Monday, April 27, 2009

The Little Red Hen is My Kinda Chick

Little Bitty's aunt recently gave her a book called The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza.

As I recall, the old school version has the hen running after the other farm inhabitants in search of some assistance with harvesting wheat and grinding it into flour to make a loaf of bread. In this updated version (retold by Philemon Sturgis and illustrated with cunning cut-paper collages by Amy Walrod), our chick has moved to the city and has a hankering for a pie with the works. But her urban friends are no more helpful than the ones down on the farm.

“Hello,” she said. “Who’ll run to the store and get me some flour?”
"Not I," said the duck.
"Not I," said the cat.
"Not I," said the dog.

Little Bitty was appalled and deeply offended by the idea that the other animals kept refusing to help the hen. But I told her there were some good lessons in this book.

First, that hen wasn’t stymied when nobody came to her aid. She went out and bought her own pizza pan, then went back to buy the flour, the cheese, the toppings. She made her pizza dough from scratch, topped it with everything she wanted on it (including olives, onions and anchovies) and baked her own damn pizza.

On top of it all, when the savory pie was done, she was kind enough to share it with the deadbeats anyway. And smart enough to put her feet up and read a magazine while they did the dishes. (Yes, they finally got the picture, to Little Bitty’s relief.) And she did it all in some very hip shoes.

All in all, I’d say this Little Red Hen is a very Plan B type of chick.

It was an old story I’d long forgotten, but one I was glad to share with my little girl. I hope she won’t forget those lessons. I hope I won’t either.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Suddenly I See

Her face is a map of the world
Is a map of the world
You can see she's a beautiful girl
She's a beautiful girl
And everything around her is a silver pool of light
The people who surround her feel the benefit of it
It makes you calm
She holds you captivated in her palm

I was flipping channels one late night and landed on a live performance by a woman I’d never heard of. I put down the remote, intending to have her sing background music as I worked. But this song captured me. I Googled it and I've been listening to it over and over. (So much that Little Bitty has started singing it. "She's a beautiful girl, she's a beautiful girl...")

A few weeks later, flipping channels again, I landed on opening sequence of The Devil Wears Prada and realized that this was the theme song for the movie. So it’s old news. Still, the lyrics to K.T. Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” are fresh and vital for where I am right now. I think it says something about the way I used to feel about myself, the way I always thought I’d feel at this stage of my life—and the way I want to feel now.

Problem is, I’ve been hearing little things about myself lately—and seeing things in myself —that don’t fit that picture. The me I’d like to be is smooth around the edges. She has sea legs; she doesn’t waver or flail when things are in tumult. She does not suffer from procrastination, panic—or PMS.

The me I am has edges and sharp teeth. I do panic, quietly and frequently. I waver. I think one thing—consistently and firmly—until I say it aloud, with all possible didacticism. Then I change my mind. I have brilliant ideas that die of hunger and thirst. I think of the perfect thing to say—three days too late.

And I know I have to accept that. I have to forgive it. I have to mix it in with the fact that I can juggle a million things, think of the perfect gift, write a letter that will always get the interview, fry the best tofu anybody ever tasted, inspire someone to do their best thing, and make a comeback every single time.

My latest speech to Said Husband was all about “people being people”—being human, being flawed, and being okay with that. I believe that in theory—that it’s okay to be messy and complicated and kinda wrong—but it’s damn hard to accept in practice. Not when you want to feel like a beautiful girl in a silver pool of light.

But if you want a face that’s a map of the world, then I believe you have to accept your own humanity—the mountains and valleys, the desert places and the flooding ones. The places where the sun comes up and the ones where all the bones are buried. You have to see all of that in you. And get to know it. And learn to love it.

I'm learning.

Self-knowledge is a nourishment. Self-acceptance is imperative. Self-worth is a treasure. (How’s that for didactic.)

By the way, the chorus of the song goes like this:

Suddenly I see this is what I want to be.
Suddenly I see why the hell it means so much to me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dig In

Periodically, my girl Marva will send me a "brilliant carat" newsletter from business and life coach Simon T. Bailey. More than a month ago, she sent me this one—which I forwarded to firestarter Danielle. For some reason (kismet?), D sent it back to me today. Clearly I was meant to read it again. It was good the first time, but a lot can change in a month. Today I'm "standing in a different river" and this message struck me in a way that it hadn't before.

Bailey writes:

"His eyes on fire, Robin [Rampersad] explained that when a tree is going through its winter season, it is denied the ability to produce food through the process of photosynthesis. Everything changes for this tree because it is accustomed to trapping sunlight in its leaves via chlorophyll, which gives the leaves their green pigment, and transforming that chlorophyll along with other viable ingredients into food. This is normal for the tree, and it doesn’t have to think about it. It’s second nature. Yes, this is third grade science but it is so cool.

"In the winter, though, these normal functions are no longer an option because there isn’t enough sunlight to produce food, nor are there any leaves on the tree to trap the light. The tree, at this time, becomes almost dead on the outside, but internally, it begins to search for answers. As a result, it is forced to find food another way. And here’s the brilliance of God—the tree must push its roots deep into the soil to find enough minerals, salts, and water to sustain itself.

"Because the tree has spent the winter anchoring itself deeper and deeper into the soil and finding sustenance in a time of scarcity, it will be able to grow and thrive in the spring and summer months. Its fruit will be of a wonderful quality because the nutrients that helped produce it have come from deep within the recesses of the earth."

I'm struck, today, by the idea that sometimes it's necessary to rely on new and different means of sustenance. We often literally have a favorite place to go for our food. The farmer's market. A favorite bakery. The local burger joint. We rely on that spot to fill us. But what happens when the farmer's market closes for the winter? Or you realize that, for all kinds of reasons, you should probably leave the $8 slices of white-chocolate cheesecake alone for a while? What feeds you then? You have to find another place to forage.

It's true of all kinds of nourishment—physical, spiritual, emotional. Sometimes the thing you've always relied upon to "feed" you—the job, the lover, the church, the ego—can't fill you any longer. Maybe you've entered a dry season. Maybe your field is fallow. But one thing is certain: A sista needs to eat. Another thing that's sure: Spirit will make sure she does.

When you start to fear the haunting "lack" and begin to listen for the hungry moan rising from your belly, reflect on Bailey's story of the trees. Remember the parable of the manna. Believe, if you will, that Spirit always provides. (Kismet.) Believe, if you can, that what comes next may be even more delicious and nourishing than what you've had.

Maybe Marie Antoinette had it right. When your bread is gone, start looking around for the cake.