communication and Cultural Exchange Between the Baltic and the Black Sea, edited by Line Bjerg, John H. Lind & Soren M. Sindbaek. Yyyyyeeeeesssssss, check out these notes and diagrams of watercrafts made by specific peoples for specific purposes in specific waterways in specific time periods!

Geeeeekeeeekeeekeeek!!! Archaeological digs are the best. Archaeologists who dig in places run by insane dictators and tribal mobs of crazies who hate historical facts are bad asses. Thank you, contributors to this book, who clearly do not speak English as a first language but who did a fine job of making this understandable to an English-speaking layperson hangry for facts about artifacts found along particular waterways in the early 11th century.

I am making a lot of scratches in my notebook from which to make a delicious novel about a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style "road trip" along 11th century Rus' trade routes.

Some say writing is a lonely practice, but I find that it is not lonely at all when you find an active community of writers who share their journeys with each other. Many of the Capital City Writers have been encouraging each other and sharing our feelings about writing in sad times. Author Patricia M. Robertson recently posted about how she was inspired by the words of author Christina Mitchell (who was inspired by T.S. Eliot's quote, "The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.":
For me, being out in nature is healing, also being around babies and small children. They are proof that life goes on in the midst of sorrow and pain. And I pray. I put myself in God’s hands, trusting in his love and kindness. I trust that God will heal what is in need of healing and renew my sense of compassion so that then I may act in a caring and gentle manner.

And I write.

As Christina Mitchell wrote this week for the Capital City Writers’ Association,
We cannot control the rest of the world. We can’t control the maniacs and sociopaths. What we can do is channel all of our beautiful, horrible pain into art. Into a sweep of words that will carry the reader away from the ache or perhaps hurtle them into it. Either way, we are storytellers. We see the same things everyone else sees, but we see them differently. And we take what we see and feel, filter it through our bloodstream and then we squeeze our hearts out on the page, turning blood into ink.
And so I embrace the hurt, the pain, the suffering, the anger, but I don’t let those feelings change who I am or cause me to be callous. I allow my heart to be broken and I put it back together again.

The best things in life are made from scratch. Get your recipes from your grandma or your little child or your favorite artist--someone you love unconditionally and beyond all reason. Don't look for a reason to exist among the cold-blooded, tribal ideologies of the frightened, greedy powers that would suck the world dry. Find your soul, your heart, your God in the flavor of chocolate melted into butter or the laughter of a child.

Wow, that got deep fast. But really, we don't have to let the dementors win. We don't have to give up our softness or our capacity for joy beneath our scars and our shelters.

What is the easiest thing you could do right now to create joy? Do it, and sow hope in the scratches of the world. We can't change the past, but we can and do create the future together. Let us eat cake and laugh at Mindy Kaling and write stories of love and adventure.


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