I took two weeks to get through week 8, and I’m glad I gave myself extra time for the week 8’s tasks. I felt overwhelmed thinking about goals and setting a 5-year horizon with actions for each year. It felt like I was about to make a major commitment. I was afraid to put my deepest wishes down on paper, because then they would be plans not wishes, and I would be accountable for them. I wrote a few things down and then found myself stalling. So I took a break. 

I kept up with the morning pages, affirmations and artist dates. I took care of my plants, and Pandoughra (my fledgling sourdough starter). I cleaned my work space and added to my wall décor. I used Canva to create an invite for my mom’s online birthday party and used Kudoboard to design an online group card. I baked brownies using Katherine Hepburn’s recipe. But the most serendipitous of all, I started reading Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic

I bought this book when it was first published in 2015. For 5 years it sat on my book shelf. I remember reading a few pages of the first chapter and then putting the book down never to pick it up again, until week 8. At the beginning of the lockdown (March 22, to be precise) I went around the house collecting books I had bought but never read. Big Magic was in that stack. I started reading two other books in that stack but not Big Magic. Until last week. Reading Big Magic during week 8 made a huge difference to my goal-setting approach and how I think about my creativity. Instead of feeling stuck and apprehensive about planning my creative future, I started feeling light and joyful. I didn’t plan to read Big Magic during this week or anytime soon, it just happened. Once again, I’m grateful for the gentle hand nudging me forward. 

I got back to the tasks on May 19, and by the afternoon of May 20 I was done. Last evening, I celebrated the completion of week 8 with homemade pizza and Chianti. Week 9, here I come!

I’ve spent my entire adult life thinking of myself as a plant terminator. I have killed off more house plants than I can bear to think of. Even plants that are impossible to kill have withered and wasted away under my care.

I absolutely love plants, and adore the trend of having lots of indoor plants of different shapes and sizes. The last time I bought indoor plants, they started dying quite rapidly but got revived as soon as I moved them outdoors. For a time, I gave up on the idea of indoor plants. Just before the lockdown I decided to give it another try and bought four indoor plants. A visit to grocery store resulted in three pots of herbs. A neighbor dropped off a pot of holy basil. Suddenly I had eight plant beings in my care. And I was determined that they would survive.

I dug out my grandfather’s book on Indoor Plants, found a website dedicated to growing plants in the tropics, read about good watering practices, and watched videos on repotting. I ordered potting soil, compost soil, and new pots. Once a challenge is accepted, then its all hands on, full steam ahead. I even added “Water and tend to plants” to the habit tracker app I’ve been using lately.

My plants are doing great. They haven’t died. In fact they are sprouting leaves and shoots. And I’m beyond thrilled. Today I repotted my herbs as they had outgrown the original little pots. I felt trepidation; did I put enough soil, what do I do about roots, will my plant survive this? So far the mint and the basil are alive and looking fantastic.

Attention is expensive. It takes time, effort, and emotional energy. It is a risk. My plants might still fail. Isn’t this true of most things in life? Our health, career, relationships, finances all need careful tending. How often have I just let things go? Let them wither and waste away because I had “too many things on my plate”, “too many balls in the air”, “too many pots on the stove”, you pick the phrase. I guess careful, habitual attention is possible when you have simplified your life to include only what truly matters to you. And that is the gift of this interminable lockdown.

Visual Arts and Practice were the two key themes this week. I painted, made a collage, watched MOMA’s Virtual Views on photography and the art of Yayoi Kusama, took photographs of things in my house, and viewed dozens of Van Gogh-inspired art projects on Instagram. I bought three small potted herbs two weeks ago and I’ve meticulously watered them, sheltered them from the storms, sent them positive loving vibes, and watched them closely for any sign of imminent death. I have been practicing yoga every day this week thanks to free online session by my yoga studio. And I started a sourdough starter!

Pandoughra – My Sourdough Starter

All these things require daily attention, action, and intention.  I didn’t realise it until this evening that I have somehow managed to start three more practices in addition to writing. Yeah, this week has been busy. I am enjoying the heady rush of having every moment filled but I also realise that I need to create some quiet to introspect and to continue the work on my primary focus – building my writing practice. 

“Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.” When did I stop cherishing myself and why? This was such a clever exercise, because while I designed and painted the sign, I kept repeating the sentence like a mantra, like something I need to absorb into my very core. I refuse to be treated poorly, especially by me.

This week I felt the need for some goal setting. What comes after week 12? What are my next steps? What goal do I want to achieve in the short term and the long term? Guess what we are doing in Week 8? Yep, “Goal Search”. It’s a fairly elaborate exercise and I can’t wait to get started.

In Week 4 of the Artist’s Way program, we were supposed to write an Artist’s Prayer which I thought would be really difficult because it felt like writing poetry and I haven’t overcome my hesitation to write poems. I love reading them, always have. Writing them is another matter. Anyway, here I was on the last day of Week 4 with the last task on my list. I took a deep breath, thought of my God and started writing. I don’t know how or from where the words flowed and the prayer took shape. I’m so proud of my prayer – it captures everything I feel and believe, it empowers me every time I read it, and simply makes me so proud that I was able to write THAT. 

Week 6 is in the bag! This week I learnt to accept freebies – a pineapple from my neighbor, four online lessons from my yoga studio, a class making Salzburger Nockerl with a lovely woman in Salzburg, Austria, and a class learning about Roman winemaking and spicing up red and white wine with a real Roman. Oh Universe, I am ready and willing to accept your abundance!

Being in a lockdown situation, meant I had to get creative with the postcards. I decided to use Canva to design the card and send it electronically to 3 friends and 2 aunts with whom I haven’t spoken in a few months. It was a rewarding exercise – I felt joy from having created something beautiful, and the responses I received tell me the cards were much appreciated. Most of us exclusively use WhatsApp for communication, I think a little more old-fashioned communication can be good for everyone. 

Some of the tasks this week were easy – like throwing out ratty pieces of clothing or clearing my home environment or baking. Some needed creative solutions like the postcards. And some have been nearly impossible – like collecting five pretty or interesting rocks. I was supposed to track of where I spent my money. That is was really easy since it was all spent on groceries! I’ve decided to give myself grace and complete some tasks at a later date but spend some time thinking about why I was supposed to do the task in the first place.

I must admit, I felt like I was losing steam a bit at the beginning of the week. Today is a public holiday, I’ve been sitting in my private, sacred work space, reading and writing for hours while my husband takes care of the kids. It has been rejuvenating. I guess some quiet time to read the Artist’s Way, do my tasks, and write the morning pages without interruptions was essential to get myself going again. 

Results of the class on Roman wine making. L to R: Mulsum, Granum Paradisi, Ippocrasso, Elixir of Youth, Sangria (made with the leftover red wine)
L to R: Mulsum, Granum Paradisi, Ippocrasso, Elixir of Youth
Leftover Salzburger Nockerl.
(Was too busy sampling and didn’t take a picture of the finished product.)

March 20, 2020 was a good day. It was a Friday and the beginning of spring break. Three people whom I have known practically my whole life celebrated their birthdays on that day. If not for COVID-19, we would be a on a plane to Hokkaido, Japan for some skiing. It was a normal Friday like any other. March 20, 2020 is also the day I felt a gentle nudge and I decided to embark on the Artist’s Way program.

I bought Artist’s Way, 25th Anniversary Edition in July 2019, on the recommendation of a friend. I started in earnest, and after a week, life took over and the book was forgotten. Until March 20, 2020. I’m grateful for that gentle nudge.

While I was working on a task during week 4, it occurred to me that I needed to make a new Vision Board. Guess what I spent a lot of time doing during Week 5? Creating what Julia Cameron calls an Image File! I cut out pictures from whatever magazines I had on hand, and then spent a few hours searching for pictures of adventures I’d like to experience, pleasures I had been denying myself, items I’m like to own, lives I would like to lead, and hidden desires. Oh, what a joy it was to dream again!

While the Image File exercise brought some much-appreciated fun to the week, reading about the Virtue Trap was like getting a bucket of cold water thrown in my face. It will take some time to change self-destructive behaviours, but I’m thankful for the awareness and the path that is laid out before me. So, while my family plays it’s 2,589th game of Monopoly this month and my daughter sends me cute emojis asking me to join her, I’ve been enjoying some quiet time in my private space, doing what I love.

Writing this post at my desk

Reading deprivation is horrible. This week I was supposed to abstain from reading. I slipped up every single day. I tried to limit myself to updates about COVID-19 once a day, school emails, and Artist’s Way. No newspapers, books, recipes, blogs, magazines, online forums, online courses. Nothing. Bedtime was difficult, because reading is a soothing nightly activity. Because I couldn’t read, I started watching the second season of The Good Fight and landed up staying till 2am two days in a row. It was horrible. Reading deprivation is horrible. 

The morning pages are now as necessary as my morning cup of tea. Sometimes they happen later in the day, but happen they do.

This week’s extended Artist’s Date was a patchwork of various creative pursuits – baking, listening to Berlin Philharmonic play Gershwin, listening to Sir Patrick Stewart (@sirpatstew) narrate Shakespeare’s Sonnets 27, 28 and 29 (on Instagram), and making an inspirational gallery wall. 

Work in Progress – an inspirational gallery wall above my desk

I am having so much fun doing this program. It’s a good amount of work, and it’s hard because it makes you dig deep. 

I can feel like I’m getting to know myself again. Like I’m dusting off an old, much-loved book and starting from chapter 1. No, starting from the prologue.

I wrote morning pages every day except one (see picture below).

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I can feel becoming more honest on the morning pages, not being scared to articulate what I’m feeling and thinking. I guess that’s a positive step towards regaining my voice. This morning, I had more than three pages to write. I couldn’t stop the flow of thoughts and words. Also, there have been tears. Not tears of sadness or joy or shame or guilt.  But tears that flowed as result of feeling free, feeling present.

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The Artist’s Date consisted of baking Melissa’s Clark awesome One Bowl Pound Cake (see picture) and a new banana bread recipe recommended by a close friend. I have a tried and tested banana bread recipe but never hurts to try someone else’s tried and tested recipe, does it?

 

 

 

There was lot more of colouring books and listening to music – classical, Bollywood and Blues. Plus, I decided to change the blog’s design theme and play around with CSS.

I forgot to mention previously, that in the past two weeks I’ve posted three blog pieces here.  I had drafted two of the pieces a while ago, but I hadn’t posted them because they didn’t seem perfect to me.  So posting them now, with minimal edits, was an act of courage.

MFK Fisher and Me

I can’t remember the first time I read about MFK Fisher. I know it was in NYC in the early 2000s and Ruth Reichl had something to do about it. I subscribed to the now defunct Gourmet magazine and I regularly read Reichl’s editorials, probably the only magazine editorials that I’ve ever read. Her autobiographical books Tender to the Bone and Comfort me with Apples were my first taste of the food writing genre. They inspired me to seek out MFK Fisher’s writing. Enter the Gastronomical Me written by Fisher in 1943.

304032._UY475_SS475_MFK Fisher’s story resonated with me at a deeply personal level – I too, was a newly wed in a new city with my first kitchen, a very small one at that. I dined all over my new city with my husband, experiencing for the first time sushi, goat cheese, artisanal bread, blueberries and beefsteak tomatoes. Her prose was magical and even after 15 years I still remember her poignant description of her time in Vevey, her recipe for cauliflower casserole, and her technique for scrambled eggs.

But most importantly, her book Gastronomical Me introduced me to these words by George Santayana.

Measure of my powers – what am I capable of? What am I really good at? and do I know my power? Have I accepted it or am I still in humble denial?

Fruits of my passion – one or more achievements in my field where be demonstrated my powers and realized a favorable result

Learned my place in the world – as a direct result of my capabilities and achievements, places where I feel home.

Santayana’s words have become my guide to building a life that is purposeful and rewarding at every level. I have realized that happiness is fleeting and the three “ingredients” change with time and in every life stage. What stays constant is the need to live my best life each day.

Friday Night Musings

A challenge we face during these uncertain times is how do we hold onto the best parts of ourselves. How do we keep the worst parts of us under check and let them not overwhelm and overtake our lives. How do we care for ourselves and those we live with. How do we demonstrate compassion and warmth when we ourselves our frustrated and anxious.

Our daily routines have changed, we can’t leave our homes. We can partake all the online world has to offer. Can that be enough for now?

We yearn for beaches, ski slopes, forests, shopping malls, concerts, movies, brunch with friends, dancing. We don’t know when we can hug, kiss, and be closer than one meter again. The uncertainty of it all is what really brings me down (when I allow myself to think about it).

If there was ever a time to practice living in the here and now, it is today. We can’t go back and fix our mistakes, we don’t know how long before things seem normal again. But we have today. 24 hours to fill with rest, faith, acts of kindness, extracting joy from small moments, and gratitude for what we have today.

Migrating Demoiselle Cranes at Sunrise. 
Khichan, Rajasthan, India

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